There's a fine line between an NBA player and a Developmental League player, as Wizards coach Flip Saunders is quick to point out.
Saunders knows that better than most. Saunders coached in the CBA for seven years, and won two championships, before getting a shot to coach in the NBA with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
During the final weeks of the Wizards' season, a rash of injuries forced Saunders to rely on D-League callups. Two of those players, Othyus Jeffers and Larry Owens, just might be wearing NBA uniforms for good.
"The good players that are in [the D-League] come here and play at a high level because they play so hard," Saunders said.
Jeffers played for the Iowa Energy; Owens for the Tulsa 66ers. On more than one occasion, Saunders has referred to the two, as well as the slightly less used Mustafa Shakur, who also played for the 66ers and the Rio Grande Vipers, as his "D-League All-Stars."
"Our group of NBDL guys was our best group in the second half [against the Celtics on April 8]. I probably should have let them play a little longer," Saunders said.
Saunders repeated the compliment he had made two days earlier, following the April 6 game against the Pacers, when he praised the energy and competitiveness of Owens and Jeffers.
"We made a commitment to bring in guys that are going to play hard and do things to make our players better," Saunders said. "'O' [Jeffers] does that with how hard he plays. You can't help but get caught up in that enthusiasm. Same thing now with Larry. Those guys have helped bring our energy level up."
John Wall also noticed the effort the D-League players bring.
"It was tough getting here from where they came from, so they come here and give it 110 percent every time they're on the court - hustling for loose balls, getting rebounds, just playing hard," Wall said.
Owens called the chance to play in the NBA "an honor."
"When you're down there grinding it out [in the D-League], it's always an honor to get called up," Owens said. "I'm just trying to stay ready at all times when coach puts me in. It's a compliment when the coach notices how we play."
Jeffers hopes the timing is finally right to stick with an NBA team.
"I've been in this position a couple of times and it didn't play out my way, but this is a different team so hopefully it will work out," Jeffers said.
"Hopefully I'll be here next year, but it's not up to me. If it was up to me, I'd sign myself to a hundred million dollars," Jeffers said smiling broadly. "We're from the NBA D-League. It stands for development. It wasn't that we couldn't play in the NBA; it was just that our time wasn't right. Now we have the opportunity to perform."
"It feels like a good fit here," Jeffers said with a broad smile. "I'm a Wizard!"
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