"It is one of the best facilities in the world," said Pistons owner Tom Gores. David Guralnick, The Detroit News
They’re making themselves at home now in Detroit.
But if the Pistons would like some company, they know it’ll take more than that.
It’ll take more than the airy new $90 million practice facility that officially opened for business Monday in the city’s New Center area, bringing the Pistons’ 250-plus employees downtown under one roof and completing a move from Auburn Hills that began with the team playing its games at Little Caesars Arena the past two seasons.
The league’s largest training facility brings the team’s corporate side together with its basketball operations in one building for the first time in more than 25 years, which is no small thing. The four-story building boasts 185,000 square feet of space and “every amenity known to an NBA team,” according to Pistons coach Dwane Casey.
But it’ll take more than any of the perks you’ll find inside, from the practice courts to the players’ lounge, the film room or the full-service kitchen, a barbershop and a sensory-deprivation tank. And it’ll take more than a partnership with Henry Ford Health System that began 3½ years ago when Pistons vice chairman Arn Tellem sat down for breakfast with Wright Lassiter, Henry Ford’s president and CEO.
Next door is another new building — the William Clay Ford Center for Athletic Medicine — and the 125-foot enclosed walkway that connects the two “represents something more significant than a physical structure,” Lassiter said. “It’s a partnership that we expect to last a long time.”
'Detroit basketball epicenter'
He views this new performance center as a “trendsetter,” while Tellem hails this new home at the corner of Second Avenue and Amsterdam Street “a total game-changer for our team, our organization and community.” Coupled with the LCA and the planned new Wayne State arena where the Pistons’ Gatorade League team will play starting in 2021, they’ve created what Tellem refers to as “the epicenter of Detroit basketball.”
It’s also a semi-public space, with a Plum Market and a Blink Fitness scheduled to open in the building this winter and plans to host some 200 events over the next year or so.
“It's an interaction center,” Gores said. “It's a place for us to come together.”
Mayor Mike Duggan likewise called it a “great day in Detroit.” And while he talked at length about the facility spurring more economic development and opportunity in what was once “one of the most run-down neighborhoods in the city,” he laughed about walking in the door Monday with his mayoral predecessor. Dave Bing, the Hall of Fame ex-Piston, noted the hundreds of people filling the practice gym for the grand opening and joked, “There’s more people here today than there was at Cobo (Arena) when I used to play there.”
There weren’t all that many more in the stands at the LCA for the Pistons’ preseason opener against Orlando on Monday night, though. Exhibition games are hardly a barometer for anything — on the court or in the not-so-cheap seats — but it is another reminder of the challenges this franchise still faces in retrofitting its fan base.
It’s one Gores also acknowledged Monday, even as he raved about the new headquarters as another sign of the Pistons’ investment and commitment in the city, adding value and creating jobs.
“It’s a win for Detroit,” he said. “But these kind of things, you kind of have to hold yourself back, in that it’s a success and it’s great, but we still have a lot to do.”
Now for a few Ws
Like winning, for one thing.
The Pistons made the playoffs last spring for only the second time in the last decade, but after another first-round sweep they’re still looking for their first postseason win since 2008. Yes, the sellout crowd came alive for Game 3 against Milwaukee in the first round back in April, but that was only a baby step. As Gores put it then, “We gave them a taste of what it could be.”
And what does that mean for this season’s expectation from ownership?
“Well, more,” Gores said. “We have to do more. … We need to get through the playoffs, we need to win in the playoffs. I think we’ve got a lot of experience on the team. if we stay healthy, I think this team can surprise a lot of people.”
It’s not surprising to hear that, given the investment he has made since his Platinum Equity group bought the team in 2011. The franchise is worth more than three times the $325 million he paid for it then, according to Forbes, but his teams have posted just one winning season in eight years. And last season the Pistons ranked dead last in the NBA in attendance as a percentage of arena capacity, averaging 16,486 a game — about 1,000 less than the team’s harried first season downtown.
Winning is the only thing that will dramatically change that, however, and the Pistons know it. They've got more experience on the roster heading into this season, and Gores says he likes the grit, too. But will that be enough?
“On paper, we’re head and shoulders above where we were last year,” Casey said Monday prior to the exhibition opener. “Tom is putting together a culture and a team and an atmosphere here to win championships. And that’s what we’re building here. Now whether we’re gonna win one this year, I don’t know. That’s our goal. But I know we’re taking steps and strides in the right direction."
And in that sense, at least, Monday did feel like another.