No one advocated more fiercely for the NBA Development Leagues Idaho Stampede to partner with a single NBA team than managing investor Bill Ilett.
And no one has taken the Stampedes dismal start and shrinking crowds at CenturyLink Arena in their first year of affiliation with Portland harder than Ilett.
Idaho improved to 5-15 with a 120-95 blowout victory against Reno on Saturday night before an announced crowd of 2,361.
Progress, no doubt. But the Stampede need several more similar performances before the smile returns to Iletts face.
Id be lying to you if I told you it wasnt frustrating. In my world, theres only one group that comes into this arena that gets to vote. And its not the Portland Trail Blazers and its not the owners of the Idaho Stampede. Its the people that buy tickets and come to the games, Ilett said before the game. The entertainment package has slipped.
That product begins with the basketball.
As part of its three-year affiliation agreement with Portland, the Trail Blazers now control every aspect of the on-court product. They selected coach Mike Peck. They put together the roster. They send players up and down and up and down.
Idaho had won three straight games before Portland assigned guards Will Barton and Nolan Smith for last weeks D-League showcase in Reno. Barton and Smith two players that Portland wants to play when they are in Idaho combined to score 73 points on 70 shots in the two games.
The Stampede lost both. Bad news for Idaho. But good news for Portland, which got plenty of game experience for its pair of young guards.
In previous years, when the Stampede controlled their roster, Ilett and the Idaho front office were quick to remake their team during slow starts through trades and splashy free agent signings, like Antoine Walker. Portland has shown much greater patience.
Were concerned about winning tonight, tomorrow night and the next night, Ilett said. Maybe theyre looking at it as developmental.
The two goals can co-exist, said D-League president Dan Reed, who was in Boise for Saturdays game. The NBA is utilizing the D-League more than ever before, moving it closer to a true minor-league system.
If you look at the most successful teams, they have successfully balanced both. Theyve helped develop players, helped assigned players improve their games and along the way won a lot of games, Reed said.
Ilett is not one for patience. Or, at least, not much of it. He knows his market and his fan base want an entertaining product and, in Boise, that means victories. Ilett is responsible for the business side of the franchise. That means bringing people into the arena and making sure they come back.
Besides being an event town, Boises fans are front-runners and a bit spoiled and they want to win. And you know what I agree with them, Ilett said.
Saturdays game offered a glimpse of what Ilett is looking for. The Stampede played an up-and-down style of basketball, poured in five 3-pointers in the first quarter and eclipsed the 100-point mark early in the fourth quarter.
Fans were still engaged in the final minutes.
It was a step.
I have to do the same thing Im going to ask every season-ticket holder and every fan of the Idaho Stampede to do, keep an open mind and support us while were sorting this out. If we cant figure it out, then well figure it out another way, Ilett said.
If things dont improve, the Stampede and Blazers will sit down for face-to-face meetings to find improvements, he said.
Eleven of the 16 NBA D-League teams have one-to-one affiliations. Those teams have typically been the most successful organizations in the D-League, one reason Ilett pushed so hard for an arrangement. He felt the Stampede were at a competitive disadvantage working with multiple NBA teams.
I look at the other teams that have hybrids in this league and theyre winning games and building crowds and building an entertainment package. The Idaho Stampede and the Portland Trail Blazers need to sit down and say, How do we fix this? Ilett said. I dont think we have seriously looked eye to eye: How can we together solve this problem? That needs to happen soon.
Reed said the early friction is not uncommon.
Theres always going to be a learning curve with any hybrid model, he said. Theyre going through all the things that all hybrid partners typically go through. The hybrid model has been a big success in the NBA D-League. I expect that it will be a success.
When it is, no one will be smiling wider than Ilett. For now, though, smiles are fleeting.
© 2013 Idaho Statesman
Brian Murphy: 377-6444