One of the biggest growth areas of the National Basketball Association lately has been their Developmental League, affectionately referred to as the “D-League.” With the landscape of the D-League growing, and the number of teams expanding, it might be a good time for the richest sports owner in North America to step up and cut himself a piece of the action, so to speak. So, is it time for the Los Angeles Clippers to look at investing in their own D-League affiliate, which is what their compatriots across the hall do? Or, rather, is it still okay for the Clippers to sit on the outside looking in as other teams get into the habit of having their own developmental team?
When current NBA D-League president Malcolm Turner gave a State of the League Q&A session back in late April, he made mention that the league is flourishing. The NBA D-League currently features an all-time high 18 teams and will see that grow to 19 teams when a team owned directly by the Toronto Raptors comes into fruition starting in the 2015-16 season. That brings the total number of teams that fully own and operate their own NBA D-League affiliates to nine. More are likely on the way, as well.
Just two months ago, in May, the Charlotte Hornets announced that they intend to launch their own affiliate to begin play for the 2016-17 season. They’re currently in the market for a city to house said affiliate and have scoured across various North Carolina and South Carolina cities. They’re not alone, though. The Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks have also expressed interest just in the last 45 days about having their own D-League affiliates. Hawks coach and President of Basketball Operations Mike Budenholzer even went so far as to say that having their own D-League team is “critical” to them.
The D-League is definitely expanding and it might be high time for the Clippers to get on that ship because it’s not going to slowdown anytime soon. Any type of headway you can make now would be a big boon for business in the future. With the Raptors 905 beginning play this upcoming fall, and what looks like at least one more outright owned team the year after, the Clippers cannot be left on the outside looking in for affiliations and, also, with progress. They have to get out in front of this speeding train that is the D-League. On top of just the Raptors owning their own franchise, you have the Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Philadelphia 76ers, San Antonio Spurs, and Utah Jazz. The Los Angeles Clippers should want to see their name among that group.
For an owner who paid $2 billion for the Clippers just a summer ago, paying to invest in your own D-League franchise isn’t exactly a bad gamble. It’s not even a gamble at all. The cost of entry for the New York Knicks just this past season was $5 million. The prior year, it was $4 million for the Philadelphia 76ers. The price will go up but it’s a pittance considering what you get with your investment. As it stands right now, the Clippers see their players go to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. That doesn’t sound so bad until you realize that they are just one of twelve teams last year who had to share the Mad Ants because they are an independent operation. Wouldn’t it just be easier to have your own affiliate?
As far as the pros to having your own affiliate, beyond just the obvious idea of not sharing the product on the floor, you can implement your own system with your own coaches for your own players that see your own fans come and watch the games. It’s a happy medium for all parties involved. Having your own franchise is only a good thing. There’s no bad angle to this. Only good things can happen. According to the Q&A with D-League president Malcolm Turner, D-League alums made up roughly 38 percent of NBA rosters by the end of this past season. Turner thinks it could be around 50 percent in just five years. He also sees the number of teams rising from the about-to-be number of 19 and settling somewhere in the mid-20s. Are you interested yet, Steve Ballmer?
According to a Dan Woike tweet from this past November, it seems like Ballmer might be interested. There have been “preliminary discussions” about the Clippers possibly having their own D-League franchise. And they should be having those discussions; perhaps even doing so on a daily basis. While this doesn’t seem like a big deal now, it’s slowly becoming one and other teams are starting to get onboard with this idea. The Clippers, who now feature an owner willing to shell out the money to keep the team competitive, would be wise to invest in this venture.
If the issue is that they might not have anywhere to play, you can look back and see that a former D-League team in Anaheim, the Anaheim Arsenal, used to play their games at the Anaheim Convention Center. It might even be possible to use the Galen Center if the USC Trojans aren’t playing that night. Or, better yet, there’s also the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center. So, just maybe, finding a home might not be that difficult if you can swing the accommodations and shell out the moolah. Other teams are doing it, your acquaintances across the hall became the first franchise to ever have their own personal affiliate, and you definitely need to get in on this action.
This isn’t to say that having a one-to-one match in your D-League affiliations is going to lead to magical things down the road; but it could lead to some good things like being able to bring players in to play your style of basketball so that they have as close to a seamless transition as possible, if and when they get called up to your specific team. It can also be used to take a look at certain players that you might not otherwise get a look at. In short, the Clippers should invest in their own D-League team. They should purchase their own plot of land, so to speak, and let it flourish. After all, if teams like the Charlotte Hornets and Toronto Raptors are doing this, why can’t you? That’s not a slight against them, but they don’t possess the financial resources of the Clippers. Hopefully those “preliminary discussions” pick up a lot this offseason and lead to a new endeavor for both the franchise and the fanbase.