0-for-13: Can Weaver turn Pistons fortune of never moving up in NBA draft lottery?

In the 35 years since the NBA went to the lottery system to determine its top draft picks, the Pistons have had 13 forays into the game of chance and come up empty. Not only have they never drawn the No. 1 pick, they’ve only picked in the top-three once – and even then got jumped by a team behind them.

In 2003, they famously drafted second – but not with their own pick. It was akin to drawing an inside straight, so maybe the Pistons used up all their lottery luck in a draft that would prove historically good.

The Pistons wouldn’t have kept the pick if Memphis had drawn the top overall choice, so getting the second pick in a top-heavy draft that saw three certain Hall of Famers – and perhaps four if Chris Bosh, on a Hall of Fame trajectory before a career-ending diagnosis, joins LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade in Springfield – go in the top five seemed like the mother lode for a franchise with a young roster that was playing in the Eastern Conference finals at the time.

Eight times the Pistons stayed where they were and five times they’ve moved down one spot in 13 lottery tries. Meanwhile, on the other side of Lake Erie, the Cleveland Cavaliers have drawn the No. 1 pick four times since 2003 – that one got them James – and three times in a four-year span within the last decade.

It��s time for a little lottery luck, in other words.

New Pistons general manager Troy Weaver will represent the Pistons at this year’s lottery, which will be conducted remotely with Weaver appearing from Detroit. Weaver says he’s not superstitious and won’t be in possession of any lucky charms, but Pistons fans will see it as a symbolic turn of the franchise’s direction if the new GM brings them some long overdue change of fortune.

Here’s a look back at the lottery results in each of the 13 years the Pistons failed to make the playoffs since 1985.

