In the last month, five NBA franchises have announced the addition of a NBA Development League counterpart. These announcements bring the D-League’s team total to 25, edging it closer to true minor league status. The Portland Trail Blazers are absent from that list. Joel Brigham of Basketball Insiders took a look at the problems that could be forming for teams that are sitting on the outside looking in.
Those teams that don’t have any affiliation with the D-League are going to have it rough while they figure out when and/or how to make their own expansion franchises happen. Currently, teams can call up any unsigned D-League player no matter what team he currently plays for, however, those teams don’t have as many options if they have a player they want to send down for some seasoning. Since rival NBA franchises own and operate these D-League organizations now, they aren’t trying to do anybody else any favors by giving their blue chips a place to marinate. Gone are the days of multiple teams sharing franchises.
This hasn’t been an issue for Portland so far, as Jake Layman and Tim Quarterman have latched on with Chicago’s affiliate - the Windy City Bulls - in recent weeks. That could change going forward as more teams invest in exclusive affiliation, forcing the Blazers to compete for roster spots with the other four franchises without a D-League counterpart.
While having a direct affiliation with the D-League seems like an obvious move for the Blazers, Brigham does point out why some organizations might be reluctant to invest.
One problem, though, is that these teams aren’t particularly profitable. Average attendance as of the 2013-2014 season was under 3,000 fans per game, and anyone that has watched Derrick Jones’ Northern Arizona highlights ahead of the dunk contest knows that there aren’t a lot of rear ends in seats at these games.
With the league expanding and more NBA teams directly investing, Brigham mentions how attendance could change going forward.
A one-to-one system could help build fandom and raise attendance, as fans of NBA teams could build allegiance to the minor league teams, as well. When there were three and four teams assigned to a single affiliate, it was hard for fans of NBA teams to get too attached to any players on the roster. With D-League teams located close to the actual fan bases of the NBA teams, improvement seems not only possible, but inevitable.
Portland’s time on the sidelines could be coming to end in the near-future. With two-way contracts included in the new CBA, coupled with possible resistance from existing teams, it could pressure the Blazers into re-thinking their relationship with the D-League.