As the Capital City Go-Go prepare for its inaugural season as the Washington Wizards’ NBA G League affiliate, some things will take some getting used to. For General Manager Pops Mensah-Bonsu, even saying the full team name aloud is a new experience.
“The Capital City Go-Go. It still sounds funny or eerie when I say it,” Mensah-Bonsu said recently, after being named the team’s first executive.
The team is already making moves, filling the roster in the recent G League expansion draft and making trades ahead of the Nov. 3 season opener, but the first steps in building a functional franchise should follow the examples set by some of the G League’s success stories.
“We just want to be a talent developer for the Wizards,” Coach Jarell Christian said. “We would love for our players to be able to play for the Wizards at a certain point in time and we’d also love for our staff members to be able to bump up and provide certain roles with the Wizards’ organization, as well.”
The synergy the Wizards and Go-Go hope to create can be seen between parent teams and affiliates across the NBA’s minor league. In Toronto, stars for the G League’s 905 including Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright became valuable role players for the Raptors. In Indiana and Chicago, promotion happens from within: Fort Wayne Mad Ants Coach Steve Gansey led the Pacers’ summer league roster in July and the Bulls gave an NBA contract to Antonio Blakeney, who won the 2017-18 G League rookie of the year award with their affiliate, the Windy City Bulls.
The Golden State Warriors designate a coach to tag along to Santa Cruz with the team’s two-way players, sending a comprehensive report back to Oakland on game performances and even practice habits. The Warriors created the “two-way coach” position last year, currently held by Luke Loucks, specifically to build a bridge.
“We’re part of the same family,” said Chris Murphy, president of the Santa Cruz Warriors. “Santa Cruz is embraced almost like another department of Golden State.”
The partnership dates back seven years to when Golden State bought a minor-league franchise and planted it 80 miles away, and though the NBA’s Warriors have since won three titles in four years, the big league team treats Santa Cruz like an in-house developmental arm. Last season, Quinn Cook spent time in Santa Cruz before stepping into the Warriors’ starting five in place of an injured Stephen Curry for 18 games. Rookie Jordan Bell also needed some refining in the G League, then earned enough trust to play 18 minutes in the Warriors’ championship-clinching victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in June.
“There’s a lot of synergy between the Warriors and Santa Cruz,” said Larry Harris, Golden State’s director of player personnel. “For us the biggest advantage that we have, and which the Wizards will have as well, is we’re really only an hour and a half doorstep to doorstep.”
Multiple NBA and G League officials cited distance between an NBA franchise and its minor-league team as the most crucial element in creating a partnership.
“That’s one of the big benefits that we’ve seen,” said Brad Seymour, president of the Windy City Bulls, who play 35 miles from United Center. Oklahoma City, New York, Brooklyn, Toronto and the Los Angeles Lakers also own G League franchises in adjacent markets.
With the Go-Go and Wizards sharing a facility on the St. Elizabeth’s East campus, it’s likely to accelerate player movement. If players such as 19-year-old rookie Troy Brown or second-year big man Thomas Bryant are not getting minutes with the Wizards, both can easily take assignments with the Go-Go.
While the main priority for a G League affiliate is to essentially serve as a farm team for the NBA franchise, it can also function without being a blot on the bottom line.
“G League teams don’t have to be a financial drain on the NBA parent club. They can be an enhancement or a profit center, as well,” said Murphy, whose Santa Cruz Warriors have sold out 54 consecutive games.
Mensah-Bonsu wants the Go-Go to contribute to their Ward 8 community. The team hosted an early August basketball clinic at a Charles Hart Middle School in Southeast DC where its new arena will be. After all, the franchise is named after a culture that is distinctively DC — Go-Go music was popularized in the city by R&B legend Chuck Brown — and while developing young Wizards and potentially mentoring coaches, Mensah-Bonsu believes the focus should also be on the neighborhood.
“We’re here not to take over but we’re here to be inclusive, to engage the community and make sure we help this community develop,” Mensah-Bonsu said. “We really just can’t have the [Go-Go] name and not live it.
“We really have to practice what we preach. These can’t be empty promises and I really feel like it’s part of my responsibility, the team’s responsibility to do that,” he continued. “We want team to embrace Ward 8 . . . Not only are we going to develop our players, not only are we going to mentor our players, I really feel like we’re going to do the same for the community. This is one of the last parts of D.C. that is still developing and we want to be a part of it.”