Pistons will finally be a Detroit team again

The Detroit Pistons will return to downtown Detroit for the 2016-17 season.

With several promising young players on their roster, the Pistons will return to downtown Detroit for the 2016-17 season.

Well, that sure didn’t take long.

So now, the Pistons are really, truly the Detroit Pistons.

Back in January, I wrote that the team should do the sensible thing and set up shop with the Ilitchs in their brand new arena.

Owner Tom Gores tried to make it work at the Palace of Auburn Hills, even investing $50 million in upgrades, including a dazzling, state-of-the-art video board. But deep down, Gores probably knew that no amount of trips to Home Depot was going to be able to change one fact: The Tigers, Lions, and Red Wings all played within a beer can’s toss of each other, while the Pistons played 30 miles away, all alone and far from the Motor City’s sports hub.

Arn Tellem, the man brought in to look into the feasibility of the Pistons bolting Oakland County, must have said the things that Gores wanted to hear.

At the press conference at Cass Tech High School announcing the deal, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan was quick to point out that Detroit will now be unique in that all four pro sports franchises will play in the downtown area.

No other American city can make this claim.

Up until next year, Atlanta could have, but the Braves are headed for Cobb County, wherever that is. Philadelphia comes close, but the Phillies play far from downtown. In Denver, the Rockies, Nuggets, and Avalanche all play downtown, but the Broncos are further out of the city center.

If Gores had his druthers, he would pick the Palace up and plop it down across the street from Little Caesar’s Arena. He would prefer to have his own arena, in a perfect world. But the world is not perfect, and Gores is a smart businessman who knows you cannot wait around for the world to turn perfect on you.

Sometimes, you have to take the best deal you can get.

And right now, the Detroit Pistons are a much more valuable franchise playing in Little Caesar’s Arena than they would have been had they stayed at the Palace. Yes, even in a shared arena.

Will they be playing the ugly stepchild to the Red Wings? That remains to be seen. It is all about the product on the court (or on the ice). If the Pistons continue to improve, and can recapture some old glory, and if the Red Wings continue to be a team content with making the playoffs for the 73rd consecutive year, or whatever the number is, only to be bumped in the first round…well, we’ll see then who’s the ugly stepchild.

And make no mistake. This will be a complete business partnership. Little Caesar’s Arena will be retrofitted to accommodate an NBA team (apparently a building can be retrofitted before it is even finished being built). And the kicker here is the rumor of a media conglomerate involving the Red Wings, Pistons, and Tigers (maybe even the Lions?) along the lines of the YES Network in New York, which by itself should reap billions. Expect more details on this to come out.

When the Pistons moved to Auburn Hills nearly 30 years ago, it was the right business decision at the time. But Gores has a chance to be a part of something special in Detroit.

The Palace was a worthy home, and the place had an electric atmosphere whenever the Pistons were doing well. To fans today, it never looked its age, even though it is now one of the older arenas in the NBA. But we are long past the time when stadiums and arenas lasted for 50 years or more. Today, the shelf life of a sports venue is considerably shorter than it once was. Economics alter, demographics shift, and new technology forces obsolescence.

Some fans grouse that the Pistons should stay put. They say the team’s fan base is in Oakland County, anyway. Well, was the Lions fan base in Pontiac? Their move to Ford Field worked out pretty well for them, so why wouldn’t it for a basketball team? People in Auburn Hills are naturally going to complain that it is harder to get to downtown Detroit, just as the people who live closer to downtown have whined for 30 years that Auburn Hills is a pain to drive to. It is all relative, isn’t it?

If a team is competitive, fans will find a way to drive to games. If the team is awful, it won’t matter if they live five minutes away from everybody, they will still have trouble drawing.

The Pistons will be playing at Little Caesar’s Arena next year, and my guess is they will come close to selling out most games. That is how new arenas work. And if Tom Gores can make good on his dream of bringing an NBA championship back to Detroit, and if the Red Wings can once again be an elite NHL franchise, that arena will be one of the most exciting places in this city.

With the announcement that the Pistons will be going back downtown, fans are seeing a glimpse of the future of Detroit sports, and it suddenly looks a lot more fascinating than it did a week ago.