Pensacola, Florida
Friday October 20th 2017

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What’s The Game Plan?

Playing to Win the New Orleans Pelicans
By Duwayne Escobedo

The New Orleans Pelicans lack a minor league basketball team. It joins the Washington Wizards, Portland Trailblazers and Denver Nuggets as the only NBA organizations without an affiliate in the NBA G League next season.

But soon the Pelicans are expected to pick a city. It began seeking proposals from Gulf Coast towns, including Pensacola, on March 31 to host a developmental league team that would play in the 2018-2019 season.

Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward initially proposed to Pelicans management on June 7 for the team to use the Pensacola Bay Center, which Escambia County officials have admitted lacks many of the features that New Orleans wants in an arena. Ray Palmer, president of Pensacola Sports Association, floated the idea at the meeting of building a new sports facility to the Pelicans decision-makers.

Jay Patel, a real estate developer who manages multiple hotels in Northwest Florida, came back July 19 and pitched to Pelicans executives, Hayward, Escambia County Commissioner Lumon May, Palmer and a handful of others in private meetings a proposal with few details to build a $80 million to $100 million sports complex in downtown Pensacola.

Meanwhile, Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler has proposed to her city council the building of a $25-million sports complex to lure the New Orleans Pelicans minor league team.

New Orleans Times-Picayune sports columnist Jeff Duncan told Inweekly that the competition to host the affiliate is down to Pensacola and Shreveport.

“I would give Shreveport the slight edge, but I know Pensacola put together a very ambitious bid presentation and is also very much in the mix,” said Duncan. “If the Shreveport City Council approves a plan to build a downtown arena and practice facility for the team, then I think that will vault them to favored status.”

Saints Connection
Billionaire Tom Benson owns both the New Orleans Pelicans and the NFL Saints. The teams share the same top management. Mickey Loomis is the Saints’ general manager and the Pelicans’ executive vice president of basketball operations. Dennis Lauscha is the president of both teams.

Both Pelicans’ general manager Dell Demps and head coach Alvin Gentry have come under pressure from team management, the media and fans for failing to deliver a winning team the past two years. Both currently have a one-year contract with the team.

Duncan wrote in a May 13 Times-Picayune column that Demps and Gentry are in a “win or else” situation.

“Their margin for error is zero,” Duncan wrote. “Loomis and the Bensons are loyal people by nature. They value the organizational stability that has been a hallmark of the club for the past decade. Public and/or media pressure does not, and will not, sway them. That said, they don’t operate in a vacuum.”

That said, the organization has made moves to make the team more competitive. It made a trade with the Sacramento Kings in February for DeMarcus Cousins, considered among the best big men in the NBA, to join Pelicans’ all-star Anthony Davis.

The team resigned guard Jrue Holiday to a five-year, $126 million deal. It picked up veteran guard Rajon Rondo, who played in two NBA Finals with the Boston Celtics. Plus, the Pelicans signed free agent shooting guard Ian Clark, who averaged 6.8 points off the bench for the Warriors last season.

NBA “Gametime” studio analyst Sam Mitchell called the Pelicans’ signing of Rondo, a 31-year-old, four-time All Star, “brilliant” for his play and leadership.

“It really helps the basketball team,” Mitchell said on the program. “They need a guy like Rondo who is going to stand up in the locker room. When guys start going sideways, he’s going to call them out, pull their coat chain and hopefully get them back into the fold.”

Pelicans writer Jim Eichenhofer told NBA “Gametime” that Kentucky Wildcat products Cousins and Davis had communicated back and forth all last season trying to recruit each other to their teams.

“It seems like they have had a really good relationship throughout their careers,” Eichenhofer said. “They have a lot of respect for each other. Cousins is like a big brother to AD.”

Mitchell pointed out that Cousins, who has averaged 21.2 points per game and 10.8 rebounds per game, needs to eliminate his outbursts and step up and take a leadership role for New Orleans. The 26-year-old Cousins, who is from Mobile, Ala., was fined $25,000 for making an inappropriate statement and gesture in an overtime win last February.

Cousins seems to have heard his critics, claiming, “I’ve reached out to everybody,” in his effort to bring more talent to New Orleans.

NBA observers said New Orleans possesses the weapons to make the playoffs in the upcoming season. The Pelicans last reached the playoffs in 2015. The last playoff victory by the organization came six years ago.

“If this is the roster they head into the regular season with, you shouldn’t be too upset,” wrote SportSpyder columnist Hunter Noll, who follows the Pelicans. “The playoffs are definitely within reach.”

Davis, the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft by New Orleans, likes his team’s new additions. He has averaged 22.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game the past five seasons and is eligible for free agency in 2020.

“We can’t wait for the season to come and try to make some noise here in the loaded West,” Davis said during a recent press conference. “We have the tools right now to be successful.”

Bright Future
Meanwhile, the NBA G League, formerly the NBA Development League or D-League, is preparing players, coaches, officials, trainers and front office staff for the league’s  17th season.

Many basketball insiders think it will become the preference of potential “one-and-done” college basketball players.

There are 26 NBA G League teams for the 2017-18 season, and soon all 30 NBA teams are expected to field a minor league affiliate. Meanwhile, Pensacola and Shreveport, are duking it out for the 27th team, each hoping the Pelicans choose them.

