By Randy Renner
It may hurt Thunder community relations in Tulsa a little bit but there's no question the move of the Tulsa 66ers to Oklahoma City will be a big help to the basketball operations side of things.
The 66ers averaged a couple thousand or so fans a game at Bixby's Spirit Bank Event Center, the crowds might actually be a big larger here in Oklahoma City where Thunder fever is highest but the attendance count isn't really the issue here.
The issue is making the Thunder better and having the organization's D-League squad just down the street is better for that than even having it just up the Turner Turnpike.
The Thunder didn't force the move, the Spirit Bank Events Center in Bixby decided it wanted to move away from hosting live sporting events and will likely turn the arena portion of that venue into convention and meeting space.
The Thunder looked at some other facilities in the Tulsa area but a fit wasn't found. We're not sure just how hard the Thunder looked or just how much they wanted to stay in the Tulsa area once they had to leave SBEC.
Obviously the team could see the benefits of consolidating everything here in Oklahoma City as easily as we can.
Negotiations are ongoing between OKC officials and the Thunder about leasing the Cox Center for 66ers games but that's almost certainly where they'll play. They'll practice at what's known now as the Thunder Community Events Center in far north OKC where the Thunder practiced when the team first moved to Oklahoma City from Seattle before the team's new facility opened near Britton and Broadway Extension.
So the teams will practice about four miles down the road from each other and will play games across the street from each other, can't much more convenient than that.
Coaches and front office staff will be better able to keep an eye on Thunder players who've been sent down for work in the D-League both during practices and games. Being able to take a five minute drive or a stroll across the street beats the 90 minute trek to Tulsa.
For Thunder fans eager for hoops action they'll have a chance to see the younger players get more meaningful minutes than perhaps garbage time at the end of an NBA game.
2014 draft picks Josh Huestis and Semaj Christon will likely spend most if not all of their season with the 66ers and Mitch McGary, the 21st overall pick in the 2014 draft will probably also see some time with the 66ers.
In fact the NBA's relationship with the D-League continues to grow, there will be a record 18 teams in the D-League next season, seven of those teams are owned by NBA squads. The NBA would like to see all 30 of its teams own and operate a squad in the D-League for a true minor league structure.
Rules have also been relaxed as to how often a team can send a young player down, it used to just be three teams a year and now it is unlimited.
Rules have also been relaxed when it comes to the acquisition of players. Draft picks can now be signed by a team's D-League affiliate and that's almost certainly what will happen with both Huestis and Christon.
As The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry pointed out in Saturday's paper Huestis would be the first 1st round draft pick to be stashed in the D-League instead of overseas in Europe.
The Thunder did the draft and stash move with last year's 2nd round pick Grant Jerrett but there were a lot of rules hoops to jump through then in order to get Jerrett to the 66ers, he was also a 2nd round pick with no guaranteed NBA deal.
Now there are no more league hoops to get through, if the team and the player agree then it's a done deal.
Jerrett was rewarded recently with a brand new NBA contract for his year of financial sacrifice and quality work in Tulsa last season.
Huestis would also make a significant financial sacrifice, 1st round picks get guaranteed NBA contracts, late 1st round picks are slotted to get almost $1 million their first season. In the D-League that slashed to about 25 grand.
But the future rewards are great and the Thunder have already demonstrated they will come through on their end of the deal with what Jerrett received.
This was probably discussed with Huestis before the Thunder even made him the 29th overall pick. Had he not been supportive of the plan the Thunder probably wouldn't have pulled the trigger.
Now with the 66ers move to Oklahoma City, Huestis, Christon and any other Thunder player who ends up spending time in the D-League will feel much more a part of the big league team than ever before.