Sacramento Kings to join growing trend of D-League/NBA synergy

For the last six years, the Sacramento Kings have had a loose affiliation with the Reno Bighorns.  That affiliation is about to become tighter today.

Later this afternoon, the Kings will announce a new partnership to manage  basketball operations for the Bighorns over the next two seasons. The deal, which was first reported by the Sacramento Bee yesterday, will make the Bighorns the exclusive minor league affiliate of the Kings.  They won’t own the Bighorns, but from this point on, the Kings will have a say on all coaching, personnel and front office moves by the D-League franchise.

This is part of a growing trend in the NBA that will likely become the norm in the near future.  Taking a page out of hockey and baseball’s minor league systems, synergy between NBA teams and D-League franchises are becoming part of basketball’s new landscape.  From Joan Niessen at Fox Sports:

“Every year, more and more NBA teams are interested to have their (own) D-League affiliate, and I think in the very near future this league will be a replica of the NBA,” Darko Rajakovic, the coach of the Tulsa 66ers, said. “Every team will have its own franchise in the D-League. That will help a lot those teams to control and develop their young players.”

There are 17 teams in the D-League.  With the Bighorns set to begin sole-affiliation with the Kings, that leaves just three D-League franchise as multi-team affiliates.  The remaining 14 teams are aligned under single NBA franchises in two very distinct models.

The ownership model

Seven D-League teams are owned outright by their NBA affiliates.  The Los Angeles Lakers set this precedent when they purchased the Los Angeles D-Fenders in 2006.  Here are the seven franchises that are owned by the major league partners.

  • Tulsa 66ers (Oklahoma City Thunder)
  • Canton Charge (Cleveland Cavaliers)
  • Delaware 87ers (Philadelphia 76ers)
  • Los Angeles D-Fenders (L.A. Lakers)
  • Austin Toros (San Antonio Spurs)
  • Santa Cruz Warriors (Golden State Warriors)
  • Texas Legends (Dallas Mavericks)*
    • * The Legends are owned by Donnie Nelson, the Mavs’ president of basketball operations.

The hybrid model

The Kings and Bighorns partnership will fall under this model established by the Houston Rockets and Rio Grande Vipers in 2009.  Before the Kings and Bighorns, the Heat and Sioux Falls Skyforce were the last two NBA and D-League teams to form such a relationship.  Here are the seven teams that follow this model.

  • Rio Grande Vipers (Houston Rockets)
  • Reno Bighorns (Sacramento Kings)
  • Maine Red Claws (Boston Celtics)
  • Idaho Stampede (Portland Trail Blazers)
  • Springfield Armor (Brooklyn Nets)
  • Erie Bayhawks (New York Knicks)
  • Sioux Falls Skyforce (Miami Heat)


Jonathan Santiago
Jonathan Santiago serves Cowbell Kingdom as senior editor specializing in writing, podcasting and video production. He also handles the majority of CK’s day-to-day beat coverage of the Kings.

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