These are heady times for the NBA D-League. Attendance is up, tons of fans are watching live games on its new YouTube channel and both veterans and young players see it as the fastest path to the NBA short of being a lottery pick. Here are several takes on why the D-League is hot and getting hotter.
The league exec: Dan Reed, president, NBA D-League
The league has become much more of a true farm system. When I joined in 2007, we had 14 teams and only one was managed by an NBA team. Now, of our 16 teams, 11 are directly managed and singly affiliated with an NBA team. We’re up in every metric we track, whether it’s attendance or TV ratings or the number of former D-League players in the NBA. We are seeing interest from more NBA teams, and at some point we will expand to meet that demand. But for now, we’re very happy with our current footprint and think our model is working well.
The NBA team exec: Bill Branch, assistant general manager, Portland Trail Blazers and general manager, Idaho Stampede
One beautiful thing about the D-League is if something needs to be changed to benefit player development, they change it. Last year, they changed the number of call-ups NBA teams are allowed to make. If you had a guy you wanted to develop here, he could only be assigned three times. Teams had to be really strategic about when they sent guys down. Now that you can send players down whenever, you’re seeing teams do it all the time and the quality of competition is much better. That’s what development is all about.
The scout: Chris Alpert, vice president of basketball operations and player personnel, D-League
We do extensive scouting to find players for D-League teams year-round. We go to all the summer leagues. We go to the combine in Chicago. We go to the European camp in Italy. We also get a lot of help from teams that do a lot of scouting on their own. We’ve seen a nice mix of younger developing players, mid-experienced players who have either played on an NBA summer-league team or played overseas or attended an NBA veteran camp but got cut. We’ve also seen more veteran players have an interest because they see this league gets them exposure to NBA scouts. I think more players are seeing we’re the fastest route to the NBA.
The media: Mark Snider, play-by-play man, Idaho Stampede
The D-League requires us to provide a feed for the home team. We don’t travel, but it’s fun to do the home broadcasts 24 nights a year. Now that we have the single affiliation with the Blazers, they’re working really hard to replicate what you get in Portland. The game-night presentation is similar to what they do up there, with the music and atmosphere. That’s really important in this first year of the affiliation. I know they want to meld the two sides together. They’re working really hard to make that happen.
The fan: Phil Bird, season-ticket holder, Idaho Stampede
I’ve had season tickets since the '06 season because I enjoy the chance to see potential NBA talent every game. This is just pure athlete-on-athlete. You have to appreciate the size and strength of these guys. It’s something you don’t see very often in Boise. I can also get my kids to come to any game, and they will stay and watch the whole thing because of the mascot. From a dad’s standpoint, I’m able to spend quality time with the kids and see some great basketball.
The player: Coby Karl, F, Idaho Stampede
When I played in the D-League two years ago, most teams had one or two NBA guys with experience. Now they have five, six or seven guys. All of the facilities have improved, too. You really felt like you were in the minor leagues a couple of years ago. You’d go to a gym and see a couple of fans there, and you never knew if the locker rooms would have enough space. We’re even staying in nicer hotels now. I remember when Utah was in the league, we stayed on the side of the road at a truck stop, and we were eating at a Flying-J. There was a nice hotel five minutes down the road, but the team didn’t have the budget.