As it stands right now, 15 franchises own a team in the NBA’s Developmental League (D-League). The Minnesota Timberwolves are not one of those franchises. However, that may soon change. On October 20th, the NBA announced that the Sacramento Kings became the latest team to purchase a D-League team for themselves, buying controlling interest in the Reno Bighorns. This may seem unimportant to those with interest in the Wolves, however, soon after the announcement, Jon Krawczynski of the Associate Press tweeted this cryptic message:
Someday fairly soon, I believe https://t.co/lWjRBDhKWN
— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) October 20, 2016
This sentiment was backed up later in the same day when Wolves’ head coach Tom Thibodeau responded “Probably” when Jerry Zgoda, of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, asked if the team would have a D-League affiliate within the next two years. In the same piece, Zgoda also cites cities such as Rochester, St. Cloud, Fargo, Sioux Falls, Des Moines, and Omaha as potential locations for a D-League affiliate.
These locations also fit the description of “relatively close to home” that Krawczynski tweeted when asked if there were any locations in the works (Omaha would be the furthest location, a cool 5 hours and 30-minute drive from Minneapolis, according to Google Maps).
A league source recently told A Wolf Among Wolves that every NBA team would most likely have their own affiliate within the next three years, so it seems as if it is only a matter of time until the Wolves’ organization comes into possession of one of their own.
In addition, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo’s The Vertical reported within a post discussing details that will be included within the league’s new collective bargaining agreement that “two-way contract between the NBA and NBA [D-League] will offer teams the chance to add 16th and 17th roster spots.” This new element provides another incentive (in addition to improved player developmental ability) for teams to become individually affiliated with a D-League team, especially one that is geographically near the NBA team.
But what cities make the most sense for the Wolves? What is interesting about the locations provided by Zgoda is that both Sioux Falls and Des Moines host teams that are already affiliated with NBA teams (Sioux Falls Skyforce with the Miami Heat and Iowa Energy with the Memphis Grizzlies). However, according to Adam Johnson of D-League Digest and Darren Wolfson of KSTP, both the Skyforce and Energy’s contract with their respective NBA team’s end at the end of the 2016-17 NBA season, making both teams available to be picked up by another NBA team.
It would make sense for the Wolves to take a long, hard look at these locations as both have already established teams that wouldn’t require much work to get going; all the Wolves would have to do is sign on the dotted line and things would be up and moving (I’m on record as saying that I wouldn’t be shocked if the Wolves eventually became affiliated with Sioux Falls, but I have no inside knowledge and Krawczynski kind of dispelled of that here.)
Looking at the cities provided by Zgoda, Omaha makes a lot of sense on paper as it is already home to an arena (Creighton University is located in Omaha), boasts a strong love of basketball, and has been rumored to be a possible NBA expansion site. Fargo will have the new 5,700 seat Scheels Center, located on the campus of North Dakota State University and opening for the upcoming collegiate season, which could be an attractive location should the Wolves not want to build a new facility. Similarly, Rochester has the Mayo Clinic Civic Center, which as a 5,200 concert seating arena, and St. Cloud has Halenbeck Hall on the campus of St. Cloud State University, which seats 6,400.
Other cities that would make sense as an attractive location for a Wolves’ D-League affiliate include Mankato (the Taylor Center and the Verizon Wireless Center) and St. Paul (the Excel Energy Center).
Regardless of location, it is paramount that the Wolves obtain the rights to their own D-League team sooner rather than later. Most importantly to NBA teams, the D-League provides an avenue for green or tweener players to develop and see game action when they are frequently seeing most of their NBA time sitting at the end of the bench and, as previously mentioned, it will allow for teams to expand their roster by an additional two players starting when the new CBA takes over, reportedly during the 2017-18 season.
Much like pace-and-space and small ball, each team having their own D-League affiliate is the future of the NBA and, much like the other concepts, the Wolves have been slow to get with the times. When asked if an affiliation announcement was closer to one or two years away, Darren Wolfson stated that it was all still up in the air, that Tom Thibodeau and company were pretty tight lipped regarding the situation. However, if the reports mentioned earlier in this article hold any weight, it would appear as if change is on the horizon. At this point, only time will tell.