Grading NBA Teams’ Usage of the D-League: Northwest Division

Updated: August 27, 2010

This is part three of our six-part series grading all 30 NBA teams on their usage of the D-League. Be sure to also check out the grades for the Pacific and Atlantic divisions. If you missed the original post and are unfamiliar with the genesis of this idea or want a full, detailed explanation of how the grades were determined, read the introduction of this post.

Otherwise, here’s the quick and dirty recap of how we graded: Bloggers were asked to consider quantity and quality of each team’s assignments and call-ups, ownership and communication with the D-League affiliate, and any other factors that contribute to effective usage of the D-League. For each team, I took the TrueHoop Network team blogger’s grade (THN), Matt Moore’s grade (MM), Ridiculous Upside’s grade (RU), and my grade (MH), and calculated a final GPA.

With that in mind, here are the grades and rationales for the teams of the Northwest Division:

Denver Nuggets LogoDenver Nuggets: 0.92 GPA
High Grade: C- (THN)
Low Grade: F (MM)
Players Assigned: 4 (2 in last two years)
Players Called Up: 8 (2 in last two years)

THN’s Take (by Jeremy Wagner, Roundball Mining Company): The Denver Nuggets were the very first NBA team to call up a player from the D-League when they signed Chris “Birdman” Andersen [in 2001], who at the time only had 40 percent of his torso covered in tattoos as opposed to his current 110 percent. That move worked out exceptionally well and things have gone downhill ever since.

Several times the Nuggets attempted to replace the draft picks they haphazardly and repeatedly gave away by acquiring prospects on the cheap through late season call-ups of players such as Von Wafer, Bobby Jones and Coby Karl. It was a smart tactic to employ, but none of those moves ever delivered a rotation player, though I had high hopes for Karl.

Denver did find Dahntay Jones after he played one season with Fort Wayne, and he became an impact player the season they reached the Western Conference Finals. Denver also managed Sonny Weems well as he was able to develop his game with the Colorado 14ers, although they gave him away in a trade for Malik Allen.  Weems is now in the mix to start for the Toronto Raptors.

The Nuggets greatest failure was not recognizing the value of having the 14ers playing just a hop, skip and a jump away in Broomfield, Colo. Instead of buying a controlling stake in the team, the 14ers were sold to a group headed up by Donnie Nelson and moved to Frisco, Texas, where the Dallas Mavericks can reap the benefits.

Matt Moore’s Explanation: Coby Karl does not a system make. The 14ers died on their watch. Okay, not really. But still. I liked that team’s logo.

Final Assessment: The Nuggets did snatch a couple of late season call-ups last season, but both Brian Butch and Coby Karl were waived earlier this summer. Depending on what happens with Carmelo Anthony, the Nuggets could be in rebuilding mode sooner rather than later. Yes, they deserve a few bonus points for the league’s first call-up, but that was almost a decade ago, and they haven’t really had a successful call-up since. The departure of Colorado as a D-League franchise wasn’t good for them, but they shouldn’t use that as an excuse for refraining from assigning players in the future. If they want an affiliate in Colorado, pony up the cash to make it happen.

Minnesota Timberwolves LogoMinnesota Timberwolves: 1.44 GPA*
High Grade: C+ (RU)
Low Grade: D (MH, MM)
Players Assigned: 5 (1 in last two years)
Players Called Up: 3 (1 in last two years)

Matt Moore’s Explanation: They have a franchise down the road, ready to contribute. Nothin’. They have a team losing that can afford to experiment. Nothing. Imagine what Darko’s $20 mil could have done in the D-League.

Final Assessment: David Kahn’s “plan” in Minnesota is unclear to most basketball fans, but it’s pretty clear that utilizing the D-League is somewhere behind drafting young point guards and acquiring other team’s failed draft projects. That said, the team did call-up Greg Stiemsma late last year and sign him for the 2010-11 season. They also added former D-Leaguer Anthony Tolliver—though not until after he’d been called up elsewhere. Tolliver’s Decision Part Deux aside, high profile free agents aren’t flocking in droves to Minnesota, so it’d be a wise move for Kahn and company to look into the possibility of developing some homegrown talent.

