D-League team is new day for Clippers

CULVER CITY, CA-If there has been something missing from the Los Angeles Clippers the past couple of seasons, it has been a virtual absence of the youth movement. The Clippers have been reliant almost exclusively on proven veterans and less dependent on younger, more inexperienced players.

That’s about to change. Soon.

Part of the issue about the Clippers not being able to develop young talent has been void. Until now. On Monday, the Clippers, at their training practice facility, announced that they will be joining 25 other NBA teams in having their own NBA Development League team.

It’s a good move for the Clippers, which is, outside of players like Austin Rivers, Wesley Johnson, Brice Johnson and Diamond Stone, are thin in the young talent category. The Agua Caliente Clippers of Ontario gives their older brethren something to work with when it comes to evaluating and moving player personnel up to the next level. 

Nearly half (44 percent) of the players in the NBA ended the regular season with roster spots. With the shift of league teams wanting to develop their own talent, which is akin to Major League Baseball’s  farm system, the Clippers couldn’t help but buy into the successful formula.

Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers addresses the media as the team announces its new NBA Development League team-the Agua Caliente Clippers of Ontario. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com

“When I took this job four years ago…I don’t know how many years ago. I wanted to try to bring this organization on an even playing field, then to make it world class,’ Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “For us, we look at this in a lot of ways when how this is going to help us. When you hear stats like 44 percent or 50 percent of the league is now a D-League player or has played in it, we can start using that and take advantage of that.”       

To outsiders looking in, this bit of news may not appear to be a big deal on the surface. In reality, though, this is a huge step for a franchise that once was mired in the losing department and associated with irrelevancy.  That’s not the case anymore, thanks to the team’s current streak of 50 plus wins over the last five seasons.

Because of this success, the expectation level for the Clippers have been raised.

“Just as far as player development, this is going to be terrific for us,” Rivers said. “Coaching development, this is going to be terrific. Front office development, analytical development, being able to test plays out on the D-League level, and see  do we like it, and then bringing them back to our level. There are so many ways that  you can use the D-League to our advantage.”  

Perhaps equally important as the Clippers forming their own D-League team is the franchise’s expansion of its brand to an overlooked community: Native Americans. The Clippers have forged a partnership with the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, which owns and operates Agua Caliente Casino Resorts.

Agua Caliente Resorts is the Clippers’ presenting sponsor. For Agua Caliente Tribe Chairman Jeff L. Grubbe, the announcement that the Clippers will be taking on the tribe’s name has a much deeper meaning.     

Agua Caliente Tribe Chairman Jeff L. Grubbe is excited about the Agua Caliente Clippers of Ontario. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com

“Unfortunately, there are professional teams that have mascots that don’t reflect Native American people in a positive light,” Grubbe said. “It can be frustrating, not only for me, but through medians throughout this country. This is the first time that a major, professional team is using a tribal name to name their team and not their mascot. So I guess the level of respect is big. We’re hoping it will have a ripple effect throughout the country, and hopefully some of the sports teams that have those mascots will think twice.”    

The Agua Caliente Clippers of Ontario will begin to play ball immediately, participating in the NBA Gatorade League’s 2017-18 season, and play its 24 home games at Ontario’s Citizens Business Bank Arena. The NBA Development League will officially change its name to the NBA Gatorade League when the season gets underway.    

“This is another exciting day for the NBA D-League as we add a record 26th team and continue to move closer to our 30-team vision,” NBA D-League President Malcolm Turner said in a pre-released statement prior to the announcement.         

Clippers President of Business Operations Gillian Zucker spoke with excitement about the possibilities that a D-League team can bring to an organization.      

“I think developmental league franchises prove to be an amazing opportunity for NBA teams where they can groom and grow young talent,” Zucker said. “Certainly, everything about this decision was about providing the right tools for our basketball operations, so folks can make this team as strong as it can possibly be. It was with the full support of (owner) Steve Ballmer that we set out trying to figure out where we would put it and how we would put it together. Today was a culmination of that.”   

Fans interested in purchasing season tickets for the Agua Caliente Clippers of Ontario may call 909-406-9090 or reach out by email at tickets@aguacalienteclippers.com. 

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