A diversified social studies curriculum may be the key to identifying the next NBA/D-League single affiliation partnership. Economics, geography, history, psychology. It all factors into the equation for NBA franchises looking to take their relationship with their D-League affiliate to the next level.
The New Jersey Nets recently announced that starting in the 2011-12 season they will enter into a single affiliation partnership with the Springfield Armor of the NBA Development League. The Nets are the second NBA franchise to take advantage of the single affiliation partnership, joining the Houston Rockets, who are affiliated with the 2009-10 NBA D-League Champion Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
In a structure similar to other minor leagues, this partnership model, alsoreferred to as the “hybrid affiliation,” allows for NBA teams to secure control over and cover the expenses related to the basketball operations of an NBA D-League team, while partnering with existing local ownership while the D-League franchise maintains responsibility for the team’s off-the-court business operations.
NBA D-League President Dan Reed referenced the Nets’ move as “an important step in our continued evolution as a true minor league for the NBA.” If the Nets-Armor partnership enjoys success similar to that of the Rockets-Vipers, the single affiliation model may become more widely used. A closer look at these two examples shows how four different social studies subjects.
This may be the most obvious link. In order for the single affiliation partnership to work, the NBA franchise has to make an economic commitment. They must perform a cost-benefit analysis and recognize the value of investing in the future. Financially, the NBA team is responsible for the basketball operations of the D-League team, so there is a price tag associated with making this move. If the NBA franchise is willing to put dollars into the development of its players for the future, they are a candidate to enter into a single affiliation partnership.
The physical distance between an NBA team and its D-League affiliate may not be a deal-breaker, but it’s much easier to do business, especially the business of basketball when the franchise locations are nearby. While the distances between the Rockets-Vipers and Nets-Armor are not the shortest in the league, it’s worth noting that the Spurs-Toros and Thunder-66ers (the two active, fully-owned affiliations) are among the top five. The proximity of the Cavaliers-BayHawks, Celtics-Red Claws, and Jazz-Flash make those affiliations among the top candidates to become the next single affiliation partnership.
This aspect is twofold. First, there’s the history of the partnership. NBA teams that have established relationships with their D-League affiliate, making frequent use of assigning and calling up players on the court, and maintaining regular communication with the front office of the D-League affiliate are more likely to explore the idea of building upon that foundation. Also, the history of other single affiliation partnerships will surely impact the league-wide perception. After one season, the Rockets-Vipers partnership has been well-reviewed across the board, but it’s still a very new prospect with a very small sample size of data. If that partnership continues to thrive and the Nets-Armor partnership works well, too, that history will surely entice other NBA teams to take a closer look at the possibility of entering into a similar relationship with their affiliate.
The Lakers could get away with failing to develop its young talent. They could rely on luring high-priced free agents year after year. But most teams don’t have that luxury, and truth be told, the Lakers actually do use the D-League and develop young players. The point is that there has to be an organizational mentality. How do they think about the team, about its future? The Rockets and general manager Daryl Morey clearly have a philosophy that emphasizes player evaluation and development. The Nets and new owner Mikhail Prokhorov are trying to build something from the ground up as well. The single affiliation model is a great tool for NBA franchises that put a premium on the development of young talent and long-term thinking.
If, as Dan Reed said, the D-League is going to contine to evolve into a true minor league system for the NBA, the single affiliate partnership model will need to be utilized more regularly across the league. If you’re trying to identify franchises who might be next to follow in the footsteps of Houston and New Jersey, take a look at their economics, geography, history, and psychology.