The Detroit Pistons announced the purchase of the Northern Arizona Suns from the Phoenix Suns with the intent to move the team to play in the new arena being constructed on the Wayne State University campus for the 2021-22 G League season.
The Pistons’ current hybrid partnership with the Grand Rapids Drive, which is owned independently, will continue for the 2020-21 season. When the Pistons previously announced plans to house an NBA G League team on Wayne State’s campus and close to the team’s downtown arena in Detroit, Drive ownership made clear it had no interest in relocating and wanted to remain in West Michigan, approximately 150 miles from Detroit.
The Suns will maintain operations of the franchise until the move to Detroit is complete, according to a release from the Pistons, Suns and NBA G League.
“This is another important investment in our franchise and in the city of Detroit,” said Pistons owner Tom Gores. “Having an NBA G League team near our new performance center will be an advantage for our front office, our coaching staff and our young players. It will also generate more economic activity in the area and serve as a catalyst for additional development.”
The partnership with Wayne State and plans for a new G League franchise were first announced in May 2019. Plans include not just a G League team close to its parent franchise but also new programs and internship opportunities for various roles available to Wayne State students.
The Grand Rapids Drive released the following response regarding today’s announcement:
“The Drive stand committed to the city of Grand Rapids and we look forward to our continued future here in West Michigan within the NBA G League. We’ve begun discussions about the future of our affiliation; details of which we hope to have in the coming weeks. Our focus has been, and will continue to be, providing the people of West Michigan with a great professional basketball experience.”
The long-term viability of the Drive remains in question. There are only two NBA teams remaining without a current exclusive G League affiliation — the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers, and neither seems like a candidate to want a long-term partnership with a team based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Perhaps an independent team can thrive or the NBA will expand its nascent G League Select program to funnel the best high school players away from college and into a dedicated NBA development program.