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It Happens. Patty Mills to play in D-League.

Given the current injury situation with the Portland Trail Blazers and the fact that point guard is the only stacked position on the roster, it had to be expected that as soon as Patty Mills got healthy, he’d be packing his bags onto the team coach to play with the Idaho Stampede.

Patty has been seen courtside with the team at games, getting himself accustomed to NBA life, which is as big an adjustment as any. He has been involved in full contact drills in the past week and spent the week prior to that doing non-contact work, as he recovered from the fractured fifth metatarsal in his right foot that he was unfortunate enough to sustain just as his NBA career was about to tip off.

In reality, the move to the D-League to play with the Stampede is a great one for the Aussie Boomer, as the pace of the league will suit him perfectly, in what is renowned as a fast-paced, guards’ league. He’ll be in control of the ball and won’t have his chance to shine dictated by other show-boaters that are trying to make a name for themselves. Mills will likely be one of the few players on the team who has an almost guaranteed shot at making an NBA roster eventually, whilst many others on the squad will be doing their best to catch the eye of scouts.

The Blazers have invested a contract in the speedy floor general, so they definitely like what they see in him, with time being the factor here more than anything. Getting a run in the D will give him an opportunity to regain his touch for competitive basketball, as well as gaining a greater feel for the game at a semi-pro level, after coming from college at St Mary’s.

After losing Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla (both practically for the season), the big man ranks on the Blazers roster have been lacking. LaMarcus Aldridge has had to play more centre than he is accustomed to, Juwan Howard’s exhumed body has been playing at an amazingly high level down low and rookies Dante Cunningham and Jeff Pendergraph have been playing a lot more minutes than they would have expected when the season began with the stacked roster the Blazers boasted. Both rookies have been playing at a high level too, it should be noted. However there is definitely a need for more help down low and a not-too-surprisingly help option is former Blazer Shavlik Randolph.

Randolph has proven that he can be very effective in spot minutes in the past, as Ben at Blazersedge notes:

In all seriousness, this is the move that made the most sense when the Blazers were first granted their hardship exemption.  The most skilled big man on the market once the Miami Heat waived him, Randolph can step in and play immediately and hold his own on both ends.  An energy guy who can shoot it, Randolph saw spot minutes for the Blazers last season and previously played for the Philadelphia 76ers.

With that said, using Randolph at the 5 is a stretch, especially defensively.  He’s best off at the 4, meaning Juwan Howard, Jeff Pendergraph and LaMarcus Aldridge will likely continue to man the middle, pending news of the team’s second hardship exemption application.

The big gain from this signing is the potential for keeping some of the miles off of Juwan Howard — and to a lesser extent LaMarcus Aldridge — by adding some NBA-ready depth to the frontcourt.

Meanwhile Anthony Tolliver, who was previously called up from the Stampede, will return to the D after not leaving much of a stamp in Blazersville. He simply did not appear all that ready to contribute and did not have the size that became necessary after the Vanilla Gorilla went down in addition to the already-injured Oden.

The great thing is, I’ve recently started getting into the D League in a much bigger way. I’ve been meaning to write more on this recently, but Christmas sort of got in the way of that. What is so great about the D League? Let me count the reasons…

  1. ALL games can be watched FREE via the league’s official site:  nba.com/dleague. And in my experience, the streaming has generally been better than the NBA League Pass games that I am paying for!
  2. D-League players are legit. They’re in it for the grind. They care about the game. All of those clichés that are used by NBA players really ring true with the D guys, they are not just resting on their laurels. They’re not just enjoying the money, fame and glory. They’re working extremely hard every night in order to get noticed and live out their dream, playing in the NBA. Money can’t but that passion — in this case, money isn’t even needed to watch it! If these guys wanted to live the good life and make a lot of money, they could simply go overseas and play for a pretty penny in Europe, but they don’t. Because they want it. Bad.
  3. The rosters are full of guys that you’ve seen around the place but haven’t heard of for ages. It’s great to see a name and say, “Wow! So that’s what he’s been doing!” So he’s been to Venezuela and South Korea since he played in Australia… I see.” You can really root for these guys to make it to the NBA — players like Carlos Powell who tore up the NBL with the New Zealand Breakers, or big Aussie Luke Nevill who is pushing hard to stick with an NBA roster after coming out of Utah.
  4. There is a real local sincerity about watching a small stadium game with a crowd that isn’t expecting anything more than a great basketball game (unless they’re in Utah and they’ve been promised a Michael Jordan v Bryon Russell half-time show). It really reminds me of the local games in Australia, or the the games around England in the BBL.
  5. There are some great D-League bloggers and fans out there, like Ridiculous Upside and D-League Digest just to name a couple. They’re great to chat with on twitter too, as games go on.

