The Charlotte Hornets want to own and operate their own franchise in the NBA’s Development League.
To that end the Hornets have contacted officials from seven cities around the Carolinas to gauge interest in being home to a D-League franchise. The goal is to have this franchise in place at the outset of the 2016-17 season.
Previously the Hornets have shared a D-League affiliate with one or more other NBA teams. Team president Fred Whitfield and general manager Rich Cho believe the Hornets will be better served owning a single-purpose minor-league team.
"We view player-development as critical. We think this is a great opportunity for our basketball people to have complete autonomy and control of how that part of the business is run," Whitfield said in an interview with the Observer. "We also see it as a great opportunity to keep growing our brand regionally."
The Hornets have identified seven potential host cities: Asheville, Charleston, Columbia, Fayetteville, Greensboro, Greenville (S.C.) and Raleigh. Greensboro and Columbia would be closest to Charlotte, both about 92 miles away. Charleston is most distant from Charlotte at 209 miles.
The relationship between the D-League and the 30 NBA franchises varies widely. Eight NBA teams own and operate D-League affiliates. Eight others fund and run basketball operations, with a local promoter running the business side. The Dallas Mavericks use a D-League affiliate owned in Texas by general manager Donnie Nelson.
The rest of the NBA, including the Hornets, has a loose relationship with the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Mad Ants, allowing teams to send down players with less than three seasons of experience.
The NBA started the D-League in 2001 as a means both to speed the development of young players on NBA rosters and provide a domestic league for players on the fringe of NBA-ready. Player salaries are relatively modest at $25,000 or less per season, but the biggest benefit is exposure to NBA scouts. One hundred-seventy of 450 (38 percent) NBA players on end-of-season rosters have spent some time in the D-League.
Two local examples of players with D-League experience: Hornets rookie P.J. Hairston played for the Texas Legends (Dallas Mavericks affiliate) the winter of 2014 after losing his college eligibility at North Carolina. Former Duke guard and Charlottean Seth Curry has played for the Santa Cruz Warriors (Golden State) and Erie Bayhawks (Orlando Magic) the past two seasons in hopes of landing an NBA roster spot.
The Hornets sent rookie Noah Vonleh and veteran Jeff Taylor for brief stints in the D-League last season. Cho believes owning a D-League team within driving distance of Charlotte can improve the Hornets’ player-development capacity.
"The best organizations have great synergy between the NBA team and the D-League team. There are a lot of advantages," Cho said. "For example, running the same offense and defense, using the same terminology. So if we’re sending Noah Vonleh to our own D-League team, there’s a much more seamless transition.
"And conversely, if we were to bring up a player from that team that uses the same offense, defense and terminology, there’s a much better opportunity for him to jump right in."
That’s why Cho and Whitfield believe it’s important to have a D-League affiliate in the Carolinas, so it would be easy to get a player back-and-forth for games and practices in both leagues. The New York Knicks have a D-League affiliate in Westchester, where the Knicks practice. The Los Angeles Lakers base their D-League team in Southern California.
"Proximity is a critical part of this process. It’s a lot more advantageous to have it very local," Cho said. "It’s not as much of a burden on the player if he doesn’t have to fly so far. It just takes more time. This way he could play a (D-League) game one night and be back for practice the next day."
Cho sees benefits to owning a D-League team that go beyond developing young veterans. It also could help them better size up talent at large, perhaps to find a prospect like the Miami Heat did with center Hassan Whiteside.
"If you have your own D-League team there’s a better opportunity to know that league, as far as players who are on the fringe" of being NBA-ready, Cho said. "This way someone could grow, learn the system and hopefully be a call-up candidate for that team."
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell