After a roller coaster year that ended prematurely in the first round of the NBA playoffs there was nothing exciting to be said at the season ending media conference.
However, this past week the Raptors’ general manager Masai Ujiri announced that the team is looking to get their own team in the NBA D-League.
This is pretty big news!
After having been only affiliated with one or another D-League team since it’s inception as the official minors of the League, the Raps will finally have a place to send their Draft picks for seasoning and promising players for look-sees. And all in real game situations. This is the best possible thing for Toronto in terms of a talent development standpoint. We would all agree that it’s better for young players to be playing than watching from the bench even if it’s at the Air Canada Centre.
There’s a pretty good chance that the D-League affiliate will likely be somewhere in the US but let’s for a minute think it could be somewhere in Canada – where could it be?
Contrary to what people may think, there can only be one basketball team in the Greater Toronto Area and the Raptors are it. Aside from them, the competition for fans between the Maple Leafs in the NHL, the Marlies in the AHL and even the Toronto Rock of the National Lacrosse League becomes pretty stiff. Even if the team is being fronted entirely by the Raps.
With that in mind my first thoughts were Montreal, Vancouver and Windsor and here’s why. All three cities share two things in common: They are all major centers of basketball in their provinces and they are pretty close to the US border.
The first two options seem to be obvious choices right now with the amount of basketball talent coming out of them both. Vancouver had the Grizzlies and could surely now fill a place like UBC’s War Memorial to about 80% capacity for a permanent D-League team. Montreal I’m sure could do the same in a place like McGill’s Tomlinson Hall or some place similar. Both cities boast former and current NBA players Steve Nash, Robert Sacre, Samuel Dalembert and Joel Anthony not to mention Mont-Real’s Khem Birch was in the D this past season. Montreal is about 75 kms from the US border while Van-city is even closer.
What’s even better is that both teams are situated perfectly close to existing D-League franchises. If you look at a map you could see that Montreal is close to both the Maine Red Claws and Westchester Knicks and a short plane, or longish bus ride from the Erie Bayhawks; that accounts for 3/5 of the Eastern Conference. Vancouver on the other hand is a little further out from it’s likely Western Conference division rivals but home and home series and long road trip set ups would still make them a viable location.
Windsor would be a little trickier but still a strong candidate. They have all the same advantages of Montreal and Vancouver – big time basketball community and so close to the US border it straddles it – and they have the added bonus of strong basketball programs at all levels (high school, CIS/OUA and OCAA) but the hitch is that there is already a professional basketball team in the city – the two time NBL Canada champion Windsor Express. There would be a serious territory situation here for any potential D-League team and that would definitely scare off any ideas (though maybe not in the near future).
Of course there could be other options for a potential D-League team in Canada (like Halifax or Edmonton for instance) but I think these would be the three most likely places for a team right now. For a minor league team that would likely run on a shoestring budget relative to its NBA counterpart these three locales make the most sense. I still think the eventual team will end up south of the border (Rochester was the earliest rumour last year) but we’re not going to know just yet.
We’re all on a wait and see but it’s still nice to dream that Canada’s team would put their D-League team in north of the 49th.