Can the rooks play for the Toros during the lockout?
If the NBA loses any games to the lockout this season, which is looking like a possibility, training camp and preseason will both probably be rushed. The NBA would want to get the product on the floor as quickly as possible and get the real games going. While a shortened season could possibly be a good thing for an older team like the Spurs, outside of the three games in three nights stretches, the rookies could be the ones at a disadvantage.
We saw last year how Tiago Splitter was unable to break into the rotation permanently after missing training camp and preseason with injury. And how James Anderson never regained the spot in the lineup he seemed set to own following his recovery from a broken foot early in the season. Those early season repetitions are important for the young guys, and not just so that they can learn the system and how to be a Spur, but so everyone else on the team (especially Coach Pop) can be comfortable with what the young guys bring.
Varner and I talked a few weeks ago about the possibility of Splitter, Anderson and Gary Neal going to play for the Toros if the NBA were to lock out the players and games were missed. Because those three are in just their second season, they would be eligible to be assigned by the Spurs to the Toros in a normal season. But if the lockout does erase some games, this ceases to be a normal season and because those guys are under contract with the Spurs, the team could not assign them to Austin. Part of the whole “no contact” thing.
But what about Kawhi Leonard and Cory Joseph? Obviously, they’re eligible to play for the Toros because they are rookies in the NBA. But even further than that, neither has signed an NBA contract yet. Theoretically, they could play for the D-League because they are not part of the NBA Players Union at this point.
I posed the question on Twitter to Scott Schroeder of Ridiculous Upside yesterday, and he informed me that he was already working on a post along those same lines. Here’s what Scott said in his piece:
If an NBA team were able to stash their incoming rookies on the D-League affiliate, that player would then be able to learn the big club’s system as well as be developed by coaches hiring by big club. Under the D-League’s current transaction rules, however, it’s going to be rather difficult to optimize this opportunity for the rookies.
Since the rookie draft picks won’t be under NBA contract, they wouldn’t automatically be property of their NBA team’s D-League affiliate. To put it in real world terms, if Jeremy Tyler were to sign a D-League contract tomorrow, he would be inserted into the annual draft and could end up on 15 teams not owned by the Golden State Warriors — suffice to say, that’s not going to help anyone.
There are ways at getting around this, however, as the Oklahoma City Thunder showed last season with second round pick Ryan Reid. Reid obviously was not ready to contribute to the NBA and therefore didn’t sign his rookie contract, allowing the Thunder to keep his rights.
Knowing Reid would benefit greatly from working under Tulsa 66ers coaches Nate Tibbetts and Dale Osborne, the Thunder brass were able to find a loophole to send Reid to the D-League affiliate even though they knew they he’d be gone before the 66ers came on the clock with the 13th pick in the D-League Draft. Instead, Oklahoma City simply had Reid sit out until the 66ers moved high enough on the waiver wire before he signed his contract, allowing him to join Tulsa in time to play in 48 of the team’s 50 regular season games.
This obviously isn’t an ideal way of going about things, and it might even somehow be blocked by the numerous restrictions involving communications between the teams and players. If teams are going to find a loophole to get their incoming rookies in shape, however, that seems to be the way they’d have to do it.
Well that seems difficult. Also seems risky. Imagine if the Texas Legends (the Dallas Mavericks affiliate) got a hold of Kawhi Leonard. Would they teach him terrible habits that they know Coach Pop is sure to bench him for in an effort to sabotage the Spurs? I wouldn’t put it past Mark Cuban (yes, I know Donnie Nelson owns the Legends, but I’m assuming Cuban is involved as well).
If the Toros were to be at the top of the waiver chain would they be able to sign both Leonard and Joseph if they made themselves available? Or would the Toros be able to sign them one at a time and they would have to make themselves eligible in separate weeks? I still have more questions, as you can see.
The rookies could also play overseas in the season is delayed. The Spurs obviously have good relationships with several teams in Europe and could find spots for Leonard and Joseph. But the allure of the Toros is that the pair would be learning the exact system that they would be running under Gregg Popovich — with a little less yelling, I think.
Perhaps Toros Head Coach Brad Jones could simply place a phone call to Leonard and Joseph and ask them to come up to Austin to be practice bodies. I don’t believe Jones or anybody from the Toros is restricted from talking to the players. Likewise, I believe that the Spurs can stay in contact with the Toros. Don’t quote me on any of this, but Leonard and Joseph could work out with the Toros and learn from the system from the Austin coaching staff, even if they don’t actually play in any of the games.
While that would be somewhat disappointing, as running the system in game action is where it becomes second nature, learning the ins and outs from people who have a strong knowledge of it would be preferred.
It’s a roundabout way of getting the Spurs rookies ready for what could be a shortened NBA season, one that could include a condensed practice schedule that immediately puts the pair at a disadvantage. The D-League season doesn’t start until the end of November, however, and if we get to that point without basketball we as basketball fans have a lot more to worry about than just the rookies.