“The NBA is investing heavily in the developmental league and wants to make sure it succeeds,” Duncan said. “The league has experienced dramatic growth in recent years, and the interest level and talent level of the league is much greater than it was a decade ago.”

He said the NBA G League is expected to expand to 30 teams and has set the goal of becoming the primary path to the NBA for top high school prospects, allowing them to bypass college altogether. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has spoken publicly about doing away with the one-and-done rule.

Duncan said, “If it eventually happens, then the G League would instantly become a much more compelling league, as it would probably be the preferred starting point for high school prospects selected in the NBA draft.”

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NBA Developmental Teams

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Atlantic
Boston Celtics – Maine Red Claws
Toronto Raptors – Raptors 905
New York Knicks – Westchester Knicks
Philadelphia 76ers – Delaware 87ers
Brooklyn Nets – Long Island Nets
Central
Cleveland Cavaliers – Canton Charge
Milwaukee Bucks – Wisconsin Herd
Indiana Pacers – Fort Wayne Mad Ants
Chicago Bulls – Windy City Bulls
Detroit Pistons – Grand Rapids Drive
Southeast
*Washington Wizards – None
Atlanta Hawks – Erie BayHawks
Miami Heat – Sioux Falls Skyforce
Charlotte Hornets – Greensboro Swarm
Orlando Magic – Lakeland Magic

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Northwest
Utah Jazz – Salt Lake City Stars
Oklahoma City Thunder – Oklahoma City Blue
*Portland Trailblazers – None
*Denver Nuggets – None
Minnesota Timberwolves – Iowa Wolves
Pacific
Golden State Warriors – Santa Cruz Warriors
Los Angeles Clippers – Agua Caliente Clippers
Sacramento Kings – Reno Bighorns
Los Angeles Lakers – South Bay Lakers
Phoenix Suns – Northern Arizona Suns
Southwest
San Antonio Spurs – Austin Spurs
Houston Rockets – Rio Grande Valley Vipers
Memphis Grizzlies – Memphis Hustle
*New Orleans Pelicans – None
Dallas Mavericks – Texas Legends

Note: Milwaukee, Atlanta, Orlando, Minnesota and Memphis have teams that will debut next season.

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Poll: Arena Economics
By Rick Outzen

Two-thirds of Pensacola voters support Mayor Ashton Hayward’s effort to host an NBA G League team affiliated with New Orleans Pelicans. However, they were less sure what they would pay for a ticket.

On August 1 and 2, Inweekly and Political Matrix conducted a study regarding the proposed minor-league NBA basketball team. After surveying 420 likely Pensacola voters, the study found that 67.9 percent said they support the mayor’s bid to host the team.  When asked if they support Mayor Hayward and the city working with the private sector to build an arena for the team, 51.4 percent said yes.

In reviewing the websites of the current NBA Developmental League teams, the ticket prices for courtside and other good seating ranged from $30-$85. While the focus of the teams is to sell packages at those prices, the arenas do offer single game ticket as low as $8.

When we asked Pensacola voters how likely they were to buy tickets to the games if they were priced between $25 and $39, only 39.8 percent said they were extremely or very likely to buy a ticket. Another 16.9 percent said they were somewhat likely, and 43.3 percent said they weren’t likely to buy a ticket.

When asked about higher prices, voters said they were less likely to purchase tickets, dropping to only 6 percent for tickets costing $60 or higher. Courtside seats can range from $60-$85.

This study was conducted via Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology. The numbers used were supplied by the Escambia County Supervisor of Elections Office. Only households who voted at least three out of the last four elections were called in this survey. The numbers were randomized upon implementation of the study and 420 completed studies were collected. The margin of error was +/- 4.5 percent.

1. First, do you support Mayor Ashton Hayward’s effort to bring a professional basketball team to the City of Pensacola?
Responses: 420 Overall %
1. Yes 285 67.90%
2. No 98 23.30%
3. No sure 37 8.80%
2. Next, do you support Mayor Hayward and the City working with the private sector to build an arena for the team?
Responses: 420 Overall %
1. Yes 216 51.40%
2. No 155 36.90%
3. No sure 49 11.70%
3. Now, on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being extremely likely, and 5 being extremely unlikely; please provide your opinion. if you knew the tickets were between $25 and $39, how likely are you to attend?
Responses: 420 Overall %
1. Extremely likely 131 31.20%
2. Very likely 36 8.60%
3. Somewhat likely 71 16.90%
4. Very unlikely 53 12.60%
5. Extremely unlikely 129 30.70%
4. Now, if the tickets were between $40 and $59, how likely are you to attend?
Responses: 420 Overall %
1. Extremely likely 34 8.10%
2. Very likely 75 17.90%
3. Somewhat likely 53 12.60%
4. Very unlikely 86 20.50%
5. Extremely unlikely 172 41.00%
5. Finally, if the tickets were between $60 or higher, how likely are you to attend?
Responses: 420 Overall %
1. Extremely likely 15 3.60%
2. Very likely 10 2.40%
3. Somewhat likely 24 5.70%
4. Very unlikely 66 15.70%
5. Extremely unlikely 305 72.60%