On Wednesday, the Pacers officially announced they purchased the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, which will make them the Pacers' direct affiliate in the NBA's developmental league moving forward. It's a great sign for the D-League that all 19 teams now have direct affiliations with NBA teams, but it's not good news for the 11 NBA teams without a direct affiliation next season, including the Wizards.
The teams without an affiliate will be forced to use a flexible assignment system to determine how their players will be assigned to a team. Here's how the flexible assignment system works:
[T]he NBA D-League's flexible assignment system - which was instituted prior to the 2014-15 season - will continue to enable the 11 independent NBA teams to assign players to the NBA D-League for development or rehabilitation from injury. Upon receipt of an assignment from an independent NBA team, the NBA D-League will identify any NBA D-League team willing to accept the assigned player. The assigning independent NBA team will then choose the destination for assignment between those teams. If no NBA D-League team is willing to accept the assigned player, he will be assigned to one of the hybrid affiliate teams pursuant to a lottery. The 19 NBA teams with single affiliations will be able to assign players to their NBA D-League partners.
As Satchel Price explained on SB Nation, there aren't many reasons for any of the teams without an affiliate to send someone down to the D-League under this system. Teams have no control over what system their player will play in and no promises on how much playing time they'll get. Unless your only goal with a player's development is getting in-game experience, or rehabbing from an injury, there's very little benefit to a team without an affiliate assigning a young prospect to the D-League this season.
So let's be clear: Teams without D-League affiliates are missing out. But at the same time, the Wizards are in a good position to handle playing without a D-League affiliation this season. Here are a few reasons why they should be fine.
The Wizards are in no worse position than they were last season
Let's not forget the flexible assignment system was in place last season because the Wizards were sharing the Mad Ants with 11 other teams, and at times, Fort Wayne couldn't even handle all the players teams were sending down to them, which is why the flexible assignment system was put into place last season. And really, even before then the Wizards have always had to share D-League affiliates with other teams, which has kept them from utilizing the D-League as anything more than a place for young players who couldn't crack the rotation, like Hamady N'Diaye and Glen Rice Jr., to avoid atrophying deep on the bench.
The Wizards' roster is filled with players who do not need the D-League
Almost everyone else on the team is either too old, or too important to send down for anything other than rehab from injury. It would have been nice to see Aaron White in the D-League, but he would count against the Wizards' 15 roster spots, even if he spent the entire season in the D-League, so it's better for the team that he's developing in Germany this year.
As it stands, the only player who would be a viable D-League candidate this season is Kelly Oubre. And even then, you have to ask yourself: What's more beneficial for Oubre at this exact point in his development? Does he just need playing time to hone his skills or does he need guidance on how to handle the rigors of the NBA? If you think it's the former, he can get that anywhere in the D-League even if he doesn't have a specific system to plug into, and if you think it's the latter, he can get that by following the Otto Porter plan and learning from the team's veterans his rookie season.
The Wizards will have a D-League affiliate in place when the team needs it most
Throughout the Wizards' rebuild under Ted Leonsis, there honestly hasn't been much of a need for a D-League affiliate when you really think about it. Since the start of the rebuild in 2010, just about every player the Wizards have drafted has had plenty of opportunities to develop on the NBA level, rendering a D-League affiliate useless. The only players who maybe could have benefitted from a true affiliate were N'Diaye and Rice Jr., but at this point, it's pretty clear neither were cut out to be NBA players.
Thankfully, it doesn't appear like the Wizards are sitting by idly waiting for an NBA mandate to establish a D-League team. From the looks of things, it appears like the Wizards will establish a team in conjunction with the construction of their new practice facility. If so, they will be in position to have a team within the next two years (if not sooner), to take advantage of what the D-League has to offer at a time when they'll need young, cheap options to help fill out their bench.