The Minnesota Timberwolves announced on Monday they will be affiliated with the last remaining hub D-League team for the 2014-15 season. There are currently 17 teams in the NBA with single affiliation situations with the D-League. That leaves 13 teams sharing the Fort Wayne Mad Ants next season and the Wolves will be one of those teams. The Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls, Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks, Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors will all share the Fort Wayne affiliate.
The NBA has implemented a flexible assignment system that will allow single affiliate teams to accept assignment of a player from a different team if the Mad Ants don’t have room for that player when he’s assigned. Here’s the press release from the Wolves announcing the affiliation with Fort Wayne:
The NBA today announced that the Minnesota Timberwolves will be among 13 independent NBA teams affiliated with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants for the 2014-15 NBA season. This is the first season the two teams have been paired as affiliates to develop young players. The Wolves had been paired with the Iowa Energy last season, and the Sioux Falls Skyforce for the previous seven seasons.
Minnesota will be able to send players to Fort Wayne for development or rehabilitation as part of the NBA D-League’s new flexible assignment system which will enable the 13 independent NBA teams to continue to assign players to the NBA D-League.
To accommodate assignments to Fort Wayne, the lone independent NBA D-League team, a flexible assignment system will be utilized when an independent NBA team assigns a player at a time when the Mad Ants already have either the maximum of four NBA players on assignment or two assigned players at the position of the NBA player who is being assigned. In either event, the NBA D-League will identify to the assigning NBA team any singly-affiliated NBA D-League team that is willing to accept the assigned player, and the independent NBA team assigning the player will choose a team from among those teams to assign the player. If no singly-affiliated NBA D-League team is willing to accept the assigned player, he will be assigned to one of the non-NBA-owned single affiliate teams pursuant to a lottery.
Some teams own their franchises outright (i.e. – Cleveland, Golden State, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, New York, San Antonio, and the Lakers), while others are entered into a hybrid situation in which the NBA team controls and pays for the basketball operations of the D-League team while local ownership handles and pays for the business operations (i.e. – Orlando, Phoenix, Memphis, Detroit, Boston, Houston, Miami, Dallas, Utah, and Sacramento). The Memphis hybrid affiliation is the latest one in which the Grizzlies scooped up the Iowa Energy, who was the Wolves’ D-League affiliate most recently and was a prime candidate for the Wolves to scoop up a single team affiliation due to proximity.
The plans for expansion in the coming years and an eventual 30-team, full minor league system with the D-League are there. It’s inevitable that every NBA team will eventually at least operate the basketball standpoint of their respective D-League affiliate, if not own the team outright like the seven parent clubs mentioned above. Flip Saunders and Milt Newton have a background in dealing with and promoting development through the D-League, and I’ve already discussed the possibilities of this front office group and what they could/should do with the D-League.
It’s disappointing they couldn’t get into a single affiliation with a D-League franchise prior to this year. One of the biggest problems with the Wolves has been the development of a design of rebuilding and structuring the organization into a winning model. Whether they previously didn’t take the D-League seriously under previous presidencies in basketball operations or Glen Taylor has never wanted to drop the money to pay for single affiliation, the reason doesn’t really matter. They’re one of 13 teams behind the curve when it comes to actively participating in the D-League. The D-League has slowed down the process of single team affiliation in an effort to not flood the market before there is a market and economic system that can fully support a full league, but the Wolves had plenty of opportunities to get into the mix over the past decade.
A single affiliation would’ve been especially helpful this year or over the last couple of years when they were trying to develop the young players. Bringing along players like Shabazz Muhammad (beyond the four-game stint he breezed through last season), Gorgui Dieng (he slowly developed last year but could have had the process accelerated with the D-League, in theory), Derrick Williams (could closer monitoring and mentoring changed his career?), Robbie Hummel (prior to him having to spend a year in Spain), Wes Johnson (MY GOD WES JOHNSON!), and maybe even Jonny Flynn (hip injury exacerbated his struggles) in the D-League system could have meant so much to the development of the youth of this organization over the years. Having spots for Shabazz, Glenn Robinson III, and others moving forward would be incredibly valuable this season. The process of developing assistant coaches like David Adelman (a very talented, young development coach who joined the assistant staff last year) and Ryan Saunders (has been credited with helping Bradley Beal and John Wall make big strides in Washington) into eventual head coaches could also be huge, along with setting up a system for future front office executives to learn.
Instead, the Wolves will share the Mad Ants with 12 other teams and hope keeping a player down there doesn’t interfere with the other young players around the league getting time on the court if there isn’t a spot for them on their NBA teams. Considering they don’t have roster room for Glenn Robinson III, a D-League affiliation seems pretty important for a second round pick they really seem to value.
Overall, it isn’t a huge deal in terms of the roster this season. But it’s a luxury that is growing toward being a necessity if you’re trying to run a successful organization top to bottom. You can call up and send players down to keep getting valuable experience throughout the season, while still spending time with their NBA club. The Warriors, Rockets, Thunder, and a few other teams are constantly shuttling young players back and forth. Considering the Wolves are off to the start of a great rebuilding effort following the Love trade, they could have really set themselves up for development toward a better future.