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Head coach Brad Jones of the Austin Toros directs his team during a time-out of their game against the Tulsa 66ers on December 2, 2011 at the Cedar Park Center in Cedar Park, Texas. Photo by Chris Covatta/NBAE via Getty Images.
Utah Jazz may need their own D-League team — soon
NBA » As league trends toward single-team affiliations, Utah is seeking its own club.
First Published Jul 25 2013 04:02 pm • Last Updated Dec 07 2013 11:36 pm

A story from Jazz assistant Brad Jones’ days as an NBA Development League head coach has made the rounds, and it goes like this: An NBA general manager wants to check in on one of his players, who has been assigned to his team’s D-League affiliate. Just like the Utah Jazz, this GM’s team shares an affiliate with several other teams.

The GM drives several hours to the town where the D-League team is located. When he gets to the game, rather than see how his player has progressed, he watches him sit on the bench. That’s when, according to Jones, things go from bad to worse. The GM waits for the coaches outside of the locker room, and when they emerge, begins to berate them.

At a glance

D-League affiliations

Austin Toros* » San Antonio Spurs

Bakersfield Jam » Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns, Toronto Raptors, Utah Jazz

Canton Charge* » Cleveland Cavaliers

Delaware 87ers* » Philadelphia 76ers

Erie BayHawks » New York Knicks

Fort Wayne (Ind.) Mad Ants » Charlotte Bobcats, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Memphis Grizzlies, Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic

Idaho Stampede » Portland Trail Blazers

Iowa Energy » Chicago Bulls, Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans, Washington Wizards

Los Angeles D-Fenders* » Los Angeles Lakers

Reno Bighorns » Sacramento Kings

Rio Grande Valley Vipers » Houston Rockets

Santa Cruz Warriors* » Golden State Warriors

Sioux Falls SkyForce » Miami Heat

Springfield Armor » Brooklyn Nets

Texas Legends » Dallas Mavericks

Tulsa 66ers* » Oklahoma City Thunder

*Owned outright by parent organization

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The GM says things like, "You think you’re bigger than the NBA?" And, "I drive all the way up here and you don’t play the guy? If I have anything to do with it, you’ll never get a job in the NBA."

The anecdote, while extreme and, Jones says, not representative of day-to-day life in basketball’s minor leagues, illustrates the growing frustrations for NBA teams that have not yet made the move to single affiliation.

Earlier this month, the Sacramento Kings became the 14th NBA team to enter a single-affiliation D-League partnership, forcing the Jazz out of a shared arrangement in Reno and on to Bakersfield — where they are one of five teams affiliated with the Jam.

The remaining 16 NBA teams share three D-League affiliates. While teams with single affiliations hire their coaches, provide support and direct on-court decisions, others like the Jazz have to live with the decisions of their independently owned affiliates.

"There certainly is a breaking point where the system might not work as well for everyone involved," said Dan Reed, the D-League president.

The NBA is moving toward a day when every NBA team has its own affiliate — one D-League executive hopes within five years — but it remains unclear how the Jazz will get there. The Larry H. Miller Group-owned organization attempted to partner with Reno before its alignment with Sacramento. Jazz president Randy Rigby has expressed an interest in putting an expansion team in St. George.

What’s clear at this point, however, is not only that the D-League model is evolving rapidly, but that teams like the Jazz are at a competitive disadvantage.

"The disadvantage," said David Fredman, the Jazz’s director of player personnel, "is you don’t have full control of your players. The coaches cooperate, but now they have all these teams they have to cooperate with. So if you have multiple players at the same position, they have to figure it out."

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A costly investment

As an executive with the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets, Dennis Lindsey saw the benefits of mining the D-League. There, the Rockets and Spurs found players such as Chuck Hayes and Danny Green.

The D-League is not just a training ground for players, but also for coaches, executives and support staff. Since 2002, every new NBA referee has come from the D-League. Three former head coaches of the Austin Toros, the Spurs affiliate, are now assistants on NBA benches, including Jones, who led the Toros to the 2011 D-League championship.

Lindsey has implemented a number of the Spurs’ methods since being hired as the Jazz GM a year ago, including a camp for veteran free agents and, in the fall, an open gym.

"I knew when they were able to work it out and [Lindsey] took the job," Fredman said, "I knew we would eventually have a D-League team. I felt very strongly that we would."

To be true to his philosophy of seeing and working with as many players as possible, it would only make sense that the Jazz would have their own D-League affiliate, and utilize it as the Spurs do with Austin and Oklahoma City and their affiliate, the Tulsa 66ers, freely sending players back and forth.

"That’s safe to say," Lindsey said, "but not at any cost."

Cost is where things begin to get tricky.

When it comes to single affiliation, there are two paths. A "hybrid" model, in which the D-League team is locally owned, but operated by the parent organization (Reno and Sacramento is one example). The other model is outright ownership. While ideas within the organization differ, Rigby said the Jazz are less likely to buy a team outright.

"The cost is expensive to buy the ownership of the team right now," he said. "As we’ve seen the models, it’s a break-even to maybe a losing half a million dollars."

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