The Atlanta Hawks will have a different set of rules in place next season when it comes to assigning players to the NBA D-League. The Indiana Pacers announced on Wednesday that they were acquiring the Fort Wayne Mad Ants to become the 10th NBA team to own and operate its D-League affiliate.
The Mad Ants you might remember were the D-League affiliate of 13 NBA teams last season including the Pacers and the Hawks. Those teams that don't have their own D-League affiliate won't be shut out from using the league. They will instead assign players using the flexible assignment system.
With the acquisition, the NBA D-League’s flexible assignment system – which was instituted prior to the 2014-15 season – will continue to enable the 11 independent NBA teams to assign players to the NBA D-League for development or rehabilitation from injury. Upon receipt of an assignment from an independent NBA team, the NBA D-League will identify any NBA D-League team willing to accept the assigned player. The assigning independent NBA team will then choose the destination for assignment between those teams. If no NBA D-League team is willing to accept the assigned player, he will be assigned to one of the hybrid affiliate teams pursuant to a lottery. The 19 NBA teams with single affiliations will be able to assign players to their NBA D-League partners.
This rule was actually in place last season for a case in which an NBA team wanted to assign a player and the Mad Ants already had a full roster. It was under this rule that allowed the Hawks to assign John Jenkins to the Idaho Stampede and Adreian Payne to the Austin Spurs.
The Hawks were the most active team among the non-affiliates in assigning players last season. Jenkins, Payne and Mike Muscala all had multiple assignments to the D-League. They have another candidate in rookie center Walter Tavares to see development time in the D-League this season.
Mike Budenholzer expressed the need for either a one-to-one or hybrid affiliation earlier this summer. Pursuing a D-League affiliation was one of the projects that new Chief Business Officer Andrew Steinberg is currently pursuing.
While it is not an ideal situation to not have a single affiliation with the D-League, that hasn't stopped the Hawks in the past from utilizing it. In many cases, getting Tavares to a team like the Austin Spurs, who run a similar offensive system to the one utilized by the Hawks, could be more advantageous than being affiliated with a team like the Mad Ants. Of course there are no guarantees with the system.
Indiana's purchase of the franchise in Fort Wayne moves us a step closer to a true minor league system for the NBA. There is still work to be done, but this is an area that we should see more progress, with teams like Atlanta at the forefront, in the near future.