So now, there is even more reason for all of us to be glued to the D-League games, as we watch on with Patty’s progress. And I know that you’re a huge Patty Mills fan, or else you wouldn’t be reading this far into this article. Or else, you’re just waiting for a bus.

Did Patty get assigned to the D-League because of his need to play, or was it for something else? Jason Quick at the Oregonian jokes that it may well have been due to Mills breaking the lights at Blazers practice, in a school-gym-like scenario:

I wouldn’t be surprised if the age-old tradition of practicing full-court shots after Trail Blazers practice is curtailed a bit in the coming days.

As happens more than often at the end of practices, several Blazers engage in full-court shots. Travis Outlaw and Martell Webster are the most frequent hurlers.

On Tuesday, rookie Patty Mills – still new to the whole practice routine – got into the swing of things.

There was only problem: On Mills’ first attempt, he threw it too high, and it drilled one of the circular light fixtures over-hanging the main practice court. The ball hit with such force that the whole fixture came loose and dangled precariously over halfcourt, sending huge chunks of glass and light bulbs crashing to the floor.

It happened at the beginning of coach Nate McMillan’s address to the media, and the coach appeared not only startled, but clearly not amused.

Meanwhile, the players busted up laughing, tickled that the rookie made such a gaffe.

Apparently, Channing Frye did the same thing last season, sending a fixture crashing to the floor.

So what happened hours after Mills’ hit the light?

He was sent to the Development League in Idaho.

And what happened to Frye?

He rarely played last season and was allowed to walk into free agency.

Of course, Mills ticket to Boise had nothing to do with the light incident. The team just feels he can get more benefit from playing in the Development League than taking part in light Blazers workouts, which is what the team’s “practices” have become since the team doesn’t want to risk further injuries.

But still … hitting the lights hasn’t proven to be a very good omen.

Rob D at NBA Mate has this to say about the Patty relegation to the Stampede:

So while it’s disappointing for Mills fans to see him relegated to the D-League, its a totally understandable move made by the Blazers, considering their recent string of injuries to big men. On the plus side, Patty is bound to get significant minutes for the Stampede, minutes he will need after being out of action for so long while rehabbing his foot. In one sense, it’s actually the perfect situation for Patty who otherwise would be sitting four point-guards deep on the bench, getting scrap minutes (if any) without the opportunity to showcase his full talents.

The other major bonus is that plenty of NBA scouts will get to see Patty in D-League action, and if there doesn’t appear to be a future (i.e. roster spot) for Mills in Portland, he might get shipped to someone who does want him.

The D-League certainly isn’t a death-sentence. Plenty of players have re-surfaced to the NBA (our own Nathan Jawai being one), and I have no doubt that a player of Patty’s caliber will thrive and prove he’s NBA-worthy.

There’s only one thing left to say.. GO IDAHO!

As both a Blazers fan and an Aussie, huge Patty Mills fan, the (draft) day he landed in Portland’s lap was a celebration for me. I genuinely know that he can do big things for the Blazers once given the opportunity and my fear up until now was that he would be traded in order to clear roster space and bring in a big man, with the thought that he may not have a chance to play in the stacked Portland PG situation. The fact that he has landed with the Stampede calms me to some extent, as it makes me believe that McMillan, Pritchard and co are keen to see him progress, find his feet and return to the team once a move is made in the backcourt (read: Miller or Blake finds their way elsewhere), likely at the end of this season.

With Jerryd Bayless tearing things up and the need for frontcourt help, it was a no-brainer to ship Mills to the D and let him get his grounding before coming back to PDX. The great thing is, I can really see him shining on the Stampede, in the same way as he did during that Australia v USA pre-Olympic game and in the same way he did at St Mary’s.

Who does Mills join the roster with in Idaho?

Apart from Tolliver, unfortunately for Mills the best player in Idaho happens to be their point guard, Sundiata Gaines. The 23-year-old Gaines is averaging 25.3ppg, 5.5rpg and 7.5apg — not ugly from any perspective. Former Sacramento King, Cedric Simmons is also on board — the big guy scores down low and defends well. Mildon Ambres is a big guard who scores and rebounds well for his 6’5″ size.

Perhaps the Stampede will look to move Gaines off the ball to the 2 position and let Mills handle the point guard duties now that he’s on the roster, freeing Gaines up to score. As Scott Schroeder at Ridiculous Upside said yesterday:

Sundiata Gaines is a better player when he’s not handling the ball.  Gaines took Lanny Smith‘s starting point guard spot recently, but as far as I can tell, Bob MacKinnon would be better off playing Gaines at the two and moving Smith back into the starting lineup.  I know they only have two point guards so it’s a bit counter-productive to start both of them, but I’m a firm believer in getting your best players the most playing time.

So, we’ll see. Only time will tell. In the meantime, it’s great to just see Patty Mills back on a basketball court.

(image Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE/Getty Images)

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