According to a story from the Arizona Republic's Paul Coro, the Phoenix Suns are exploring the opportunity of running the basketball operations of an expansion D-League team in Prescott Valley, Arizona.
The Suns wouldn't outright buy an entire D-League team, however, but rather go the way of the innovative Rio Grande Valley Vipers-Houston Rockets hybrid affiliation. With this sort of affiliation, the Suns would run the basketball side of the operations - hiring the coaches along with the rest of the basketball operations staff and drafting the team's players - while a local ownership group would operate the business side of the franchise - ticket sales, marketing and the like.
The biggest positive, as Coro notes, is location:
The upside for Phoenix would be to have a closer relationship, in proximity and control, than it has had in its affiliations with Albuquerque and Iowa. The Suns sent rookies Taylor Griffin and Earl Clark to Des Moines this season but likely would have had Clark play D-League games more if the affiliate had been closer.
While I feel that the "we don't use the D-League because the team is too far away" explanation some teams us is more an excuse than anything else, the hybrid affiliation does have quite a few things going for it that can be exploited to the NBA teams advantage.
With only 90 miles between Prescott Valley and Phoenix, the Suns would see a benefit not only on the basketball side, but it would also make sense for the proposed local ownership if they were able to build on having the NBA franchise so near.
I'll use the Rockets-Vipers relationship as an example after the jump.
Houston, the only other team to have tried the hybrid affiliation system, has used the D-League beautifully this season, nearly to a fault when they assigned RGV call-up Mike Harris to the Vipers for the third and deciding game of the first round series to help the Vipers advance to the second round of the D-League playoffs.
The Rockets also assigned Joey Dorsey (for extended stints in which he developed quite well) along with Jermaine Taylor as well as calling up Mike Harris, Will Conroy and Garrett Temple from the D-League affiliate when there was a need due to injury or they decided they had progressed enough.
The Suns could have utilized this when Robin Lopez was injured by bringing in a player that they were familiar with and had watched/groomed all season instead of plucking Dwayne Jones, who they apparently deemed as the best available big man in the D-League.
The transition between either team can be made nearly seamlessly, as Houston has shown. The Rockets and Vipers run the same system and were able to hire a coach that they believed would be able to best implement their system in the D-League, giving them an obvious leg up in injury situations as well as call-ups in general.
This could be an enormous advantage to the Suns, but probably would have advantageous moreso during the Seven Seconds Or Less days under Mike D'Antoni.
The Rockets VP of Player Personnel, Gersson Rosas, also runs the basketball operations of the Vipers as General Manager. In this role, he's able to keep a firm grasp of what the Rockets might be in the market for as well as potentially filling those needs by bringing in D-League players with the qualities Houston needs most.
It's easy to see the on-court benefits of the hybrid affiliation, but off the court it's working out as well.
The Vipers have been able to use the partnership to sell season tickets and generate goodwill with their fans by utilizing Rockets' legend Moses Malone for the grand opening their pro shop, hosting training camps and exhibition games in Rio Grande Valley, leveraging access to Rockets autograph sessions if fans purchase Vipers season tickets and bringing Tracy McGrady and Aaron Brooks to Vipers events among a myriad of other things the teams do in conjunction with each other.
With many of the NBA's top teams - Los Angeles, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Houston among them - having some sort of hand in a D-League team, it seems that it will almost be a necessity to have a team-owned D-League affiliate just to keep up with the Joneses.