In the past few years the NBA Developmental League — or D-League for short — has become more and more mainstream. With the 2011 CBA allowing players to be assigned to D-League teams as often as the team feels necessary the league is beginning to take on the feeling of a baseball-style farm system.

There are 17 D-League franchises now after the Philadelphia 76ers announced that they would start their own the Delaware 87ers or the Sevens. 14 of those are either owned directly by an NBA team or have what’s called a “hybrid” single-affiliate relationship which is to say that the NBA team is in control of the basketball operations of the D-League team. Only three D-League franchises remain then to serve as the affiliate for a total of 16 NBA teams. Those teams without a single-affiliate — specifically the Chicago Bulls for the purposes of this piece — are now at a significant disadvantage compared to the 14 teams with one.

Why? Well remember the “D” in D-League stands for “developmental.” One of the major challenges facing NBA teams has always been attempting to develop their young players while also remaining competitive. Take the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons and Darko Milicic. The Pistons were really good — they would win the title that year — and Darko was the 2nd overall pick. But it turned out he wasn’t really ready to contribute right away so he barely got any playing time. His potential was never realized and he bounced around the league for a few years.

Imagine the same scenario playing out in a system where the Pistons have their own D-League team. Darko could be sent down to a team using the same playbook and language that the actual Pistons use where he could learn at his own pace and perhaps eventually become the player everyone thought he’d be.

This specifically is why I think the Bulls need to hurry up and get on board with the D-League. Tom Thibodeau is somewhat famous at this point for his unwillingness to play younger players. Jimmy Butler barely played in his first season and neither did Marquis Teague. Malcolm Thomas played significant minutes exactly once in his month or so with the team last year. It’s generally assumed that Thibs doesn’t like playing younger guys because they haven’t learned his defensive system yet. So imagine that the Bulls have their own D-League team running the same defensive system as the big club. You could send an Erik Murphy — or a Tony Snell for that matter — to the D-League for chunks of the season where they can get playing time and continue learning the system.