Entering the first year of a rebuild, or as the Detroit Pistons would call it, a “restoration”, the fourth-youngest franchise in the league opted out of participating in the 2020-21 NBA G League season. Looking back at it, that decision was likely a mistake. Young players on the roster such as Sekou Doumbouya, Saben Lee, Deividas Sirvydis, and even Dennis Smith Jr. missed out on the opportunity for consistent playing time and an impactful role that comes from spending time in the G League.
But the Pistons didn’t choose to not participate in the G League because they didn’t value it. They spent last season assembling the foundation of the Motor City Cruise, the franchise’s new G League team that will play a whooping five minutes from where both they and the Detroit Pistons practice. The Grand Rapids Drive, the former affiliate of the Pistons, played two and a half hours away. The difference in distance was less than ideal.
The Cruise will play the franchise’s first home game in history on Thursday night at the Wayne State Fieldhouse, the arena they partnered with Wayne State University to build. They played their inaugural game on Saturday against the Cleveland Charge. The franchise immediately saw the benefits of having a G League team back in their program.
Saben Lee, the Pistons’ second-round draft pick from the 2020 NBA Draft exploded for 42 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, and four steals in a Cruise victory. Luka Garza, this year’s second-round pick followed suit with 24 points and eight rebounds. Other Piston prospects such as two-way player Jamorko Pickett, Deividas Sirvydis, and Derrick Walton Jr. all played big minutes as well.
“It’s a lot of excitement for me for various reasons, obviously being here and being from here,” said Walton, who played high school basketball in Michigan at Chandler Park Academy, played college basketball at the University of Michigan, and his most recent NBA stint came in the 2019-20 season with the Pistons.
Walton isn’t the only member of the franchise with ties to the state. The Cruise’s first-round draft pick, Jaylen Johnson played high school basketball at Ypsilanti High School, where he was named a finalist for Mr. Basketball in his senior season. President and general manager Rob Murphy is also a Detroit native and spent the last 10 years at Eastern Michigan before joining the Cruise.
The Cruise will play an integral part in helping develop what is still one of the youngest teams in the league. There are young players on Detroit’s roster that aren’t in the rotation who will benefit from practicing and playing with the Cruise throughout the year, until their time is called to join the main roster. It’s also already proven to be a safe space for players returning from injury to get their feet wet as they work their way back to full strength. It’s where the number one pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, Cade Cunningham, first practiced before he made his debut with the Pistons as he recovered from an ankle injury. It’s where Isaiah Livers, another second-round pick of Detroit’s, will likely spend a good part of the season as he recovers from foot surgery. The same can be said for Chris Smith, one of Detroit’s two-way players who is also recovering from an injury he sustained at the college level.
Player development is only part of the mission of the Motor City Cruise. At Media Day, multiple members of the team, including Walton and Johnson spoke about the desire to win a championship, a goal not only for themselves but for the team as well. With the roster the Cruise have in place(the team just acquired another NBA veteran in big man Cheick Diallo), they project to have a legitimate shot to do just that.