Under the category of “time flies,” this summer marks 10 years since Tom Gores purchased the Pistons franchise. There have been a few twists and turns in the ensuing decade, but the self-made native son of Michigan arose Friday morning feeling more enthusiastically optimistic about the future – of the basketball team, of the franchise surrounding it and of the city and state it calls home – than he ever has.
“I’ve never felt better,” he said. “I woke up this morning and felt like we won already. We haven’t won a game yet. We felt like we won. I feel excited about where we’re at, but I also know through my life experiences we’ve got to go to work. We’ve got a great foundation.”
That foundation has gained an important pillar in Cade Cunningham, who represents the long overdue good fortune to come the Pistons way. After a rigorous vetting process, the Pistons settled on Cunningham – confirming the expectation Gores admitted they all felt would happen since winning the June 22 draft lottery – with the No. 1 pick in Thursday’s draft.
Cunningham was joined on the dais at the Pistons Performance Center on Friday by Gores, general manager Troy Weaver, coach Dwane Casey and the three second-round picks added to the fold: Michigan’s Isaiah Livers, Iowa’s Luka Garza and Florida State’s Balsa Koprivica.
“I will tell you, even though everybody thought Cade was going to be the number one pick, just like he’s done his whole life, he earned it,” Gores said. “These two” – Gores tilted his head to indicate Weaver and Casey to his right – “grinded with Cade. And he’s everything everybody writes he is and more. He is a natural leader.”
Gores sold Dwane Casey on taking over the coaching reins three years ago and two years later, on his second try, convinced Weaver the time was right for him to take his first NBA general manager’s job after a decade of being considered a leading candidate. That’s as integral as any other reason Gores feels so passionately that the Pistons are on the right track, an in-sync leadership team who value in players the qualities Gores grew up admiring in Pistons teams as a kid from Flint.
He not only met every request for amenities to be included in the gleaming Pistons Performance Center, which serves as business headquarters and team training center, but encouraged more, determined to supply future Pistons players with a best-in-class facility. His philanthropic and community outreach – in Detroit, Flint and beyond – is at high rev, Friday revealing the latest mission, a $300,000 grant to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan.
Moving downtown to Little Caesars Arena from Auburn Hills has galvanized his quest to leverage the Pistons platform as a catalyst for community enhancement – the mission Gores declared for his ownership on day one in June 2011.
“I feel great about it,” Gores said. “We’ve got this practice facility, we’re in the city of Detroit playing – we’re fully committed. Everything seems to be coming together. And then we had the good fortune of getting the number one pick. We didn’t expect it, honestly. We haven’t had the best luck in the lottery. You almost have to compose yourself.”
The addition of Cunningham, whose charisma is as readily identifiable in person as his basketball ability is on video, amplifies that platform. Cunningham held up his Pistons jersey, emblazoned with the No. 2 he’s worn every step of the way, and in his telling of how it came to be that he would wear the number retired in honor of Hall of Fame coach Chuck Daly endeared himself to every Pistons fans in every corner of the globe.
“A special thank you to Cydney Daly,” Cunningham said, speaking of Chuck’s daughter, “for giving the organization her blessing to allow me to wear my number two. That means so much to me. I know how much these numbers mean up there” – a nod to the retired jerseys hanging above the dais – “and I know the people that came before me built something really special in Detroit.
“I want to wear that number with respect for Mr. Daly, a legend forever. I don’t want that name ever to die. And bring that same energy the Bad Boys Pistons he led, bring that back to the Pistons today. A special thank you to Miss Cydney Daly. I’m beyond honored to wear that number and giving your blessing for that.”
So, yeah, Tom Gores woke up feeling pretty good about the future Friday. After a decade of absorbing the NBA’s tough lessons, its arrival has never seemed more brimming with possibility.