Would NBA D-League Succeed in El Paso?
In the next few months, we will learn much more about the new $180 million multi-purpose arena that will be built in downtown El Paso. The facility, which was passed in 2012 Quality of Life Bond, is the largest project from the election. Last October, city officials were seeking requests for development proposals for the arena, and those should be made public later this year.
One of the anchor tenants that city officials will be relying on for the success of the new arena will be an NBA Developmental League franchise. There are currently 19 teams in the D-League with NBA affiliations, including three in Texas. The Austin Spurs, (Frisco) Texas Legends, and (McAllen) Rio Grande Valley Vipers each have affiliations with the San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, and Houston Rockets. If El Paso successfully attracts a franchise, would it either create a fourth team in Texas, replace one of the current Texas teams, or relocate another regional NBA affiliation like the Oklahoma City Thunder, who's D-League team is also currently in Oklahoma City.
In 2015-16, the Legends led the NBA D-League in attendance, averaging about 5,600 fans per game. Rio Grande was second in the league with 4,600 fans per game while Austin averaged 3,900 fans per game. Most of the teams in the D-League play in small arenas that are suitable for the crowds they draw to the games. Placing a team in El Paso and drawing 5,000-6,000 fans per game in an arena that is three times the size of their attendance total for home games would not make much sense. The best solution would be to have the arena constructed to where it could expand or contract depending on the event. For example, if capacity for a D-League game or other sporting event is 7,000 but a major concert could expand capacity to 17,000, the new downtown arena would be ideal.
Like I wrote last November, moving the UTEP men's basketball home games to the new downtown arena would be a good idea for both UTEP and Miner fans. However, there is a big difference between Triple-A baseball and the NBA D-League. In baseball, just about every top prospect plays Triple-A ball on their way to the Major Leagues. Professional basketball's model is different, since the top draft picks will all begin their careers in the NBA. You could even say that Division One college basketball is the true minor leagues of the NBA. The D-League is for draft picks that were not good enough to break camp with the NBA team or unsigned free agents that would rather stay here and play than pursue a pro career in Europe. That is not to say that an NBA D-League player can't jump to prominence. Danny Green, Hassan Whiteside, Gerald Green, Chris "Birdman" Anderson, Jeremy Lin, Shaun Livingston, and Matt Barnes are all former D-League players. Former UTEP players Vince Hunter, Julian Washburn, Jeremy Williams, Christian Polk, Derrick Caracter, and Julyan Stone are alumni as well.