The D-League started with eight teams in 2001 with the hopes of providing a true farm system for NBA. The results have been mixed as a decent amount of current NBA players have climbed the ranks from the D-League to earn real NBA minutes, but overall, the NBA's minor league hasn't been used to the fullest extent. Hopefully Brandon Jennings' pit stop in Grand Rapids will kick start the D-League's usage rate.
How can the NBA use the D-League better?
Ego is the biggest thing standing in the way of current NBA players utilizing the minor league system as spending time in the D-League is a perceived demotion. Younger players have no choice, but seasoned veterans have the ability to turn down a minor league assignment. Brandon Jennings probably wasn't looking to make any kind of statement suiting up for the Drive but by giving the Pistons game situation film it puts both the player and team in a much better situation of assessing his current abilities and estimating a true return. Hundreds of injuries happen each year and Jennings is easily the highest profile player to use the D-League for this purpose.
Helping shape the lesser outlook of the D-League is name itself: "D" League. Please change that. As silly as it sounds, the letter D has a horrible connotation. Nobody wants a D on their midterm and nobody wants to play in the D-League.
Make it a better option than college basketball
Can we please end the farce that is big time college basketball? One and done type players have no business playing accounting majors as it does no good for either side. Granted there are only a handful of true "one and done" type players each year in college basketball but it's not only the Anthony Davis' of the world that need another route. As is, the NBA states you must be removed from high school for one year before entering the draft. Other than making a mockery of the term "student athlete", what purpose does that arbitrary length of time serve? There are rumblings it might get pushed to two years removed from high school after the league settles on a new CBA. If passed, that leaves basketball prodigies with two legit options: pretend to care about Professor Johnson's lectures for two years or play in Europe (and the like) for two years. Either way, it's essentially twirling thumbs until you can finally cash a NBA check.
If your goal is to play basketball at a professional level, be it in the NBA, across the pond or anywhere in-between, the 8am biology class is not preparing you to meet that goal. What does prepare you for playing professional basketball? Playing basketball.
If the NBA is determined to establish a waiting period between high school and entering the draft, it should also offer a legit stateside job. It's up to the NBA to make the D-League a tad more enticing. This can be done by:
Paying the players decent money. Funding this shouldn't be a problem as the NBA is making historical amounts of cash. The best way to grow business is to reinvest in that business.
Paying players would obviously end amateur status but it would also allow player sponsorship. Adidas would wait two years to see an ROI if it meant signing Andrew Wiggins to a deal as soon as possible.
The NBA symposium is a cute idea that lasts a week (or so) and is designed to give incoming rookies an idea of what to expect as they make a transition into a professional work place. Not good enough. During that two year waiting period, players could learn how to --oh, I don't know -- balance a check book to start. Since they're making decent money, it's OJT as well. Finance classes, nutrition classes as appose to Civil War 101. Since it's two years long, I'm guessing it's going to sink in a little more than the current week long nap.
Iron sharpens iron
For a large majority of college basketball players, playing for State U is the last time they'll put on a uniform and that's perfectly fine but it's a disservice to players with professional aspirations. Posting up against future high school teachers (nothing against high school teachers) doesn't exactly garner the same results as going against a player competing for a large pay day. Creating a better environment (see the point above) should attract higher quality player and in turn, higher competition. Players don't get better by playing lesser talent.
There are far too many limitations on what college hoopsters are able to do to better themselves throughout the year; a weekly hour limit of coach-player interaction doesn't exist on the professional level. If you're dead serious on making it as a pro baller, why would you put limitations on the basketball work load?
College coaches are usually deemed as great teachers and they certainly can be. However, in almost every situation, they are looking out for the betterment of the program (and rightfully so) as opposed to a specific player. If a player is on an NBA's D-League affiliate, that team is going to do everything to see that player succeed. Who's the only person able to keep Michael Jordan grounded? Dean Smith.
Where to go from here?
The NBA is in a great place but there is always room for improvement. The D-League is an attainable option for an upgrade but it will take money and some serious thought (other than from mophatt1) to accomplish. Brandon Jennings may or may not have gotten the ball rolling.
How you would you change the D-League?