RENO, Nevada -- Due to technical difficulties, circumstances beyond our control, etc., Stein Line Live was unable to bring you its regularly scheduled D-League preview extravaganza that typically runs in conjunction with the league's opening weekend in mid-November.
We simply deferred the extravaganza to this maiden weekend of 2014 and Sunday's start of the annual D-League Showcase, which will be staged here in Northern Nevada for the third successive January. The event brings together every team in the developmental circuit for five days' worth of games to allow executives from all over the NBA to see the entire talent pool from what is universally regarded as the most athletic (and most scouted) league outside of the NBA itself in one place.
Eight things you need to know about the Showcase as it tips off:
1. The D-League's 17 teams descend upon Reno with all but three of them, amazingly, affiliated baseball-style, with only one NBA team. Six D-League franchises are NBA-owned: Austin (San Antonio Spurs), Canton (Cleveland Cavaliers), Delaware (Philadelphia 76ers) Los Angeles (L.A. Lakers), Tulsa (Oklahoma City Thunder) and Santa Cruz (Golden State Warriors). Seven more are so-called "hybrid" franchises, in which the NBA club splits the operating cost with the local D-League owners: Erie (New York Knicks), Idaho (Portland Trail Blazers), Maine (Boston Celtics), Rio Grande Valley (Houston Rockets), Reno (Sacramento Kings), Sioux Falls (Miami Heat) and Springfield (Brooklyn Nets). The Texas Legends, meanwhile, are owned and operated by a group Mavericks president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson heads up separately from the Mavs themselves. And that leaves only three independent franchises that serve as the affiliates for the NBA's other 16 teams: Bakersfield, Fort Wayne and Iowa.
2. D-League rosters, as of Sunday, featured 15 players on assignment from NBA teams. Eight of the more notable names: Boston's Marshon Brooks (Maine Red Claws), Memphis' Jamaal Franklin (Fort Wayne Mad Ants), Utah's Rudy Gobert (Bakersfield), Dallas' Ricky Ledo (Texas Legends), Detroit's Tony Mitchell (Fort Wayne), Minnesota's Shabazz Muhammad (Iowa Energy), Chicago's Marquis Teague (Iowa) and San Antonio's Malcolm Thomas (Austin). As a reminder for you protocol sticklers: Players in the first three years of their NBA careers can be sent to the D-League (and recalled) an unlimited number of times. The previous labor deal only allowed players to be assigned to the D-League three times per season through their first two NBA seasons.
3. NBA teams have the right to start handing out 10-day contracts Monday, which means that call-ups from the D-League are about to get even more frequent. Yet it should be noted that we've seen 10 already: Thomas (Spurs), Erie's Jeremy Tyler (Knicks), Santa Cruz's Seth Curry (Memphis), Delaware's Kendall Marshall (Lakers), Rio Grande Valley's James Johnson (Grizzlies), Santa Cruz's Hilton Armstrong (Warriors), Texas' Chris Douglas-Roberts (Bobcats), Springfield's Lorenzo Brown (76ers), Santa Cruz's Dewayne Dedmon (Warriors) and Iowa's Diante Garrett (Jazz). Last season, 31 players received a total of 36 NBA call-ups; 43 players earning 60 call-ups in 2011-12 marks the single-season record in the D-League.
4. Other D-Leaguers on display in Reno this week with some NBA name recognition include Ricky Davis (Erie), Ike Diogu (Bakersfield), Devin Ebanks (Texas), Melvin Ely (Texas), Gary Forbes (Springfield), Josh Howard (Austin), Othyus Jeffers (Iowa), Flip Murray (Austin), Jamario Moon (Los Angeles), Kareem Rush (Los Angeles), Reggie Williams (Tulsa), Terrence Williams (Los Angeles) and Luke Zeller (Austin).
5. Conner Henry (Fort Wayne), Eduardo Najera (Texas) and Doug Overton (Springfield) are former NBA players you know who hold D-League head-coaching jobs. Longtime NBA banger Paul Mokeski, meanwhile, serves as associate coach in Rio Grande Valley to Nevada Smith, who was imported from the small-college ranks by Rockets general manager Daryl Morey to install an offense that has the Vipers attempting in the neighborhood of 45 3-pointers per game. (Read this Zach Lowe piece for more on the Vipers’ unique approach.)
6. Salaries remain flat: $25,500, $19,000 and $13,000 for the league's three player classifications, which means D-League players are virtually playing for free -- and a modest per diem on the road of $40 compared to $120 in the NBA -- although they do receive housing and insurance benefits. The D-League also employs a per-team salary cap of $173,000 ... with a dollar-for-dollar luxury tax, just like in the NBA, for teams that go over that amount. Foreign teams that want to pull players out of the D-League must pay $40,000, $45,000 or $50,000, depending on the player's classification, to buy out their D-League deals.
7. The Celtics have been talking about it all week with regard to Rajon Rondo's return from last season's torn ACL. So it makes you wonder: Is this the year we'll finally see an NBA team send a top-shelf veteran down to its D-League affiliate for a Major League Baseball-style rehab assignment? At this point, NBA teams have generally taken the approach that they like the idea of, say, Rondo practicing with his team’s D-League affiliate as opposed to playing in an actual game for the Red Claws ... as seen last season with Amare Stoudemire in Erie. But we can dream, right? Why not a warm-up game or two with the D-Fenders to test himself in game conditions when Kobe Bryant is ready to return from his recent knee fracture? It's an option that wasn't available to NBA teams in the previous labor agreement and is bound to come into play one of these days. (For the record: Portland was able to send C.J. McCollum to Idaho for a brief rehab assignment -- and Philadelphia can do the same with Nerlens Noel -- without needing player approval because the player is still within the first three years of his NBA career. NBA vets with more than three seasons of service time can't be designated for a rehab assignment without consent.)
8. Even after the recent release of Aquille Carr, Delaware still has two players on its roster who are eligible for the draft in June: Thanasis Antetokounmpo (brother of the Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo) and Norvel Pelle. But such draft-eligible players are not eligible to be called up by an NBA team during the D-League season. The same option to enter the D-League, for the record, is available to P.J. Hairston (suspended at North Carolina) and/or Chane Behanan (suspended at Louisville).