The shuttling of players back and forth from the D-League to the NBA has begun even though the D-League regular season has yet to start, and it only figures to intensify once the season begins for real on the NBA’s junior circuit. NBA teams have been allowed to make an unlimited number of D-League assignments the past two years, and they’ve taken full advantage.
D-League teams have no shortage of ways to stock their rosters. The eight-round D-League draft at the beginning of the month filled plenty of slots, while NBA teams kept the D-League rights to a combined 47 players they cut during the preseason, taking advantage of expanded leeway to do so. Most first-time D-Leaguers entering the league after its draft must go through waivers, allowing interested affiliates to submit claims, but D-League teams are allowed to make outright signings of the players they find through preseason tryout camps. Yet perhaps the most noteworthy players to pass through the D-League come via NBA assignment.
The players whom NBA teams assign to the D-League aren’t quite like other D-Leaguers. NBA players receive their full salaries while on D-League assignment, whereas the D-Leaguers without an NBA contract receive paltry annual earnings that top out at around $26K. Still, a D-League assignment could wind up costing an NBA player, since performance in the D-League doesn’t count toward any incentive clauses built into an NBA contract. So, for instance, say Andrew Bogut is injured at some point this season, and he plays a few rehab games with Golden State’s D-League affiliate, the Santa Cruz Warriors. None of the numbers Bogut might put up in Santa Cruz would count toward the performance incentives built into his deal with the big club.
Of course, Bogut would be a rare case as a long-tenured NBA player on a D-League assignment. Most NBA players in the D-League have fewer than three years of experience. That’s in part because NBA teams want to give their young players some extra seasoning, as the “D” in D-League stands for development, after all. Yet players in their first, second or third NBA seasons are the only ones whom NBA teams can unilaterally send down to the D-League. Otherwise, they must get the consent of the union as well as the player. Still, it happens on occasion, as with Rajon Rondo‘s brief D-League assignment last year, one that lasted less than two hours.
Most players on D-League assignment spend more time with the farm team than Rondo did. Once a player has been assigned to the D-League, he can remain there indefinitely, and lengthy stints are not uncommon. The Rockets sent Robert Covington to the D-League on November 7th last year, and he didn’t return to Houston until January 18th. Still, Covington later went on multiple D-League assignments that lasted only a day or less. The Rockets are one of 17 NBA teams that either own their D-League teams outright or operate the basketball operations of their affiliates in “hybrid” partnerships with local ownership groups. Teams that have these arrangements can set up a unified system in which the D-League club runs the same offensive and defensive schemes and coaches dole out playing time based on what’s best for the parent club. That gives these NBA teams an advantage, so it’s no surprise that a growing number of them are striking up one-to-one affiliations — as recently as 2012/13, only 11 teams had such an arrangement.
That leaves the other 13 NBA teams to share just one D-League squad, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, which will make for a tight squeeze. D-League teams can expand their rosters from 10 to 12 to accept players on assignment from the NBA, but no D-League team may accept more than four players on assignment, or two at any one position, at the same time. If Fort Wayne is at those maximums and one of its 13 NBA parents wants to assign a player, other D-League teams may volunteer to accept the player. The NBA team making the assignment can choose from those clubs if there are multiple volunteers, but if no D-League team raises its hand, the D-League will randomly choose one of its teams to accept the player.
Note: This is a Hoops Rumors Glossary entry. Our glossary posts will explain specific rules relating to trades, free agency, or other aspects of the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. Larry Coon’s Salary Cap FAQ was used in the creation of this post.
Versions of this post were initially published on November 7th, 2012 and November 2nd, 2013.