Five more burning D-League questions
On Monday, we took a look at the first few questions off the top of my head as we plunge into the D-League offseason. As forewarned then, uncertainty abounds around here right about now. So on we move to Part II:
1. Have the D-League and the NBA seen the last of Rod Benson?
Not for the first time, the man behind the Boom Tho movement pronounced himself done with the D-League after his Reno Bighorns lost to eventual champion Rio Grande Valley in three games in the first round of the playoffs. As reported by FanHouse’s Matt Moore:
This is not the first time Benson has claimed he is through with the NBA’s Development League, but after four seasons of stellar play, Benson says he has “come to terms” with the fact that he is unlikely to be called up, especially in light of how many other big men have been called up this season. Benson had an unsuccessful stint in Europe earlier last year that brought him back to the NBA D-League but sounds much more convinced that it’s time to move on.
For all Benson’s on-court flaws – he could use a bit more bulk for a big man, and it’s unclear if he his offensive game is polished or effective enough for the jump to the next level – the D-League’s all-time leading rebounder is solid on the boards and a good defender in a league with a dearth of quality big men. That he happens to be an insightful guy away from the court should only be a bonus as well, though as Matt outlines in his piece, there will always be questions of whether Benson’s blogging and outspokenness pushed NBA teams away from him.
If this is truly the end in the D-League – and possibly North American professional basketball? – for Benson, while he didn’t receive a call-up this season, and the Bighorns did fall in the first round, at least there will be no question he left it all on the floor in his final games: Benson torched the Vipers, averaging better than 24 points and 16 rebounds over the three-game set.
2. Will the Texas Legends fall closer to Springfield or Maine on the expansion team success front?
Finally officially named last month, the D-League’s Frisco franchise will make its on-court debut in the 2010-11 season. In 2009-10, the Springfield Armor won just seven games in their inaugural season. The Maine Red Claws got off to a tremendous start, sold out regularly and dominated merchandise sales but eventually saw their season end on the last weekend of the regular schedule after a disappointing collapse dropped them to 27-23, putting the Claws on the outside of the playoffs looking in.
The Legends look to be in good hands with Nancy Lieberman coaching and Dallas Mavericks GM Donnie Nelson owning the league’s latest single-affiliate team (parented by the Mavs, of course). From a business standpoint, the Legends will have the benefit of an instant rivalry with established Texas teams in Austin and Rio Grande Valley. But those are also two of the league’s most well-run organizations (also single-affiliates), and the possibility of playing upwards of 15 of their 50 games against those two teams might not bode well for an expansion team. Looking forward to seeing how minor league hoops does in Frisco, both on the court and off.
3. Speaking of expansion teams, what can we expect for Springfield and Maine in year two?
It’s hard to imagine a second season for the Armor going any worse than this one did. Dee Brown had to overhaul his personnel on multiple occasions, never found the right mix and muddled through a season in which his seven-win team was plagued by both injuries and ineptitude. After making the blockbuster Morris-Almond-to-Maine trade in mid-February, Brown never really got a fair shot to look at the entirety of his newly assembled crew, thanks to injuries to both of his acquisitions (Noel Felix and Tony Bobbitt). But Brown made it clear with the Almond trade and his comments afterward that he was committed to building defense and chemistry in Springfield. With a year under his belt and a clean slate to find healthy and able players, Brown will have more expected of his unit going forward.
Further north, the Red Claws finished as the league’s biggest disappointment at season’s end. Despite starting 23-14 and employing the services of several assignees and others with past NBA experience, the Claws lost nine of their last 13, including six straight to end the season, losing a tie-breaker and missing the playoffs at 27-23. When the Red Claws were 11-4, team president Jon Jennings told me he was too competitive to be content with his team’s fast start. One can only imagine how he felt about the way the season ended. The season was a tremendous business success that included a local TV deal, routine sellouts and high merchandise sales. Now, it’s up to Jennings and coach Austin Ainge to keep bringing in the right players and keep them from melting down the stretch. Here’s guessing they recover from this year’s 2008 Mets act and find themselves in the tournament in 2011.
4. What is the next step for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers organization?
This team had one of the (if not the single most) successful seasons in D-League history: 34 regular season wins (good for second in the league), Coach of the Year (Chris Finch), MVP (Mike Harris), five call-ups (Antonio Anderson, Will Conroy, Kenny Hasbrouck, Mike Harris and Garrett Temple) and by the way, the Vipers won the D-League championship.
That’s a terrific season, and Daryl Morey had nothing but praise for the Houston Rockets’ relationship with the hybrid-affiliated Vipers when he spoke with me in Boise earlier in the season.
But at the same time, there is room for more success: The five RGV call-ups combined to play a total of 481 minutes in 46 appearances at the NBA level this season, with 430 and 40 of those minutes and games played respectively compiled by Temple and Harris. Only Temple and Harris remain on NBA rosters at present, and Temple has received a total of 13 minutes in four playoff appearances for the Spurs. As well as the Vipers are doing – and again, this is to take absolutely nothing away from what a fantastic job the folks in McAllen are doing – they are still turning out end-of-the-end-of-the-bench players for the NBA level. Is there something that can be done at the D-League level to produce call-ups that are ready to make more of an impact? Or will it merely require more time for the league to grow with age? Or is this the ceiling for a D-League team’s value to pro organizations?
5. Where will Latavious Williams get drafted?
The D-League’s resident preps-to-semi-pros product completed an up-and-down rookie season averaging 7.7 points and 7.7 rebounds in 20.5 minutes per game. Playing approximately the same minutes in the postseason, Williams stepped that production up to 11.3 points and 8.0 rebounds per game for the Finals runner-up Tulsa 66ers.
The trail-blazing Williams will now take his solid per-minute production with him to the NBA draft to see if he can earn his first contract at the next level that way. How successful Williams is may play a big role in determining choices made by future high school stars considering opting out of the college experience while waiting to meet the NBA’s age restriction.
For what it’s worth, our pal Scott Schroeder at Ridiculous Upside lists Williams 51st in his mock draft to – you guessed it! – the Oklahoma City Thunder, owners of the Tulsa team Williams played for this season.