Though it’s been underlined and spelled out in 72-point font due to this year’s misfortunes, the Knicks have long been labeled a team which operates in the short-term. They’ve dealt away every draft pick that league rules permit, wantonly chucked prospects to the curb and generally eschewed the prevailing theories of how to rebuild. That’s been their M.O. for more than a decade. However, the Knicks are in the minority of teams to have jumped on an opportunity that falls directly opposite of their usual negligence – the D-League.
There are a slew of benefits, but none larger than the ability to develop talent, get value out of unproven but potentially helpful and cheap players and having a place to rehab injured rotation guys a la Boston’s Rajon Rondo this season. These benefits are magnified when the D-League team belongs entirely to one NBA team, as is the case with the Knicks and the Erie BayHawks.
In June of 2011 the Knicks became just the sixth NBA team to have a one-on-one affiliation with a D-League team. There are now 13 teams with such a partnership, with the remaining 17 NBA franchises in the league sharing three D-League teams with eachother in groups of five or six per D-League franchise.
Many believe one to one affiliation throughout the NBA will be the norm in the future, but this requires an expensive addition of 14 D-League teams into the fold. Until that day comes however many years down the line, the Knicks will have an edge on teams without an exclusive affiliation or ones that don’t regularly utilize the D-League. Recently, we’ve seen examples where the Knicks have taken full advantage.
The Knicks’ first move as the lone proprietor of the Erie Bayhawks was assigning Jerome Jordan and Jeremy Lin to Erie in the early part of the 2011-12 season. Both of these gents would be called up a week later. This wouldn’t be the last time for Jordan, nor the first for Lin. Jordan would be assigned twice more in that season alone, being a raw and lanky center the Knicks bought out of the second round. Jordan was a project who never did meet his potential, eventually being traded to the Houston Rockets and is currently playing professional basketball in Italy.
As we all know, Lin turned out to be another story entirely.
Lin played 20 games in total in a Reno Bighorns uniform before his tenure as a Knick, and after dropping a triple-double in his single game as a Bayhawk, Lin returned to the team to save their season, sign a three-year deal with the Rockets and make a strong case for being Sixth Man of the Year this season.
In the 2012-13 season, the Knicks sent Amar’e Stoudemire down to the D-League for a few days to rehab his knee injury before making his return to basketball after months of inactivity. The Knicks also systematically sent fringe rotation players such as Chris Copeland and James White to the D-League for minuscule stretches to practice with the Bayhawks while keeping them close by the Knicks. (New York also employed this ritual this year with guard Toure’ Murry, who played a single game in Erie before being called right back up for the Knicks’ bout with the Miami Heat.)
Fast forward to this year, where we saw New York assign Chris Smith to the Bayhawks for about a month, only to be called up in the wake of a swarm of injuries to the Knicks’ point guards. Given his relative lack of ability, to date, he hash’t shown any remarkable improvement in his time as a Bayhawk. He’s still on the roster (though not the property of the Knicks. Another team could conceivably sign him) But to see the Knicks use the D-League to develop a young player who could be called up in dire need instead of turning to a washed up veteran free agent who hasn’t played at the NBA level in months or longer (hi there, Clippers) is relieving. And just a few weeks later, a similar strategy paid off enormously for the ‘Bockers.
Jeremy Tyler was signed to an unguaranteed deal with the Knicks after an impressive Summer League showing in 2013, but soon after needed surgery to repair a metatarsal injury in his right foot. This procedure would keep Tyler out for 8-10 weeks. This, along with the additional time frame required to get back into game shape would prove too long of a wait for the Knicks and Tyler was cut at the end of October.
The Santa Cruz Warriors had the rights to Tyler, but the Knicks wanted to keep him close to the organization in case he was needed. The Erie Bayhawks traded for his rights, leading to six solid outings from the rehabilitating big man – averaging 18 points and 10.2 rebounds a night. The Knicks then picked up Tyler, who rode the bench until injuries sidelining Amar’e Stoudemire, Kenyon Martin and Andrea Bargnani earned him a rotation spot. So far, New York’s patience and use of the D-League with Tyler played out exceedingly well. Jeremy Tyler is averaging just under 10 minutes a night, but his per-36 statistics are strong: 16.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, 1.9 blocks on 60% shooting from the field.
As the league continues to understand the benefits of the D-League, the Knicks are a step ahead of the pack. For all of the talk surrounding New York’s dysfunctional front office , their relationship with the D-League is an example of doing things the right way.