Atlanta Hawks, San Antonio Spurs Accused of NBADL Collusion
It seems the new NBA Development League rules are being tested early this season when it comes to players assigned by NBA parent clubs.
Right now the D-League has 18 teams and 17 have exclusive partnerships with NBA franchises. One team remains as a catch-all for the other 13 teams who are without a minor league affiliate.
Eventually more players would be assigned from those 13 squads than the lone independent Fort Wayne Mad Ants could handle. That maximum number is 4 assigned players.
The relief valve instituted by the league involves the remaining 17 teams who could lay claim to the orphaned assignee. However, if no team claims the player then a lottery system randomly assigns the player.
Such a situation arrived this week as Atlanta had no place to send Adreian Payne as Fort Wayne was already stuffed. Thus Payne went to Austin as the affiliate of the San Antonio Spurs agreed to claim the talented big man.
Here’s where the chili gets thick. Payne had been with the Mad Ants on a previous assignment. In fact, Payne played in Sioux Falls over Thanksgiving weekend. However, the playing styles of Fort Wayne and Atlanta are not a match. The Hawks recalled Payne and eventually assigned two other players to the Mad Ants. Meanwhile, New Orleans and Washington each had one player assigned to Fort Wayne. Payne was then shuttled to Austin where apparently the fit is better and the Hawks recalled the other two assigned players as reported by Chris Vivlemore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. His piece is available here.
While with the Mad Ants, Payne averaged a double-double in points and rebounds over 6 games. So from Fort Wayne’s perspective, they got hosed because the Hawks sent two players to max out the assignee list then diverted a stud to another team. Reggie Hayes of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel said just as much in an article that you can read here.
If the league is truly about player development, this series of events will probably start a series of falling dominoes. First: NBA teams will seriously consider investing in their own minor league franchise to have that uniformity from top to bottom. Second: Fort Wayne will start peddling themselves as the perfect NBA partner. Third: NBA teams will push for tighter restrictions to keep their top picks in house and not have them be poached by other teams through free agency.
As for competitive balance, consider this, there may be another player who could be as good or a better than Adreian Payne that could get assigned to Fort Wayne. So in one sense a future player may add a little sweetener to the bitter taste on today's palate.