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G League’s NAZ Suns to leave Prescott Valley, move to Phoenix area

Suns guard Ty Jerome makes his debut with the Northern Arizona Suns on Tuesday, Nov. 26 at the Findlay Toyota Center in Prescott Valley, Arizona. (Matt Hinshaw/NAZ Suns)

The Northern Arizona Suns will be moving south, leaving Prescott Valley for a to-be-determined site in the Phoenix metro area, the town said in a release Tuesday.

“It’s premature to say anything definitive, but due to the economic realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have begun to explore moving the Northern Arizona Suns closer to our parent club in Phoenix,” the team said in a statement Wednesday.

The NAZ Suns debuted in Prescott Valley at the Findlay Toyota Center in 2016 after previously operating in California as the Bakersfield Jam for 10 years.

The Phoenix Suns moved into a hybrid operation agreement with the Bakersfield franchise in 2014 before purchasing it outright and moving to Arizona. That put the Phoenix team in full control of its G League team.

Moving the minor league team closer to Phoenix will allow it to cut down on the hour-plus travel time for players who often shuttle between the two teams.

Two-way players and developmental youngsters like current rookie Jalen Lecque frequently move between the Suns, to work out with the NBA squad, and the G League team, which allows them to build up game experience.

In or closer to the Phoenix area, the G League team’s players will also be able to better utilize the under-construction Suns practice facility at Camelback Road and 44th Street, which is north of downtown Phoenix.

“As you might imagine, the impact that the global pandemic has had on the sports and entertainment industry has forced our organization to evaluate how we manage our business including the streamlining of operations,” Suns senior vice president of public affairs Maria Baier stated in the town of Prescott Valley’s press release. “Sadly, when the 2020‐21 G‐League season tips off, the team will be playing at a location, to be determined, in the Phoenix metro area, allowing us to share efficiencies and resources with the rest of the Suns organization.

“Please know our time in Prescott Valley is filled with many special memories. We found a loyal, supportive fan base that made our organization, its players, coaches and staff feel welcome, and we are eternally grateful for all the support. Unfortunately, without the ability to host live events, the economic realities are stark and the Phoenix Suns organization had to make difficult choices and apply cost-cutting measures to our G-League franchise. As always, we wish you and the entire Prescott Valley community well.”

One venue capable of hosting G League games is Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, which was set to house the Phoenix Mercury’s 2020 season before the pandemic.

Also known as the Madhouse on McDowell, the Suns’ original home from 1968-1992 was also prepared to host NBA games after the coronavirus pause delayed the resumption of the regular season. That allowed for scheduled renovations for the NBA and WNBA teams’ home, Talking Stick Resort Arena, to continue as planned.

There is time to find a new home. The G League season generally tips off at the start of November, but that could be tentative amid the pandemic.

Before the NAZ Suns became the core tenants of the Findlay Toyota Center, the Prescott Valley arena hosted the minor league hockey Arizona Sundogs (Central Hockey League) from 2006-2014; the Arizona Outlaws (American Indoor Football); and the Arizona Adrenaline (American Indoor Football Association/Indoor Football League) in 2008 and 2011.

The town’s mayor, Kell Palguta, said Prescott Valley is hopeful it can find a new tenant.

“The goals and commitment of the arena staff will be to continue to put on great entertainment and events for our community,” Palguta said in a statement. “We hope to have a long‐term tenant in place as soon as the opportunity presents itself, perhaps even another minor league hockey team.”

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