Yesterday, Dell Demps joined Amin Elhassan for part of the Lockdown podcast on ESPN radio. During most of the interview, he concentrated on the usual range of topics: the Alvin Gentry hiring, Anthony Davis' next step and Summer League particulars. However, the most interesting part occurred in roughly the final minute when Demps elaborated a bit on the New Orleans franchise looking to procure their own Developmental League team somewhere along the Gulf Coast in the next year or two.
In my opinion, this isn't a novel concept. During the past two preseasons, the Pelicans have played 4 exhibition games in non-traditional southern locales: Bossier City, Biloxi and twice in Jacksonville. Although the Mississippi location seems ideal in both distance and tourism, it fared the worst with attendance (3,956). Meanwhile, Jacksonville did so well the first time around (9,274) that the Pelicans/NBA decided it would be worthwhile to have a second go around this past season. The attendance figures did well again (7,719), but Bossier City took the cake when 10,658 saw the Pelicans edged out the Mavericks.
There are several reasons why New Orleans is likely in the market for their own D-League franchise. First, in case you've forgotten, Dell Demps' background includes a general manager stint with the Austin Toro's (now Spurs) for three seasons. Having witnessed firsthand the development of several NBA rotation-worthy players such as Ian Mahimi and Alonzo Gee (yep, Demps already had a tie to Gee years ago), our GM likely gained an appreciation and saw an obvious need for a team to have their own training ground.
Second, most young talent needs important developmental time. In many circumstances, it is difficult to give rookies and others the necessary court time or enough 1-on-1 sessions when a franchise's number one goal is to win. Three years ago, getting Davis and Austin Rivers plenty of minutes and coaching attention was not a problem. The Pelicans were in the early stages of a rebuild; thus, player development took precedence over the W-L record. If things go according to plan, the Pelicans hope to be in win-now mode for at least the next 10 seasons.
Third, with the salary cap set to jump, small market teams will no longer be fiscally constrained in operating their own D-League teams. In the past, only the larger, more profitable markets normally had exclusive one-to-one relationships. With the new TV deal around the corner, there are some who believe the D-League could eventually expand to 30 teams, one for each of their NBA counterparts, since costs should no longer pose problematic.
Currently, 17 franchises have their own exclusive D-League teams. That number will increase by one next season as the Toronto Raptors become the newest owners, and many expect the Charlotte Hornets, Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks to all follow suit as they have all expressed serious interest in acquiring their own farm teams.
The Pelicans are set to radically change systems and contend for deep playoff runs for the foreseeable future so it would behoove ownership to invest in the Developmental League. With Demps ability to sniff out talent all over the world, it would be ideal to insert a number of prospects into a well-defined system without having to hand out an NBA contract or one of the 15 limited roster spots.