THE SCOUTS wore
blasé expressions even as they cataloged every pick, roll and box-out. The home
team's coyote mascot momentarily got stuck in the rim while climbing down from
the backboard, before delicately extricating himself. The 5,300 seats were
mainly empty, the videos shown on the scoreboard looked as if they'd been
produced at a cable-access studio, and the music thumped as gratingly and
monotonously as in, well, an NBA arena. ¶ Welcome to the D-League Showcase, a
four-day event held last week at Qwest Arena in downtown Boise, Idaho, that
gave 141 minor leaguers a chance to make their cases for promotion. Each of the
14 NBA Development League's teams played two regular-season games—with matchups
staged one after another, starting as early as 11 a.m. and concluding after
nine each night—in one location, as more than 60 NBA executives and scouts
sought a fill-in in case of an injury or trade. (In the D-League's 6 1/2 years,
68 players have received NBA contracts, including 10 this season.) Think of the
Showcase as American Idol for role players. For as much as the scouts were
interested in prolific scorers and rebounders, they also coveted players who
could fill a specific defensive need or make the extra pass. More than
anything, they were looking for reliability.
performances, like Idol auditions, were largely uneven. Which is no surprise
given that every player in the D-League is there for a reason: Some are too
small or too slow for their position; others have flaws in their character or
holes in their game. Nine draft picks were on assignment from their NBA clubs,
and two had their moments. JamesOn Curry, a 6'3" guard selected by the
Chicago Bulls out of Oklahoma State in the second round of the 2007 draft,
erupted for 34 points in the Iowa Energy's opener—but two nights later he was
held to six, and his team lost both games. Shannon Brown, an '06 first-rounder
from Michigan State, delivered a pair of impressive performances for the Rio
Grande Valley (Texas) Vipers, scoring a combined 63 points in his two games,
and was almost immediately recalled by the Cleveland Cavaliers. But scouts were
quick to point out that his jump shot remained inconsistent, a red flag for a
6'4" shooting guard.
Most of the
prospects, however, were free agents who could be signed by anyone—like point
guard Mike Taylor of the hometown Idaho Stampede. A week short of his 22nd
birthday, he practically leaped over the shoulder of a defender in an opening
win over Rio Grande Valley on Jan. 15. Yet that's not what had NBA scouts
talking; instead they were perplexed to see that the roster listed Taylor as
having played at UCLA. "I know everybody from UCLA," said one Eastern
Conference executive, "and I don't remember any Mike Taylor."
Idaho to a win over the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Mad Ants last Thursday, Taylor was
asked about the discrepancy. "I don't know how they came up with UCLA,"
he said. "I'm from Iowa State."
helps you," a reporter told him. "They're all out there talking about
you, trying to figure out who you are."
offered a range of players with disparate backgrounds—journeymen desperate for
another chance in the NBA and youngsters waiting for a spot in their parent
club's rotation; those who had failed to live up to expectations and others who
had never endured such burdens. The roster of the Stampede alone had a little
of everything. Center Lance Allred, 26, played two years at Utah and two at
Weber State, then divided a season among four European teams. Shooting guard
Roberto Bergersen is a 32-year-old Boise State alum who after a six-year career
overseas returned to live year-round in the city with his wife and three young
boys. Forward Brent Petway, 22, played four years at Michigan but didn't
develop much beyond his dunking ability. Puerto Rico native Ricky Sanchez, a
20-year-old forward, was an '05 second-round pick by the Portland Trail Blazers
out of the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla; he is now property of the
Philadelphia 76ers, the third NBA team to hold his rights.
Sene, 21, was assigned to the Stampede on Dec. 26 by the Seattle SuperSonics,
who after taking him with the No. 10 pick in the 2006 draft had realized little
return for his two-year, $3.3 million contract. (Sene played 28 games as a
rookie and only nine this season before being assigned.) Thanks in part to NBA
commissioner David Stern's 2005 agreement with the players' association that
seldom-used rookies and sophomores like Sene could be dispatched to minor
league affiliates, D-League attendance and sponsorships have increased
significantly. But few prospects needed as much refining as Sene, a long-armed
7-footer from Senegal who had been selected after blocking nine shots at the
Nike Hoop Summit 11 weeks before the draft.
Because of the
Sonics' huge financial investment, Sene was—by D-League terms, at least—a man
of wealth and privilege for whom doors were opened and opportunities created.
Seattle director of pro player personnel Bill Branch attended Sene's practices
in Boise, met with him after games and urged Idaho coach Bryan Gates to
increase Sene's playing time in order to make the parent club happy. Sene's
minutes went from 21 on Jan. 15 to 28 last Thursday to 32 in a post-Showcase
game last Saturday in which he poured in a career-high 26 points.
other NBA assignee was 6'10" rookie power forward Josh McRoberts, 20, who
is earning a more reasonable $427,163 as a second-round pick, from Duke, of the
Trail Blazers. In his first Showcase game—he was sent down by Portland only
four days earlier—McRoberts missed all six of his shots, scowled at Gates while
receiving extra instruction and committed five turnovers, including a reckless,
one-handed jai alai heave while Idaho was squandering a 16-point lead.
"Just make a good pass, boy!" scolded Petway as McRoberts took a seat
during a timeout.
But when Stampede
point guard Randy Livingston missed a runner in the final seconds of the game,
guess who tipped the loose ball to himself for his 12th rebound, which helped
clinch the 93--89 victory? As McRoberts sat down during another timeout,
Livingston said just loud enough for everyone to hear, "Josh! Good