Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Suns will run basketball ops for D-League Bakersfield Jam

The Phoenix Suns used the D-League Bakersfield Jam to stretch out their young players’ legs in the past few seasons, but now they’ll be able to utilize the minor league teams to an exponentially greater degree. According to Paul Coro and first reported by D-League Digest, the Suns will finish up an agreement to create a hybrid affiliation with the Jam, which over the past few years was shared with other NBA teams.

That means the Jam will remain independently owned and operated on the business side, but the Suns franchise will take control of the basketball operations, meaning they will be in charge of hiring coaches and a general manager. As such, current Suns staff members will be involved in the process of making new hires. Expect some to add to their current titles or move into D-League duties entirely.

Though it’s unclear exactly how the employee structure in Phoenix and Bakersfield will look after the deal becomes official, the advantages for the franchise will be impactful.

Assignments with the same interests

In the past, Suns rookies like Archie Goodwin, Diante Garrett and Kendall Marshall spent time with the Jam to give them playing time when it wasn’t available in the NBA. Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek said this year that Goodwin was sent down with individualized instructions and he traveled with Suns staffers, but development works best when the D-League and NBA coaching staffs are working together.

To no fault of the Bakersfield staff, the goal in the past was to win. There was naturally going to be a disconnect between what Phoenix ultimately wanted, since the two coaching staffs aren’t tied formally. The Jam coaches might not have been involved or as concerned with Hornacek’s points of emphasis as they could have been, though there’s nothing to say Phoenix didn’t have a fine relationship with the Bakersfield staff.

Working in the same interests and as one will go a ways.

A true minor league

There are examples of how this has worked well for other teams.

The Golden State Warriors completely own their D-League team, the Santa Cruz Warriors, which has two siblings of current Golden State players — Klay Thompson’s brother Mychel and Steph Curry’s brother Seth — as well as local YouTube sensation Kiwi Gardner, 2013 draft pick Nemanja Nedovic and former Northern Arizona gunner Cameron Jones. In the front office, Golden State assistant general manager Kirk Lacob, son of owner Joe Lacob, is the GM of the D-League squad. Their coach is Casey Hill, son of longtime NBA coach Bob Hill.

The Rockets used their D-League squad even more aggressively this season. They needed another shooter this year and traded for Jordan Hamilton at the deadline, but coach Kevin McHale instead ended up using Vipers guard Troy Daniels in the postseason, and he became the no-name hero of the first round with his performances.

And Oklahoma City used its Tulsa 66ers to harbor 2013 second-round pick Grant Jerrett, the stretch 4 prospect who developed the entire year with Tulsa before finally signing with the Thunder just before the end of the regular season. Jerrett initially didn’t sign a contract with Oklahoma City, and the 66ers traded up in the D-League draft to select Jerrett for Oklahoma City. That’s something a non-affiliated team might not think twice about doing to help an NBA franchise.

Franchise development

Not only will the D-League become a place for the Suns to develop more players of their choice — maybe Ryan McDonough can keep all three draft picks after all — it’ll be a place to develop coaches, video coordinators, trainers and front office executives. If a team wants more experience for a talented coordinator who’s been toiling away in the video room, they can assign him to a bigger role with the D-League affiliate.

The Houston Rockets used a similar affiliation with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers to groom general manager Daryl Morey’s director of player personnel Gersson Rosas, who also played general manager for the team’s D-League affiliate.

Getting smarter

Schematically, Phoenix could also use Bakersfield as a tool of better understanding.

Want to develop a better in-house advanced statistic with real-time testing and analysis — and without the risk of losing? Try it in the D-League. Don’t know how to implement that statistic in a game? Try it different ways in a live-action proving ground.

The Rockets are ahead ahead of the league in this regard with their Only Three-pointers and Layups offense with the Vipers; Grantland chronicled the fascinating approach and how they work with Houston.


Taking over basketball operations of a D-League team may not be more than a blip on the radar screen when watching the Suns in action in the coming years, but it will nonetheless have a tremendous impact in the team remaining competitive.

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