Heat snap up Skyforce from Timberwolves’ grasp

So much for the picture-perfect match between the professional basketball teams in the Twin Cities and the largest township in South Dakota.

The Sioux Falls Skyforce, for years an affiliate and recently considered a prime hybrid partner for the Minnesota Timberwolves, unveiled a new set of insignia, signage and uniforms Monday afternoon.

But they weren’t tweaked to match the Timberwolves’ hues of blue, black and silver. They’re red, black and orange to resemble their newly exclusive NBA brethren, the Miami Heat.

The NBA D-League franchise and the NBA’s Eastern Conference champions announced a one-on-one, hybrid partnership that’s under contract for the next two seasons. It’s an agreement many thought would come to pass between the Skyforce and the Timberwolves, given their geographic proximity, previous affiliation and Minnesota president of basketball operations Flip Saunders’ history coaching both organizations.

But the Heat snatched up the Skyforce first and will finance and oversee the team’s basketball operations, meaning the Timberwolves must find a new NBADL affiliate.

In a developmental landscape where 13 NBA teams are either in a hybrid affiliation or completely own and operate their D-League teams, Minnesota doesn’t have much to pick from.

Parting ways with the Timberwolves, Orlando Magic and Philadelphia 76ers (among others) as affiliates, the Skyforce-Heat deal leaves the NBA’s other 17 teams to divvy up prospects among four D-League franchises: the Bakersfield Jam, Fort Wayne Mad Ants, Iowa Energy or Reno Bighorns.

Iowa, of course, makes sense as a Timberwolves partner because of geography, but the NBA will make final determinations concerning affiliation, with team input taken into consideration. And proximity isn’t the only factor, either, as Miami’s agreement with Sioux Falls indicates.

Saunders, who coached the Skyforce in 1994-95 before being hired as Minnesota’s head man, expressed interest in a one-to-one companionship with Sioux Falls during the NBA Combine last month.

“We’ve looked into that,” Saunders said then. “I think Sioux Falls has to talk to a couple different people and situations. The NBADL is basically the second generation of the CBA. I would say that’s always positive having that kind of developmental situation.”

But either NBADL expansion or further reducing the number of multi-affiliation D-League teams are now the Timberwolves’ only route to that end.

Despite its relationship with Sioux Falls, Minnesota called up only two players from the Skyforce during the teams’ tenure together — Greg Stiemsma in 2009-10 and Malcolm Lee, who was sent down and called up during the 2011-12 season during a three-game rehab assignment. Since the D-League was founded in 2001, the Timberwolves have signed or called up three NBADL players.

The other two — Chris Johnson and Lazar Hayward — weren’t under NBA contract until Minnesota picked them up. The pair appeared in 30 and four games last season.

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