The arena, the fans and the overall feel to the Suns’ D-League team will be much more local next season.
In a transaction completed a 90-minute drive north of Phoenix, the Suns announced they had purchased the Bakersfield Jam and moved them to Prescott Valley, where the Development League franchise will be renamed the Northern Arizona Suns.
Prior to the move, Phoenix and Bakersfield had held a “hybrid” relationship in which the Suns were in charge of basketball operations while the Jam’s ownership group was responsible for operating the business aspects of the team. Now owned by Arizona’s NBA team, it was only logical to place it in the same neighborhood.
“We’re strong ambassadors of the Phoenix community, and not just the Phoenix community, but the entire state,” said Suns President Jason Rowley. “When we’re able to lend the strength of our brand to the community and be additive to it, I think we have an obligation to do it.”
Here’s a breakdown of what the move means for the Suns, their D-League team and the Prescott Valley community.
Emails, text messages and video chats will still be used, but the decrease in distance between the Suns and its minor league team is significant.
In the past, a D-League assignment for a current player meant a plane ride and at least one overnight stay in an unfamiliar state. Now, it’s a matter of hopping off the I-17 and onto the AZ-69.
“That comfort level is there,” explained Northern Arizona Suns General Manager Bubba Burrage, “because there’s a connection that they’re not lost in a different place, wondering if anybody’s watching them or wondering what’s going on.
“The connectivity between the parent club and its D-League team is what you’re seeing happening across the league. It manifests itself in so many different ways…”
— Malcolm Turner, NBA D-League President
That isn’t just important for players. Suns front office and coaching staff will no longer need to set aside multiple days in order to check up on the team’s D-League prospects.
Conversely, D-League players, coaches and front office members can easily travel to Phoenix for additional training, interviews, and further collaboration with their NBA counterparts.
“The connectivity between the parent club and its D-League team is what you’re seeing happening across the league,” said D-League President Malcolm Turner. “It manifests itself in so many different ways, from the ease of player development, the back-and-forth that Bubba [Burrage] talked about.”
That connection could be vital for the Suns next season. Phoenix will likely hold four of the top 35 picks in this summer’s NBA draft. Burrage said that if Phoenix keeps those picks, it is “very likely” that some of those prospects will log D-League minutes in 2016-17.
Geography makes all the difference when it comes to weaving the rope between a major sports team and its minor league affiliate.
Many residents of Prescott Valley, including Mayor Harvey Skoog, have lived the majority of their lives in the area. While many are aware and fans of the Suns, tapping into those ties will be that much easier with a D-League version of the Suns playing on Main Street.
That doesn’t just mean tickets for fans, however. It also means jobs for citizens, and a window to other opportunities and careers that might not have otherwise been available.
Mike Paredes, Executive Director for the Prescott Valley Economic Development Foundation, sees the Northern Arizona Suns as an immediate stimulant to the community and its partners.
“When we’re able to lend the strength of our brand to the community and be additive to it, I think we have an obligation to do it.”
— Jason Rowley, Suns President
“It’ll be the main economic driver for this entire region,” Paredes said. “Having an elite organization like the Suns up here will not only put our town on the map, but this entire region.”
The epicenter of the impact will be at the Prescott Valley Events Center, which has hosted semi-professional hockey, indoor football, the Harlem Globetrotters, rodeo and concerts since opening in November 2006. The venue has lacked a consistent, headlining patron, however, ever since the former hockey team (the Arizona Sundogs) went defunct in 2014.
Rowley is thrilled the Suns and Prescott Valley community are breathing new life into the building.
“There’s no sugar-coating it, this building is a beautiful facility,” Rowley said. “It’s perfect for us, but because of the economic downturn, it did face some tough economic times. There was some difficulty getting content in here.”
The D-League is only too happy to provide it. Its rapid expansion has produced a record 22 teams, all of which have a one-to-one affiliation with NBA franchises. The Suns are just the latest to shrink the orbit of its minor league team. With the potential for local fans, the 5,100-seat center provides the ideal arena for D-League basketball.
“This is actually more within our sweet spot,” Turner said. “This is where our league is gravitating. It’s another reason why we’re so excited about this announcement. The building and the venue, we believe, is really in our sweet spot in terms of size and amenities and things of that nature.”
Paredes and Brad Fain, CEO of Fain Signature Group, had to fight back emotion when expressing the impact of the Suns’ D-League presence in Prescott Valley.
Skoog topped their sincere sentiment with his final words during the conference.
“Before I step away from the podium…I’d like to put a deposit down on a season ticket,” Skoog said.
The long-time Prescott Valley mayor then turned and handed Burrage a crisp $50 bill, producing a round of laughter and cheers from the residents and media attendance.
More will follow, but the impact will be felt far beyond wallets and checking accounts. Prescott Valley was sincerely disappointed when the Sundogs went defunct. So it was no surprise that the news of a minor league basketball team electrified the valley in the days leading up to the announcement. Smiles and exclamations of excitement were abundant before, during and after Tuesday’s press conference.
They were most seen and heard at the very end, when Rowley ended the eventful morning with six words.
“The Northern Arizona Suns are coming!”