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DJ Kennedy leads Vipers to NBDL Finals

The Rio Grande Valley Vipers find themselves in the NBA D-League Finals behind stellar play from D.J. Kennedy.

Rob Grabowski-US PRESSWIRE

D.J. Kennedy started the 2012-13 D-League season in the same spot as last year, as a member of the Erie Bayhawks, the New York Knicks affiliate.

He'll end the season with a different team, and is close enough to smell a championship this weekend as the Rio Grande Vipers face the Santa Cruz Warriors in a best-of-three championship series for the NBA Developmental League crown starting tonight at 9:30 PM Eastern Time (and shown on the CBS Sports Network).

D.J. Kennedy has taken a winding road to becoming arguably the best player in tonight's championship game. Kennedy got his call to the NBA last year with the Cleveland Cavaliers, appearing in 2 games. He was then traded during the offseason to the Memphis Grizzlies before being waived and ending up back with the Bayhawks, but unaffiliated with an NBA team.

Kennedy got off to a red-hot start this season for the Erie Bayhawks team, averaging 19 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals in the first 35 games.

He was selected to the D-League All-Star game and his name surfaced on the Top 10 Prospect Watch - covering players who are closest to being called up to an NBA team - on a regular basis.

In March, Kennedy was traded, leaving the Bayhawks once again. This time, it wasn't for an NBA team, but to another D-League team - the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Houston Rockets affiliate.

Kennedy would see his role diminish in his 14 regular season games with the Vipers, only starting 4 of the 14 games averaging 11 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists.

Though his role was cut down, Kennedy maintained his game and helped the Vipers reach the playoffs where Kennedy has started all four games. In the four games, he has shown why he is a star, at least on the D-League level.

The Vipers faced the Maine Red Claws in the first round, winning the best-of-3 series, 2-0. Kennedy averaged 19 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists.

In the second round, Kennedy and company faced the Tulsa 66ers sweeping the best-of-3 series again. Kennedy averaged 23.5 points, 9 rebounds and 6.5 assists.

Kennedy notched a triple-double in the series-clinching win with 28 points, 13 rebounds and 10 rebounds.

Kennedy's play hasn't gone unnoticed by his coach Nick Nurse, who spoke highly of Kennedy's playing during the playoffs.

"D.J. is a really, really good player, man," Nurse said. "The thing I say about him is that he does every single facet of the game way above average. I’m not sure he’s great at anything, but in every phase — defense, rebounding, ball handing, passing, shooting, driving — he’s good."

Kennedy is relaxed and enjoying the moment. Kennedy told Ridiculous Upside, back when he was with the Bayhawks, that carrying the team and winning would help turn the heads of NBA execs.

Now with the Vipers, Kennedy has the chance to turn heads and win a championship.

"I’m excited to be honest with you," Kennedy told The Monitor. "I know a lot of people are probably not. They want to get to the next level. I think this is a great team. This is just a great achievement for me just to be able to show people that we are able to win and compete for a D-League championship. I’m honored to be doing that."

The Vipers will face the Santa Cruz Warriors in Game 1 Thursday night.

If Kennedy can continue his all-around do-it-all DJ mentality, the Vipers could be hoisting the D-League title by Monday night. And just maybe a few more NBA executives will see just how above-average Kennedy is in all facets of the game.