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Go West, Young Men: Four Reasons Why the Move Matters

The Golden State Warriors just took their affiliate, the Dakota Wizards, gave them a facelift and moved them to Santa Cruz. What does that mean for the NBA D-League?
If you’re reading this, you probably know by now.

Within certain circles – ones that include not only NBA D-League followers, but also the citizens of Santa Cruz, Calif. living within an outlet pass of the construction at 140 Front Street – word’s been out for weeks. News first broke in April that the Dakota Wizards would be no more, and that they’d be moving, like expat Midwesterners Marilyn Monroe, Phil Jackson and a great many Garrison Keillor characters before them, to California.

They’ll be changing their colors from purple and green to a far more Californian blue and blonde: the colors of single-affiliate owners Golden State Warriors. The colors of their future.

And while rumors had been swirling for weeks – especially after the Santa Cruz city council approved the financing and construction of the arena on Sept. 12 – the news finally went official on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, less than three weeks before the 2012 NBA D-League Draft.

And here’s why you should care:

No. 1 – The [Golden State] Warriors Are IN

Out of all the things that the past 12 months brought the NBA D-League – or, in the case of the 60 GATORADE Call-Ups, took away from it – few facts stood out more than this one: the NBA has bought into the NBA Development League. And a league built on single-affiliations – once just a dream – has become the norm.

After years of struggling to build a reputation as something more than just a little brother tagging along with his cool older one, the NBA Development League’s looking more and more like an NBA team’s best friend.

Eleven of 16 teams now have some sort of single-affiliation relationship with an NBA club, from the full-scale ownership model (the one the Warriors are adopting) that teams like the Austin Toros (with the Spurs) and L.A. D-Fenders (Lakers) use, to the hybrid model of teams like Springfield (Nets) and Rio Grande Valley (Rockets), where the NBA team controls basketball ops and leaves the business side to the local crew.

But the Warriors look to be raising the stakes even higher. Changing ‘Wizards’ to ‘Warriors’ and tweaking the color scheme to mirror the big league’s club wasn’t just a decision based on aesthetics. If the front office has its way, Golden State GM Bob Myers and Santa Cruz GM Kirk Lacob told ESPN, they want to blur the lines between both versions of the Warriors – especially as it concerns grooming young talent that’d otherwise just fall out of their clutches.

"We are all-in," Myers said in the fourth part of ESPN’s recent series on the NBA D-League. "The negative stigma surrounding the D-League is evaporating. Agents and players want to play in it. Most of the successful organizations in the NBA have developed their own players. Knowing you have a team you own in close proximity; knowing that you can control the culture, the coaching and the system – it's a big positive. You don't get better playing basketball unless you play."

"If we can control every aspect, we can try out different things for player development," Myers told ESPN. "We can develop coaches, front-office staff, ticket sales. We wanted to own everything."
No. 2 – Embrace Impermanence

The Warriors’ new home at Kaiser Permanente Arena isn’t quite ready yet. But even when it is, don’t count on it Permanente to be, well, permanent.

But that’s the point.

From the very beginning, the arena’s set to be a temporary structure, in line with the $5.4 million, seven-year financing deal that the city and team struck to pay for it. And if this works, the league’s got a powerful new pillar upon which to expand.

Temporary arenas present a number of positives to the league. On a financial level, they cost far less than a permanent place. As far as space considerations, they also fall more in line with the NBA D-League’s recent trend of moving into smaller, more intimate venues: the Sioux Falls Skyforce will move from the 7,500-seat Sioux Falls Center to a 3,500-seat Sanford Health Pentagon in 2013; the L.A. D-Fenders play in front of roughly 400 people at the Lakers’ practice facility.

Crucially, they also take a significantly shorter amount of time to build, which plays neatly into the hands of a league that will – if the current trend of consolidation (because of those 11 single-affiliates, the other five NBA D-League teams divvy up the remaining 19 NBA teams) continues – be forced to expand in a hurry.
No. 3 – Bay City Rollers

In baseball, there’s a reason why AAA teams sit so close to their MLB affiliates. Well, a bunch of reasons.

First, it keeps them within reach of the front office brass. Execs can run out for coffee and drop by the cages. Instead of relying on scouting reports, coaches and film, they can drop by and check out players in person. Coaches on both levels, meanwhile, can ditch the phone for the day and communicate face-to-face. And as NBA teams continue to find the value in having NBA D-League teams run their systems – before Jeremy Lin ran point for the Knicks last year, he did the same in a replicated system in Erie – those conversations make a difference.

Second, and probably more importantly, it means that a Call-Up can reach his NBA team with a car ride, not by hopping on a flight. And in this case, if the Golden State Warriors suffer an injury and need to plug in a body for a game that night, they can just reach out to Santa Cruz (just 70 miles down the coast) to fill the hole. Ninety minutes later – alright, it is the Bay Area, so maybe three hours later – he’s in the NBA.
No. 4 – Coming In Threes

The move, which moved to the lip of the Pacific Ocean a team that’d previously played in the Eastern Conference, forced a rearrangement of the NBA D-League’s divisions. In 2011-12, the league fell (roughly) on two sides of the country, with Dakota as the westernmost team in the East and the Texas Legends (in Frisco, Tex.) as the easternmost in the West.

In 2012-13, with clusters of teams on the West Coast, the heartland – stretching down from Sioux Falls, South Dakota to the Rio Grande Valley – and the Mid-Atlantic/New England, travel schedules necessitated a change. So, for the first time since the 2008-09 season (when the divisions fell across the West, Southwest and East), the NBA Development League will align into three divisions.

The playoff system resembles the one from last year: the division winners (three this year, instead of two) get automatic bids to the postseason, followed by the five Wild Card teams with the best remaining records.