The NBA D-League has quietly had a big week. First the Grizzlies announced that they were entering into a hybrid-model single-affiliation with the Iowa Energy. The hybrid model means that ownership of the team and business operations remain with an independent owner, while basketball operations is owned and operated by the affiliate. So Memphis wil have control over coaching staff, training staff, baskeball ops management, and roster decisions.
What's interesting is that the team is also being bought by a group of minority owners of the Grizzlies. So the same people who own a part of the Grizzlies will own the Energy. The group is led by minority owner Jed Kaplan.
The Grizzlies have needed this kind of development program for a while. They've had to rely on finds to fill their roster at the end of the bench, and for a team with a limited payroll due to market size, finding value through D-League players is extremely valuable, as is the ability to send players like Jamal Franklin down and work with personnel who are running the same kind of system Memphis is.
Meanwhile, D-League Digest and the Arizona Republic report that the Suns are set to enter into hybrid-affiliate status with the Bakersfield Jam, a long-standing existing D-League team.
In an agreement that is expected to be finalized next week, the Suns will finance and run the basketball operations of the D-League franchise while Bakersfield's ownership will continue handling business operations, community relations and other non-basketball functions.
The Suns have shared the Bakersfield Jam as their D-League affiliate for player assignments since 2011 after previously sharing Iowa and Albuquerque with other NBA teams. In recent years, the NBA trend has been to secure a single-affiliation relationship with D-League teams to be able to choose the affiliate's coach and general manager and have continuity in what system is run and how players train.
That makes fifteen teams with one-to-one affiliate status with the D-League, meaning that the remaining fifteen teams will be crammed into the two remaining affiliates, the Idaho Stampede (who the Blazers are ending a relationship with this year) and the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.
That makes for a pretty crowded system. But the D-League has maintained a patient approach with pursing the one-to-one 30-team affiliate model that most everyone, including the league, wants to see. There's no way to press ownership that isn't interested in doing it until they're ready. The question is at what point will it be mandated?
There's a lot the NBA can do with a 30-team system. Expand the draft, change roster spot availability, improve the salary functions to help keep talent from going overseas (a major problem). It could help with moving the age limit back, a priority for Adam Silver, with rehab assignments, and generally help boost the league in developing its talent, a major issue for it.
The 30-team one-to-one affiliation is coming, but it might be a while. At this point, if you haven't jumped on board it's because your owner is resistant towards the investment for a reason.