The Trail Blazers and Nuggets are the only NBA franchises without a G League affiliate. Could Portland finally be getting a G League team of their own soon? Here is what we know so far.
The craziest NBA offseason in recent memory has finally come to a close. Now, the clock is ticking towards the opening tip of the regular season. Rosters are shaping up, cuts are being made, and assignments to the G League are happening for every team around the association. However, it is not quite the same reality in the Rose City. Heading into the 2019-2020 season, the Portland Trail Blazers are just one of two teams that do not have a G League affiliate.
The G League is currently in the best spot it has ever been. The league intended for player development is receiving more national attention than ever before. Due to the increase in attraction and fans (and the subsequent uptick in profitability) the NBA has made it clear they want all 30 NBA teams to have a G League affiliate.
Within the past year, former Blazer and NBA great, Shareef Abdur-Rahim took over as President of the NBA’s G League. In a conversation with Julie Jag from the Santa Cruz Sentinel, just days after Abdur-Rahim officially became president, he made a noteworthy statement affirming that his first challenge will be immediately expanding the G League to all 30 teams.
“I think the main priority is we’re at 27 teams, 28 teams starting next season, [so] to get to 30 teams and be a true league or true extension of the NBA.” Abdur-Rahim says. Later, with regard to the Trail Blazers and Nuggets, he adds, “It’s not such a question of if it will happen, it’s more of a question of when. If we had to guess, within the next 12-18 months [those teams will have a G League affiliate].”
For the Blazers, that is good news. In previous seasons, the Blazers have been forced to send their developing players to the G League teams of other franchises. Portland has never had their own G League team, but it is without doubt that the Blazers see the importance of the league. Portland previously had a “hybrid affiliation” with the Idaho Stampede (now called the Salt Lake City Stars). While that partnership only lasted two seasons, players like CJ McCollum and Allen Crabbe were able to get on the court and develop their game, an opportunity they didn’t have with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Last season, Anfernee Simons played a stint with the Agua Caliente Clippers. Gary Trent Jr. and Wade Baldwin were sent halfway across the country to play with the Texas Legends. Shipping players off to other franchises creates some challenges and lags in development. Due to the geography and systems of other franchises, the chemistry of the Trail Blazers G League players is hindered.
Further, the Blazers have not be able to dictate how their G Leaguers are used and managed. The Blazers coaches cannot be responsible for the development of their own players. This is especially detrimental to the Trail Blazers. After signing both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum to massive deals this summer, the Blazers do not have the means of signing any big name free agents to surround the star duo. The Blazers will rely on the internal development of players in hopes of building a championship level roster. The lack of a G League team makes this already difficult situation even more menacing.
Last October, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony reported that the Denver Nuggets could be next in line, leaving the Portland Trail Blazers as the lone G League holdout.
On the bright side, the Blazers and General Manager Neil Olshey, have been looking into the G-League situation for some time now. Olshey has spoken about the challenges of bringing the Portland Trail Blazers G League team to life. He noted the team would need to find a location close to home in Portland that would allow the G League players to practice with the team and attract the viewership of the local audience.
Adam Johnson, a contributor for 2ways&10days, reported that the Trail Blazers “have their eyes on setting up G League shop at the Nike World Headquarters just outside of Portland in Beaverton, OR.” Johnson goes on to suggest that Seattle seems like a viable landing spot for the G League team as well, but in the long-run, the closer to Portland, the better. Not to mention the obvious problems if an NBA team ever made their way back to Seattle.
Even more recently than Johnson’s reports are rumblings of a possible move into Vancouver.
This would pose as an interesting option for the Blazers. It could expand the team’s fan base into Canada and give Canadians an alternative to Raptors fandom. The NBA has made no attempt to hide their global expansion initiatives, so a move to Vancouver would seem like a win for the league.
The Grizzlies ditched Vancouver after a short 6 year run in Canada’s third largest city. Despite being one of the worst teams in the NBA during that time, the Grizzlies move to Memphis left a basketball void in the city. Portland, Vancouver’s closest NBA neighbor, could use the G League to capture the Canadian market.
Now a decision needs to be made. Will the Portland Trail Blazers pursue a G League location near home in Beaverton? Or will they look to capture a new market in Seattle or Vancouver? How soon will the Blazers make it happen? Only time will tell. The one thing that we know for sure, is that a Trail Blazers G League affiliate must be coming soon and the franchise needs to capitalize on its’ inception to strengthen chemistry, rookie development, and internal team development as the Blazers eye a championship run in the coming years.