Sports Fans: Does Anyone Care About the NBA D-League?

Mike LeeContributor IIIJanuary 16, 2013

Amare Stoudemire spent time with the Erie BayHawks while rehabbing from his most recent knee injury.
Amare Stoudemire spent time with the Erie BayHawks while rehabbing from his most recent knee injury.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

In today’s sports world, the average fan does not have much time, if any, to keep up with the NBA Development League. Sure, we all see the occasional blurb about a player being assigned or called up. We may catch the occasional score or even a snippet of a game as we are flipping through channels on the TV.

In all honesty, how many people really follow the D-League?

The question has an easy answer—not many. Even among the most die-hard basketball fans, few follow the D-League on a consistent basis. However, that could all change in the near future. Actually, if we look closely, that change is already beginning to happen.

The NBA D-League was formed in 2001 and has developed into a minor league farm system for the NBA, with each NBA D-League team affiliated with one or more NBA teams. At the conclusion of the 2011-12 season, 27 percent of NBA players had some form of NBA D-League experience.

According to many league officials, the eventual plan for the D-League is to expand to 30 teams. This would allow for every NBA franchise to have an exclusive, single affiliation with their respective minor league franchise.

The D-League of today has already begun to move in that direction.

Eleven of the league’s 16 teams currently have single-affiliation partnerships with NBA teams. This single-affiliation model exists in two ways.

The first model is called "parent club ownership," where the D-League franchise is owned by a "parent" NBA team. This method was first adopted by the Los Angeles Lakers when the organization became the owners of the Los Angeles D-Fenders. The San Antonio Spurs (Austin Toros), Cleveland Cavaliers (Canton Charge), Golden State Warriors (Santa Cruz Warriors) and Oklahoma City Thunder (Tulsa 66ers) have also adopted this model.

The second model is known as the "hybrid-affiliation," where the NBA franchise purchases and operates the basketball operations of the D-League franchise. The NBA team assigns players, coaches and other basketball staff, while the team’s independent ownership retains the franchise’s business operations. In 2009, the Houston Rockets and the Rio Grande Valley Vipers became the first "hybrid-affiliation" in the league. The New York Knicks (Erie BayHawks), Portland Trail Blazers (Idaho Stampede), Boston Celtics (Maine Red Claws), Brooklyn Nets (Springfield Armor) and Dallas Mavericks (Texas Legends) adopted this affiliation model.

NBA teams benefit from this single-affiliation, because they are able to assign players to the D-League franchise and maintain some control over the player’s development.

The Thunder have shuttled both of their rookies, Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones, to their D-League affiliate at different times throughout this season. The Portland Trail Blazers assigned Nolan Smith and Will Barton to the Idaho Stampede to allow them to play in the annual D-League Showcase. Amare Stoudemire was sent to the Knicks’ D-League affiliate, the Erie BayHawks, while rehabbing from his most recent knee surgery.

Major League Baseball is known for popularizing the minor league model. The minor league system in baseball has become synonymous with the game itself. Fans follow minor league affiliates in order to get a glimpse of their major league team’s possible future. Minor league prospects are included in trades for some of the game’s most recognized stars. Baseball teams are even graded on how strong their farm system is.

In the near future, the same will be said about the NBA and the NBA D-League.