The NBA’s march toward a 30-team minor league continues.
The Knicks already announced their plans to add a new D-League team in New York, and now the Pistons are ending their affiliation with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants (which they share with the Bobcats, Pacers, Grizzlies, Bucks and Magic).
The Detroit Pistons will become the third Detroit major-league franchise with a minor-league affiliate in the Grand Rapids area when an NBA Development League team moves there next season, sources confirmed to MLive.
An agreement has been reached for undisclosed local owners to purchase the Springfield (Mass.) Armor and relocate the team to Michigan’s second-largest metropolitan area for the 2014-15 season, according to NBA, NBDL and local sources.
The Grand Rapids franchise will follow the hybrid model, whereby the Pistons will play players’ and coaches’ salaries and run basketball operations, but local owners operate autonomously in other business areas, including marketing and merchandising.
The Nets can certainly afford a replacement team, and I suspect they’ll get one. Erie, which the Knicks abandoned, is looking for a new affiliate. Or the Nets could add an expansion franchise closer to Brooklyn, which might make the most sense.
I believe, soon, the D-League will more closely resemble triple-A baseball. All 30 NBA teams will have a single affiliate – most of them nearby – and will own the rights to every player on the team. To fill these rosters, the draft will expand by several rounds.
That’s what I envision, at least.
The marketing opportunities would be fantastic. Take the Pistons, who play in Auburn Hills near Detroit. That’s a schlep for fans on the West side of the state, but now those fans can attend Grand Rapids games. There, Pistons merchandise will surely be available. Plus, if they enjoy the experience, many of them will travel to Auburn Hills for the top-level version more often.
In a narrower sense, could this be the move that transforms Tony Mitchell’s career? Mitchell, touted as a lottery pick after his freshman season at North Texas, returned to school and struggled. The Pistons picked him in the second round, but he’s played just 48 NBA minutes as a rookie, spending much more time in the D-League.
That D-League experience hasn’t made Mitchell NBA-ready, at least in the Pistons’ eyes. But maybe if they more closely controlling the minor-league team’s basketball operations, the Pistons could better develop Mitchell next season, the final guaranteed year of his contract.
That’s the type of storyline that could draw Pistons fans to Grand Rapids games. And fans of other NBA teams to their local D-League affiliate all over the country.