Forget contraction: The NBA needs expansion

By: 04.06.09  •  42 Comments
Will Bynum (photo. NBA)

Will Bynum (photo. NBA)

How ironic and ultimately frustrating was it that, on the same weekend when the Iverson-to-Detroit project officially failed, Will Bynum gave the Pistons exactly what A.I. could have given them all along?

After Rip Hamilton got ejected in the third quarter of yesterday’s game against the Bobcats, the Pistons offense was set to tank before Bynum stepped in. He scored 26 in the fourth (finishing with 32 points), essentially winning the game for Detroit and keeping three games’ distance between them and Charlotte for the last playoff spot in the East. Bynum was unstoppable getting to the rack (9-15 FG) on the ‘Cats guards, and consistently won the battles against their bigs once he got there (14-16 FT).

That could have been Iverson. That is Iverson. So many people said A.I.’s attacking style wouldn’t work with Detroit, but when that offense was stagnant and its primary weapon was out, somebody had to say “F*** it,” put their head down, break out the yo-yo handle and get buckets. And lest you forget, Iverson can still do that.

But like they say, one door closing means another is opening. So while Iverson’s future is uncertain, Bynum’s is bright. The only downside for him is that while he’s recently been balling like a guy in his contract year — 32 points on Charlotte, 25 on the Lakers, 22 on the Clippers, 20 on Chicago in the last month — he’s not going to get paid like one yet. Having seen what they’ve seen, is there any way the Pistons don’t pick up their $850,000 option on Bynum this summer?

Thing is, every NBA team could have a guy like Bynum, one who breaks out in the latter part of the season and gives them a better idea of what personnel decisions should be made for the future. Without Bynum’s current hot streak, Joe Dumars might have allowed him to walk in free agency, drafted an unproven college PG for depth behind Rodney Stuckey, then watched Bynum flourish somewhere else.


The Pistons got lucky. But even the perennially unlucky teams around the League could have their own Will Bynum … if the NBA expanded its roster limit.

For the last month of the Major League Baseball season, the 25-man roster limit expands to 40 and teams start bringing up their minor leaguers to give them Major League run. It works two-fold: Aging vets get a chance to rest down the stretch (when the weather gets colder), and minor leaguers get a taste of the bigs.

Why shouldn’t the NBA do this? For the last three and a half weeks of the regular season — about 15% of the schedule, roughly the same as MLB’s expanded-roster period — expand each team’s 15-man limit to 17 or 18 to allow for more call-ups from the D-League.

At the least, even if the D-Leaguers don’t get much playing time, they still get to practice against NBA guys with NBA coaching. At the most, teams get a look at some potential rotation guys for next season (or even this season), players gain more NBA experience, and the D-League gains a little more legitimacy as a working farm system. And unlike the current system, teams don’t have to wait for somebody on the NBA roster to get hurt to get a look at some young prospects, especially teams in the thick of a playoff race.

There would have to be a couple new rules put in place:

* For the sake of the D-League guys having some sense of stability, NBA teams can only call-up players from the D-League franchise affiliated with them. (Example: Portland can only grab guys from the Idaho Stampede, the Lakers can only get guys from the L.A. D-Fenders, etc.)

* Shorten the D-League season (or crunch the schedule) to make sure the Finals are over by the time the NBA roster expansion period begins. While there will always be some roster uncertainty in the D-League due to call-ups earlier in the year (just like baseball) here you can avoid pissing off the paying D-League customers by constantly taking away their best/favorite players during their own playoff races.

Imagine this scenario for a team like Miami: They know they need to address their lack of big-man depth this summer, or even before the playoffs, ideally. At the same time, they’re fighting for playoff positioning and can’t take too many risks.

They’d like to get a young big guy in there to at least practice with the team and get in some game time, even if it’s during blowouts when the risk factor is low. But under the current system, the Heat have to be stingy with 10-days and D-League call-ups because they have injured guys like Luther Head and healthy guys like Dorell Wright whom they don’t want to cut, but are still basically taking up space on the roster.

Over the last three and a half weeks of the season, wouldn’t it help Miami to bring up a guy like Mouhamed Sene from their D-League affiliate in Albuquerque? He’s a former Lottery pick with size (7-foot), youth (22 years old) and potential. He could be a player for them someday. He could be a player for them right now. Expanding the roster allows Miami to bring Sene up today, after his D-League season would be over, and get a look at him against real NBA competition without having to cut any of their current 15.

Not everyone will unearth a gem in this fashion. Not everyone can land a Will Bynum out of left field or even a C.J. Watson. But it will help franchises in the future, cut down on some regretful personnel choices, and help the NBA’s minor league system become more of a true minor league system.

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