After one of Rio Grande’s recent games, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey sent congratulatory text messages to the team’s coaching staff afterward. What they didn’t know (at first) was that Morey was on a scouting trip to Europe and had been watching the game online half a world away in Spain.
It goes to show the level of investment and involvement that an increasing number of NBA teams are making in the D-League. Among the Jazz’s Western Conference counterparts, Houston, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and the Lakers all either own and operate a team or have a single affiliation with one in which they run the basketball operations.
There are various estimates of what it costs ($100,000 to $400,000) for an NBA team to run basketball operations for a D-League team, which includes hiring and paying a coaching staff among other things. Just looking at the Rockets’ transactions for the season, though, you see how they find value from the relationship with Rio Grande.
“I think it’s absolutely terrific,” Jones said. “From afar, I’ve admired it and I spent some time with their assistant coach [Tuesday night] before the game and they are just raving about the connection between having the basketball people with the Rockets being a part of the D-League. They have resources for basketball as far as they have all their scouts help.”
What contributes to the Jazz’s reservations are both the cost of the investment as well as the difficulty in protecting players with a D-League affiliate as the relationship is currently structured. In recent days, San Antonio signed Alonzo Gee and Oklahoma City signed Mustafa Shakur just to keep other teams away from them.
One possibility is of a D-League team’s affiliate having the right of first refusal when another team wants to call up one of its players. The Jazz could have called up Shakur, for example, but only if the Thunder passed on matching the call-up themselves.
There’s also talk about allowing D-League teams to protect the rights of two or three players who took part in either summer league or went to training camp with one of their NBA affiliates. If he hadn’t made the Jazz’s roster, Wesley Matthews could have been steered to the Flash that way.
Among the other things you hear are about creating a new class of D-League players. Maybe NBA teams only would be allowed to carry a maximum of 14 players on their rosters, but they would be allowed to control the rights to two players with their affiliate in the D-League.
(Instead of paying that 15th player the NBA minimum of at least $450,000, the two D-League/NBA players might make $120,000 combined. So there would be some cost saving benefit on one hand as well as investment in the D-League on the other.)
Just something worth watching in the coming months and years. Would you feel pressure as the Jazz to keep up with something in which the Rockets, Thunder, Spurs and Lakers already have taken a lead?