The Indiana Pacers' purchase of the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Mad Ants of the D-League, announced by the NBA on Wednesday, puts the Wizards without an affiliate to ship players for rehabilitation assignments.
They rarely use it anyway. The last player they've sent to the second division was Glen Rice two seasons ago after he broke his wrist and wasn't able to get playing time off the bench as a rookie. Fort Wayne was the designated team for the Wizards to send players in 2014-15.
This season, if such an instant arises with rookie Kelly Oubre, for instance, the team he is assigned to would vary pending availability of D-League roster spots. The same holds true for the other 10 independent NBA teams without D-League affiliations.
Indiana is the 10th NBA franchise to fully own and operate a D-League team, along with the Toronto Raptors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers, Utah Jazz, Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City.
Eight other NBA teams, Houston Rockets, Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics, Memphis Grizzlies, Detroit Pistons, Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings, have hybrid affiliations with a D-League team which means they fund them but the franchises remain locally owned and business decisions are made there. The Dallas Mavericks have a unique one-to-one relationship with the Texas Legends, who are actually owned by GM Donnie Nelson.
This quagmire is why the Wizards wanted their second-round draft pick, which turned out to be Aaron White out of Iowa, to go overseas this season. White signed to play in Germany. They'd considered Dez Wells of Maryland for the No. 46 spot but he didn't want to leave the U.S. and preferred the D-League.
If an NBA team doesn't have a D-League affiliate, some feel that he is better-suited playing abroad where there is more stability with rosters and structure. In White's case, he's a 6-9 power forward who'll have to make his mark as a three-point shooter and Europe is a good place for him to work on that skill set.
In the D-League, the Wizards don't have control over how a player is developed since they don't own or have a hybrid relationship with a franchise there. When Otto Porter wasn't playing much during his rookie season in 2013-14, the Wizards never seriously considered sending him to D-League because coach Randy Wittman felt practicing against the likes of John Wall and Bradley Beal made him better than against lesser players in a D-League system that was totally different from the one he had to learn here.
When the Wizards sold their second-round slot in 2013 to the Los Angeles Lakers for $1.8 million, picking Jordan Clarkson for them, that happened in large part because of the lack of a D-League affiliate to develop. When an NBA season begins, unless a team is a cellar-dweller with no postseason prospects, players have to be court ready. True development during an 82-game schedule with few off days because of practices is difficult to achieve.
This is where a D-League franchise can have value if an NBA team either owns or staffs the operation on the basketball side in the hybrid model with coaches and athletic trainers. For the Wizards to put a system in place like this, however, that decision will fall to ownership which currently is mulling plans for a new practice facility.