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Pistons bringing G League franchise to Detroit as part of new $25M facility at Wayne State

Grand Rapids Drive owners not interested in relocating

As first reported by Rod Beard of the Detroit News, the Detroit Pistons and Wayne State University have partnered on a new $25 million athletic facility that will be the home of the Pistons’ G League affiliate.

The Pistons confirmed the partnership and planned Detroit-based G League team in a release later Wednesday. The arena is less than two miles from Little Caesars Arena, and construction on the Wayne State facility could be completed in time for the 2021-22 basketball season.

That short trip would be convenient for the franchise and coaching staff as they look to coach up young players and have them available as convenient, while also sending down rookies to get playing time. Currently, the Pistons’ G League franchise the Grand Rapids Drive is a 2.5-hour trek to the DeltaPlex Arena in Walker, Michigan.

The Drive are independently owned apart from the Pistons, but the two groups have an affiliate agreement in place through the 2020-21 season. Drive team ownership released a statement indicating they were not interested in relocating out of Grand Rapids.

The Pistons’ statement says discussions with G League officials about a possible expansion franchise and the state of current affiliate the Drive are ongoing.

The agreement between the Pistons and Wayne State promises to bring around 20 G League games to the new arena per year as well as serve as a place to host Pistons summer camps and clinics, possible high school tournament games, AAU games and other basketball tournaments.

Partnering with a university also opens up the doors to education and internship programs in sports marketing, community relations, physical therapy, rehabilitation and sports and entertainment business operations, per the Pistons release.

Future of the Drive

If the Pistons start a new expansion team what does that mean for the Drive? There are two NBA teams who currently have no G League affiliate — the Denver Nuggets and the Portland Trailblazers. Neither, obviously, is located anywhere near Grand Rapids, but there could be interest in taking advantage of the infrastructure and fan base already in place instead of starting from scratch.

While the Pistons brass and coaches didn’t particularly like the distance between Grand Rapids and Detroit, not all teams seem as hung up on those logistics — at least for now.

The Atlanta Hawks have an affiliate in Erie, Pennsylvania, which is about 800 miles away. That’s nothing compared to the 1,800 miles between Sioux Falls, South Dakota and the beaches of Miami where the Skyforce and Heat have an affiliate agreement.

On a smaller scale, the Timberwolves are 250 miles away from their franchise in Des Moines, Iowa. The Fort Wayne Mad Ants play 126 miles away from Indianapolis and the home of the Pacers. The Celtics’ franchise is more than 100 miles away in Portland, Maine. Santa Cruz, California is 75 miles away from the Warriors’ home in San Francisco.

Perhaps the Drive could convince one of the franchises without a G League affiliate to partner up, or an existing team could find the Drive a more attractive opportunity.