I have often thought about the NBA's Development League and how it can best be utilized to allow basketball to progress and to raise the level of play in The Association. Today the new D-League affiliations were announced for the 2012-13 season. Let's see if you can see a trend:
D-League team | NBA Affiliate(s)
Austin Toros | San Antonio Spurs
Bakersfield Jam | Atlanta Hawks, LA Clippers, Phoenix Suns, Toronto Raptors
Canton Charge | Cleveland Cavaliers
Dakota Wizards Santa Cruz Warriors | Golden State Warriors
Erie Bayhawks | New York Knicks
Fort Wayne Mad Ants | Charlotte Bobcats, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks
Idaho Stampede | Portland Trailblazers
Iowa Energy | Chicago Bulls, Denver Nuggets, New Orleans Hornets, Washington Wizards
Los Angeles D-Fenders | [redacted]
Maine Red Claws | Boston Celtics
Reno Bighorns | Memphis Grizzles, Sacramento Kings, Utah Jazz
Rio Grande Valley Vipers | Houston Rockets
Sioux Falls Skyforce* | Miami Heat, Minnesota Timberwolves, Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers
Springfield Armor | Brooklyn Nets
Texas Legends | Dallas Mavericks
Tulsa 66ers | Oklahoma City Thunder
*Best D-league team name
There are a total of 16 teams in the D-League. Eleven of those teams have exclusive partnerships with an NBA franchise. The other five are shared amongst the other 19 NBA franchises. I don't proclaim to have a perfect knowledge of how the D-league works, but it is my understanding that those teams that have exclusive partnerships with NBA franchises are either owned outright by the big club or are owned by a third-party, which is responsible for marketing and business operations, with the big club heading up the basketball operations. The latter of the two options is very similar to the farm system in Major League Baseball. Right now the Reno Bighorns (or Bakersfield, Fort Wayne, Iowa, Sioux Falls) are run independently (I believe) from any NBA team. That means that the 19 teams that do not have an exclusive partnership with a D-league team can send their players down to be developed more but lack the control necessary to be sure they are developed how they want (see: Hassan Whiteside).
The first focus should be to expand the D-league so the every NBA franchise has its own affiliate D-league team. The market size of D-league team should be small. Smaller cities (especially ones where there is no other professional sports franchise or high level NCAA basketball team) are more likely to come out and support a local minor league team. The league and specifically the 19 franchises without exclusive partnerships should focus cities that are similar in size to AA Baseball towns.
Next, the question of how to fill out rosters arises. I say expand the draft to at least three or four rounds. Many second round picks do not even make the NBA roster by the start of the season. Also, there has been talk about raising the NBA draft limit from one-year removed from high school to two-years. If that idea gains traction (which I think it will), the NBA can offer the D-league as an alternative for guys who can't qualify for or choose not to attend college. They can either allow high school kids into the regular draft and then require that they play in the D-league for two years before being eligible for call up, or they can have a "supplemental D-league draft" and those players would be contracted to the league, not a particular franchise. Then after two years they can enter the actual NBA draft (or they just allow young men to make their own choices and pick what route they want to take).
A system similar to the one above would allow NBA teams to create a pipeline to draw upon for years to come. Currently, each team has 15 roster spots (12 of which are active). A real farm system would allow a team to compete with proven talent now and develop young guys for the future at the same time. Obviously, top flight rookies/most first round picks can handle the pressure/speed/physicality of the NBA game from the start. There are many second round picks or undrafted free agents that, if nurtured and guided more closely, could become contributing role players on a contending team. The overall quality of the game would improve.