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Future of the NBA and the NBA D-League Going Forward

Few NBA lockout ending scenarios, deal with the restructuring of the NBA D-League...A move which may be a financial gain.

Every journalist, analyst and otherwise have come up with interesting scenarios which would alleviate the distance between the NBA owners and the player's union, thus ending a long and unpopular lockout.  I do not have a foolproof solution, rather and idea on how to increase popularity and improve the global dynamic of the NBA.  Part one...Stop the lockout as soon as possible.

As we all know, the NBA lockout has come at the worst possible time.  Ratings and fan interest in the league are on the rise.  The NBA playoffs and NBA Draft had some of the highest television ratings in years.  All of which makes shutting down operations difficult to accept...Especially for a young team like the Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers are a team filled with promise, but currently in disarray.  Mistakes in management have caused the Sixers to have one of the higher payrolls in the league, despite not having an abundance of talent.  Regardless of fresh new ownership, if the 2011-2012 season remains locked out, expect the situation to decline.

For a team as young as Philadelphia, a work stoppage would mean a year of development for many of their young players lost.  Players like Jrue Holiday, Thaddeus Young and even Evan Turner would lose 82 games to improve themselves.  A loss like that could seriously hinder a player's progress.

Because of the lockout many NBA players have decided to go overseas to earn some money and keep up with their development.  The NBA and overseas basketball have pulled from the same player pool for years.  Unfortunately unless a player has a legitimate shot at making the NBA he will most likely go overseas.

Which brings me to my NBA restructuring...Utilize the D-League.    An agreement between the two sides must include reorganization of the NBA D-League.  The D-League has been improving every year since its inception in 2001, with 23 percent of current NBA players having spent some time there.

The lure of overseas basketball however, is strong.  Some teams are able to pay much more than the allotted three-tier salary scale of the NBA D-League.  Other teams promise big money, utilize unsafe training methods until said player is injured, then simply stop paying them, forcing that player into a writing career.

The D-League, despite the low pay, have attracted many top prospects.  Some players on the verge of the NBA would rather sacrifice money for a shot at the big time.  However, once a player leaves to go overseas, their contract becomes too expensive to buy out.  This eliminates an NBA team from signing them mid-season, no matter how well they are performing. 

In order to keep these players from going abroad, an unpopular and possibly unachievable task would need to be performed... Increasing D-League salaries.

The NBA has had severe financial issues, which have resulted in this lockout.  In order to make this happen, the NBA would have to sink some serious money into the D-League.  This seems like an immediate deal breaker.  Where do you find money that isn't there?  Increasing fan support in some of the smaller market franchises would be a start. 

I have looked at other professional sports structures, most notably baseball.  Major League Baseball has the market cornered.  Besides Japan, America is one of the few countries in which athletes can earn a substantial living playing professional baseball.  The main reason stems from their minor league system. 

MLB has several classes of affiliates for each major league team.  These teams are located in areas where there is large show of support for their major league team...i.e. Philadelphia, Lehigh Valley, Reading, Clearwater.  These minor league affiliates have drawn good attendance based on location, convenience and general interest.  If there is a chance to see a top prospect, or a superstar's rehab stint for half the price of a Phillies ticket twenty minutes from their home, it is an easy decision.

The pride for the minor league affiliate means pride for the major league team.  This develops a growth in an organization's fan base, creating higher revenue for the team.

In order for this system to transfer over to the NBA, each team would need to have its own affiliate.  Of the sixteen current teams, only nine are single affiliates for an NBA team.  Which means that the D-League would need to expand to thirty teams, all located a convenient distance away from their NBA team.

The Cleveland Cavaliers were the latest NBA team to have a single D-League affiliate.  Cavaliers GM Chris Grant said it best,  "Having the ability to own and operate a D-League franchise in Canton once again illustrates ownership’s outstanding commitment to creating a culture of success.  Player development is at the core of our process and being able to operate our own franchise so close to home will place us in the most strategic position to take an active part in the player development process."  The D-League are rumored to be putting a team in Trenton, NJ...A perfect location for the Philadelphia 76ers.

In order for the expansion to work, the existing rules of the NBA D-League would also need to be restructured.  Currently NBA teams can send players down to their affiliates, but have the free reign to snatch up any player playing in the D-League.  If this is to work each team would only be able to draw from their own affiliate.

The NBA would also need to restructure its current draft process as well.  1988 was the last draft longer than two rounds.  If you look at the drafts of the 70's and 80's you'd be surprised by how many talented NBA players were selected after the first two rounds, most notably Bill Laimbeer and Drazen Petrovic.  Could you imagine if Bill Laimbeer went overseas for a few years then retired? 

If the NBA were to implement a third and possibly fourth round, it would allow teams to take a chance on guys who, with the right coaching, could become talented NBA players.  The NBA could restructure the ruling on younger players becoming drafted.  Players directly out of high school could be drafted, but not eligible for the NBA during their first year.  Drafting players based on potential would suddenly make sense.

Drafting based on potential has always been one of my biggest pet peeves in the NBA.  Not because I don't agree with it, but because the twenty year old with a high ceiling gets a roster spot, while the older, more experienced player who has dominated the potentially good player everyday in practice, is released. 

If the D-League were to take on this new structure, a player like Bismack Biyombo would get a full season or two in the D-League, learning the system and structure of the Charlotte Bobcats, while the Bobcats could use his empty roster spot to grab a player who could help them win now. 

By setting up a more organized and utilized minor league system, the NBA could reclaim the most talented players in the world and create a monopoly on global basketball.  Raw talent would become prospects, while every NBA roster would have NBA ready players.  Obviously there would need to be some adjustments to the rules, but I believe this system could seriously help the NBA, both in terms of financial gains and popularity.