Fourteen things you gotta know about the NBA D-League's 14th season, which tips off Friday night with six games:
1. The league will field a record 18 teams, with 17 of them sporting single affiliations with their NBA parent clubs. The math would suggest things could thus get interesting for the defending champion Fort Wayne Mad Ants, who are no longer affiliated with the Detroit Pistons and will now serve as the affiliate for the 13 NBA teams that either don't own their own D-League franchise or don't have a hybrid agreement with a local ownership group to run basketball operations for a D-League franchise. The league has established a "flexible assignment system" in the unlikely event more than four players are dispatched to Fort Wayne at once to keep things sane, but here are the 13 teams tied to the Mad Ants: Atlanta, Brooklyn, Charlotte, Chicago, Denver, Indiana, Milwaukee, Minnesota, New Orleans, Portland, Toronto, Washington and the L.A. Clippers.
2. New season, new rules. Among the most innovative changes include mechanisms for coaches to challenge calls NFL-style as well as ways to advance the ball and make substitutions without calling timeouts, while also losing the ability to instruct players to engage in Hack-a-Shaq style intentional fouling. A broader explanation of the changes can be found here. The D-League is also still testing the international goaltending rules and a three-minute overtime, too, but will utilize a much more NBA-style seeding format for the playoffs now that it has two conferences and two divisions each. Gone is the pick-your-opponent playoff format used the past few seasons some of us (hello!) liked so much.
3. Opening Night will officially usher in a former executive from the golf world, Malcolm Turner, as the D-League's successor to departed president Dan Reed.
4. Detroit (Grand Rapids Drive), Memphis (Iowa Energy), Orlando (Erie BayHawks), Phoenix (Iowa Energy) and Utah (Idaho Stampede) have all entered into new single-affiliation hybrid relationships with the D-League clubs listed. The New York Knicks bought a D-League franchise and moved it to Westchester, N.Y., while Oklahoma City moved its D-League team from Tulsa to the Cox Convention Center across the street from the Thunder's Chesapeake Energy Arena home, reincarnating the Tulsa 66ers as the Oklahoma City Blue.
5. The Austin Toros, as they've been known since 2005, got an offseason makeover when the reigning NBA champion San Antonio Spurs renamed them the Austin Spurs. Which takes us to three D-League teams that share the same nickname as their NBA big brothers; Austin joins the Santa Cruz Warriors and Westchester Knicks.
6. There were 117 players with D-League experience on NBA opening night rosters, which equates to more than 26 percent of the NBA population. In addition, five D-Leaguers have already been called up to the NBA before the first official dribble of the 2014-15 season, setting a D-League record. They are: Will Cherry (Cleveland), Kalin Lucas (Memphis), Ish Smith (Oklahoma City), Drew Gordon (Philadelphia) and Robert Covington (Philadelphia).
7. Eleven players selected in the 2014 NBA Draft have already appeared on D-League rosters for the coming season, including first-round picks Jordan Adams, Clint Capela, P.J. Hairston, Josh Huestis, Tyler Ennis and T.J. Warren.
8. Three 2014 NBA draftees, in the latest trend, have gone straight to the D-League with the affiliate of the NBA franchise that picked them. Huestis and Semaj Christon are with Oklahoma City; Thanasis Antetokounmpo, brother of Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, is a member of the Westchester Knicks.
9. Hasheem Thabeet returns to the D-League for the first time since 2010-11 -- this time as a member of the Grand Rapids Drive -- and remains the highest draftee to ever play in the NBA's official developmental league after being selected No. 2 overall in the 2009 Draft. Other 2014-15 D-Leaguers with NBA name recognition include Joe Alexander (Santa Cruz Warriors), Earl Barron (Bakersfield Jam), Renaldo Balkman (Texas Legends), Earl Clark (Rio Grande Valley Vipers), Manny Harris (LA D-Fenders), Bernard James (Texas Legends), Mike James (Texas Legends), Jamario Moon (LA D-Fenders), Erik Murphy (Austin Spurs), Marquis Teague (Oklahoma City Blue) and Robert Vaden (Bakersfield Jam).
10. The annual NBA D-League Showcase has been moved from our beloved Reno, Nevada, to picturesque Santa Cruz, Calif. The event will run from Jan. 15-19 and feature the first in-season tournament in league history, with the league's top eight teams vying for the title in the single-elimination Showcase Cup.
11. Twelve of the D-League's 18 teams have new coaches, headlined by former Orlando Magic general manager Otis Smith, who now works for Stan Van Gundy instead of supervising him after taking charge of the Pistons' affiliate in Grand Rapids.
12. Circle your calendars for Jan. 8. That's the date for the season's first meeting between the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and the Reno Bighorns, teams that -- at the behest of their long-ball-obsessed coaches (Nevada Smith and David Arsenault Jr.) and parent organizations -- will likely combine to hoist more than a hundred 3s.
13. When it comes to compensation, D-League players continue to be placed in one of three classifications (A, B or C) based on experience and make a mere $25,500, $19,000 or $13,000, respectively. Daily per diem on road trips is $40 ... compared to $113 in the NBA. But D-League teams do provide housing and medical care to players to offset the comparatively low wages in relation to what they could command in leagues abroad. A relative D-League star such as Seth Curry, furthermore, is actually making well over six figures for the season once you add in Curry's guarantee of $150,000 that he received to go to training camp with the Orlando Magic before, as Orlando envisioned, winding up on the Magic's D-League team in Erie. (One footnote here: D-Leaguers must pay a buyout ranging from $40,000 to $50,000 if they want to terminate their contract to leave during the season for a more lucrative deal internationally.)
14. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has publicly acknowledged that he does foresee the day that every NBA team will have its own D-League affiliate. The next big change to watch for, though, is the implementation of two-way contracts as seen in the NHL. It likely won't happen until the NBA's next collective bargaining agreement, but it's widely anticipated that we'll eventually get to the point where NBA teams can maintain, say, 18-man rosters as opposed to 15-man rosters, with those final three slots reserved for players who'll earn an NBA wage when they're playing in the big leagues and a reduced salary when they're on assignment in the D-League.