EL SEGUNDO- Los Angeles may have lost some of it’s luster as an NBA free agency destination over the last several years, but the team is still a draw in the scaled down D-League version. The appeals are obvious. With only two salary levels in the D-League, what player wouldn’t want to come to Los Angeles for the non-monetary benefits of sunshine, surf, and... scouts?
"As far as scouts and other teams, nobody really wants to go to Maine to watch players unless you're on the East coast,” smiles Julian Jacobs, who spent training camp with the Los Angeles Lakers before being cut in the preseason and signing with their minor league team, the D-Fenders. “Staying in L.A., my trainer is here, and obviously the Lakers are familiar with me, and a ton of people come to L.A. to watch, so I'm just really looking forward to getting started."
Scouts’ willingness to fly to Los Angeles isn’t the only benefit of being a D-Fender for Jacobs. The undrafted guard also said the relationship he built with head coach Coby Karl while both were with the Lakers in training camp was a “huge part of” his decision.
“He's been a huge influence on me and he's definitely related to me, just because he's been in some of these situations that I'm currently going through,” Jacobs said, referencing Karl’s own path through the NBA and D-League during his playing career. “I'm really appreciative of him and I'm glad he's the head coach."
Travis Wear was cut from the Lakers’ roster at the same time as Jacobs, and after getting a taste of the NBA two years ago with the New York Knicks, he wants another bite.
"I did overseas last year, and I enjoyed my experience, but having my rookie year in the NBA I just wanted to be closer to that,” Wear said. “I wanted to stay local (Wear is a product of Southern Califronia high school basketball power Mater Dei and also attended UCLA) and hopefully perform at a good enough level to get back to the NBA.”
Josh Magette came tantalizingly close to making an NBA roster this season after making it all the way to the Atlanta Hawks’ final roster cut of the preseason, which made a return to Los Angeles rather than heading back overseas an easy decision.
"Ever since I was a kid I was chasing the dream of being an NBA player. That's everyone's dream, and I'm trying to capitalize,” Magette said. “My NBA stock will never be as high as it is right now, and I'm trying to go all in one more year and see what happens. If that's not the case this year then we'll see what happens after that, but I'm kind of going all in one more time and seeing what happens."
If managing the egos, roles, and playing time of hungry players looking for call-ups sounds like a difficult job, you aren’t Coby Karl.
“I think the organizations in the NBA, they see players that value team, that value winning, that value defense and being able to play within an offensive concept and have a role,” Karl said. “That's my message: ‘If any of us get to the next level, you're not going to be the number one option. That's what LeBron is for, and that's what Steph is for.’
“You're going to have to be a guy that can do other things,” Karl continued. “So that's kind of an easy message for me, and that's something that I learned and why I was able to play as a professional."
Magette agrees that gunning for big box scores isn’t necessarily the path to big bucks.
“NBA teams notice winning,” Magette said. “I think 70 percent of the call-ups are on winning teams, so I think the more we win games the better we look.”
According to Vander Blue, who didn’t spend training camp with an NBA team this season after leading the D-League in scoring the last two years, money isn’t everything anyway.
"I'm still dream chasing, man. Money is cool, but it's never been about the money to me. I can go overseas and probably make a lot of money, but right now I'm still pursuing my dream,” Blue said. “That's not to be a 10-day call-up, that's to actually be on an NBA roster. I know that can help up there, I know I can perform up there, I just need an opportunity and I strongly believe this is the year for me. I'm just going to leave it all out there."