The No. 1 pick and an Olympian in the span of 18 hours – what a difference a year makes for the Pistons
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
Take away June 13, 1989; June 14, 1990; and June 15, 2004 – the days the Pistons won the three NBA championship banners affixed to the rafters of Little Caesars Arena – and you’d have to do some digging to find a more satisfying 18 hours for the franchise and its fans. In the window that opened just before 9 p.m. Tuesday and closed at mid-afternoon Wednesday, the Pistons won the NBA draft lottery and saw Jerami Grant named to the U.S. Olympic team.
Troy Weaver’s Motor City restoration is coming into focus before anyone would have dared guess.
Context is everything here, so first consider what the landscape looked like a year ago. Weaver had just been hired, coming to Detroit from Oklahoma City where he’d built a reputation as a shrewd talent evaluator. Weaver had turned down other offers before – including the pursuit of the Pistons two years earlier – and it had all the earmarks of a coup for Pistons owner Tom Gores to land him. But Weaver had never served as the No. 1 voice in a front office, so he also came with an element of the unknown.
The NBA was in COVID-19 limbo at the time, meaning Weaver could do nothing to tinker with the roster he inherited – a roster that was about to undergo a radical makeover no matter who’d been hired. That was cast in stone months earlier with the February 2020 decision to trade Andre Drummond and take a strategic step back to clear the runway.
When the shackles were taken off Weaver with the lifting of the trade moratorium last Nov. 16 – with the draft set for Nov. 18 and the start of free agency two days later – the first-time general manager made more moves over the next 100 hours than some of his peers do in the life of a contract. By the time the dust settled, only four players remained from the 2019-20 Pistons. And by the trade deadline, only one – Sekou Doumbouya – still stood.
And now, here we are. The Pistons finished the season with 11 players 24 or younger. They’re infinitely longer and more athletic than they’ve been in years. They have a first-team All-Rookie selection (Saddiq Bey), a second-team All-Rookie pick (Isaiah Stewart), a U.S. Olympian and the No. 1 pick to exercise next month in a draft that those who make their living studying such things say holds a once-in-a-decade trove of talent at the top of it.
Weaver struck every right note in his introductory press conference last June, evoking the most hallowed names in franchise history and vowing to field teams that exuded the virtues that made the Bad Boys and the Goin’ to Work Pistons both champions and cherished figures in Detroit and Michigan history. But winning the press conference and staying true to your mission statement are two different things and that’s where the rubber has met the road for Weaver.
It’s easy, when the bullets start flying and adversity mounts as it always does in the zero-sum game of professional sports, to lower standards or make exceptions. Weaver has steadfastly refused to do so. And he’s got the ideal partner in his union with Dwane Casey as coach, another guy who won’t betray his core beliefs to chase fleeting glory.
The Pistons team they put on the floor in 2021-22 wound up 20-52, but it’s a testament to the knowledge of their fan base that the season ended with a greater sense of optimism for the franchise’s future than has existed here in over a decade.
Under Weaver and Casey, this was never going to be a Philadelphia-esque “process.” Weaver made aggressive moves to sign Grant and maneuver to pick up two extra first-round picks to field a hungry team from day one, a team filled with players in whom he saw the same traits that coalesced in championships for Pistons teams of the past. He wasn’t stocking the roster with flotsam and jetsam to deliberately lose games to better lottery odds.
If you believe in karma, then the basketball gods conferred their blessing on the Pistons by making them lottery winners on Tuesday night, the first time in franchise history that’s happened – indeed, the first time in 14 tries that they’d moved up with their own pick.
There’s the sense that the Pistons have the wind at their backs now. Weaver would block his ears hearing that, of course. As he said in various ways after Tuesday’s lottery windfall, now the real work begins to make the most of the blessing of the No. 1 pick.
It was a thoroughly thrilling outcome and a wildly satisfying couple of days, winning the lottery and seeing the decision to sign Grant – one viewed skeptically by the basketball public at large just last fall – validated by his inclusion to the most exclusive basketball club on the planet. The parts keep being amassed and assembled here. The work of fully restoring the Pistons to greatness is by no means finished, but the possibilities for what the finished product is going to resemble are blindingly brilliant relative to where they were a year ago.