  • 1993 – The Pistons went into the lottery – the only one they ever hosted, held at The Palace of Auburn Hills in front of a packed crowd – with two chances, their own pick at 10 and Miami’s at No. 9, the result of a trade that sent John Salley to the Heat. Orlando had the worst odds of all – 1.52 percent – of landing the No. 1 pick, but the Magic went from No. 13 to No. 1 and earned the right to draft local star Chris Webber of Detroit Country Day and the University of Michigan. The Pistons took Lindsey Hunter at 10 and Allan Houston at 11, players who went on to spend a combined 29 seasons in the NBA.
  • 1994 – The Pistons went just 20-62 in 1993-94, tied with Milwaukee and Minnesota. The three teams held a tiebreaker to determine who’d get shorted in the combined 491 lottery combinations they’d have to split. Milwaukee wound up losing the draw, giving the Bucks 163 combinations to the 164 each for the Pistons and Timberwolves. Then Milwaukee jumped both teams to win the lottery with Dallas picking second and the Pistons third. Milwaukee took Glenn Robinson with the top pick and Dallas went with Jason Kidd at No. 2, leaving the Pistons with the player they would have taken at No. 1, Grant Hill.
  • 1995 – The Pistons went 28-54 and went into the ’95 lottery in the eighth spot and that’s where they wound up. Doug Collins, coach and also in charge of personnel, didn’t like his options there so traded the pick to Portland for the 18th and 19th picks. The Trail Blazers selected Detroit native and Michigan State star Shawn Respert; the Pistons won the trade by taking Wyoming’s Theo Ratliff at 18 but got little to show for the selection of Wake Forest’s Randolph Childress at 19.
  • 1998 – The Pistons went 37-45 and stayed at No. 11 in the lottery. They took Ball State’s Bonzi Wells in the June draft but he never suited up for them. NBA owners instituted a lockout that delayed the start of the season to January 1999. When the compressed schedule left little room for free agency before training camp had to convene, the Pistons dealt Wells to Portland in order to create an extra $1.1 million in cap space that helped them sign free agents Loy Vaught, who was part of Michigan’s 1989 NCAA championship team, and Christian Laettner.
  • 2001 – The Pistons went 32-50, good for the No. 9 lottery position, and stayed there for the first draft under Joe Dumars. Dumars took Rodney White of North Carolina-Charlotte – a player Lakers legend Jerry West called the best player in the draft – after he’d wowed them at a predraft workout for three players: Arkansas’ Joe Johnson and Arizona’s Richard Jefferson in addition to White. Dumars would later say he went against his gut instinct – he loved Johnson – and vowed to never do so again. Johnson said last year when he was in training camp with the Pistons that he understood why White was the pick after his dazzling Pistons workout.
  • 2010 – The Pistons went 27-55 and stayed in the No. 8 spot in the lottery. Dumars coveted Kentucky center DeMarcus Cousins but knew he wouldn’t last to the eighth pick. Dumars arranged a surreptitious individual workout for Cousins in Auburn Hills the week of the draft and tried to no avail to engage others picking ahead of the Pistons in a trade that would have enabled his selection. The Pistons were pleased that Golden State, picking seventh, selected Baylor’s Ekpe Udoh, allowing Greg Monroe to land in Detroit.
  • 2011 – After going 30-52, the Pistons went into the lottery in the seventh spot and dropped to eighth when Cleveland – with a pick from the Clippers, who dangled it as bait to take on the contract of Baron Davis – hit on 2.8 percent chances to win the top spot. The Cavs took Kyrie Irving at No. 1. The Pistons took the player most considered the second-best point guard, Kentucky freshman Brandon Knight. UConn’s Kemba Walker went ninth after leading the Huskies to the 2011 NCAA title as a junior.
  • 2012 – The Pistons went 25-41 in a lockout-shortened season and went into and came out of the lottery with the No. 9 pick. Anthony Davis was the clear prize of the draft and went first to New Orleans, but the Pistons likely would have taken Andre Drummond with the second pick. Until the final few days before the draft, it didn’t appear they’d have any chance to get him at No. 9. But two days before the draft, Drummond’s agent Rob Pelinka invited Dumars and assistant general manager George David to a private workout in New York that night.
  • 2013 – The Pistons had the seventh-best lottery odds after going 29-53 but got bumped to eighth when Washington leaped up five spots to get the No. 3 pick, taking Otto Porter after Anthony Bennett and Victor Oladipo went 1-2, Cleveland this time capitalizing on 15.6 percent chances to get the top pick, going from third to first. The Pistons, desperate for some wing athleticism, took Georgia sophomore Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. A largely unknown Giannis Antetokounmpo was picked 15th by Milwaukee.
  • 2014 – After going 29-53, the Pistons went into the 2014 lottery in the No. 8 spot. There was a mere 16.8 percent chance the Pistons would get jumped by one of the six teams behind them in lottery odds, but that’s what happened when Cleveland – again – capitalized on long odds (1.7 percent) to land the top pick. That No. 1 pick, Andrew Wiggins, proved a critical draw – mostly for his trade value – in luring LeBron James back from Miami as a free agent and paid off in the first and only NBA title in Cleveland history two years later. For the Pistons, the loss meant their lottery pick – protected only through the top eight picks – would instead be shipped to Charlotte, the result of a 2012 draft that sent the two years left on Ben Gordon’s contract to Charlotte in exchange for the one year remaining on Corey Maggette’s deal. Charlotte took Indiana freshman Noah Vonleh.
  • 2015 – The Pistons went into the 2015 lottery off a 32-50 season after Stan Van Gundy’s tenure started with a 5-23 record, prompting the Pistons to buy out Josh Smith – the player acquired in free agency with the cap space created by the Gordon-Maggette trade. They had the eighth lottery slot and that’s where they picked. While most draft analysts had Duke’s Justise Winslow as the logical pick, the choice came down to two other college freshmen: Arizona’s Stanley Johnson and Kentucky’s Devin Booker. The Pistons went with Johnson. Booker went 13th to Phoenix and has emerged as one of the NBA’s top scorers.
  • 2017 – After going 37-45 the year following a 44-win season broke a six-year playoff drought, the Pistons went into the lottery in 12th and stayed there, taking Duke’s Luke Kennard after his sophomore season. Utah took Donovan Mitchell one pick later and Miami went with Kentucky freshman Bam Adebayo at 14. The Pistons heavily considered both Mitchell and Adebayo, Van Gundy said. Kennard was having a breakout season when a double dose of knee tendinitis shut him down in late December. He was due to return in the game following the March 11 loss at Philadelphia when the NBA season was suspended – effectively ending it for the Pistons – due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • 2018 – The Pistons traded away the pick in January to get Blake Griffin. The Clippers, picking 12th after the Pistons pick stayed where it was slotted, used it to draft Miles Bridges and then swapped him to Charlotte for 11th pick Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.