For a change, lady luck seemed to be smiling on me. Then again, maybe the fickle wench was just lulling me into a false sense of security while she reached for a rock – Timothy Zahn
I highly doubt acclaimed science fiction writer Timothy Zahn knows much of the ways of the D-League, but his quote nevertheless speaks to a very real truth – minor league basketball is a cruelly fickle beast.
While fans of the NBA can latch onto individual players just as easily as they do franchises, playing personal favorites can often be a fruitless practice as roster movements are nearly as prevalent as road trips to some organizations. Yet the act of clinging to hollowed out collections of thread and stitch work worn by a revolving door of athletes can be equally as difficult to consistently adhere to. It can be even harder to produce a winner.
The Iowa Energy will enter the D-League playoffs as the top overall seed, dominating opposing teams and cruising through a generally overmatched Eastern Conference. They will also take the floor for the quarterfinals sans two of their top three contributors in Othyus Jeffers and Courtney Sims, as well as without the presence of swingmen Mike Taylor and Kyle Weaver. Jeffers is now in the midst of a call-up with the Washington Wizards, while Sims – perhaps fed up with a lack of NBA interest this season – bolted the D-League for China. Taylor took the overseas route as well and is playing in Italy, with Weaver currently suiting up in Austin following a trade. Two weeks is all it took for the Energy to devolve from a heavy favorite to a franchise that will undoubtedly face a stiff challenge even to reach the finals.
This propensity for player movement in many instances can make holding an early position of power a seemingly counterintuitive burden as winning yields individual gain for star players. In theory at least, a more fruitful strategy can be said to acquire solid, but not spectacular assets so as to produce a consistent state of winning without attracting a high degree of attention (odd as that may sound).
In the same breadth, fortunes can just as quickly take a sudden and unexpected upturn. The Austin Toros, in the midst of a four-team race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the D-League just received word from their parent team the San Antonio Spurs that former All-Big East performer Da’Sean Butler will be the team’s newest member. Yesterday afternoon, the Bakersfield Jam (owners of the 7-seed currently), learned the Lakers were sending power forward Derrick Caracter to join the roster. Winning a championship in the D-League can be just as much about luck and landing unexpected pieces at the right time of year as it can be about playing good basketball. But for fans who strictly operate in a D-League universe, the bigger picture is lost in the crush of the postseason race.
The D-League isn’t about winning basketball games for the franchises playing – it’s about winning for others.
The fickle nature of the league is derived from its simultaneous existence as both a bastion of hopes and platform for development. Somehow each year a winner manages to emerge from the roster rubble left behind after a 50-game regular season coupled with playoffs, but we know the impact of outside factors in many instances has greater impact than those ultimately controlled by players and coaches. It’s a dynamic not easily understood as it is as once in conflict with the very essence of competition at the professional level.
So when the D-League playoff picture is set and the battle for another championship soon follows it’s best if fans and teams alike abide by one simple maxim: expect the unexpected.