Oklahoma City ThunderOklahoma City Thunder: 3.75 GPA
High Grade: A (MM, THN)
Low Grade: B+ (RU)
Players Assigned: 10 (7 in last two years)
Players Called Up: 11 (4 in last two years)

THN’s Take (by Royce Young, The Daily Thunder): I would honestly give the Thunder an A. I know that seems a bit homerish, but honestly, what are they doing wrong? They utilize call-ups as much as anyone, own their affiliate and have installed the same system in both OKC and Tulsa. Also, Sam Presti oversees all transactions done by the 66ers.

The Thunder even used the D-League to scout Latavious Williams and then acquire him via trade on draft night. And then they’ll use the D-League to grow Williams as well. If anyone is taking advantage of the D-League, I’d say it’s OKC.

Matt Moore’s Explanation: They have a stocked roster and still find room to send guys up and down. Fruit doesn’t fall far from the black and silver tree.

Final Assessment: The Thunder is that intriguing new kid in class that all the girls are talking about. Good-looking, fun, smart and lovable (unless you talk to ex-girlfriend and scorned lover, Seattle). But back on point, the D-League aspect of the Thunder definitely falls under the smart category. With 11 combined assignments and call-ups over the past two seasons, it’s clear that this is a team determined to utilizing the D-League to develop its young talent. They’ve built a team that’s set to contend in the West with a young and improving nucleus, and they’re supplementing that core with pieces that they’re molding and fine-tuning in the D-League. Using the D-League is not a perfect science, but that doesn’t stop the Thunder from experimenting.

Trail Blazers LogoPortland Trail Blazers: 0.89 GPA*
High Grade: C- (RU)
Low Grade: F (MM)
Players Assigned: 6 (1 in last two years)
Players Called Up: 5 (1 in last two years)

Matt Moore’s Explanation: F. But who needs the D-League when you draft like Mensa members and have shrewd management? I can’t blame them. Money should be going to their medical staff.

Final Assessment: I don’t know if a Greg Oden rehab stint in the D-League would’ve been the best way to go, but it couldn’t have turned out much more disappointing than his NBA career has been so far. It’s frankly surprising that Portland has not made a stronger commitment to the D-League as they are generally one of the smarter run franchises in the league. Perhaps a closer affiliate than Idaho—some 420-plus miles away—would entice them? Any chance someone could convince Paul Allen to put D-League franchise on his shopping list this Christmas?

Utah Jazz LogoUtah Jazz: 3.34 GPA
High Grade: A- (MM, THN)
Low Grade: B (MH, RU)
Players Assigned: 8 (4 in last two years)
Players Called Up: 5 (2 in last two years)

THN’s Take (by Spencer Ryan Hall, Salt City Hoops): I would give the Jazz an A- in D-League usage. The Jazz have an excellent arrangement that lets them enjoy all the benefits of owning team and having it nearby (45 minute drive in this case) without having to pay for any overhead other than the player salary for the guys they send down.

Jerry Sloan has famously made great use of the D-League, both in having young players spend a good amount of time in the league and in not being afraid to use call-ups in his Jazz line up. The Sundiata Gaines Game will live forever in the hearts of Jazz fans.

The only improvement the Jazz could do is provide more organizational support to the Flash in order to provide a more structured experience while their players are in the D-League. Paying for the coaching staff would be a good step.

Matt Moore’s Explanation: They have a strong relationship with the Flash, but it could be stronger. We’ll see how it goes depending on how the team goes the next few years.

Final Assessment: The Jazz enjoy one of the NBA’s closest relationships with their D-League affiliate, the Utah Flash. Literally. Their facilities are less than 40 miles apart. Only the Dallas Mavericks and expansion Texas Legends are closer. The Jazz’s proximity to the Flash has worked well for them, and in a perfect world, it’s definitely a luxury other teams would like to have. The next step for the Jazz would be to invest in the Flash financially, but it’s hard to blame them for not buying the cow when they’re basically getting the milk for free.

*TrueHoop Network blogs A Wolf Among Wolves and Portland Roundball Society declined to offer a grade, so these teams’ GPA was based on just three grades.

How would you grade the Northwest Division teams’ usage of the D-League. Let us know in the comments below. And be sure to check back for grades of the other NBA teams in the upcoming days.

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