The D-League Is Coming To Town

Kurt —  April 12, 2006

They do it in Long Beach all the time, but it never really works — minor league sports trying to thrive under the radar of Los Angeles and its established major league teams. They all try to sell the advantages — it’s less expensive and the setting more intimate — but minor league sports (from several baseball teams to the still around but losing money Long Beach Ice Dogs) have traditionally withered in the shadow of the big regional professional teams. Why see the little guys when the big guys are just up the road?

Despite the fact everyone seems to lose money, they keep coming back because they see potential. (Baseball, way out in the Inland Empire, has done fairly well, but there are solid reasons for that — it’s a long way from Dodger or Angel Stadium and in an area that has fewer other entertainment options than the city.)

The Lakers think they can change that dynamic — they got approval from the NBA and the D-League to start their own D-League team next season. And it not only might work, it might be a major step in the creation of a real NBA minor league.

The on-the-court reasons make a lot of sense — the Buss family will essentially own a minor league team, as has been done in baseball for decades. Not only would would this team have the players the Lakers have signed that they send down, they can essentially give guys just on the outside a D-League contract, like being on a scout team, and tell them “play well and you come back to camp with a better chance next year.” What’s more, with the current Lakers running the triangle, they could set up a minor league team to do the same, allowing players like Wafer to still grow in the offense while getting playing time.

The bigger question is will it make money? One of the struggles for the funky-little ABA when it had three-teams in the area (one in Los Angeles, one in Long Beach and one in the OC) was having the star power to draw fans. Why do you think they kept giving Dennis Rodman three-game contracts? Not his play, he was barely an ABA starter anymore. But he put butts in the seats. Same is true of the Summer Pro League in Long Beach — when they have someone like Andrew Bynum, who fans wanted to see, the Pyramid is packed. But other years it has been scouts, family, other players and some crickets in Long Beach.

If this Laker D-League team had Von Wafer and, hypothetically, a Devin Green and/or some young daft pick, it would draw some people. Next season (starting in November), the team will likely play its 25 home games at Staples, maybe some prior to Laker games. But the plan is to move them the year after, maybe to another Southern California market, with the LA Times floating an Inland Empire possibility.

Of course, there is the possibility the Lakers don’t care if it makes money. First, it would boost the overall value of the franchise, possibly offsetting any losses. Also, if it breaks even or looses a little money, but is a boost to the basketball side of the franchise, it may be worth it.

The Laker team won’t be alone, another D-League team will be in Anaheim next year. No name, team coach or affiliation has been announced, but it will play in the Anaheim Convention Center (which hosts the Big West basketball tournament and other events).

While other minor leagues have not gotten enough sunlight to survive in LA due to the big shadows cast by the NBA (or NHL, or MBL), this could be different because the Lakers own it. Maybe with your Laker season seats you get 10 (or 25) D-League tickets. They can cross-promote at Laker games and on Laker broadcasts. They are the ones casting the shadow, so they can let a little sunshine through.