NBA commissioner David Stern said Monday he's "optimistic" that the NBA and the players' association can work out a deal that would turn the National Basketball Developmental League into a true minor league.
In a teleconference call with reporters, Stern said the league has proposed the issue as part of ongoing collective bargaining negotiations with the players.
"The absence of a firm-footed, successful development league is something that has gnawed at me over the years," Stern said. "I'm not here to say that's a guaranteed outcome of our collective bargaining, but I am here to say this it's something that has been put forth by us with some forcefulness and now we'll have to await the outcome of collective bargaining."
Under the proposed model, NBA teams would be allowed to send their young players down to an affiliated NBDL team.
"I hope our development league ultimately will be a place where youngsters could be assigned in their early years in the league," Stern said.
"In a perfect world, I personally would like to see a 15-team development league where, let's say, two teams could share a development team."
A call to players' association spokesman Dan Wasserman late Monday night was not returned.
Stern also revealed Monday that the NBA has tied a proposal for a 20-year-old age limit and the elimination of the injured list to the proposal for a true minor league. However, he wouldn't speculate on the chances that an age limit would be passed as part of the new agreement.
"I think the two [the age limit and the NBDL] could work independently," Stern said, "but they've been proposed collectively."
Once the league and the players' association agree on a new collective bargaining agreement, Stern said he'd try to move as fast as possible to implement the new league.
In possible preparation for an agreement, the NBA announced on Monday the addition of four new NBDL teams in Tulsa, Albuquerque; Fort Worth, and Austin. The addition of four new teams in the southwest marks the NBDL's first expansion outside the southeast and appears to be the surest sign yet that a true minor league is in the wings.
Currently the league has teams in Columbus, Roanoke, Asheville, Huntsville, Fayetteville and Fort Myers. The expansion to Fort Worth is the first time the NBDL has set up shop in a major city with an NBA team nearby.
On Monday, Stern said he's trying to develop a "national footprint" for the league and that there is a possibility that NBDL teams could be placed in larger cities if the Fort Worth team is a success.
Stern mentioned New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Detroit as possible homes for NBDL teams in the future. The commissioner said that he's already received interest from investors in those cities and expected to have discussions with them in the future.
Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.