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The NBA’s minor league is expanding. The NBA Development League, better known as the D-League, is adding two teams this fall and both are in New England. When I heard one of the teams was holding an open tryout, I decided to take a shot.
The Springfield Armor will be affiliated with the New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks, and Philadelphia 76ers. The Maine Red Claws will be the minor-league team of the Boston Celtics and the Charlotte Bobcats and play their games in Portland.
The Red Claws’ open tryout was at the University of Massachusetts Boston on Oct. 3. More than 70 players paid $150 in advance and $200 at the door for the chance to show off their basketball skills.
Some of the players are only a year or two out of high school, but most are between 20 and 25 years old. And there’s one player who turned 35 four days before the tryout, had a forgettable high-school career, still plays in a weekly pick-up game and works as a radio reporter.
Yes, that’s me. As we check in, I line up to have my height and wingspan measured. I come in at 6’4” in both directions.
The Development League — or D-League — is a route to the NBA for players not selected in the NBA draft, but it’s still a long shot. League officials say 60 percent of D-League players were named to all-conference teams in college.
An earlier Red Claws tryout in Charlotte drew more than 100 people. Combine that number with today’s group and you have about 170 players. The Red Claws will invite a maximum of just three open tryout players to their training camp where the men will have to survive another cut. A handful of other players will be eligible for the D-League draft scheduled for Nov. 5.
Red Claws General Manager Jon Jennings said the decisions often come down to subtle skills. “There’s a lot of players who can run and jump and dunk and shoot," Jennings said. "Sometimes it’s just an intangible of when you’re watching. A guy who knows how to set a screen or knows how to get open."
In 2001, there were eight D-League teams. With the addition this year of the Red Claws and the Armor, there will be 16. There are 30 NBA teams, so most D-League squads have multiple affiliations. Frisco, Texas, will be home to another new D-League team next season and NBA Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Stu Jackson said there is more expansion planned.
“Our ultimate goal is to have 30 NBA D-League teams in a one-on-one affiliation with each of the NBA teams," Jackson said. "We’ve already begun the process. We currently have three teams that own their own NBA D-League team."
"It’s a wonderful thing to not only market, but it’s very entertaining for the fans to know that they truly are seeing the future stars of the NBA,” Jackson added.
Most players at the Red Claws open tryout don’t get an immediate answer about their fate, but I need to know, so I pose the same question to head coach Austin Ainge, who laughed.
“No chance," Ainge said. "I’m sorry, I’m sorry. The athleticism isn’t quite up to par. If you were about 6’8," I think you’d have a chance."
Unfortunately, I have my answer, but the rest of the players will have to wait to find out if they’ll be taking the next step to the NBA.
This program aired on October 12, 2009.
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