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Orem franchise built on NBA ties

Published August 26, 2007 1:03 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As far as first impressions go, the Utah Flash couldn't hope to make a funnier one. That is, unless you can't appreciate a commercial in which Jerry Sloan gives Flash coach Brad Jones a lesson in the art of shattering a clipboard.

Filmed in July at the Jazz practice facility and set to debut in September, the 30-second spot will serve as an introduction for fans to the new NBA Development League affiliate in Orem.

With Jones bouncing clipboards off his knee and spiking them to the floor in frustration, unable to get down the technique, Sloan walks into his office, sees what is happening and snaps one like a twig.

"All in one motion, Brad," Sloan says. "Practice."

For all the laughs, there's another message being sent in the commercial. It's about the ties the Jazz and Flash already have established, as well as the major-league aspirations of Flash owner Brandt Andersen, who has a simple explanation for buying the team.

"My choice would have probably been to first own the Jazz," Andersen said, "but the Jazz aren't going to be for sale for a long time."

The 14-team D-League is the NBA's attempt to set up a minor-league system similar to what baseball has employed for decades. The Jazz, who are affiliated with the Flash, are eligible to send their rookies and second-year players to Orem this season.

The hope is players who might be stuck on Sloan's bench (or be the reason why he's breaking those clipboards) will be able to get playing time to accelerate their development with the Flash. In the Jazz's case, Kyrylo Fesenko, Morris Almond and Ronnie Brewer all are candidates to be sent down. It might be the NBA's wave of the future. The Lakers owned and operated a D-League team last season that ran the triangle offense and played at Staples Center. The Spurs followed by buying the Austin (Texas) Toros franchise in June.

The Jazz won't own the Flash, but the teams might as well be siblings. Andersen followed the Jazz's recommendation in hiring Jones, a regional scout and Sloan's nephew, as coach, and Dave Fredman, a Jazz fixture for years, as general manager.

Andersen has courtside seats at EnergySolutions Arena and Jones had a spot on the Jazz's bench throughout the Rocky Mountain Revue, where he worked as an assistant coach and had a voice in meetings.

"It's like going from a basic math class to a calculus class," Jones said, adding, "We all, as coaches, have our own personality, but I'd say we'll be running a very large percentage of what [the Jazz] do."

The Jazz have made use of the D-League twice with C.J. Miles, sending the young guard to their old affiliates in Albuquerque, N.M., and Boise, Idaho. The possibilities should only increase with the Jazz able to keep their players so close to home.

"I can't promise anything the Jazz will do," Fredman said. "I can promise I'll ask."

Kevin O'Connor, the Jazz's senior vice president of basketball operations, sees a mutually beneficial relationship. The Jazz will have an edge on player development and scouting compared with other NBA teams, with an affiliate just 40 miles down Interstate 15.

At the same time, the Flash's profile will only grow every time the Jazz send a player down.

"I think the people there are going to make it successful,'' O'Connor said. "How quickly that comes to be, I don't know."

Owner with aspirations

As much as the D-League is about developing players and coaches for the next level, Andersen also is out to show what he can do.

Back in February, the 29-year-old owner walked into a meeting with a business plan the likes of which the D-League had never seen regarding ticket sales and sponsorship commitments.

"We're trying to make it so that it's more than what people historically have thought of as minor league,'' Andersen said.

Forget that the average D-League player makes $24,000, or that 11 teams have moved or folded in league history, or that games in the past have been played before hundreds of fans and thousands of empty seats.

Andersen, who made his millions in developing and selling the software company uSight, spells out goals on one wall of the Flash's offices in Provo:

To sell out every game at McKay Events Center. To lead the league in sponsorship revenue. To win the D-League championship. To have the public know the Flash's brand. To have the best fan experience in basketball.

So far, the Flash have sold more than 3,000 season tickets and signed four companies to three-year sponsorship deals. They have billboards up along I-15, have staffed tables at local events including the Revue, and will soon air their first TV commercial.

"If I have to hire 6,500 sales reps to get 6,500 people in the arena, we'll do it,'' Andersen said.

Dan Reed, president of the D-League, said: "I really do think the Utah franchise, along with a couple other of our new franchises, are showing the way in terms of the potential of the D-League."

A club rugby player at Brigham Young, Andersen views the Flash as Utah County's team. It's a market of Jazz fans who don't necessarily make the drive to Salt Lake for games; Andersen has heard a line that the Jazz draw better from Boise than Utah County.

The Flash's ticket prices should be attractive to families in the county. At the same time, Andersen is setting up corporate boxes and offering courtside seats with waiter service. They are the twin forces at work in a county reporting 4 percent annual population growth.

