17 of the 18 D-League franchises are either owned by or have a working agreement with a single NBA team, which leaves the other 13 NBA teams with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants as a destination for their rehabbing or developing players.
This is not a tenable situation, even for one season, as it puts too much roster pressure on Fort Wayne. The D-league limits the number of assigned NBA players to a D-league team to four, and a maximum of two per position, meaning that frequently there will be no available space on the Mad Ants roster when one of the 13 teams wants to assign a player.
As a result, the NBA has come up with a system to assign players from the 13 teams without an affiliate to other affiliated teams. Well, let me just give you part of the Wolves press release that explains it:
Minnesota will be able to send players to Fort Wayne for development or rehabilitation as part of the NBA D-League's new flexible assignment system which will enable the 13 independent NBA teams to continue to assign players to the NBA D-League.
To accommodate assignments to Fort Wayne, the lone independent NBA D-League team, a flexible assignment system will be utilized when an independent NBA team assigns a player at a time when the Mad Ants already have either the maximum of four NBA players on assignment or two assigned players at the position of the NBA player who is being assigned. In either event, the NBA D-League will identify to the assigning NBA team any singly-affiliated NBA D-League team that is willing to accept the assigned player, and the independent NBA team assigning the player will choose a team from among those teams to assign the player. If no singly-affiliated NBA D-League team is willing to accept the assigned player, he will be assigned to one of the non-NBA-owned single affiliate teams pursuant to a lottery.
Got it? Yikes. The gist is that when the Mad Ants cannot accomodate a Wolves player they want to assign, the D-League will find a team that is able and willing to accommodate the player. If there is no willing team, the player will be assigned to a team that is merely able to do so.
This is far from ideal, as the 17 NBA teams that have single affiliations can control the coaching and playing time that goes on at their affiliates, while the 13 NBA teams without affiliations are left to beg for roster spots. Obviously this is a stop-gap measure until the NBA can decide what to do about their development league. The answer seems to be expansion, perhaps to the point where each NBA team can have it's own affiliate. There are likely a handful of owners who would prefer not to pay for this, but overall, the league seems to be headed in that direction.
I've written about this extensively before, but clearly NBA franchises value having D-League affiliates even when they are limited to 15 players under team control. It seems to me that a natural next step--and something that would have to be bargained in the next CBA--would be having a "minor league" that included one affiliate for each franchise, and permitting NBA teams to sign a certain number of players to "development contracts" beyond their 15 player NBA limit.
Whether this is direction the league chooses to go or not, something will have to change with the D-league. Having 17 teams with an affiliate and 13 teams trying to share Fort Wayne (go Mad Ants) is not a long-term solution.