The Growth of the G League

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Photo Credit: NBA G League

By: Kendall Garriss

On Thursday, Dec. 7, and Saturday, Dec. 9, the NBA will celebrate the 25th and 26th NBA games held in Mexico since 1992 as the Brooklyn Nets play the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat. Not only did Commissioner Adam Silver announce plans to launch an NBA Academy in Mexico’s capital during a press conference on Thursday, Silver also hinted at the NBA considering putting an NBA G League team in Mexico. Both of these initiatives reflect the league’s desire to further grow the Latin American market. Additionally, a G League team is a potential way to gauge the feasibility of developing an NBA franchise in Mexico.

Silver articulated that a G League team would almost serve as a 31st team in the league and that the Mexico City team would be operated in partnership with the league offices. No concrete plans have been laid to start the development of this G League team and Silver has said other Mexican cities would also be considered as viable options if the NBA does try to break into the Latin American market.

“We have a preference for coming to Mexico City,” Silver said, “because as we look down the road, frankly to see whether there would be an opportunity to even dream about putting an NBA franchise here in Mexico City, we believe it makes sense as a first step to have a development league team here and to work out some of the issues to better understand what it would mean to have a team in Mexico.”

The NBA’s prospective plan to place a G League team in Mexico City shows the league’s overall dedication to the expansion and the development of the G League. Formerly known as the “D-League” prior to the 2017-18 season, the minor league entered into a multi-year partnership with Gatorade this past summer and announced it would be rebranded as the NBA Gatorade League, or the G League. The league re-haul also brought with it some membership and location changes for several current franchises as well as expansion in other regions. As of 2016, there have been seven new franchises that have been launched as well as two more teams to join the G League in 2018 and 2019. Currently, there are 26 G League teams and the league offices have stated the goal is to reach 30 so each NBA team has its own G League affiliate.

The 2017 CBA for the NBA, which took effect during the 2017-18 season, included changes that allow NBA teams to sign two players to “two-way contracts”. Players who have this two-way designation will spend a majority of their time on their team’s G League roster, but they can move to their respective NBA team for up to 45 days in the regular season. Two-way players can also be a part of the team’s roster prior to the start of the regular season (including NBA training camps) and after the conclusion of the G League’s regular season. However, two-way players are not allowed to be on a team’s roster or play in a playoff game.

Only players that have four or less years of NBA experience are eligible for two-way contracts and, unlike other G League players, who can be called up by any team, two-way players can only be called up by their contracted NBA team. Further, salaries for two-way players are significantly higher than those of regular G League players. As of the 2017-18 season, regular G League players earn either $19,500 or $26,000 during the league’s season. By contrast, two-way players earn an annual salary between $50,000 and $75,000, depending on the number of days the player has spent with his G League team. Additionally, while two-way players are with their NBA team, they earn a pro-rated portion of the NBA minimum rookie salary, which will be $815,615 in the 2017-18 season.

For years, the NBA’s Developmental League was stigmatized. A player being re-assigned to a D-League team was seen as a sign of failure. However, the G League has been modeled and shaped into what it’s initial intentions were meant to reflect, a league in which young, talented players and aspiring NBA stars can be placed in an environment to help facilitate their growth and hopeful ascension into the NBA ranks. Some of today’s most popular stars started their careers in the D-League. Players such as Jeremy Lin, Hassan Whiteside, Jonathon Simmons, 2011 NBA champion J. J. Barea, 2014 NBA champion Danny Green and 2015 and 2017 NBA champion Shaun Livingston all spent time in the D-League before being called up to an NBA roster.

On Dec. 7, the Phoenix Suns announced that they had signed guard Mike James to a standard NBA contract, after previously playing under a two-way contract with the team. James marks the first two-way player to be awarded a standard NBA contract. James, 27, is playing in his first NBA season after spending the majority of his career playing abroad in the Euroleague. Undrafted out of Lamar University in 2012, James spent time playing for clubs in Croatia, Israel, Italy, Spain and Greece, before joining the Suns. While only in its formative stages the initial results are promising and it is likely James’ success is indicative of the future of the G League and the effectiveness of two-way contracts.

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