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NBDL likes what it sees in SW Florida


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NBDL likes what it sees in SW Florida

By WILL GRAVES, wrgraves@naplesnews.com

April 3, 2004


The National Basketball Developmental League confirmed Friday it has been in contact with local groups interested in bringing a team to Southwest Florida as early as this fall.


"We're looking to expand," said NBDL director of communications Kent Partridge. "That area in Fort Myers and Naples is a place we really like."


Executives at both TECO Arena and Alico Arena on the campus of Florida Gulf Coast University have held very informal discussions with NBDL president Phil Evans, who could not be reached for comment Friday.


The six-team league is currently wrapping up its third season. Partridge said there are tentative plans to expand to as many as 15 teams in the future.


"We're looking to expand our footprint," Partridge said. "The best-case scenario would be to play in 2004-05. I don't know that there's a cut-and-dried timeline. You want as much (leeway) time as you can get."


In order for the league to grow, Partridge said, local ownership groups would have to be involved in any expansion talks. The six teams currently in the league are owned and operated by the NBA.


"Local ownership gives you a great advantage," Partridge said. "People in your market know your market a lot better than we do."


Any interested owners would have to put up an expansion fee in the neighborhood of $250,000 and work out a 3- to 5-year lease with whatever arena is wished to play in.


Five of the six NBDL teams signed five-year contracts with an opt-out clause after three years when the league began in the fall of 2001. Asheville (N.C.) signed a three-year deal that Partridge expects the team to renew when the current season ends in two weeks.


The league plays 46 games from late-November through April, coinciding with the NBA regular season. The 46-game schedule is down from 56 games in its inaugural season in 2001-02. The league had a 50-game schedule last season.


"You're looking at maybe 25 dates in all, with the postseason included," Partridge said. "And every year the NBA will come in and play a preseason game."


TECO Arena has hosted NBA exhibition games in each of the last three years, with attendance in the 3,000-4,000 range.


Numbers like that for an NBDL franchise would be record-setting. Average attendance for most teams in the league hover between 1,200-2,000, numbers that have remained steady in each of the last two seasons, according to league statistics.


"We're very committed to where we are right now and the markets we're in," Partridge said.


Though NBA teams have no formal ties with the NBDL (all NBDL players are signed as free agents) 27 NBDL players have made the jump to the NBA in the last three years. Included on that list are Miami Heat guard Rafer Alston and Atlanta Hawks forward Jason Collier.


The basketball can be good. Whether it's viable in the middle of football country is another matter entirely.


Kevin Mackey had a pretty good seat the last time minor-league basketball made a foray into TECO Arena.


The former Florida Sea Dragons head coach watched from the sidelines as the players steadily came in and the fans steadily left. The United States Basketball League team folded after its third season in 2002 as enthusiasm for the team waned.


But the NBDL offers the one thing the USBL couldn't ? the NBA brand name.


"When you have (NBA commissioner) David Stern involved and the NBA involved, that's as big as it gets," said Mackey, currently a scout with the NBA's Indiana Pacers.


The future of the league ? and whether talk of expansion is more than just wishful thinking ? could depend on the next collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and the NBA Players Association. The current CBA expires after the 2004-05 NBA season.


Stern has said in various published reports recently that he'd like to use the leave as a home for young players caught between high school or college ball and the NBA. Under one of Stern's plans, players would sign contracts with NBA teams, then play in the NBDL.


The best-case scenario is the 30 NBA teams splitting up a 15-team NBDL, with each NBA team placing six players on an NBDL roster. Any plan would have to get the NBAPA's approval. But Mackey thinks a pipeline between the NBDL and the NBA would do wonders for the still-fledgling league, even in Southwest Florida.


"There were a lot of knowledgeable fans down there," Mackey said. "The direct line with the players going back and forth (from the NBDL to the NBA) would be huge. You could see guys playing in Naples one night and the NBA the next."

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