Right now, in gyms around the world, very good basketball players are preparing for the NBA season.
Some of them will not make it.
Those players who just miss the cut, have historically severed all ties with the NBA team that cut them. They go off to some D-League team, or some team overseas, and then try again next year.
This year, for many of them, the system will be a bit different. Even those who are cut by their NBA team can end up with a connection, thanks to new rules designed to steer the best of them to that NBA team's D-League affiliate.
The D-League's new rules this year are not just about goaltending and overtime. There are also new rules that are designed to make it easier for NBA teams to maintain long-term connections with some of the borderline players they have in training camp right now.
Every NBA team, of course, has an affiliated D-League team. It has long been that training camp cuts headed to the D-League would be assigned based on a territorial system (players who grew up in Nevada might be assigned to Reno, for instance) or, more commonly, by the D-League draft.
This year the territorial system has been scrapped. Instead, D-League teams now have the right to submit a list of up to three players they want from their affiliated NBA teams' training camps. If any of those three sign with the D-League, presto, they get to maintain their connection the NBA parent club by playing on their D-League team. It's more like a real farm system, allowing teams to keep tabs on those players who just miss the cut.
"We think it strengthens connections," says D-League president Dan Reed. "The NBA team and the D-League affiliate are closer, the player is closer to both teams. It's good for the NBA team, it's good for the D-League team, and it's good for the player."
The D-League teams have to submit their lists of three players by October 29. They won't have to guess at who will be cut: NBA teams have to be trimmed to 15 players on October 25, and most cuts will be made by October 21.
The D-League teams have autonomy in deciding who goes on the list of three designated players, however teams like the Spurs and Rockets, that control their own D-League teams, will be able to control the process better than teams that share D-League affiliates with other NBA teams.
Some players are not eligible. By way of example, Reed pointed out that D-League teams hold their players right for two years. Raymond Sykes is in Blazer camp, but Portland's affiliated D-League team, the Idaho Stampede, could not choose Sykes because he played for Sioux Falls last year, so they hold his D-League rights.
And if another NBA or international team signs the player in question, of course the D-League team won't get to keep him.
The league estimates 50-70 players will eligible, depending how many players NBA teams keep (they can keep between 13 and 15).
"We think it gives top NBA talent a better chance to make it," says Reed, who points out that NBA teams are typically in constant contact with their D-League affiliates. "We think it's an important step, bringing the teams, the affiliates and the players closer together"