When the New Orleans Pelicans won the 2019 NBA draft lottery five weeks ahead of the draft itself, everybody knew with a high degree of certainty that Zion Williamson would be their pick. Sure, there were some teams that might have had to think twice about Ja Morant, but Williamson was the overwhelming favorite.
And yet it wasn’t until Adam Silver stepped to the podium on June 20 and announced the pick that Pelicans general manager David Griffin or anyone affiliated with the franchise acknowledged Williamson would wear their uniform.
The gap between Cade Cunningham and the field isn’t that wide this year in the eyes of the consensus – and maybe there isn’t a gap at all in the eyes of the only person who truly matters, Pistons general manager Troy Weaver.
But the fact Weaver hasn’t tipped his hand in the three weeks since the Pistons won the lottery for the first time in franchise history indicates nothing – zip, nada, zilch – about his intent on July 29 or his appraisal of Cunningham or any of the other realistic candidates to hear his name called when Silver puts the Pistons on the clock.
The NBA frowns on teams leaking intent ahead of the draft, one of its off-season crown jewels. If Griffin had admitted after winning the May 14 lottery that Williamson was his pick – if he was even 100 percent sure in his own mind that night – then Memphis, holding the No. 2 pick, would have been hounded about its intent. The chain reaction of lottery teams linked to prospects risks draining the drama from draft night – which risks its own chain reaction of diminishing TV ratings and affecting future rights deals.
But even without league guidance, it wouldn’t serve the Pistons interests for Weaver to tip his hand. When Weaver was asked after the lottery if trading the pick was an option, he didn’t tap dance. We won 20 games last season, Weaver said, so anything that improves the outlook must be considered.
The odds of the Pistons trading the top pick are long, but Weaver should accept – perhaps even encourage – his peers to take their best shot at tempting him. That’s especially true if Weaver is comfortable with an outcome other than Cunningham donning a Pistons cap on draft night.
If Weaver ends this process convinced Cunningham is going to be the clear-cut best player from this draft, then the already-tiny odds the pick gets dealt diminish further. But if he thinks you can toss a net over the top three or four picks, then maybe he can leverage the seeming consensus opinion that Cunningham is No. 1 into picking up surplus assets for the Pistons in addition to coming away with one of those three or four bunched together.
In any case, if you’re one among the significant number of Pistons Nation freaking out because the general manager has yet to confirm your passionate wish for Cunningham to be the No. 1 pick, relax. No guarantees he’ll be the guy to hear his name called first July 29, but no reason to think a lack of public acknowledgment means Troy Weaver thinks any less of Cunningham than those convinced he’s the Next Big Thing.