The NBA's new Collective Bargaining Agreement will provide an interesting wrinkle for both teams and players this season. NBA rosters will expand by two from 15 to 17 spots this coming season in the form of "Two-way" contacts between the NBA parent club and its G-League (formerly the NBADL) affiliate. The Trail Blazers are one of only two teams in the NBA without their own G-League affiliate (The Nuggets are the other, New Orleans and Washington have expansion clubs planned for the 18/19 season, meaning they will have to be creative in how they use this new resource.
Two-Way Contracts Explained
Players will essentially split time between the parent NBA club and the G-League affiliate, spending most of their time in the G-League. In fact, on these types of deals, a player may only spend 45 total days with the NBA club. While time with the parent organization doesn't count if it's either before the G-League season begins and after it ends, this still means that players will spend the majority of their time in the "minor leagues".
While with the NBA team they will make a pro-rated portion of the league minimum based on their experience, and during their time with the G-League they will earn a pro-rated salary of $75 thousand, which is significantly higher than those on a standard G-League contract. This will likely draw fringe NBA players to stick around rather than pursuing lucrative overseas contracts.
What makes these type of deals especially interesting is that the NBA team will hold the player's rights. The artist formally known as the D-League is known to be a bit of a free for all. Players have been free to sign with any NBA team regardless of who's affiliate they play for unless on specific assignment from an NBA club.
Two-way contracts do not count against the NBA salary cap, meaning cash-strapped squads (like Portland) can stash a nice depth piece elsewhere that may not be in their current plans, for little to no risk.
Why this is tricky for Portland
As stated previously the Trail Blazers are one of few teams not to have their own G-League affiliate, nor have there even been rumblings of them adding one anytime soon. This means the Blazers would have to use what is called the "flex option" to take advantage of the two-way contact. Unlike minor-league baseball, NBA clubs can assign their players to any team they like. Not many teams do this, considering they have their own affiliate but it's nothing new, Portland even took advantage of it last season. Both Tim Quarterman and Jake Layman were flexed multiple times last season when playing time is sparse. They both spent time with the Windy City Bulls, and Quarterman spent additional time with the Long Island Nets.
What this means is that even while holding rights to a player, he would still play for another NBA club, with another coaching staff, and another scouting department. It remains to be seen how this will play into the team's plans. One would this that since G-League teams are owned and operated by NBA clubs, it wouldn't be hard to believe if teams weren't exactly excited to give their rivals a place to stash their prospects.
Portland's relationship with the G-League
It's complicated. With the league itself expanding rapidly, and every team going toward the single affiliation model the Trail Blazers have stayed on the sidelines, refusing to add an expansion club and picking spots carefully when choosing to assign players to the league. Since 2006 Portland has only assigned a player 29 times, compared to the Utah Jazz who have their own affiliate assigning a player 21 times just last season alone. While there are a few success stories such as CJ McCollum and Allen Crabbe finding their game while on assignment, more often it has been Luis Montero and Tim Quarterman, guys you badly want to succeed but haven't been able to crack the rotation.
How Portland should handle two-ways this season
By all means, use them because every other team will. Attractive players have already been snagged by the Warriors (Chris Boucher or Oregon) and Dallas (Johnathan Motley of Baylor). A guy like Quarterman would make sense, as would a big man to help with depth in case there is a glut of injuries to the position. The Blazers have no issues sending guys cross country considering Quarterman's assignments last season, and without a single affiliate, they are in a unique situation. It may behoove them to shift players around, so no other coaching staff is exposed to their players for too long. If they are smart, they can assign two-way players based on where their road trips are to monitor development further.
The first season with the Two-Way contract is something that will take some juggling for the Blazers, but if they do it right, it could have significant benefits. This may be the thing that finally forces Portland to enter the arms race and acquire a single affiliate of their own. Until then expect whoever the Blazers sign to this type of deal to have an interesting season.