This is part four of our six-part series grading all 30 NBA teams on their usage of the D-League. Last week, we graded the Pacific, Atlantic, and Northwest 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 Southeast Division:
THN’s Take (by Bret LaGree, Hoopinion): The Hawks get an F. They assigned Thomas Gardner and Othello Hunter to Anaheim for 1 and 3 games respectively in 2008. That’s the sum total of their recent involvement unless you count signing Mario West last season, which had more to do with his previous work with the Hawks than anything he did in his intervening time in the D-League.
Based on their actions I assume the Hawks have no interest in the league as a source of free agents or as a means to develop their own players.
Final Assessment: The Hawks’ usage of the D-League has been trending in the wrong direction. They had four call-ups in the 2002-03 season and three in 2003-04, but after two apiece during the 2004-05, 05-06, and 06-07 seasons, they’ve had just one in the past two seasons and haven’t been particularly active in terms of assignments either. The decision to call-up of Mario West shows the Hawks’ lack of investment in the D-League as most people believe there were better prospects available at the time.
THN’s Take (by Brett Hainline, Queen City Hoops): The Bobcats get a D from me. Here’s why. Gerald Henderson played in 43 games this past season, at just over 8 minutes per game. Derrick Brown played in 57 games, at just over 9 per. Alexis Ajinca did actually get sent to the D-League this past season, playing in 22 games. In his rookie year, Ajinca played just 11 games in the D-League and languished on the bench when with the Bobcats, seeing court time in just 31 games, at less 6 minutes a pop.
The Bobcats are leaving their young players on the bench with the big club, rather than give them time in the D-League (for the most part). Another strike against the Bobcats? Their D-League affiliate is in Maine, and it is a shared club, with the Boston Celtics.
Lastly, after some call-ups of D-League players previously (Hello, Cartier Martin), this past season when Larry Brown wanted a backup shooting guard, the Bobcats went with Larry Hughes rather than looking for talent in the minors. Ugh.
Matt Moore’s Explanation: If you can play, you can play for Larry Brown. If you work, you can play. They’re not great. But the effort is there.
Final Assessment: The Bobcats would definitely benefit from a new affiliate located nearby. Currently they are affiliated with the Red Claws, who play nearly 1,000 miles away in Maine and also partner with the Boston Celtics. The Bobcats did make use of the D-League last year with Alexis Ajinca and Lester Hudson spending some time there, but a closer partnership would go a long way toward fostering a stronger relationship and more fluid player movement.
THN’s Take (by Surya Fernandez, Hot Hot Hoops): I’m giving the Heat a C+. Pat Riley isn’t the type to experiment with young, raw players if he can sign a veteran instead. But that doesn’t mean the Heat aren’t keeping an eye on the D-League either. Kenny Hasbrouck has been in the mix since late last season when he was signed away from the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, and the Heat made history by selecting Latavious Williams in the second round of the NBA Draft this summer (though he was later traded).
The Heat almost never send their own players down to the D-League with perhaps Dorell Wright being the most significant player. That was five years ago while the last time this was done was when Daequan Cook and Joel Anthony were sent to the Iowa Energy for a few games back in the 07-08 season.
Having said that, I wouldn’t be surprised if Dexter Pittman and Da’Sean Butler (assuming he sticks with the team) were sent to the D-League this season to get some minutes because it’s doubtful they see any significant time on the floor this year with the Heat. If anything, Earl Barron has a championship ring for being on the ’06 Heat team and playing the part of Dirk Nowitzki in practice.
Matt Moore’s Explanation: They’ve signed a bunch of guys, so they get a good grade. But don’t you get the impression they see the D-League only as a cheap knockoff factory? Should make sense, though. Pat Riley, exploiting every end to the fullest potential while sticking to his vision.
Final Assessment: I was pushing for the Heat to sign a D-League player or two to complement Miami’s big offseason acquisitions of LeBron James and Chris Bosh. They chose to go a different route, which was disappointing. Despite that “setback,” the Heat made a couple of moves last year that suggest they are at least open to the D-League. With a talented, young nucleus in place for the next several years, it’d be very wise business to use the D-League to find some inexpensive pieces to fill in the holes around the stars year in and year out. Until they make that kind of commitment, I can’t give them more than a C-.
THN’s Take (by Eddy Rivera, Magic Basketball): They get an F, and the reasoning is simple—the Orlando Magic have little use for the D-League, given that they are one of the elite teams in the NBA. Some might say that the cupboard of talent for the Magic is overflowing since head coach Stan Van Gundy could go 12-deep with the roster if he wanted to.
Right now, rookie Daniel Orton is the 13th man for Orlando and there’s no guarantee that his peer, Stanley Robinson, will make the team after training camp is completed. Essentially, there’s no room for call-ups and things of that ilk. These aren’t your Golden State Warriors.
The Magic have been affiliated with three D-League teams in the past couple of years and have made a whopping total of zero moves during that timeframe. The last D-League transaction took place in December 2007, when Marcin Gortat was called up from the Anaheim Arsenal. That’s it. For general manager Otis Smith, he sees little use in the D-League because he feels that players like Orton and Robinson benefit more from a higher level of competition in practices, while learning various schemes directly from Van Gundy. All in all, it’s an organizational philosophy.
Matt Moore’s Explanation: Jason Williams, Rafer Alston. The team has simply not looked at the D-League as a viable option.
Final Assessment: The first unanimous vote is not a good one for the Magic. Sure, they’ve been successful on the court the past few seasons, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Other top teams like the Lakers, Celtics and Spurs have made much better use of the D-League as a developmental tool than Orlando.
THN’s Take (by Kyle Weidie, Truth About It): Well, the Washington Wizards haven’t traditionally used the D-League to develop players, but because of last season’s disaster, they called up several. Problem is, the Wizards’ current affiliate, the Dakota Wizards, is far, far away. The Roanoke Dazzle, the old affiliate of the Wizards, was much closer, and I think the last D-League team the Wizards sent players to (Andray Blatche and Peter John Ramos if I’m not mistaken).
It’s worth noting that during the Eddie Jordan regime, the offensive system was so different and difficult to learn that the team was hesitant to send players away. But now that the rebuilding Ted Leonsis is owner, I imagine that the Wizards might become more active in how they use the D-League. But until then, I can’t give the Wizards anything higher than a D-minus.
Matt Moore’s Explanation: Look at one disastrous season can do. They get a C- solely for signing Alonzo Gee and then seemingly genuinely investing in Cartier Martin, who really did look good in Summer League. Talk of more of an investment is promising as well.
Final Assessment: The Wizards made pretty good use of the D-League during an otherwise bad season last year. With an uncertain future and a rebuilding project on their hands, they called up four players during the season. Unfortunately, I can’t say they made really good use of the D-League because they failed to go the extra mile and allowed call-ups Mike Harris and Alonzo Gee to return to the D-League. Harris only went on to earn D-League MVP honors whereas Gee was quickly snatched up and signed by the San Antonio Spurs. This summer they rescinded a qualifying offer they had made to another call-up, Cedric Jackson. To summarize, they’ve shown interest in the D-League, but stopped short of making a full commitment to call-ups with the potential exception of Cartier Martin, who was recently invited to training camp by the Wizards.