Reports of a new NBA affiliation for the Grand Rapids Drive emerged on Thursday, weeks after the minor league franchise announced that a new partnership might be imminent.
The Denver Post reported on Thursday that the Denver Nuggets are expected to partner with the Drive, serving as its new NBA G League affiliate beginning next year.
An affiliation means that the Nuggets can send players directly to the Drive for development and rehabilitation purposes, in addition to designing its own player development system.
The Drive, which has opted out of this year’s G League season based on COVID-19 concerns, will no longer be affiliated with the Detroit Pistons after this season.
The announcement is expected to be made official after the conclusion of this season, which wraps up in early March, the Denver Post reported, citing anonymous “league sources.”
Drive Chief Operating Officer Rob Johnson declined to confirm the potential affiliation in a statement to MiBiz. However, he said the team is committed to playing in Grand Rapids.
“While we cannot confirm any affiliate updates at this time, we can confirm that we’ll be back in Grand Rapids for the 2021-22 NBA G League season and any additional info will be coming out later this year,” Johnson said.
After the Drive — which is owned by a group of investors under the banner the SSJ Group — declined to relocate to Detroit to be closer to its NBA affiliate, the Pistons purchased the Northern Arizona Suns, the G League affiliate for the Phoenix Suns and renamed it the Motor City Cruise. The Cruise will play its home games at a new 70,000-square-foot arena at Wayne State University when it debuts next season.
The Drive, which plays at the DeltaPlex Arena & Conference Center in Walker, would have been the only team in the G League without an NBA affiliate while the Phoenix Suns, Portland Trailblazers and Denver Nuggets stood as the only NBA teams that did not have an affiliate within the developmental league.
The Denver Nuggets surfaced occasionally in 2019 when the Drive was working through the fallout of losing its affiliation with the Detroit Pistons after the 20-21 season. Drive President Steve Jbara noted at the time that Denver was one of the few NBA teams still without a G League affiliate.
Also, when the Pistons purchased its new minor league affiliate over the summer, G League president Shareef Abdur-Rahim spoke on a media conference call about the separation between the Drive and Pistons. Denver’s name came up in that conversation, as well.
“We still have three NBA teams now, with Phoenix, with Portland and Denver, that don’t have direct relationships with G League teams, don’t own their own G League teams,” Abdur-Rahim said at the time.
“There’s an opportunity for Grand Rapids. Grand Rapids has been a great G League city and fans there have supported our league. We look forward to them continuing to be a part of our league, continue to be a great city for us and there’s opportunity for other NBA players or assignment players to spend time in Grand Rapids.”
The Drive is also only one of two G League franchises that operate on a hybrid model, in which local ownership handles day-to-day operations of the organization while the NBA team funds and operates all aspects of basketball operations. Most teams in the G League are completely owned and operated by their NBA affiliate.
The potential Drive partnership would allow the Nuggets to jump right into the G League without building an organization from the ground up. It also gives Nuggets players a central minor league destination instead of sending its development players down to whichever G League franchise might accept them.
However, the distance between Grand Rapids and Denver could hurt the symbiosis between the Nuggets and the Drive, as many of the NBA and G League affiliates prefer to maintain close geographical ties.