Toronto Raptors Need To Put An NBDL Team In Kitchener
The Toronto Raptors are in the middle of what could be a franchise-altering season for the organization. They sit third in the east with just one month before the All-Star break, and it has been a decade since the American national media has recognized Toronto as a legit up-and-coming franchise.
So when I heard that Raptor’s rookie forward Bruno Caboclo was coming back from a brief stint with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in the D-league, I was surprised to find that the rookie had only averaged 13 minutes on the floor. His production of those minutes showed, averaging just 4.3 points per game.
Dec 21, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors forward Bruno Caboclo (5) defends against New York Knicks forward Travis Wear (6) at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated New York 118-108. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to send down the rookie to get a little extra floor time in the minors, but what surprised me was how brief the stint was, and why he played so few minutes when there. If he was good enough to make the opening day roster for an NBA team, wouldn’t he at least earn a start or two on the D-league team?
So I did some digging and realized that, unlike 17 other NBA teams, the Raptors do not own their own NBDL franchise. In fact, they share affiliation with the remaining 13 other clubs in the NBA with the Mad Ants!
“Big deal” you think, right? Well, for a franchise that has taken so much pride over the years of scouting globally and signing international players, I find it kind of odd that we occasionally ship them off to an independent team that may not have the best intentions for our players.
It’s no shot at the Mad Ants. They do what they need to do to keep in business, and giving Caboclo minutes may not be their highest of priorities if it costs them games.
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The more you think about it, the more ridiculous it sounds. Why are we trusting a team that has its own system of play, coaching style, and philosophy, instead of, you know, doing what the majority of the rest of the league does, and keep it in the family?
So why else own an NBDL franchise? Continuing on my previous point, it adds depth to your organization. An opportunity to instill you’re system to a number of role players who could be called up at any moment to fill a vacancy in your lineup, is a tool that is just starting to take hold around the NBA.
The San Antonio Spurs have been best at it with their Austin Spurs affiliate, and the rest of the league has taken notice. Players like Danny Green, Cory Joseph, and Nando De Colo, have all come from Austin into San Antonio and have since filled in nicely to the rotation, logging big minutes and even contributing to record-breaking performances.
Franchises like the Spurs understand that, despite their amazing resume as an organization, they will rarely get a look from big time free agents. They understand that to be champions, you need to groom the Corey Joseph’s and Danny Green’s of the world into your own image, to play your game.
It is why they instill the Austin Spurs head coach Ken McDonald with the exact coaching system Greg Popovich uses with the big club. A number of players have come into the Spurs locker room, suited up for game time, stepped on the court, and knew exactly what play Tony Parker was calling at that moment. Little nuances like that can mean the world in a league where mental mistakes can be often so glaring on the court.
So once again I wonder, for a franchise with a GM like Masai Ujiri that is so forward-thinking about the development of young players, why have the Raptors been so slow to pick up on this growing trend in the league?
For a franchise that is always looking to expand on their brand, an NBDL franchise in Southern Ontario would definitely be another right step forward.
If MLSE is willing to pony up the cash, what’s to stop them from creating a franchise in say London or Windsor? Two very dedicated mid-size sports towns, with a proud history of hoops in this country.
Or, if we really want to talk about dedicated basketball fans that get no attention, look no further than the “Indiana” of basketball in Canada, the Waterloo regional municipality that mainly comprises of the cities of Kitchener and Cambridge.
This region of just over 500,000 people has shown its ability to support minor sports franchises, with the huge success of the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers over the decades.
The region will actually also be one of the largest markets the league would currently be situated in. For example the city of Kitchener alone is 213,000 people in comparison with the Raptors current affiliate in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where the population currently sits at 253,000. In fact, the city of Kitchener would be the fourth-largest city by population in the entire 18-team league behind only Oklahoma City, Fort Wayne, and Reno.
Worried about travel time? One look at the leagues map, and you see a bunch of northeast American cities well within a few hours by bus ride.
What about the venue? Well, the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium the Rangers play in has already been outfitted as a 7,312 seat arena for basketball in the past, which would also make it the fourth-largest arena in the league by capacity. To make matters even more tantalizing for would-be investors, the arena itself has just undergone a multi-million dollar renovation two years ago.
A view from the newly renovated Kitchener Memorial Auditorium. an arena that could easily host a pro league such as the NBDL. (Photo: Tom Under/Wordpress)
But what about Waterloo’s care for basketball you ask? It’s not as if there are huge demonstrations or city councilors in Kitchener that are demanding for a pro sports franchise, at least not yet at the city’s current size.
But keep in mind, this is a steadily growing region in Southern Ontario. Year after year, the region of Waterloo’s grassroots basketball programs and high schools have turned out some of the absolute best teams this country has to offer. Even right now, St. John’s Kilmarnock is ranked in the top five of every single major high school basketball rankings list in Canada.
This is a region that understands basketball and is only getting better at the sport, as the cities of Kitchener, Cambridge, and the surrounding towns such as Bresleau continue to grow.
Another helpful fact is that, unlike Windsor and London, the region also lacks an NBL team, Canada’s professional basketball league. A scenario of a professional Waterloo team based in Kitchener, which is an hour’s drive from the nearest NBL city, is a lot less likely to cause rumblings of protest from the leagues front office.
So what do you think? Obviously there are no such plans for an NBDL team in Canada right now. But, with the right investors and community leaders behind it, and a newly furnished downtown arena already in place right off of Highway 7 and 8 in Kitchener, would it really be a bad idea?
The Raptors management clearly wants the team to be one of the best in the league for years to come. Like any other successful franchise in sports, it starts at the bottom. To fund and manage your own minor league team seems almost mandatory, as every other major Toronto sports team has one, or several, such teams under them. In the NBA, the Raptors are a minority of teams that continue to throw their younger players on a development team with its own agenda, coaching style, and commitments to keep to other NBA teams.
Jan 3, 2015; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs shooting guard Danny Green (14) shoots the ball against the Washington Wizards during the first half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
To me, it simply sounds counter-productive to continue this way. I might be nit-picking at something that appears small in the broad scope of things. But personally, I wouldn’t mind introducing a Danny Green-like player to our organization, through an exclusively committed coaching staff, in one of the best hidden basketball regions in the country.
That is how you assert a reputation of professionalism. If done right, an NBDL team in Kitchener-Waterloo could do wonders for growing the game in a region where many say only hockey can survive, despite the impressive basketball talent that the region continues to pump out.
But most importantly, it can be the ground work for a long-lasting and stable team here in Toronto, where rookies can step on the court with a little more confidence, knowing that their organization did everything they could to prepare them for this moment.
If the Raptors “are the north” then it’s time to expand those borders beyond just the GTA, and take a serious leap of faith into what could be the greatest untapped market of basketball fans in the entire country.
Your move MLSE.