When questions are raised about the “readiness” of athletes entering the world of professional sports, the NBA is often at the forefront of discussion. With players going pro as young as age 19, it is easy to see how the league may face criticism. However, during 2006, the NBA began the assignment process with the NBA-D League, with the hope that they could address some of these concerns. While some players can be ready for an NBA career only one year out of high school, there are countless other players that perhaps just need a little more development before making the leap.
In June of 2007, the San Antonio Spurs purchased the Austin Toros and a partnership began to grow. The Spurs were only the second NBA team to invest in the D-League, following the Los Angles Lakers purchase of the Los Angels D-fenders. The idea was to have a nearby team, run by the Spurs organization, where the team could develop players, coaches and referees. The immediate impact was felt on the business side of the sport. Due to the low-cost to attend Toros’ games and an emphasis on a family atmosphere, new fans were developed in a nearby market. Austinites were excited about the opportunity to see professional level basketball in their own backyard and the team’s fan base begin to grow both in Austin and San Antonio. Since the first full season as a part of the Spurs’ organization, the Toros have finished either first or second among D-League teams during the regular season, but have not yet brought home a D-League Championship.
In the Toros’ first season, players Keith Langford, Darius Washington and Ian Mahinmi went back and forth between the two organizations, but failed to ever make any real impact with the Spurs, playing only a few games. Mahinmi signed with the Dallas Mavericks this summer and both Langford and Washington went on to play in European leagues. Other players, coaches and even members of the dance squad from the Toros also went on to NBA summer camps and tryouts with other teams, but until this past season, the relationship failed to produce a player that could be considered a legitimate part of the Spurs NBA team.
In 2009-2010 however, the San Antonio Spurs signed forward Alonzo Gee off a series of 10-day contracts with the Washington Wizards. Gee had shown promise in Washington, but the Spurs felt he was not quite ready to be the impact player they needed in San Antonio, so they assigned him to the Toros. In his first season with the Toros, Gee was nothing short of impressive. He earned NBA-D League Rookie of the Year Honors, averaging 21 points per game, scoring in double figures in 35 of 36 games played, and recording four double-doubles. While he has been an asset to the Toros, the Spurs are hoping he can make the jump to the NBA and become a valuable roster addition in San Antonio.
Another member of last season’s Austin Toros is currently on the San Antonio Spurs training camp roster as well. Curtis Jerrells, seen by many as an excellent raw talent that just needs a little polish, played college ball at Baylor University. Known for his quickness, the Spurs are hoping that his time with the Toros has helped improve his overall basketball IQ and game management, an essential skill for a guard. Center/forward Dwayne Jones has also earned a spot in the NBA with the Phoenix Suns. Jones stood out in the D-League this season, averaging 17.6 points per game and a league-leading 16.0 rebound. Jones also had 44 double-doubles this season, was the leading scorer for 9 games and was twice named NBA D-League Co-Performer of the Week.
The dominance of these players, as well as the team’s overall success has led to more developments for the Austin Toros this off-season. Former head coach Quin Snyder made the jump to the NBA as an assistant coach of the Philadelphia 76ers this summer; former General Manager Dell Demps accepted a GM position with the New Orleans Hornets; and the Toros formed a partnership to make the Cedar Park Center their new home court. These changes are evidence of the team building a strong developmental organization and will surely impact not only the Spurs, but also other teams around the NBA.
Looking forward to the 2010-2011 season, the team has hired Bob Jones as head coach to replace Quin Snyder. Jones comes to the Toros from the Utah Flash, the NBA D-League team of the Utah Jazz. He took the Flash to two playoff appearances, served as a scout for the Utah Jazz and is known for his ability to successfully integrate players into the NBA. The Toros are looking to Jones’ experience in this area to help build a stronger bench of players. With this commitment to success, it looks like the Spurs will have a very bright future.
So whether it be in San Antonio or with other teams in the NBA, the impact of the Toros has been felt and will continue to be felt for years to come.