The Indiana Pacers officially announced today that Pacers Sports & Entertainment has acquired the NBA Development League's Fort Wayne Mad Ants, making them the 19th NBA team to enter into a single-affiliation partnership with an NBA D-League team.
Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry, Pacers Sports & Entertainment Vice Chair Jim Morris, Fort Wayne Mad Ants President Jeff Potter, NBA Development League President Malcolm Turner, and Indiana Pacers President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird were all in attendance at the Grand Wayne Center to reveal the big news.
"We are proud to extend the Pacers brand into Northeast Indiana and excited about continuing the tradition of professional basketball in Fort Wayne," said Pacers Sports & Entertainment owner Herb Simon to Pacers.com. "We will work closely with the Mad Ants staff to provide support and expertise on both the business and basketball sides and we hope to build on their enthusiastic fan base."
Prior to today's announcement, 13 NBA teams shared access to the Mad Ants. Under the flexible assignment system, the possibility loomed that a player assigned to the D-League by the Pacers could be sent to a non-NBA-owned single affiliate team via lottery, if the Mad Ants had already reached their maximum of four NBA players on assignment and no singly-affiliated team was willing to accept an additional NBA player. Now, the Pacers can only assign their players to Fort Wayne, a little over a two hour drive from Indianapolis.
With full control of the minor league team's basketball operations, the Pacers' young players will have the opportunity to earn playing time in Fort Wayne while still being fully integrated into the Pacers' system from afar.
"Owning the Mad Ants will be an integral part to the development of our young talent and we'll have the ability to institute the same offensive and defensive systems and create a winning basketball culture across the state of Indiana," said Larry Bird. "We are excited to build on the team's success in Fort Wayne while using it as a training ground for players, coaches and front office personnel."
According to D-League Digest, former Bakersfield Jam head coach Will Voigt is "still in the running" for the Mad Ants' head coaching position after being offered the job by Mad Ants President Jeff Potter prior to the sale of the team, but the Pacers will "perform a search of their own." The Pacers announced Wednesday that Brian Levy will be the team's General Manager. Levy was last employed as General Manager for the Jam and as a scout for the Phoenix Suns.
With the Mad Ants serving as an extension of the Pacers, Bird said Wednesday that he envisions sending players to Fort Wayne more regularly.
"I see us moving more players up here. We have a lot of young players, a lot of good young players, but after you practice for 2-3 weeks, you don't get no games. What a better opportunity to get to come up here and play 5 or 10 games."
The Pacers currently have five players on their roster under the age of 25 who could potentially make good use of the Mad Ants as a training ground while bringing plenty of excitement to the city of Fort Wayne, if sent there on assignment.
"I think it's just going to be awesome for us. It's going to be special for our franchise. And we hope Fort Wayne and the Mad Ants fans comes out and watches us play and support these young kids," said Bird. "We're here for a reason: And that's to make our basketball team better."
The Indiana Pacers will play a preseason game at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, home of the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, on Thursday, October 22, at 7:00 p.m.