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OKC Thunder-Tulsa 66ers relationship continues to be D-League blueprint

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Throughout all of the changes that have happened in the NBA Development League over its 13 seasons, the one constant has been Chris Alpert. As the 2013-14 campaign kicks into high gear, the D-League’s vice president of basketball operations and player personnel, who has been a part of the D-League since its debut, sees nothing but positives in the league’s future.

Part of Alpert’s enthusiasm comes from the continued shift in NBA mentality toward single affiliation, meaning each team would run its own D-League franchise in a similar way to Major League Baseball’s usage of the farm system. Two years ago, seven of the 16 D-League franchises were affiliated with multiple NBA teams. This season, of the 17 D-League teams, only three (Bakersfield, Fort Wayne, and Iowa) are affiliated with more than one NBA team.

“Eventually, I can see the D-League having 30 teams,” Alpert said during a recent visit to Tulsa. “Look at how the NBA teams have engaged with the D-League more and more over the last few seasons. Tulsa’s relationship with the Oklahoma City Thunder is a great example of how NBA teams can successfully work with their D-League affiliates.”

More and more NBA teams are looking at the Thunder-66ers blueprint and copying it. Last season, Oklahoma City had 40 player assignments to Tulsa, easily outdistancing second-place Houston (16, to Rio Grande Valley) and third-place San Antonio (14, to Austin) combined.

Oklahoma City recently continued its tradition of assignments by sending Andre Roberson, the 26th overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft, to Tulsa. Roberson is expected to continue to see court time this weekend for the 66ers as he continues to learn the Thunder system and adjust to the NBA level of play.

One team looking to emulate the proximity of the Thunder-66ers relationship is the Philadelphia 76ers. Philadelphia’s affiliate team, the Delaware 87ers, is the former Utah Flash, who went dormant two years ago. The team was purchased by the 76ers and moved to Delaware, just 39 miles away from the 76ers home court. With the birth of the 87ers, who will make their first-ever appearance in Tulsa on Friday night, the D-League has grown to 17 teams this season.

“It has been great to see the league grow and continue to grow into a true minor league,” Alpert said. “And don’t forget that the league isn’t just developing players. The D-League is also developing coaches and front office personnel for NBA roles. Having Philadelphia see the value in single affiliation and operate the Delaware franchise is a great step.

“I believe even more expansion is on the horizon for the D-League because more and more teams are seeing the value in the single-affiliation relationship that teams like Oklahoma City and San Antonio saw long ago.”

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