The NBA Development League began in 2001 with eight teams. Now 15 years later, there will be 22 teams heading into the 2016-17 season, including the newly formed Windy City Bulls. But the league and its players are still fighting to be relevant.
The Bulls purchased the team last November. And fans, who helped name the team, can watch them next season at the Sears Center, in Hoffman Estates. However, this was the easy part. Turning them into an enjoyable product that serves a real purpose comes next.
Before Windy City, the Chicago Bulls were affiliated with a D-League team, but it was not a one-on-one relationship. Many NBA teams share D-League teams, which makes it hard on the coaches, players, and fans.
A coaches’ job is to help the team win, but in the D-League, their job is to develop players for the next level. Having different NBA teams with diverging basketball philosophies affiliated with one team makes their job much more difficult.
As they currently exists, D-League rosters are made up of 12 players, only two of which can be on an NBA contract. The other 10 players, not on NBA contracts, play for very low salaries, between $13,000 – $25,500 a season.
D-League attendance in most cities is non-existent, partly because fans have little connection to players. However, even with all that is currently working against the league, it has not stopped it from producing and incubating a lot of real NBA talent.
At the start of the 2015-16 season, 30 percent of all players on opening day NBA rosters had D-League experience. Many are playing substantial roles in the first round of the 2016 NBA Playoffs, such as: Danny Green, J.J. Barea, Hassan Whiteside, and Kent Bazemore.
Despite the success of many players at the next level, the D-League is still far from relevant enough to attract the best non-NBA talent. Many players see the league as a last resort, and most opt to go to Europe, where the money and fan support is far better.
With the NBA heading towards a potential lockout in 2017, a new collective bargaining agreement will be signed relatively soon. And in it the D-League should get some much-needed attention. A push for all 30 NBA teams to own and operate their own Development League team should be the first order of business. Players’ salaries should also be negotiated up, in order to help the league retain top talent.
The goal of the Development League is just that: to develop players in the hopes they make the NBA one day.
The Windy City Bulls will hopefully become a thriving proving ground for players at the end of Chicago’s bench, as well as those fighting to make it there.
Cristiano Felicio spent a couple of weeks in the D-Leauge in January when he could not sniff the rotation. This time helped him gain experience and confidence he wasn’t able to get in the NBA. And that very well might have secured his spot in the Chicago Bulls’ rotation next season.
Justin Holiday, who also likely locked up a spot on Chicago’s roster next season, spent an entire year in the D-Leauge, before landing in the NBA full time a couple of years ago.
The Windy City Bulls’ proximity and shared basketball identity will hopefully give the Chicago Bulls a stable place to incubate talent, as the D-League continues to become more relevant.