With the fate of the NBA season still hanging in the balance and the prospect of a season looking less likely, players are keeping busy doing things such as negotiating an end to the lockout and playing overseas. But while a beginning to the next NBA season (whichever calendar year that may occur) remains unknown, Friday marks the start of at least a semblance of professional basketball.
Yes, the NBA D-League's 11th season will begin when the Springfield Armor and Maine Red Claws tip off Friday. From there, 16 teams geographically spread from Bakerfield, Calif., to Portland, Maine (and for some reason Sioux Falls, S.D.) will embark on 50-game schedules that run through April.
Because the teams are treated as minor-league affiliates of NBA organizations, players are compensated accordingly, pulling in a maximum of $25,500 per season, with an obvious pay raise in the case they are promoted to a parent club. With the lockout-related uncertainties making call-ups seem unlikely, many would-be D-Leaguers have decided to play overseas instead. Apparently, players prefer making more money while playing in Italy or Spain to getting by in Rio Grande Valley.
Still, a select few NBA-caliber notables dot D-League rosters. Here are a few of (what could quite possibly be) the best professional basketball players taking the court during the 2011-12 season.
Antoine Walker (F, Idaho Stampede): It's so great of Antoine Walker to lend his name, his three-time All-Star reputation and a year of his blissful retirement to help legitimize a developing league. Oh wait, he just gambled away all his money and needs a job so his wages can be garnished. The 35-year-old Celtics and Heat star will miss Idaho's first four games while he's tending to legal matters and party hosting duties.
Jamaal Tinsley (G, Los Angeles Defenders): Aside from Walker, Tinsley has the most NBA experience of any D-Leaguer. The former first-round pick spent a combined 436 games with the Pacers and Grizzlies. With Kobe Bryant and Blake Griffin locked out indefinitely, Tinsley may be the biggest name balling in L.A this winter -- a scary thought.
Brian Butch (C, Bakersfield Jam): After establishing himself as an All-Big Ten talent with a Wisconsin Badgers and a capable frozen pizza spokesman, Butch spent some time playing in Germany and Greece before becoming a D-League star in Bakersfield in 2009-10. He was promoted to the Denver Nuggets in 2010, but injured his knee. After undergoing surgery, "The Polar Bear" is, again, on the hunt for another shot in the NBA -- or at least another commercial.