Five years ago the Dakota Wizards made a huge leap when they moved from the now-defunct International Basketball Association to the CBA.
In some ways, Thursday's jump from the CBA to the D-League is even bigger.
The impact of formalizing ties to the big leagues was evident when NBA commissioner David Stern welcomed the Wizards to the D-League via videotape.
The Wizards are tentatively scheduled to be aligned with the Chicago Bulls and Portland Trail Blazers, who will be allowed to assign players in their first or second year to the club. Teams are assigned geographically. For example, the Minnesota Timberwolves are aligned with Sioux Falls.
While the potential to see players who were high first-round draft picks get their pro careers started is one of the more notable changes, it's just one of a host of new wrinkles the Wizards will have to adjust to.
Joining the D-League didn't come cheap. The membership fee was $300,000 according to Wizards owner Steve McCormick. There will be yearly dues as well, although McCormick said the amount is still under negotiation.
Although having Sioux Falls and Idaho make the jump to the D-League helps, the league's current teams are in the southeast and southwest.
Even with an unbalanced schedule, travel costs are likely to go up.
The league pays players, including a benefit package that is an upgrade on the CBA, in a three-tiered salary system.
A new deal negotiated last week with the Civic Center will help, but McCormick said the Wizards have lost approximately $100,000 each of the past three seasons. By his estimate, the team is going to need to generate $300,000 more revenue this season.
"In all honesty, we need to have an increase everything," McCormick said. "We've got to increase our sales. We've got to increase our sponsorships. What the Civic Center did is going to make a difference, but the big difference has to come from getting more people in the arena."
Even though their average attendance dipped under 3,000 this year, the D-League average is under 2,000.
McCormick thanked the fans for helping the Wizards land a spot in the D-League and was optimistic that the switch of leagues can drive attendance higher.
"The Dakota Wizards have a reputation out there of being very strong fan-based," he said. "I hope that continues."
There is more centralized control over personnel decisions in the D-League than there was in the CBA.
Teams do not sign individual players. Instead players sign with the league and are put in a pool of available players, from which teams draft at the start of the season. If there is a roster opening during the course of the season, players are taken from the available pool.
Individual teams still have some say when it comes to player personnel. For example, a club can request the league sign a free agent, and he would then be assigned to that team.
The Wizards, Skyforce and Stampede will be allowed to ask the D-League to sign any of the players who finished the season on their roster, essentially protecting their rights.
For example, that means Dakota could request the league sign Kasib Powell, but not Maurice Baker.
NBA teams also some times exert influence over coaching hires.
Harvey Benjamin, the NBA senior vice president of business affairs, said that the ultimate goal is to have one D-League for each team in the NBA. The closer the D-League gets to that goal, the more likely the parent clubs will be to involved in that process and tailor its D-League affiliate to suit its needs.
'D' is for development
The days of seeing former NBA veterans like Oliver Miller or Dickey Simpkins in a Wizards' uniform are over.
"We are not going to, by and large, take retired or old or cut basketball players," Benjamin said.
D-League rosters have 10 men, though current rules allow them to expand to 12 to accommodate "allocation players," or players assigned by the NBA.
In an attempt to keep the emphasis on development, each team must carry two rookies at all times and have at least one allocation player on its roster.
Currently teams are not allowed to have injured reserve lists.
Benjamin that the NBA was concerned how players might react to being assigned to the D-League, but so far results have been positive.
"Almost uniformly, the players had great things to say about the experience,"he said.
This year 15 players were called up from the D-League to the NBA, but it doesn't stop there. The league's stated goal is to promote people in all facets of the game - from coaches, to front officer personnel to referees to athletic trainers.
As a side note, the D-League uses a three-referee setup - unlike the two-ref system of the CBA. Every official hired by the referee since 2002 has worked in the D-League.
Odds and ends
3 There are eight teams - Fayetteville (N.C.), Florida, Roanoke (Va.), Arkansas, Tulsa (Okla.), Albuquerque (N.M.), Fort Worth (Texas) and Austin(Texas) - playing in the D-League this season.
Four teams - the Wizards, Sioux Falls, Idaho and Colorado - were plucked from the CBA on Thursday. In addition, an expansion franchise has been announced for Bakersfield (Calif.). More teams could be on the way, including in Los Angeles and Anaheim.
3 Although the D-League does not currently have divisions, Benjamin said that will be addressed at an upcoming league meeting.
3 The D-League season is currently 48 games, the same as the CBA. It runs from mid-Noevember through early April. The D-League draft is in November.
3 McCormick said the Wizards would like to have a coach hired by May or June.
3 Wizards general manager Jane Link said season tickets will likely go on sale next month.