In NBA’s arms race, Pistons give themselves an edge by adding G League team to first-rate trio of facilities

There was a time in the NBA – and not all that long ago – where wide competency gaps existed from one franchise’s front office to the next. But as the stakes have been raised – franchises selling for $2 billion, a new wave of owners, vastly expanded resources and far more manpower (and brainpower) staffing executive suites – the competency gaps have shrunk.

So every little manufactured advantage counts.

The Pistons gave themselves a nice boost this week with the purchase of their own G League franchise and the coming relocation of that yet-to-be-named team to the campus of Wayne State University, where a new arena awaits it.

So in a tight circle amid the heart of Detroit’s reimagining, the Pistons now have a footprint in three shiny new facilities: Little Caesars Arena, a three-year-old showplace, at the center of District Detroit; the Henry Ford Pistons Performance Center, a spectacular year-old practice facility and team headquarters, a mile to the north in the New Center area; and, in between them, the coming home of their G League franchise under construction on the campus of Wayne State University.

“I don’t know of any other team that has the new facilities and also has their (G League) team in the same city,” Dwane Casey said at Wednesday’s announcement. “It’s a huge plus, recruiting wise, for free agents to see the program, the way it’s built from top to bottom, nothing but first class.”

The recruiting edge that Casey referenced can be applied at both ends of the spectrum – veteran free agents and those looking to get a foot in the door. In the pursuit of NBA free agents, when the money is in the same ballpark then living conditions come into play. Word travels in the tight little community of NBA players and, already, word is out that the PPC is a jewel. It’s the place players spend more of their time than anywhere else during the season. To have the amenities the Pistons, with the full support of owner Tom Gores, packed into it – 24-hour chef service, a barbershop, every imaginable physical conditioning and therapy aid, etc. – gives them unique drawing power.

A week before the March suspension of the season, the Pistons claimed much-traveled veteran Jordan McRae on waivers. He landed at Metro Airport a few hours before the March 4 game with Oklahoma City and was whisked to Little Caesars Arena just in time to throw on a uniform and score 15 points. The next morning, after stepping into the PPC for the first time, he was still getting his bearings.

“The practice facility and the arena,” he said, scanning the breadth of the PPC as he spoke, “I’ve been to a lot of places. This is top notch. If this is a place where I could make a home, I would love to.”

So, yeah, veteran free agents torn between one offer and another take that sort of thing into consideration.

But don’t discount the impact it can have at the other end of the spectrum, either. On draft night, when the second round is under way and front office staffers start contacting agents for players they like who are in danger of going undrafted, the Pistons will have a compelling sales pitch with the twin lures of their remarkable practice facility and the proximity of their G League team.

The Pistons signed Louis King as an undrafted rookie minutes after last June’s draft and they think he’s got a shot to grow into a legitimate NBA player. While the Pistons were coming to terms with King, new general manager Troy Weaver – in his role as Oklahoma City’s assistant GM – was part of the pitch to another undrafted prospect, Arizona State freshman Luguentz Dort.

The Thunder’s G League affiliate, the Blue, literally play their games across the street from Chesapeake Energy Arena. Dort went from undrafted to starting for a Thunder team that compiled a 40-24 record before the shutdown and goes into the Orlando bubble relaunch in position to earn a top-four seed in the competitive Western Conference. The ability to practice with the Thunder in the morning and a few hours later play for the Blue that night helped accelerate Dort’s readiness.

“He started off with the G League, we had a couple of injuries and he went over with the Thunder and he’s a starter now,” Weaver said. “He was able to get his confidence up and develop and learn the system and had a seamless transition to the Thunder and now he’s playing tremendous basketball. We have an example right there in front of us today.”

Casey is as enthusiastic a proponent of the G League experience as any NBA coach – and especially of having the franchise share the same practice facility, as the Pistons and their G League team will, and play their games a quick cab ride away. He saw it firsthand with players like Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and Norm Powell in Toronto.

And he knows how much more appealing it becomes for the players when a G League assignment means walking across the hall instead of catching a connecting flight to an affiliate a time zone away or drive across the state and back several times a month – as Pistons players shuttling back and forth to Grand Rapids have had to do – to maximize practice time and suit the needs of the NBA team.

“It’s a little bit inconvenient because you ask a young man to practice and jump in a car 2½ hours,” Casey said. “Grand Rapids was good for our program, but this is going to be so much easier. Say we have a player that needs to get a rehab workout or practice in. He doesn’t have to go 2½ hours. He can go out of the practice, our training room, and into the G League affiliate. The G League coaches’ office is going to be right there. There’s so many pluses by having them right here under the same roof.”

Every little plus helps in today’s hypercompetitive NBA environment. The Pistons this week gave themselves a pretty big plus.