Wittman favors trend of closer D-League affiliates

Wittman favors trend of closer D-League affiliates
February 5, 2014, 7:00 am
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Wizards reactions to getting over .500

Washington Wizards head coach Randy Wittman during the first quarter against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center.

(Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports)

The Oklahoma City Thunder sent 2012 first-round picks Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones to their NBA Development League affiliate in Tulsa 10 times last season alone.

Since 2005, the Washington Wizards have assigned one of their players to the D-League six times. That includes Glen Rice's injury rehab stint with the Iowa Energy last month.

The primary reason for the difference in usage rate? Apparently location, location, location.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks shuttles players 109 miles each way to maximize practice and playing opportunities. The players learn Oklahoma City's desired systems while in Tulsa because the Thunder own the 66ers and tell the 66ers what systems to run.

Wizards coach Randy Wittman would like to partake in a similar opportunity one day.

"It would be nice," Wittman said on Monday when asked if would view the D-League option differently if distance between the teams became a non-factor.

The coach appeared to pullback from his initial remark about the D-League and distance by next saying "I don't view it any differently," before acknowledging, "Convenience, that would be a good thing."

Until fairly recently, the D-League existed largely as feeder system for NBA teams in need of healthy or capable body, if not two or three. Current Wizard Garrett Temple came from the Reno Bighorns on Christmas Day, 2012. Cartier Martin, Othyus Jeffers and Alonzo Gee were also D-League pickups by Washington.

We're not talking about weekly transactions, but far more common than sending players the other way, especially assets like Lamb, a lottery pick, and Jones. Four of Washington's six assignments were for big man projects Hamady Ndiaye and Peter John Ramos.

Now a recent trend has turned the D-League outposts into something akin to Major League Baseball's minor league system.

The D-League consists of 17 teams. Of those 17 teams, 14 now have a direct one-to-one relationship with an NBA franchise. That allows for management and coaches like Brooks to implement their offensive sets, their defensive schemes, their basketball ideals.

The other consideration is geography. Last year the Philadelphia 76ers purchased a D-League team and placed it Newark on the University of Delaware's campus. Philadelphia is about 48 miles from Newark. The San Antonio Spurs, Washington's Wednesday night opponent, have sent players to their affiliate in Austin 12 times this season.

The Wizards share the Iowa Energy with the Chicago Bulls, Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves and New Orleans Pelicans.

The proximity between Oklahoma City and Tulsa allowed the Thunder to send Lamb and others down a level and quickly bring them back to the mother ship as needed. Trips to Tulsa are typically not to punish, but for teaching and playing time purposes. Now a key member of the Western Conference leaders, Lamb is averaging 10.0 points in 50 games this season, all with Oklahoma City.

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Those play and practice options are not always available during a whirlwind NBA season. Rice and fellow rookie Otto Porter have received limited minutes this season in Washington even when healthy. Wittman's use of a tighter rotation plays a factor as does the fact that both wings are indeed rookies. For a team seeking a playoff berth, there is not always time for on-the-job training.

"I think that's why we're seeing a lot of teams now having their own D-League team," said Wittman of the minimal travel factor. "Basically, running the same thing down [in the D-League] that you do here. Eventually that's what you'd like to get to as a coach. To be able to have your system being run down there which would help when you send guys down there."

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