According to Google maps, the distance between Oklahoma City, home of the NBA' s Thunder, and Tulsa, location of the Thunder's D-League franchise, is 109 miles. For local context, that's essentially driving from Chinatown to Richmond.
Depending on the day's traffic on I-44 or the amount of lead in a driver's foot, that one-way Oklahoma trip is just over 90 minutes. The Thunder have not been shy about having their young players wear out that path in recent seasons.
We're not talking about minimal backbenchers, but recent first round picks including Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones and Andre Roberson. We're also not talking about extended stays. The visit with the 66ers might be for a week or perhaps just 24 hours before a return to the home base. The Thunder yo-yo their players depending on whether they can offer enough practice or playing during stretches of the NBA season.
"It's important. We want our players to develop," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said on Saturday before the Thunder faced the Wizards. "A lot of times you don't have practice time during the NBA season and there a lot of times you don't have the minutes. You have to be able to find some minutes and some practice time. We feel that that has been a great asset for us over the years and we're going to continue to use that."
The "asset" needs further explanation. NBA teams have affiliations with different squads so it's not simply the D-League franchise itself. For example, Washington recently rookie Glen Rice Jr. to the Iowa Energy
The thing is both ends of the I-44 trek essentially count as home as the Thunder own the Tulsa 66ers. Oklahoma City put its system in place and brought in a head coach Darko Rajakovic to run it. Last season the Thunder kept Rajakovic busy with a record 40 NBA D-League assignments. Lamb, a lottery pick in 2012 and one the Thunder's top scorers this season, made 10 visits to Tulsa during the 2012-13 campaign.
Roberson, the 26th player selected in the 2013 NBA Draft, is currently in Tulsa. It's not the first time this season, but rather the fourth. He's also played 19 games for the Thunder with four starts
"Andre is there now and I think it's helped him when he's been back," Brooks said. "He started a few games ,so he's able to fill the game, fill the ball per say. I think it's important to continue to use it and we will."
The Tulsa coach also made visits to the parent club. Rajakovic, 34, is the first head coach born outside of North America in NBA D-League history.
"Darko and his staff come to our practices and our games as many times as they can," Brooks said. "It's always an open door policy. They don't even after to ask."
In other words, Brooks doesn't mind the pop-in. The Thunder players and the Tulsa staff are close to do just that.