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Phoenix Suns sell G League team to Detroit Pistons

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 Phoenix Suns announced Wednesday that they agreed to sell their G League team, currently branded as the Northern Arizona Suns, to the Detroit Pistons.

Before moving closer to the Pistons in 2021-22, the G League squad will move from Prescott Valley to the Phoenix area for the 2020-21 season. The location of the team is to-be-determined.

Earlier this month, Phoenix announced a move of the NAZ Suns out of Prescott Valley and closer to Phoenix, citing the coronavirus pandemic and economic issues for the decision.

On Wednesday, general manager James Jones said in a statement that the NBA team’s “ownership and management of the Northern Arizona Suns does not align with the Phoenix Suns’ strategic plan for player development over the next three-to-five years.”

Jones said via a bullet-point list that the 11-15 roster positions will be used to continue developing the team’s young players. The other points emphasized that the Suns’ focus remains on the development of the NBA roster and that young players will gain more value with the NBA squad than in the G League.

“We will maintain our emphasis on evaluating/scouting NBA G League players for future roster consideration,” Jones added.

The Suns join only the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers as NBA teams that don’t have a one-to-one relationship with a G League team. Twenty-six teams in the NBA own and operate their respective G League squads.

Under Jones, the Suns were one of few teams to not fully utilize their available two-way contracts: Those are generally used to develop players between the G League and the NBA teams, which could also give the NBA team’s roster two additional roster spots.

However, the team did use the G League team this year to give rookie Jalen Lecque, an undrafted player out of high school, the opportunity to earn playing time. He played in 33 games with 23 starts on the NAZ Suns but only appeared in six games with Phoenix.

Meanwhile, Detroit owner Tom Gores said the purchase by the Pistons should improve their organization.

“This is another important investment in our franchise and in the city of Detroit,” he said in a statement. “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 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.

The Detroit G League team expects to play in a new arena that is under construction on the campus of Wayne State, the Pistons said in their statement.

“It’s always bittersweet for a team to relocate, and I thank Robert Sarver and the Phoenix Suns for their time in this league and the fans in Northern Arizona for their ongoing commitment to the team,” said NBA G League President Shareef Abdur-Rahim. “I’m sure the fans in Detroit will welcome the team with open arms and I look forward to watching NBA G League basketball at Wayne State for seasons to come.”

Jones cited the following bullet-points for the decision to sell the Suns’ G League team:

— The Suns’ team priorities drive our decision-making which in this case is the development of the youngest roster in the NBA.

— Roster positions 11-15 is the focus of the organization’s developmental time and efforts.

— The teaching experience of the Phoenix Suns coaching staff operating within a shared set of guidelines creates an effective learning environment and growth opportunities for our players.

— The value of daily practice and the competition against NBA players provides significant improvement opportunities for developing players.

–We will maintain our emphasis on evaluating/scouting NBA G League players for future roster consideration.

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