As Pat Delany checked out of his luxury hotel room on a small island in the Bahamas on Friday, he glanced at the Weather Channel one last time and smiled. The ticker on the bottom of his TV warned of a potential snowstorm in South Dakota.
He’ll be there soon enough.
Previously a scout for the Heat, Delany was promoted this offseason to a new position within the organization. He is now the coach of the Sioux Falls Skyforce, a team in the NBA Development League, or, D-League, which is the official minor league for the NBA. The Heat and the Skyforce entered into an exclusive partnership this offseason in order to better develop young players and coaches, and also to improve the Heat’s scouting footprint. The Skyforce’s season begins Nov. 22, and the Heat’s front office is excited about the potential of its new investment.
“It’s a win on all different levels,” said Andy Elisburg, the Heat’s newly appointed general manager who has long been one of Pat Riley’s key advisors.
The D-League consists of 17 teams, and this season 14 of those teams will have one-on-one affiliations with an NBA team similar to the Heat’s relationship with Sioux Falls. Once mostly an afterthought, the D-League slowly has developed into a legitimate proving ground for coaches, players and even referees who have dreams of making it to the NBA.
The new financial reality of the NBA also has had a trickle-down effect on the D-League’s growing significance. As NBA teams prepare for a future with a stricter salary cap, it only makes sense to bolster the means by which to develop players from the ground up.
Danny Green, the San Antonio Spurs guard who shot so well against the Heat in the NBA Finals, honed his skills in the D-League. Cleveland Cavaliers swingman Alonzo Gee of Riviera Beach also got his professional start in the D-League. On the coaching side, the Memphis Grizzlies’ new coach, David Joerger, first made a name for himself in the D-League.
“It’s a chance of a lifetime to get head coaching experience at this level,” said Delany, a 33-year-old who — similar to current Heat coach Erik Spoelstra — started as a video intern with Miami. “I’m forever grateful for this opportunity that the Heat has given me.”
Of the 14 one-on-one affiliations between NBA and D-League franchises, none presents such an odd geographical marriage as the Heat and Skyforce. This season, a developing player on the end of the Heat’s bench could be in tropical Miami one day, and then be sent to snowbound Sioux Falls the next. There are several players participating in the Heat’s training camp who could be grinding away in Sioux Falls very soon.
Off to sioux falls?
Justin Hamilton, Eric Griffin, Charlie Westbrook and Jarvis Varnado are fighting for one of the final spots on the Heat’s 15-man roster, but whoever makes the team could be sent to Sioux Falls for playing time and development in the D-League.
Coaching those players will be Delany and his small staff, which includes former Heat scout Octavio De La Grana, already a coaching legend in South Florida circles, and Sean Rooks, a former player who has been an assistant in the D-League and NBA.
De La Grana, who is beginning his seventh season with the Heat, got his start with Miami Florida Christian High School. Rooks already has spent time in Sioux Falls as an assistant and last year was on Alvin Gentry’s staff in Phoenix.
“I think we’re all kind of eager to get up there and get started,” Delany said.
Behind the scenes in Sioux Falls, Miami and on the road will be Adam Simon, who recently was named the Heat’s assistant general manager/general manager Sioux Falls Skyforce. Previously, Simon was the Heat’s director of player personnel. In addition to scouting for the Heat, it will be Simon’s job to identify players for the D-League draft and also become an expert on all of the D-League’s financial structures.
The first order of business will be identifying three designated affiliate players for the Skyforce’s roster. Players who do not make the Heat’s final 15-man roster are the most likely candidates to be designated. Of course, simply earmarking someone as an “affiliate player” doesn’t necessarily mean that person will join the Skyforce. Those players could go to Europe for more money.
“It’s a question that every player has to think about, every agent,” Simon said. “They’re sacrificing money to go overseas, but they all have dreams and the dreams are to play in the NBA.”
All contracts for the Skyforce are through the D-League, and the bottom line is no one will be getting rich playing in Sioux Falls. There are three salary tiers: $25,000, $21,000 and $15,000, with a total annual budget of $172,000 for the entire team. Only a certain number of top salaries are awarded for each team, but the Skyforce can go over budget. And that’s where the Heat comes in. Miami will be on the hook for anything over $172,000.
Road to NBA
Hamilton, a former Heat second-round draft pick, played in Croatia last year but might consider going to Sioux Falls this season if he doesn’t make the Heat’s final 15-man roster. Hamilton had a mixed experience in Europe. Although he enjoyed living in Croatia, the team he played for didn’t pay him and he also tore his hamstring.
“I’ve talked to guys who have played overseas and played in the D-League who are trying to break in, and I heard the D-League route just gives you more of the NBA terminology, and you play here in the States, so it’s easier for teams see you,” Hamilton said.
Basically, the players who choose the D-League route are playing for 10-day call-ups. The minimum salary for rookies in the NBA is $490,000.
“It’s more about developing staff, developing coaches and developing our players that we send there,” Simon said. “And we’re going to get a better feel for the D-League and any players we’re going to potentially call up. We’ll have first-hand knowledge of them because of our coaching staff seeing them, whether they are on our team or other teams.”