Every year the NBA’s Developmental League brings all things D-League to one spot. Every team. Every player. With everything from every organization poured into one locale, it’s the principal event of the entire season for the minor league to serve its main purpose: getting players called up to the NBA.
Scouts from all 30 NBA teams will be on hand in Mississauga, Ontario for the Showcase. The Hershey Centre, home of the Raptors’ affiliate, Raptors 905, will play host to the five-day event from January 18th to the 22nd.
Former D-Leaguers and current NBA players Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz), Hassan Whiteside (Miami Heat) and Jeremy Lin (Brooklyn Nets) have all taken center stage at the event, which can and has proven to have a significant effect on a player’s future.
“It’s obviously the premiere event that the D-League puts on,” says Legends Head Coach Bob MacKinnon. “It’s a great event in that you get every team here playing two games. Because of that, it’s a convenient exposure event for NBA teams. As the D-League has grown over the years and the NBA has put more stock in the D-League, obviously the showcase has grown.”
A 22-game frenzy will happen in just five days, with an equally numbered record 22 teams venturing to Canada.
“Now you see teams not sending one or two scouts but multiple people there. GMs, I know the Mavericks’ Donnie Nelson will be there, along with several scouts. It’s a very serious event for the NBA. Also, quite a few European teams send several scouts. So it is a well scouted event.”
No coach in the history of the NBA’s minor league has graduated more players to the world’s highest basketball level than MacKinnon. “Obviously the number one reason why players are in our league is to be seen and to be seen by the right people. This is the event that really captures what we’re doing in the D-League.”
Manny Harris leads not just his Legends squad, but the whole league in scoring. Averaging an uncontested 26.6 PPG, Harris is ranked by a D-League experts panel as one of the top players to watch during Showcase.
“It gets you seen on a more noticeable level,” says Harris, who has played in 89 NBA games. “People come out to the event to watch and get to see what they see on stats or what they hear. I think it’s just a great chance to be seen.”
The Legends star player is also second in the league in steals, with 2.7 a game.
With more eyes on him, Harris will continue to play his game. “Just do the same things I’ve been doing. Try to do it better. Try to come out of there with a win. Just play hard and play for the team. Personally, do the same things and try to be sharp.”
10-Day contracts started on January 5th, opening up the floodgates for call-up season. The Legends have already had three promotions: Quincy Acy to the Brooklyn Nets, Pierre Jackson to the parent club Dallas Mavericks and recently Gary Neal was called up by the Atlanta Hawks. Jackson and Acy are both currently on their second stint with their respective teams.
The Legends will play twice during their trip north of the United States border, with their first participation waiting until the weekend. First is a “home” game against the Santa Cruz Warriors on Saturday, January 21st. At the ripe hour of 10 AM local time, game one of two for the Mavs’ affiliate will commence.
Legends guard Kyle Collinsworth talks about preparing for the abnormal start time. “What I’m gonna do is make sure I’m up and doing something in the morning. Get to bed earlier, get up in the morning so by 10:00 my body is ready to go.”
The next day, Sunday, will be a 3:00 matinee against the Los Angeles D-Fenders, affiliate of their city-sake Los Angeles Lakers. The game will be broadcasted nationally on NBA TV.
Mavericks second-round pick A.J. Hammons has had multiple assignments to Frisco this season. Now he will get the chance for some big time exposure as the Mavs will send their rookie to the Showcase with the team.
“I haven’t been playing with the Mavs a lot so they sent me down here to get more reps, keep myself in shape and get used to the game,” says the 24-year old, taken 46th in last June’s NBA Draft. “Really just going into it to show my talent, show what I got and hopefully get every win. That’s the biggest thing. Just play hard and show everyone what I can do.”
Despite the magnitude of the event, it’s still all about winning and playing your best game. “Anytime you get on the court man, that’s when you gotta show what you got. This is gonna be really big, every team is gonna be there. It will help me now and in the future.”
The showcase is a basketball nexus for talent evaluators. “What happens here is people gather information,” says MacKinnon. “It’s not just watching the players play, but with everybody there, all these GMs and scouts, they talk with the coaches and talk with the players. There’s a lot of background information done at this event other than just what’s done on the court.”
He notes that personnel changes are not necessarily immediate. “I’m fortunate to work for an organization that believes in helping our players get to the next level. Obviously this is the premiere event for people to be seen. A lot of people think that the call-ups happen at the event or right after, but it’s not.”
But this is where the homework gets done. “That stuff goes on so that in the next month or two months as teams need players and needs become a big thing in the NBA, all that background stuff has been done here at the showcase. It’s really a terrific venue for our players.”
Harris is no stranger to the prime time lights. “I’ve been around for a while. So to me it’s like any other game, it’s an opportunity. The showcase is big but like I said I’ve been around a little minute so to me it’s just another opportunity to be seen and show guys that I can play at the next level.”
Ironically, the Legends’ next game following the Showcase will be against the Raptors 905. The team will spend a week adjacent to Toronto before they return home on January 27th to face the Austin Spurs, D-League affiliate of the San Antonio Spurs.
Is there a big excitement for this spectacle? “Of course,” Collinsworth states firmly. “It’s another opportunity. It’s what we prepare for. It’s what I prepare for.”
“We do what we do for opportunities like this.”