JACKSONVILLE — The Orlando Magic want their own minor-league affiliate within the state of Florida, and Wednesday night's preseason exhibition against the New Orleans Pelicans offered the city of Jacksonville an informal audition for a potential NBA Development League franchise.
"This would be a very good market, because obviously there's a first-class facility in Jacksonville," Magic CEO Alex Martins said before tipoff at Veterans Memorial Arena.
"You've got a strong market to draw from in terms of its population, and in terms of its proximity to Orlando, a two-hour drive is almost perfect for us. It would be at the top of our list, or close to the top of our list, in terms of choices."
Large expanses of the upper deck were curtained off, and the rest of the arena was about 60 percent full.
But even a sellout wouldn't have solved perhaps the biggest obstacle to having a D-League team in Jacksonville — or anywhere else in Florida.
There aren't any other D-League teams within Florida or the Southeast outside of Texas. The D-League likes to cluster groups of teams within the same region to reduce travel costs and promote geographic rivalries.
Over the summer, Dan Reed, the president of the D-League, told the Orlando Sentinel that expansion will occur eventually, but he stopped short of saying that new teams will be based in the Southeast.
The Magic want a hybrid relationship with a D-League team. In that kind of arrangement, the Magic would run — and pay for — the D-League team's basketball operations, while a separate group would own the franchise and run its non-basketball operations.
The Magic's D-League affiliate for the 2013-14 season is the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. The Magic share the Mad Ants with the Charlotte Bobcats, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Memphis Grizzlies and Milwaukee Bucks. That arrangement and Fort Wayne's distance from Orlando makes the Mad Ants a less-than-ideal affiliate for the Magic.
Martins said the Magic are "about to have some conversations with some potential owners of D-League teams" with whom the Magic could form a partnership.
Magic coach Jacque Vaughn employed a starting lineup of Jameer Nelson at point guard, Arron Afflalo at shooting guard, Maurice Harkless at small forward, Kyle O'Quinn at power forward and Nik Vucevic at center.
"I just want to see Kyle and Nik together," Vaughn said. "Both of them are really good passers. I think when you see us play a little bit, that'll be part of our offense, where bigs are essential. Hopefully, it gives us some height inside."
NBA legends Julius Erving, George Gervin, Rick Barry, David Thompson and Jacksonville University alumnus Artis Gilmore attended the game and sat courtside near the Magic bench. Vucevic shook Erving's hand before the opening tipoff.