During the offseason, events such as the tournament-style Samsung Las Vegas Summer League provides players ranging from rookies to European standouts and former draft-day busts with a valuable opportunity to get their first taste of NBA basketball, or showcase their respective talents in front of a variety of pro scouts.
And for the Toronto Raptors, the franchise’s participation in this past weekend’s Summer League tourney held an even greater significance than usual as it gave GM Masai Ujiri and the rest of the front office a chance to see first-round draft choice Bruno Caboclo run the floor against some NBA competition for the very first time.
With a solid starting five and a talented group of reserves however, finding a spot on the roster for untested players like Caboclo, DeAndre Daniels and Lucas Nogueira won’t be easy once the regular season arrives — which is why it’s time for the Raptors to finally invest in their own NBA Development League franchise.
In the upcoming season, Toronto will share the Fort Wayne Mad Ants with 12 NBA teams, but 17 others currently have an exclusive affiliation consisting of either outright ownership of a D-League franchise, or what’s known as a ”hybrid” affiliation, which allows the NBA team to essentially run the basketball operations of its D-League partner without actually owning it.
If the Raptors owned a D-League franchise, Ujiri could send Caboclo there in order to gain some valuable playing time while the Brazilian developed under the tutelage of coaches hired by the organization. And for a young player like Caboclo who is both new to the NBA as well as North America, the structured environment would often mirror daily life as a pro and give the rookie an opportunity to slowly wade into the NBA waters.
But the concept is far from perfect, and the current rules state that anyone sent down to the D-League would still cost Toronto a roster spot on the team’s two-man inactive list. Also, only players within their first three years of NBA service can be shipped to the D-League without consent from the player and the union, and everyone counts as a hit on the salary cap.
While the system has its faults, only a financial commitment from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, who own the Raptors, stands in the way of a D-League franchise, and it’s no secret that MLSE has the cash to make it happen.
And considering the overall popularity of the sport in Canada, a D-League franchise owned by the Raptors would be a great way to continue growing Toronto’s fanbase either in the city or in another part of the country such as Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax, or even Vancouver.
With plenty of room for expansion, every team in the NBA will eventually hold an exclusive affiliation with a D-League franchise, and at a time when Toronto is contending for a playoff spot while also building for the future, the Raptors need their own D-League franchise now more than ever.
Ty is an NBA writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @abovethefoldTy.