When the D-League was founded in 2001, it was a measly eight team league. Fast forward fifteen years, and it is one of the fastest growing leagues around. As NBA teams rush to gain one-to-one affiliations, the league is on its way to having 30 teams sooner than later.
After having relationships with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, Sioux Falls Skyforce, and Iowa Energy in years past, the Minnesota Timberwolves found it hard to get playing time for its assignee's due to all three teams forming one-to-one relationships with NBA teams. The Wolves are now just one of eight teams without a D-League affiliate but are looking to change that sooner than later. With the team officially on the hunt for an affiliate, there are two clear options for where they could plant their flag.
With rumors swirling about the Miami Heat possibly looking to relocate their affiliate to a location closer to Dade County, the reigning NBADL champions Sioux Falls Skyforce would be a very realistic option for the Wolves. Sioux Falls has an incredible fanbase, facilities, and everything needed to run a successful D-League franchise already built in. Plus, if the Heat did pull out the Wolves could swoop in and play the hero by keeping the franchise in town.
By moving into a city that already had a very successful D-League team occupying it, the Wolves are pretty much ensuring they will have a stable and successful product. In addition to that, it would introduce a local NBA franchise to a market that doesn't have one. Having a team in South Dakota will create more fans and more people that want to spend money on your product.
The only downside to this move is the distance. With teams relocating or creating affiliates in their own back yard (Toronto with the 905, Brooklyn with the Long Island Nets, Chicago with the Windy City Bulls, Charlotte with the Swarm, the Jazz with the Stars, and so on), the Wolves would probably be looking for a similar arrangement. The appeal of having a player at practice in the afternoon, a D-League game at night, and back to practice the following day is just too great.
The best local option for the Wolves is in Rochester, Minnesota. Home of one of their largest sponsors, the Mayo Clinic, Rochester would make a fine home for many reasons. They are currently in the middle of a $6 billion project that will apparently double the city’s population by 2035, they have a facility that the Mayo Clinic is currently sinking $84 million into that is almost halfway complete, and they are located roughly 90 minutes away from the Target Center.
As a native of Rochester, I can honestly say that Rochester is the perfect market for a D-League team. The Mayo Clinic is such a draw for the downtown area and having a place where locals and visitors alike can see names like Kris Dunn or local hero Tyus Jones come through town would only help create a stronger bond to the franchise for fans.
The only drawback is the Mayo Civic Center itself. While it has 5,300 seats, it is barely fit to hold high school basketball games, let alone professional basketball games. The upgrade will make the locker rooms and other amenities much, much nicer but the arena itself will be almost untouched. The city is also looking into upgrading another arena to possibly lure in a United States Hockey League franchise. The proposed $75 million project was impressive, but wasn’t received well by the local city council and would be many years from completion.
If the Heat pull out of Sioux Falls, don't be shocked to see the Wolves kick the tires on a franchise there. Who knows, maybe the Wolves move into Sioux Falls for a few years until Rochester can come up with an arena worthy of a professional basketball team and then move. Now that the Wolves have switched gears from rebuilding to trying to make the playoffs, expect them to move quickly on a D-League team.