For the NBA Development League, there is no time like the present, as recent announcements offer a glimpse into what could be a promising future.
Signs of the D-League’s future expansion have been evident for some time. The circuit grew to 22 teams by adding three club for the 2016-17 season, and commissioner Malcolm Turner made it known last fall that more teams could be on the way. Around the same time that Turner made that statement, the Atlanta Hawks announced plans to join the league, with their new team slated to play at an arena in College Park, GA when it opens for the 2019-2020 season.
In the meantime, expansion and movement around the D-League is already taking place. The latest sign of the league’s progress comes from a series of announcements that include the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Memphis Grizzlies.
On Monday, the Timberwolves announced that owner Glen Taylor was moving forward with his purchase of the Iowa Energy. “We’re thrilled to bring the Iowa Energy into the Timberwolves family,” Taylor said in a statement. “It’s great knowing that we can develop our young players so close to home and enjoy all the other benefits that come with owning a D-League team. We look forward to growing our relationship with the greater Des Moines area, the state of Iowa and basketball fans across the Upper Midwest.”
Once that transaction becomes official, it will clear the way for the Energy to become an affiliate of the Timberwolves—who do not currently have a team in the D-League—for the 2017-18 season. That would bring an end to the pairing between the Energy and the Grizzlies.
However, the Grizzlies are making plans of their own for next season. As the Timberwolves announced their intention to purchase the Energy, the Grizzlies revealed their establishment of a new D-League franchise in Southhaven, MS that will be owned by the team.
“It’s a time of tremendous growth in the NBA D-League and I’m excited to continue our expansion into the South,” Turner said in a statement. “I’m thrilled to welcome the Memphis Grizzlies ownership group and franchise into the NBA D-League family of owners and I can’t wait to watch the team compete in the Mid-South next season.”
The Grizzlies have confirmed the acquisition of the right to launch a franchise at the Landers Center for the 2017-18 season. In this case, proximity will be a major advantage for the Grizzlies, as Southaven is located about 20 miles south of Memphis.
“We are excited to operate our own D-League franchise here in the Memphis area,” said Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace in a statement. “Player development is a primary focal point of our basketball operations under Robert Pera and our ownership group. Having the team in such close proximity and holding practices at our state-of-the-art facilities at FedEx Forum will allow us to best develop our future Grizzlies players.”
That decisions by the Grizzlies reflects a few trends that are unfolding among D-League franchises. One is to have the development team play closer to the NBA club’s home base, something that was seen in the Orlando Magic’s decision to move their D-League operations from Erie, PA to Lakeland, FL for the 2017-18 season, and recent reports indicate that the Hawks could take their place in Erie.
Another is the increased interest in the league among NBA teams. With the arrival of the Grizzlies’ franchise, there will be at least 23 teams for the 2017-18 season, 19 of which will be owned by their NBA parent club.
It is plausible that more will be added. The Hawks are already confirmed to be joining the league in the future, and franchises such as the Milwaukee Bucks and Washington Wizards have publicly expressed interest in adding teams.
The decisions by the Timberwolves and the Grizzlies show the progress that the D-League is making in the present. In the long run, however, they could become even more reflective of the trend of expansion for the D-League.