The 27 NBA teams with a G-League affiliation all either own the affiliate, or are in a “hybrid” relationship, where the G-League team has separate business ownership, but basketball decisions are controlled by the parent team. Along with the New Orleans Pelicans (who are actively searching for a location) and Denver Nuggets, the Portland Trail Blazers are one of three NBA teams yet to have an active G-League affiliate.
Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey hasn’t said much regarding the issue, but he did tell reporters at the end of last season that if the team were to acquire an affiliate, it would have to make sense location-wise, noting a desire for roster players to still be able to practice with the NBA team. That would most likely mean having a team close enough to Portland that day-of-game travel wouldn’t be an issue.
Excluding extreme outliers, the average G-League affliate plays 87 miles from their parent team. The Sioux Falls Skyforce suit up 1,800 miles from the Miami Heat. The South Bay Lakers, Capital City Go-Go, and Oklahoma City Blue play in the laps of their big-league teams. The Erie Bayhawks will be moving next door to Atlanta in 2019. Everybody else stands in the middle ground, creating the standard for affiliate relationships.
The average G-League stadium seats less than 7,000, and the smallest venue only holds 750 people. Almost half of the teams play in an arena with a seating capacity of 5,000 of fewer. This increases the number of cities that could potentially host a Blazer affiliate.
Let’s explore some of those options:
Portland Metro Area
There are plenty of options the within 40 miles of the city. For example, the Memorial Coliseum (12,888), the University of Portland’s Chiles Center (4,852) and Portland State’s soon-to-be-completed Viking Pavilion (3,400) could all potentially work and are within city limits.
Small college gyms in the surrounding suburbs, such as Linfield’s Wilson Gymnasium (1,924) in McMinnville, Pacific’s Stoller Center (2,500) in Forest Grove, and George Fox’s Miller Gymnasium (2,750) in Newberg are also possibilities, though may be on the smaller side in terms of seating capacity.
They could even consider playing at Beaverton’s Jesuit High School, or Hillsboro’s Liberty High School, which hosts the annual Les Schwab Invitational. Vancouver’s O’Connell Sports Center, the home of the old IBL’s Vancouver Volcanoes, could also be a possibility.
Obviously an affiliate within the Portland metro area would make a ton of sense from a location standpoint, but there is a possibility that the team could miss out on an opportunity to expand the Blazer brand by playing so close to the Moda Center.
Seattle Metro Area
Seattle’s pro basketball scene has been void since the Sonics left town about a decade ago. There are several possibilities around the Emerald City, most notably Key Arena (17,459), the former home of the Sonics and current home of the WNBA’s Storm. There are also suitable arenas in Seattle suburbs like Kent’s ShoWare Center (6,500), home to the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds, and the venerable Tacoma Dome (17,100). The northern suburb of Everett has Xfinity Arena (10,000), which hosts the WHL’s Everett Silvertips, but is likely too far away for serious consideration.
The main issue with the Seattle area is the travel. While Tacoma is only about 150 miles from Portland, downtown Seattle is an additional 30 or so miles (with heavy traffic), which would make it one of the most distant affiliates in the league. With many respectable facilities much closer to the Moda Center, and the team’s practice facility in Tualatin, the people of Seattle would have to show that they could support the team, and expand the Blazers’ fan-base enough, to warrant the extra travel. Given the area’s sizable population, this could be possible.
Salem and Eugene, two of the largest cities in the state of Oregon, are excellent candidates to house a Blazers affiliate. Salem lies just about 50 miles from Portland, Eugene another 60 miles south of that. They comprise separate markets, but are close enough to allow practice with big league team.
Salem’s Armory (2,000) may be a little small, but the proximity to Portland, combined with the prospect of drawing a new audience might make up for it. Eugene’s sparkling Matthew Knight Arena (12,364) is plenty big enough, though the main issue with Eugene could be the direct competition with the University of Oregon’s basketball team.
The appropriately named Centralia, the halfway point between Portland and Seattle, could be the wildcard location. Roughly 90 miles from Portland, it is a much more manageable distance than Seattle while also still being close enough to potentially draw fans in.
In addition, the city just so happens to be looking at a possible expansion to the Northwest Sports Hub. The facility, which currently hosts large-scale sporting events like tournaments, could be a nice fit for a G-League team.
A number of other cities would seem to make sense for a Blazers G-League affiliate, but are flawed for one reason or another. Medford, for example, has the Seven Feathers Event Center (3,250), but it’s close to a five-hour drive from Portland, likely too far to put them in serious contention. The same could be said for Yakima and the Tri-Cities area, both over 200 miles away from the city.
Bend is about 160 miles away, but lacks a clear arena to host a team. Vancouver, B.C. would also be intriguing, as it used to be home to the NBA’s Vancouver Grizzlies. However, the distance (over 300 miles away), as well as the mess of international travel likely would take them out of consideration.
The Blazers would benefit from getting younger players in-game minutes, while keeping them in proximity and under the control of the main franchise. With this many options available, it’s time for Neil Olshey and company to take advantage of basketball’s growing minor league.
Where do you think the likeliest, or best, G-League location would be? Offer suggestions below.