On February 26, 1978, the Portland Trail Blazers escaped Chicago Stadium with a 100-99 win. Making the game even more exciting, Portland guard Lionel Hollins banked a 30-footer at the buzzer for the victory. Led by MVP-candidate Bill Walton, the “Blazers” were the prohibitive favorites to repeat as NBA Champions. However, the team’s fortunes changed that night due to a series of fateful events after the game. The story may sound far-fetched, but it really happened. At least, I heard it did.
As a 19-year old from Georgia (the former Soviet Republic, not the state), Nikoloz Tskitishvili was drafted by the Denver Nuggets with the 5th overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft. With six foreign players taken in the first round that year, the NBA’s evolution into an international league had hit another gear. Relative to draft position, that group included three very productive players (Yao Ming at #1, Nene Hilario at #7, and Nenad Krstic at #24), two underproductive players (Bostjan Nachbar at #15 and Jiri Welsch at #16), and one unproductive player (Nikoloz Tskitishvili). Based on a combination of horrendous shooting and abysmal production, Tskitishvili earned the title of #8 NBA Draft Bust.
I predict that the NBA D-League eventually will become a legitimate system for NBA teams to develop talent. For now, it primarily caters to players who just can’t let go of their dreams or teams which need somewhere to stash marginal players for a few days. I’m not saying that the players don’t have any talent. Instead, they likely won’t have a meaningful career in the NBA. If the league intends to keep better players from going overseas, it’ll have to pay a lot more than the current salaries of approximately $20,000 per year. Until NBA owners commit to subsidizing the league properly, the D-League will be the basketball equivalent of Major League Lacrosse.