The D-League vs. Overseas Basketball: A Decision

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

For some, it's an easy decision. For others, it's one that can decide a career.

The chance to get called up to the NBA is much higher here. It's the difference between making the NBA and making money. It's not my call to say which is right or wrong. Sometimes I will tell a guy, it's time to make money or to stay in the D-League and this is your best path.

- Kirk Lacob, assistant general manager

I had a chance to sit down with some of the players for the Santa Cruz D-League team, the coaches, Joe Lacob's son and assistant General Manager Kirk Lacob. Between looking to find features on players trying to break into the big leagues and fun stories on offseason regimen, I stumbled upon a decision most professional basketball players have had to toil over, mulling over the options and ultimately making a decision that could make or break their career, hyperbole intended. This isn't about which is the right or wrong decision but how the grey area that buffers between the two influences a thought process.

For some players, this is about the money. And that's okay. Other than the sheer love of basketball, people want to make money for themselves and their family. Overseas basketball offers much more in that category that the Developmental League ever will. Of course, this is all relative to the different circumstances. Overseas is merely an overarching term that connotes the sport of basketball in a different world, something foreign and under the radar for a subset of the players.

The overseas experience

I'm used to being overseas so it wasn't a struggle to move. The basketball was different so I learned a lot. The pace is different, the focus is different. The post players are much more perimeter-oriented. Guys play zone a lot more. After the Warriors gave me a chance in training camp, I really wanted to play for them. There was never a thought about playing in Russia again. It's because of Golden State I feel like playing here.

- Joe Alexander, power forward

Joe Alexander, the 8th overall pick of the 2008 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks, knows all about bouncing around in the obscure wasteland across the world. Alexander played in the D-League after flaming out in Milwaukee, moving across a couple cities in Chicago and New Orleans before moving to Russia during the lockout. Since then, he's rehabbing an injury that hasn't given him a chance to play in an official game since 2011. Alexander readily admits that the European is much different than what he's been accustomed to in the States. I asked him what he wants to improve on in the upcoming season and he nearly interrupted me mid-question to exclaim, "Everything!" The overseas experience isn't just about the money. The rules and overall style of play are different, and much of what players in the States learn might have to be unlearned to become successful in top-notch foreign settings.

It's way too early to draw back on Lacob's words; and Alexander is happy to be given a chance in training camp and the D-League to show his wares, but a career in basketball is never as long as one wants. If the situation presents itself again, would Alexander say no? He's not contemplating the idea now, which speaks to his mentality coming back from some hard-luck injuries, but he doesn't deny that it's something that's in the back of his head.

When is it time to chase the money?

The D-League is the second-best league in the world. The drawbacks of why people would go overseas is the money. You don't get paid as much here {in the states}. The money is pretty much the motive. But if you're under the D-League umbrella, it's easier to get noticed, especially like our Golden State affiliate.

- Cameron Jones, shooting guard

Cameron Jones has played in the D-League for both the Santa Cruz Warriors and the Fort Wayne Mad Ants after four years at Northern Arizona. For a guy that's been so close to a roster spot -- ostensibly cut as one of the spots in tryouts -- Jones will always flirt on the fringes of the penultimate goal, the dream. His play, ironically, is more of a fit for a European style. Jones is an excellent mid-range shooter and solid passer, but lacking in athleticism.

Jones' situation isn't as unique as Alexander's but he still faces an upward climb. The NBA is perhaps a long shot, even in the greatest half-full cup scenario there is. There's something for the proverbial "shooting for the stars" but it's not unfathomable to accept that landing a few stratospheres short is an accomplishment in itself.

Jones admits that most players in the D-League get better exposure, and perhaps consequently, have a higher chance to play in the NBA. Though we can all admit that talent trumps all, and if a player is good, they'll assuredly earn a chance. One assumes he'll get his cup of tea more than once, but he is wary of the relatively low pay scale in the affiliate league. The League will always be there, but when is it time to step away? It all depends on how aware the player is of their abilities and surroundings. For Cam Jones, he knows the chance is as good as it can get right now.

Staying aware

"It was definitely a choice that was pondered upon over the process. It was in consideration but with me being so young and the D-League evolving - it's the second-best in the universe. It hasn't lived up to those expectations in the past but it's building. Me personally, I think the D-League is a better choice for me. I don't need the money. Some of these guys are out of college, with some kids and they need to support their family. The money is the only downfall of D-League."
- Kiwi Gardner, point guard

"If (an) overseas team called and they wanted to buy my rights, and a good situation for me and my career, I'd do it."
- William Buford, shooting guard

For William Buford and Kiwi Gardner; one with professional aspirations and the other elated to just be there, respectively, the open mindness and awareness of hoops standing remain the same. They're happy to be here, but also the most wary of how their careers are impacted by decisions such as these.

The National Basketball Association is as much a business as it is fun and games. It will always be there; but their career, playing time and how often they ride the bench? That's a micro-sized portion of their lives and while just making the big league club, riding the pines for a couple games, even tasting some postseason experience as a towel-waver, is exciting and life-fulfilling to some both Gardner and Buford note that they're always looking through other options, even if it isn't something that may present itself yet.

Ultimately, the decision between choosing the D-League or overseas professional basketball doesn't come down to a static parameter or pre-set list of regulations. There isn't a checklist to help guide them towards the "correct" path. For some, it's not a decision at all, whereas for others, it's a variable that can haunt the rest of their lives. More often than not, it's something in the middle.

Not every player is Jeremy Tyler, a player that was hyped in high school and elected to play in Israel and Japan before flaming out before he had the chance at a lottery selection. Now trying to hang onto a big league roster, we will never know whether he would have been a bust regardless of his decision, but the question will always remain. The overseas option worked out well for Brandon Jennings, who played in Italy before coming back to the United States and got drafted in the lottery by the Milwaukee Bucks. But it wasn't without compensation issues, making the decision one step trickier.

The game of basketball isn't only about improving on the court. Offseason and off-the-court decisions are just as, if not more, important. What players like Cam Jones, Jeremy Tyler, Joe Alexander and non-Warriors players like Nick Calathes and Kyle Singler have in common is the ability to compete at the highest level. For those that we know due to YouTube videos, college games and highlight reels but aren't good enough to ever sniff the big leagues? These decisions remains of utmost importance; impacting their lives in a way that we could only hope to imagine.

"At some point you have to make a living. You can chase the dream but at some point, you're 34 and you've got one year left in your career. It's probably more important to make money than to get one NBA game under your belt. But it's their decision."

- Kirk Lacob

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