NBA teams are creating ever closer relationships with their D-League affiliates. All 19 D-League teams have one-to-one NBA affiliates for the 2015/16 season, and more one-to-one partnerships are on the way. NBA teams that have D-League affiliates can use a roster-building tool that often comes into play at the start of the season. These NBA franchises can select “affiliate players” and funnel them to their D-League teams.
An affiliate player is someone who was under contract with an NBA team, was released and cleared waivers, and whose NBA team unilaterally claimed his D-League rights. The last part is key. NBA teams can retain the D-League rights to as many as four players they release, thus keeping them out of the D-League draft (the 2015 D-League draft is scheduled for October 31st) or the waiver system that the D-League uses during the season to determine which of its teams get newly signed players. An NBA team can designate an affiliate player during the season, but usually, teams identify those players at the end of the preseason.
Players released from NBA teams are under no obligation to play in the D-League, regardless of whether their former teams want them to, and affiliate players can sign with any NBA team at any point even if they accept the affiliate player designation. When teams select affiliate players, they’re merely controlling which D-League team they’d play for if they consent to play in the D-League. That’s a limited power, but one that allows franchises to develop players using their own offensive and defensive systems and terminology and under the watchful eye of team-controlled coaches and staff.
The practice requires some patience. Only four of the 46 affiliate players designated at the start of the 2014/15 season are, as the 2015/16 regular season is set to begin, under NBA contract with the franchise that gave them the affiliate player tag. Langston Galloway is probably the most rousing success among them, having started 41 games for New York in 2014/15 after spending the first two months of the season as an affiliate player with the Westchester Knicks. Tyler Johnson of the Heat and James Michael McAdoo of the Warriors are safely on their respective NBA rosters after joining midway through last season, but Jabari Brown is sweating it out today as the Lakers decide whether he or Metta World Peace will be the team’s final preseason cut.
The Lakers wouldn’t have to apply the affiliate player tag to Brown if they cut him, since D-League teams can retain the rights to players who played for them any time within the past two years. That rule looms large. If an NBA team brings five players to training camp and one of them was an affiliate player for the same team the year before, the franchise can tag the four other camp cuts as affiliate players, keep the D-League returning player rights to the fifth guy, and have all of them play for its D-League affiliate. That rarely happens, however. More often, NBA teams bring a player or two to camp whose D-League rights are already owned by another team’s affiliate through that same returning player rule. For instance, the Hawks brought Earl Barron to camp in September and waived him Saturday. They can’t make him an affiliate player because the Suns beat them to it by a year. Phoenix had Barron in camp last fall and designated him as an affiliate player, and the Suns later signed him to the NBA roster on two 10-day contracts and a deal for the rest of the 2014/15 season.
NBA teams are also not allowed to designate anyone who spent less than half the preseason with them as an affiliate player if they also spent time in an NBA camp with a different team, except in one circumstance, as Adam Johnson of D-League Digest points out. Ryan Boatright spent the lion’s share of the preseason with the Nets, who waived him last week. The Pistons signed him shortly after he cleared waivers, then released him two days later. It’s just the sort of last-minute move that the NBA and the D-League had in mind when they stipulated that teams couldn’t sign players just for a few days solely to grab their D-League rights. However, the Pistons are allowed to name Boatright an affiliate player, as they’re reportedly poised to do, because the Nets don’t have a D-League affiliate of their own. Thus, some last-minute “catch-and-release” signings in late October do indeed take place because of the D-League.
Teams without one-to-one affiliates were still allowed to designate affiliate players under the shared affiliate system. That’s how the Pacers tagged C.J. Fair as an affiliate player last season. He spent the year with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, who were the shared affiliate of 13 NBA teams for the 2014/15 season. The Pacers signed Fair for camp and released him again this year, but since the Mad Ants are now the one-to-one affiliate of the Pacers, Indiana already has his D-League rights.
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 and Chris Reichert’s D-League FAQ for Upside & Motor were used in the creation of this post.