March 3, 2014
Rio Grande Valley basketball fans are justifiably proud of the NBA Development League championship that the Vipers won last season. They are also pleased that the hometown heroes have been to the D-League finals three of the past four campaigns. Local ownership thinks those feats are pretty special, too, as well they should. Team management, in any sport at any level, knows that winning is the best promotion. At the same time, it isn't easy to build a dynasty, let alone be a big winner, in a league where the "D" stands for development.
Last week's press release from the team was straight forward. Tim Ohlbrecht had been traded from the Valley to Fort Wayne, Indiana. He was leaving the Vipers to become a Mad Ant. In a league where players move up and down between parent clubs and their affiliates, and side to side within the D-League itself, this deal should have slid under my radar. If the local media made a loud proclamation every time the Vipers' roster changed, the reporters would be in a constant state of unwarranted excitement.
The Ohlbrecht trade was different. It wasn't what the Vipers' picked up in the deal. They'll get Fort Wayne's top selection in next season's draft. It was for what it signified. Ohlbrecht was the last man standing from the Vipers' team that won the league championship nine months ago. The team's roster had now completely churned. No one that wore the Vipers' uniform at State Farm Arena on the final day of the 2013 playoffs now remained with the squad.
What does this trade really mean? It's hardly an indictment of Ohlbrecht. Vipers' general manager Gianluca Pascucci was generous in praising the 6' 11" center who averaged 13 points per game in two seasons with the Vipers. "We would like to thank Tim for everything he has done for us in the past two years. He was a key part of our 2013 championship run. We wish him luck and he will always remain a part of the Vipers' family," Pascucci said.
Ohlbrecht had seen diminishing playing time in the past couple of months. His style of play no longer matched the Vipers' preference for shots fired from beyond the three-point arc. He could be compared to Dirk Nowitzki for the home country on his passport. There was no comparison between the Germans when it came to hitting a three-ball. Ohlbrecht shot 20 percent from three on a team that averaged 35 percent per game from downtown.
First-year RGV coach Nevada Smith, hired by the Rockets/Vipers just days before training camp opened, is another advocate of the style of basketball once favored by Paul Westhead. Run and gun. Push the pace on offense. No shot clock violations here. The risk/reward factor in today's pro basketball favors the three-point shot. As proof, the NBA is on pace to set a record this season for three-point attempts. More than 25 percent of the league's shots have come from long range.
The Vipers have drawn recent national attention for their style of play. The parent Houston Rockets are using the "D" part of the D-League to conduct a lab experiment. General manager Daryl Morey is trying to get a head start on the future of basketball. He's testing his theories on the Vipers. So far, in a league built for scoring and matador defense, the experiment is a success. Not because the Vipers are winning again. They've been at the top of the D-League standings most of the season. It's a success because he has a willing coaching staff and lineup of players geared to have fun shooting from long range. If the threes stop dropping, the roster will churn again. History now shows we should expect no less.
Dave Brown serves as a special contributor to CHANNEL 5 Sports and produces his Overtime blogs on a weekly basis for www.krgv.com/sports.more »