"Ten years ago, this wouldn't have worked here,'' Andersen said. "But with the growth and the way things have gone, now the market's in a position where I think it's ideally situated."

Andersen also is committed to the long haul in the D-League, where he sits on the equivalent of a board of directors with three other owners.

Whether it's the Jazz or another team, Andersen has a goal in mind for the future. It's part of the reason Fredman promised Andersen's wife he would do everything to ensure her husband never lost his youthful enthusiasm.

"I'd like to own an NBA big-league team someday,'' Andersen said, "and I think that will probably happen at some point."

An iconic arena

One of Fredman's biggest disappointments in watching Jazz guard Derek Fisher leave this summer was losing out on the chance to demonstrate to him what a model D-League franchise could be.

"I was going to be able to show the president of the players association,'' Fredman said, "that a minor-league team can be run first-class and it's not a punishment."

That could have led to a change in rules allowing veteran players to make the equivalent of a baseball rehab start in the minors.

Andersen, meanwhile, is betting so much on the D-League that the Flash are set to be the lead tenants of a potentially wondrous arena designed by famed architect Frank Gehry.

It's part of his proposed 85-acre, Gehry-designed residential and commercial development (with a wakeboarding lake) along I-15 near Point of the Mountain in Lehi.

A concept model sits adjacent to Andersen's office with wood-block buildings waiting for Gehry's imprint. The arena is a piece of corrugated metal located next to the highway.

The development would boast the state's tallest building - a 450-foot hotel - but the 10,000- to 12,000-seat Gehry arena might be its icon. One idea being discussed, Andersen said, is to sink the arena's seating bowl and make the roof accessible to mountain bikers.

The project is a place "for anyone who appreciates the outdoors, for anyone who appreciates what sports is," Andersen said. The hope is to break ground in summer 2009, with the arena opening 18 months after that.

The Flash, however, could be forgiven for thinking that day is a lifetime away. Their immediate goals are to sell out opening night, draft the right prospects come November and build awareness about the team. The key might be that commercial stashed on Andersen's hard drive.

"I tell everyone it's the most fun thing I've ever done,'' he said.

rsiler@sltrib.com

Celtics

Ainge's BYU ties lead to affiliation

The Jazz aren't the Flash's only NBA affiliate. So are the Boston Celtics, thanks to executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge's connections to the area from his BYU days.

Ainge said he wouldn't be reluctant to send players even though the Flash are so connected to the Jazz and so removed from Boston.

"I am told they will pattern much of what they do after the Jazz,'' Ainge wrote in an e-mail. "I can't think of better people to pattern an organization after. They are a model for other franchises in hard work and teamwork. I'm excited about our affiliation with the Flash."

The Celtics overhauled their roster in the Kevin Garnett trade, but still have a number of young players who are D-League eligible in Glen "Big Baby" Davis, Gabe Pruitt, Leon , Brandon Wallace and Rajon Rondo.

- Ross Siler

Utah Flash

Owner: Brandt Andersen

Coach: Brad Jones

General manager: Dave Fredman

Arena: McKay Events Center, Utah Valley State College

Home opener: Nov. 27 against Dakota Wizards

NBA affiliates: Utah Jazz, Boston Celtics

Other expansion teams: Iowa Energy (Des Moines), Fort Wayne (Ind.) Mad Ants, Rio Grande Valley Vipers (Hidalgo, Texas)

Orem-bound?

The NBA allows teams to assign rookies or second-year players to D-League affiliates. Those players can be sent down up to two at a time and up to three times each a season. A total of 24 players were assigned by 19 teams in the 2006-07 season.

We look at the odds for each eligible Jazz player of making the trip to Orem at least once this season.

KYRYLO FESENKO

Odds: 99 percent

Barring an injury to Mehmet Okur or Jarron Collins, Fesenko is going to have a hard time cracking the rotation. He's only 20 and his offensive game is limited at best. Not only is playing time available in Orem, but Fesenko also is open to the prospect of playing there.

MORRIS ALMOND

Odds: 60 percent

If the Jazz start placing Almond on the inactive list more than they want, the Flash become an option to get him minutes. It's also a way to alleviate a logjam of shooting guards with Gordan Giricek, Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Miles and Almond.

RONNIE BREWER

Odds: 40 percent

The word around the Flash is the Jazz would have sent Brewer to the D-League last season had the affiliate been closer to home. If Brewer struggles for a stretch or falls out of favor, he might be ticketed to Orem for a couple of games.

PAUL MILLSAP

Odds: 5 percent

Millsap's role more than likely will expand from the 18 minutes a game he played as a rookie. However, should he get injured, the Jazz could send Millsap to the Flash for a game to get up to speed.