The Nuggets are expected to finally get a G League affiliate of their own for the 2021/22 season, according to Mike Singer of The Denver Post, who reports that the franchise is on track to enter a partnership with the Grand Rapids Drive. The agreement won’t become official until the end of the season, Singer adds.
Last season, Denver was one of two NBA teams – along with Portland – that didn’t have a G League affiliate of its own, while the Drive, based in Michigan, were affiliated with the Pistons.
The Suns subsequently sold their G League affiliate to the Pistons, who are relocating the Northern Arizona Suns to Detroit and rebranding them as the Motor City Cruise for the ’21/22 campaign. That left the Drive without an NBA partner, freeing them up for the Nuggets. Phoenix and Portland now project to be the only teams without NBAGL affiliates next season.
According to Singer, the Nuggets have attempted for years to set up a G League affiliate, exploring cities like Las Vegas, Seattle, Nashville, San Diego, and Omaha, but have always run into roadblocks.
Partnering with Grand Rapids won’t be geographically convenient – there are no plans for the Drive to relocate to Colorado, per Singer – but it will at least give the Nuggets a place to send and develop their young prospects and two-way players. In recent years, Denver has had to either keep those youngsters with the NBA squad or rely on various other G League teams to play and develop them.
Because the infrastructure and an ownership group is already in place for the Drive, the Nuggets will have a hybrid relationship with the team, assuming control of the basketball operations department after buying in for roughly $9MM, Singer explains.
While those hybrid relationships used to be more common, the Rockets and the Rio Grande Valley Vipers are the only other active one now, according to Singer. Most NBA clubs have bought their own G League franchises or established expansion teams. That’s still an option the Nuggets could pursue eventually, either by trying to buy and relocate the Drive, or by continuing their attempts to set up a more local expansion team.