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SALT LAKE CITY — If you’re an NBA fan, you probably haven’t given much thought to the D-League.
The Developmental League is a basic farm system for the NBA and exists to give teams options for stashing talent and signing role players quickly. Most fans look at it as a minor league that is home to players who aren’t good enough to make it in the NBA.
However, the D-League has a real impact on NBA franchises — especially championship contenders. The Spurs organization was one of the first NBA teams to buy a D-League team, and San Antonio has produced high-level talent from the team, including coaches and players.
Utah Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey came from the San Antonio organization, and it was there he saw and formed the blueprint for producing a championship-level organization. So when the Jazz purchased the Idaho Stampede earlier this week, it was yet another step in his plan coming to fruition.
However, the purchase didn’t just benefit basketball operations, Lindsey said.
“It starts and ends with ownership,” he said. “We’ve had our eye on the Boise market; it’s a unique market, and it’s a good basketball market. The Miller family has significant business interests there; we’ve had pieces of our training camp there, so there’s history.”
Jazz president Randy Rigby said the Idaho purchase was simply a case of the right opportunity at the right time.
“As we looked at D-League programs, some things come into play,” he said. “Geography comes into play, and luckily they were the right geographic location for us; we were the right geographic location for them. Almost, the stars lined up in this.”
Fans have looked at the D-League as a place to find short-term role players who last 10 days in the league and then go elsewhere looking for work. However, as the NBA continues to grow and develop, Rigby said the D-League is becoming an important option in product development.
“I had very serious conversations with (NBA commissioner) Adam Silver, because I have very strong feelings about where this league is going,” he said. “My feeling was very strongly that we’re seeing the beginnings of what Major League Baseball has, which is a farm program for each one of its teams. Development is critical. If you can take a surprise and develop it, the money it could save you is enormous.”
Since Lindsey took over as general manager, the Jazz have significantly upgraded their basketball operations, adding staff and other services to improve scouting and player development. The organizational additions haven’t come at a small price, and Rigby noted purchasing the Stampede is another investment by the organization to improve.
“It’s a sizable commitment,” he said. “I applaud (Jazz owners) the Miller family; to me, their commitment to the development of this asset with the Utah Jazz and its players is very commendable. But we’ve also earned the respect from the Miller family that they know that we respect this money as if it's our own.”
For the past several years, the Jazz have benefited from agreements that allowed them to share players with organizations. However, owning the Stampede gives Utah’s front-office and coaching staff complete autonomy to make the Idaho franchise into a carbon copy of the parent club.
Mutual ownership allows the Jazz to integrate training camps and offseason programs while also giving the team a place to store potential talent that can be developed at a later time.
“The biggest win is when you’re able to develop a player by getting him minutes,” Lindsey said. “Cory Joseph is a good example in San Antonio that we had, and we were able to keep Danny Green alive until he got his opportunity. Are you going to have that player every year that you develop or keep alive, and they move into rotational position or starter? No, but if you’re consistently doing the right things over a number of years, hopefully you’re able to use it as a bridge to your roster.”
However, while the benefits of owning both organizations are evident, there are also costs and struggles.
Lindsey said operating both teams requires a great deal of coordination.
“You’re operating another team, and if you’re the last team standing in the NBA, that’s about 120 games,” he said. “There’s certainly operational fatigue, and just another team to operate with 48 more games, and your communication systems have to be really strong.”
"My feeling was very strongly that we're seeing the beginnings of what Major League Baseball has, which is a farm program for each one of its teams," said Jazz president Randy Rigby, referring to the D-League.
Regardless of the costs, the D-League can be an important part of an NBA organization’s roster construction. Jazz coach Quin Snyder got his first pro coaching position as the head coach of San Antonio’s D-League team, and Jazz assistant Brad Jones also coached the team.
Snyder said the biggest benefit, from a coach’s perspective, of D-League ownership is the ability to see a wide range of players and how they match up against other teams. Spurs guard Danny Green is an example of a player San Antonio understood from its D-League partnership with Green.
“If you can find a rotational player out of the D-League, I think it’s a huge success,” he said. “That, in and of itself, is hard to do, and (San Antonio) has been able to do that with a few guys.”
The move is a benefit to the Jazz organization, yes; the move is a benefit to the Miller Group of Companies, yes. However, Rigby said the move also is a benefit to the large Jazz fan base in Idaho — an important part of the equation, in his mind.
“Idaho is a great support area (for the Jazz),” he said. “We get a lot of people coming down to a lot of our games, so want to have people coming down and being a part of the games here, and hopefully games up in Boise.”