After watching his Boston Celtics teammates sputter through the first two months of the season, Rajon Rondo had seen enough.
In a Thursday appearance on a Boston sports radio station, Danny Ainge, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations, said Rondo unsuccessfully tried to recruit Celtics management for a pickup game. The notionled to the discussion of a similarly atypical idea: Serving a rehab stint with the Maine Red Claws in the NBA’s Development League.
“That’s what [the D-League is] for,” Rondo told reporters in Chicago before the Celtics fell 94-82 to the Bulls. “I’d probably be the first guy to do that, but it doesn’t make a difference. I want to make sure I’m healthy and I handle it the right way. I don’t want my first [game-like action] to be with the Celtics. I haven’t had a preseason. I haven’t had a training camp. Right now, this is pretty much my training camp.”
Following its 2001 inception, NBA Commissioner David Stern announced plans to expand and develop the D-League into a minor league farm system in 2005. But in the years since, the organization has mostly failed to live up to this billing among its 17 teams.
While the D-League touts Houston’s Jeremy Lin and Washington’s Martell Webster as a couple of its success stories, the league hasn’t been as successful in drawing fans to its games to watch these players before their rise to NBA relevance.
This, along with Rondo’s recent notion of rehabbing in the D-League, begs the question: Why not use the minor league system for rehab stints, as Major League Baseball does, in a move that could benefit both the pro and farm teams?
The current season has presented several such opportunities. After being sidelined for six months and missing the first two games of the season following a knee injury in last year’s playoffs, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook returned to the lineup for 26 games — only to go back under the knife and on the injured list on Dec. 27 due to swelling in the same knee.
The Lakers’ Kobe Bryant lasted just six games before fracturing his left tibia — the same leg he suffered a torn Achilles’ to last April. Likewise, Chicago’s Derrick Rose, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL in his left knee, lasted just 10 games before sustaining a meniscus tear in his right knee that will likely keep him out for the rest of this season.
Had each of these stars had a chance to ease themselves back into game action in the D-League, perhaps their bodies would be more prepared for the grind of a NBA game and season. Perhaps Rose, who debated whether to return before last year’s playoffs, would have felt more comfortable putting back on his uniform had he tested the waters during a few D-League games.
Ed Downs, who has trained Miami’s Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, recently told Bleacher Report that a number of NBA players simply play pickup basketball during the offseason and then use training camp to get back into shape. But as Rondo pointed out, this luxury is not afforded to players recovering from injuries during the offseason and training camp, When they do return to game action, their bodies often experience an overwhelming jolt while re-adjusting to the speed and physicality of a typical NBA game. Playing several games in the D-League against slightly lesser talent could curb the shock to a player’s system.
Having household names rehab on a farm team would also increase the D-League’s exposure and attendance. During Derek Jeter’s first two games of a rehab stint with the New York Yankees’ Class AAA affiliate in Scranton (Pa.), the team drew more than 18,000 total fans, far exceeding the 5,564 fans the team averaged prior to that July weekend, according to The Wall Street Journal.
During the 2011-12 season, the D-League averaged 2,745 fans across its 16 teams, the highest of which came at Rio Grande Valley Vipers (4,817) games and the lowest coming at Los Angeles D-fenders games (218). In contrast, the average NBA game drew 19,348 during the 2012-13 campaign.
What’s more, current D-League players stand to gain valuable wisdom from NBA stars during a rehab stint. Such insight could come from locker room conversations, studying one’s workout session or soaking in tips during the game. As a result, players will potentially be more prepared to make the leap into the NBA.
As former Erie (Pa.) Bayhawks coach and current Boston assistant coach Jay Larranaga told ZagsBlog in a 2012 story about Jeremy Lin’s rise within the New York Knicks organization: “It’s a difficult time for certain guys to get assigned to the D-League. You know, they look at it as a demotion … [but Jeremy and the Knicks] looked at it as an opportunity for Jeremy to play in game conditions.”
And we all know how that experiment turned out.
BY THE NUMBERS
Players to start at the point guard position for the Los Angeles Lakers through 32 games this season. O’Connell alum Kendall Marshall is the latest to man the spot after Jordan Farmer was diagnosed this week with a tear in his left hamstring.
Record of the Toronto Raptors since trading Rudy Gay to Sacramento on Dec. 9. Toronto beat East-leading Indiana on Wednesday and the Wizards on Friday night and currently sits atop the Atlantic Division standings at 16-15.
Games that Portland has drained at least 20 three-pointers, marking a NBA record. The Trail Blazers hit 21 shots from behind the arc in Thursday’s win against Charlotte to tie their franchise-best mark.
“One of the best shooters the NBA will ever see. The light he has is more than green — it’s fluorescent” -Miami’s LeBron James on Stephen Curry after the Golden State guard scored 36 points in Thursday’s win over the Heat.
“This has looked like a bush league organization much of the year, they don’t play with much effort at all, a very uninspired team. … You can do whatever you want with the coaching situation, but it is not going to change the situation with their roster. They just don’t have a lot of options — they don’t have draft picks, they are way over the salary cap. They are probably in the worst situation of any team in the NBA right now.” – Former NBA coach Stan Van Gundy on the Brooklyn Nets during a Monday interview with the “Amani and Etyian Show” on NBC Sports Radio.