Earlier this year, the Blazers ended their relationship with their exclusive Developmental League team, the Idaho Stampede. As Ben reviews in his article, it was just the latest in a rocky relationship the Blazers have maintained with the D-League. In the end, as the Oregonian's Joe Freeman noted, the Blazers felt internal development trumped anything that could be offered by playing more minutes in the "minor leagues".
Minor leagues are vital to a sport like baseball, where players almost always need time to ramp up to major league skill level. But in basketball, players are often ready to contribute early. By the time players are being drafted, any high-level picks tend to have "graduated" from the D-League. In fact, even struggling NBA players like former Blazers Nolan Smith, Luke Babbitt and Patty Mills almost effortlessly dominated. The discrepancy in skill level between the NBA and D-League players was nearly striking.
The alternative to D-League is staying with your team. This gives you more time with coaches who know your game inside and out, know the team's offensive and defensive schemes, and are dedicated to making you the best player you can be. You get practice against NBA players, and are available any given night to play in an NBA game, even if it's simply due to a blowout.
That's not to dismiss the D-League as useless. One of its advantages is to keep fringe NBA players relevant, so they can continue to grow and eventually get a shot with an organization. Former Blazers starter Ime Udoka is among them. It also can be used for players to get some game minutes when returning from injury, as done by CJ McCollum last season.
But the more important use of D-League to fans is the ability to "send players down" for seasoning and game play before coming back up, hopefully improved. The Blazers have sent various players to the D-League over the years, such as top pick Martell Webster. But despite the word "development" in the title, the D-League seems to primarily just be a placeholder for NBA players, a spot where they can take more shots, and at most, perhaps gain a little confidence.
Webster went on to a very solid NBA career, recently signing a lucrative extension with the Washington Wizards. Patty Mills, despite a recent injury, signed a new contract with the NBA World Champion San Antonio Spurs. Even Luke Babbitt made an NBA comeback last season with the New Orleans Pelicans.
But the real question remains: Would any of these players really feel that their stints in the D-League made any difference to their long term development?
Chime in below. Is the D-League, as currently constructed, useful to NBA teams and/or players? If so, how? And if not, how can it be fixed?