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Wizards to ‘start serious discussions’ about securing D-League team

Ted Leonsis wants a D-League team. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

The $55 million sports and entertainment complex scheduled to open in Southeast Washington in 2018 was touted Wednesday as the future site for a Washington Wizards practice facility and a home arena for the Mystics. But there’s a good chance a third team will also be based at the grounds of St. Elizabeths Hospital.

[Wizards, D.C. officials say new basketball complex ‘is bigger than basketball’]

Wizards and Mystics owner Ted Leonsis said Wednesday that he hopes to purchase a D-League franchise and have it play home games at the complex’s 5,000-seat arena as NBA teams continue investing in its minor league partner.

“We will now start serious discussions about can we get an expansion team,” Leonsis said. “We know where we can put it and I think it would work great here. I think 5,000-seat arena that tickets can be priced correctly in the marketplace. It’s close enough to Verizon but can still be programmed and marketed separately.”

Last week, the Indiana Pacers bought the D-League’s Fort Wayne Mad Ants. On the surface, it was just the next NBA franchise – the 20th – to join the movement in investing in a minor league affiliate and the 10th to fully own and operate one. But the development had a greater impact; The Mad Ants were the last independent D-League franchise remaining so it leaves 11 NBA teams, including the Wizards, without a D-League affiliate this season.

[New basketball facility could be a boon for the Mystics]

The Wizards will still be able to utilize the D-League if they wish but the process will now be a bit more complicated and inconvenient. Without Fort Wayne available, unaffiliated NBA teams that want to send a player to the minor league will be subject to a process called the flexible assignment system.  Every D-League team will be offered the player and the NBA franchise can then choose to send the player to one of the interested teams.

If no D-League team volunteers to take the player then he will be assigned to one of the nine hybrid affiliated teams — D-League franchises that control their own business operations — via a lottery. The NBA franchise can then decline to send the player to that team. The system was implemented for the first time last season whenever the Mad Ants had four players on assignment or two at the player’s position – the maximum allowed. It will now be the default method for every situation.

“Obviously, it’s not the optimum type of situation for us,” Wizards General Manager Ernie Grunfeld said. “But down the road we’ll look into that. Obviously we’re looking into having our own D-league team and if we do have one it’ll be playing” at St. Elizabeths.

If Leonsis waits until the complex is built to field a D-League team, that club likely wouldn’t begin play until the 2018-19 campaign.