Troy Weaver and Dwane Casey know firsthand how beneficial it will be for the Detroit Pistons to have a G League team within close proximity.
As a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s front office, Weaver (now the Pistons’ GM) was present when their G League affiliate, the Tulsa 66ers, moved to Oklahoma City and became the Blue in 2014.
There were immediate benefits to having their G League team in the same city, Weaver said. It allowed young players to go between Thunder and Blue facilities with relative ease, compared to the 90-minute drive from Tulsa.
[Name the new Gatorade League team: Check out our suggestions] This past season, the enhanced connection between the two teams helped the development of Lou Dort, who signed a two-way contract with the Thunder last summer after going undrafted. Injuries opened a path for Dort to be called up and receive extended minutes with the Thunder, and he ended up starting 21 games before the NBA shut down in March. The Thunder signed him to a multi-year deal in June.
“He must’ve played 24 games with our G League team and was able to get his confidence up and develop and learn the system,” Weaver said. “Then he had a seamless transition to the Thunder. And now he’s playing tremendous basketball.”
As head coach of the Toronto Raptors from 2011-18, Casey oversaw the development of several players who split time between the Raptors and Raptors 905, their G League affiliate located in the Toronto metropolitan area,- Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet being among them. The two teams share a practice facility, enabling Siakam, VanVleet and others to practice with the Raptors in the morning and Raptors 905 in the same afternoon.
That degree of collaboration has helped the Raptors become renowned for their player development. Like the Raptors and Thunder, the Pistons will soon have their own G League team close by.
The Pistons have agreed to purchase the Northern Arizona Suns, the team announced Wednesday. The team will be re-branded and play in Wayne State’s new basketball arena, which is being constructed at Warren and Trumbull; it will open before the 2021-22 season.
The Grand Rapids Drive, which moved from Springfield, Massachusetts, to Grand Rapids in 2014 and have had a “hybrid” affiliation with the Pistons since then, will continue with the Pistons through the 2020-21 season. Afterward, the Drive will be independent, barring any affiliation, ownership or related changes.
The Drive previously announced that they did not plan to relocate to Detroit. So, the Pistons acquired their own G League franchise instead.
It was a priority for owner Tom Gores and vice chairman Arn Tellem. The re-branded G League team will share the Pistons’ practice facility in Midtown, enabling a greater level of collaboration between the rosters. The practice facility, which opened in fall of 2019, already has a locker room designated for a G League team.
“We have a great partnership in Grand Rapids but we really felt, from two aspects, from a basketball standpoint, we needed to have our team, because as we build a young team, we have so many players that need to develop,” Tellem told reporters during a conference call Wednesday. “We felt it needed to be in close proximity to our NBA team in Detroit. And for us to further our community efforts, we saw the G League franchise as an opportunity to amplify our involvement in making a difference in the community. And our partnership with Wayne State does both of those things.”
In addition to paying rent to Wayne State to use its new $25 million, 700,000-square-foot, 3,000-seat facility, which the Pistons partnered with WSU to build, the team and WSU administrators will create programs and internship opportunities for students in various fields, including sports marketing, community relations, physical therapy, rehabilitation and sports and entertainment business operations.
Outside of its upside from a developmental standpoint, Casey also said having a G League team housed within the same facility will aid rehab efforts by veteran players. The Pistons will have three new facilities constructed within five year…