Phoenix Suns seal deal on G League team for 2024-25 NBA season

The Phoenix Suns unveil details of the team’s forthcoming G League franchise, as owner Mat Ishbia continues to execute his vision for the organization. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – From a new $100 million practice facility for the Phoenix Mercury to the assembly of Suns Live, Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia continues to establish his seal on the franchise more than one year into his tenure.

In his latest move Wednesday, the Suns announced the organization acquired the right to own and operate an NBA G League team starting during the 2024-25 NBA season. The public will decide the team’s name through a contest and it will be located in Phoenix.

Before the move, Phoenix was the only team in the NBA without a G League affiliate after selling the Northern Arizona Suns in 2021 to the Detroit Pistons, who rebranded the team to the Motor City Cruise. Ishbia put this acquisition at the top of his to-do list from the moment he became owner.

“Bringing a G League team to Phoenix was one of my first priorities as owner,” Ishbia said in a statement Wednesday. “Adding a G League team creates another area for us to compete to be the best and will be a vital tool to help develop players and coaches. Just like the Suns and Mercury, our G League team will serve as a community asset and make a positive impact on and off the court.”

Led by Robert Sarver at the time, Suns ownership purchased and moved the Northern Arizona Suns to Prescott Valley in 2016. The team planned to move to the greater Phoenix area for the 2021 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic but swiftly sold the team to the Detroit Pistons.

Before Phoenix’s purchase and sale, the team was known as the Long Beach Jam of the American Basketball Association. Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman starred on the squad in an attempt to make a potential comeback to the NBA.

The Jam posted a 24-7 record and won the 2003 ABA Championship in their first season but fell short the following year with a loss in the quarterfinals to the Utah Snowbears. Two years later, the team withdrew from the league due to the instability of the ABA and a lack of attendance.

Long Beach moved to the NBA’s Development League in 2006. The name changed from Long Beach Jam to Bakersfield Jam, and the faithful grew behind a handful of former NBA players. As the team continued to play season after season, the Suns implemented the ability to have a one-to-one relationship with the Bakersfield Jam, which allowed the Suns to run the basketball operations side starting in 2014. The prior system allowed various entities, even some not being related to basketball, to have a say in the team’s operations.

Much of the Suns’ new hybrid system emphasized improving player development and catching up to other G League affiliates who were reaping the rewards of the system.

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Bakersfield played for five seasons and posted a combined record of 65-127 before moving to Detroit and rebranding as The Motor City Cruise under the ownership of the Pistons and leaving the Suns as the only team without a G League affiliate.

Three years later, the Suns are back in the mix again.

Shareef Abdur-Rahim, the NBA G League president, shared his excitement for the Suns having a G League affiliate once again.

“We are honored to welcome Mat Ishbia and the Phoenix Suns to the NBA G League, and are thrilled to achieve our long-stated goal that each of the 30 NBA teams has an NBA G League affiliate,” Abdur-Rahim said in a statement.

“The NBA G League has never been more valuable to NBA teams than it is today, and the Suns’ investment only reinforces that reality. I can’t wait to join fans in the Valley next season to enjoy the unique brand of NBA G League basketball.”

The expansion of the G League to include the Suns’ newest squad will push the league to 32 teams with each NBA team having a direct G League affiliate. The other two teams include the G League Ignite, an organization designed to help prospects prepare for the NBA draft, and the Capitanes de Ciudad de México, the only G League team outside of the United States and Canada.

A current NBA player who knows all about the G League is Suns guard Saben Lee. When the Northern Arizona Suns transitioned to the Motor City Cruise in 2021, Lee shined in his first season. He averaged 24 points, 7.2 assists and 2.3 steals per game in 36.8 minutes of action during the 2021-22 season.

With the implication of two-way contracts (players who can play a set number of games with their NBA team, in addition to the G League affiliate), it makes life easier for players like Lee to see people watching him play.

Nonetheless, Lee isn’t the only highlight of the G League. All-Stars like Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton, Houston Rockets guard Fred VanVleet and Indiana Pacers forward Pascal Siakam are notable G League players who turned into some of the best NBA players at their respective positions.

With every team set to have a G League affiliate, Lee acknowledged the benefit it brings of allowing more players to have eyes on them for the right reasons.

“I think it’s good,” Lee said after Wednesday’s game. “I personally can’t get any more two ways (contracts) but I think that definitely helps for people coming up. My time in the G League definitely helped me a lot and just having more exposure … I feel like it’s great for G league players.”

Hayden Cilley HAY-din SIL-lee (he/him)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Hayden Cilley expects to graduate in December 2024 with a master’s degree in mass communication. Cilley covered the Phoenix Mercury in 2022 for The Next Hoops and is writing and podcasting about the Mercury for PHNX Sports.