With the announcement of their new practice facility, expected to open in 2018 in Southeast D.C., the Washington Wizards have laid out several plans in hopes of continuing their ascent as a franchise. One of those ideas is the purchase and installment of an NBA D-League team to play their home games at the 5,000-seat arena in Ward 8.
Wizards majority owner Ted Leonsis made it clear on Wednesday that is one of his immediate goals set for the three-year process it will take the build the $55 million complex.
"We will now start serious discussions about can we get an expansion team, now knowing where we can put it. I think it can work great here. We will have a 5,000-seat arena and tickets can be priced correctly into the marketplace. It's close enough to Verizon, but can still be programmed and marketed separately. I think a D-League team would work very well here," he said.
The Wizards were associated with the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Mad Ants of the D-League during the 2014-15 season. They would sometimes send players - most notably Glen Rice - to the Mad Ants to get extra playing time, particularly while they rehabbed injuries.
However, that relationship ended when the Indiana Pacers bought the Mad Ants to become their D-League partner last week. The Pacers became the 10th NBA team to fully own and operate a D-League club.
Leonsis hopes to eventually have a D-League team that can develop young players just like the Hersey Bears of the American Hockey League, which serves as a pipeline to his NHL team, the Capitals.
"I think it strengthens our position with players and staff," he said. "I witnessed that first-hand with the Capitals. Once we built Kettler Capitals Iceplex and we changed our AHL affiliate in Hershey, that the bringing together of our AHL, practice facility and the Verizon Center, and looking at them all as a platform, it really elevated the team and the way we played."
The Wizards are among 11 NBA teams without a direct D-League affiliate. While they go through the process of buying their own franchise, players they choose to assign to the D-League will depend on the availability of roster spots on the second division teams.
"There's another system to the D-League. Obviously, it's not the optimum situation for us," Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld said. "We're looking into having our own D-League team and if we do get one, it will be playing here."