I’m a huge nerd for player development. I’ll happily watch NBA bottom feeders or an under-the-radar college game just for the chance of seeing a player flash strides in their growth as a baller.
So when Mat Ishbia, the still-green governor of the Phoenix Suns, went on the record on his first official day “in office” about valuing player development to the extent of needing a G League program back at the Suns’ side, I was thrilled.
Ishbia, in an exclusive interview with PHNX beat reporter Gerald Bourguet, shared his thoughts:
“I’m big on player development... having a G League team seems to make a lot of sense... we are going to have one, because that’s the right thing to do to develop talent, to be able to build it. We gotta make it so it’s close to Phoenix, so therefore, they send the players up and down.”
To Ishbia’s key point about the G League counterpart being close to Phoenix, I crunched the numbers to find that 10 of the 28 affiliates (Portland is the only other team without a designated affiliate) are within 30 miles of their NBA counterpart while another 11 affiliates are between 30 and 100 miles.
In going through my suggestions for the Suns’ affiliate’s home base, I tried to stay within Arizona; as cool as a Mexico City affiliate would be, nearly 1,500 miles is just too far for the ease Ishbia seems to be looking for.
Prescott Valley, AZ — Findlay Toyota Center — 91.6 mi
More of a courtesy mention than anything, this was the home base for the Northern Arizona Suns for their few years active as a program. However, before the NAZ Suns were sold, there were already plans to bring the G squad into the metro Phoenix area, citing economic challenges posed by the pandemic.
There were some real benefits to being in Prescott Valley, like being the premiere attraction in the area; I can speak from firsthand experience that it’s a nice experience at the arena as well. However, travel up to Prescott is not as simple as Ishbia is maybe hoping for, and the altitude (Prescott is 4,280 feet higher than Phoenix) is maybe not ideal either.
Tucson, AZ — Tucson Arena — 113.0 mi
A courtesy mention that’s not all that viable, this would bring professional basketball to a city that views the Arizona Wildcats as their professionals.
This is the furthest option I’m presenting (though it’s less than an hour-long flight) and those familiar with the city know how tough having just one highway can be, so I can’t see Ishbia considering something like this too seriously, but there would be potential for a cool University of Arizona-to-Suns potential pipeline already started with Deandre Ayton.
Phoenix, AZ — Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum a.k.a. Madhouse on McDowell — 3.1 mi
Also a tiny bit of a courtesy mention, the big league Suns made the Madhouse their home for two and a half decades and has hosted Mercury games as recently as 2020.
By way of being so close to the big league team, the G team would have access to all the Verizon 5G Performance Center amenities and training which would both standardize the levels of “minor”- and “major”-league development as well as keeping guys familiar with the folks they’ll work with as opposed to switching coaching groups to such a dramatic extent.
Tempe, AZ — unnamed future Coyotes arena (expected to open in 2026) — 9.8 mi
While petitions have dictated that the construction of this arena — and surrounding Tempe Entertainment District — will be voted on by the City of Tempe later in May 2023, I don’t see any reason it won’t go through; most of the funding is privatized and handled by the Coyotes and what isn’t is set to be paid for by the district itself.
The trouble in housing a G League team there in Tempe comes with the Coyotes likely wanting exclusivity with their fancy new home. They’ll have operations and training facilities within the district as well, which may prevent arena sharing though money talks in this industry and Ishbia’s already shown a willingness to flaunt his.
I will note that this is my favorite option due to the likely turnout of ASU students you would get from being so close to campus as well as the mere fact of G League games being much more affordable than NBA games. Plus, nothing like a shiny new arena to play in.
Glendale, AZ — Desert Diamond Arena (formerly Gila River Arena) — 18.6 mi
The home that the Coyotes are leaving may be in play now that it’s not much more than a concert venue.
Though it hasn’t ever been used as a permanent home for any basketball program, the arena has been used for Arizona high school basketball events as well as Harlem Globetrotters appearances. When in “basketball mode,” the arena seats up to 18,300 spectators with a seating arrangement that makes you feel like you’re on top of the action.
Where would you want a Suns’ G League team?
This poll is closed
Findlay Toyota Center in Prescott Valley
"Madhouse on McDowell" in Phoenix
Tempe Entertainment District
Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale
While there’s no indicator of what the team would be called, there’s a pretty fun and informal suggestion box on my Twitter for you to peruse. My favorite suggestion so far is Phoenix Firebirds, which was the name for a Minor League Baseball team as recently as 1997.