No quick-fix trades on the menu, but Pistons aren’t asking for unlimited time to rebuild – or restore

Blake Griffin
All reports on Blake Griffin’s recovery from January knee surgery have been glowing this off-season as the Pistons look ahead to the 2021 season
Pistons Photo
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

The Pistons traded Andre Drummond in February and for the first time uttered the “R” word: rebuilding. In large measure because they were transitioning to a new phase, it was determined now was the time to fill the general manager’s chair left vacant since owner Tom Gores hired Ed Stefanski, who filled the role of basketball operations chief executive since, as senior adviser in May 2018.

Troy Weaver, the desired target all along, accepted the offer to steer the Pistons into their future last spring and immediately expressed discomfort with “rebuilding” as the operative word. He preferred a different “R” word: restoring.

The suspicion is that he’s uneasy with the perception of rebuilding as it has come to be viewed since Philadelphia took it to the extreme, jettisoning players of discernible value for future assets and assembling the most impotent roster tolerable to accumulate losses and lottery tickets.

Whatever you want to call the phase the Pistons have entered, it’s not going to look much like what the 76ers did. Weaver said at his introductory press conference that rebuilding isn’t what it used to be, not with shorter contracts and rosters turning over by a third or more nearly every season.

“Traditional rebuilds are pretty much a thing of the past,” he said. “The two- or three-year rebuild and see what you have in two or three years. My philosophy is one-year rebuild every year, try to be open-minded, go to the drawing board without mortgaging the future and try to put the best team on the floor.”

Oklahoma City lost Kevin Durant but pivoted and got Paul George. When George, one year after signing to stay in Oklahoma City, made it known he wanted out last summer the Thunder could have opted for a more drastic do-over. Instead, their next move was to trade Russell Westbrook not for younger players but for an even older veteran star, Chris Paul, and wound up one of the surprise teams of the 2019-20 season.

Now, granted, the Thunder were dealing from a different plane than the Pistons with glittering assets to trade in George and Westbrook. But the philosophy holds up in any context. And the philosophy is this: attempt to win every personnel move – every draft pick, every trade, every free-agent signing.

The filter to view those moves while the Pistons transition will be to favor the future over the present, but not at the price of obliterating the present. Go back to the Weaver quote and underline the phrase “without mortgaging the future.”

Toward that end, the Pistons – from Gores to vice chairman Arn Tellem to Stefanski to Weaver to Dwane Casey – are optimistic that Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose are coming back healthy and that gives the Pistons a formidable foundation to launch the restoration Weaver foresees.

There are obvious injury histories with both players that require management, but all reports on Griffin – coming off of January knee surgery – have been glowing over the summer. He’s in impeccable condition and confident in his knee. Rose, too, has used the extended off-season to rejuvenate himself.

The Pistons liked what they saw from their key young players – Sekou Doumbouya, Luke Kennard, Svi Mykhailiuk and Bruce Brown most prominently – at the recent team camp. They’ve got more cap room, likely $30 million, than all but two NBA teams. And they’ve got the seventh pick in the draft.

In Weaver, they’ve got a GM with a sterling reputation as a talent evaluator. His ability to string together winning personnel moves will be as important a factor – maybe the single most important factor – in how quickly the Pistons pass through this phase to become not just playoff contenders but playoff contenders on the runway to title contendtion. Casey has referred to “sustainable success” several times over the off-season – meaning quick-fix trades and signings aren’t on the menu.

It starts on draft night. Coming out of it with a building block is essential to kick-start the process. Then making those key decisions: how to use cap space, whether taking on contracts for assets or zeroing in on young veterans in ascendancy or some combination of both; how to approach Christian Wood’s free agency; identifying trade targets and figuring out a way to get them at your price.

Put enough W’s on the board with all those personnel decisions and – sooner instead of later – wins will follow on the standings board, too. Weaver put a little pressure on himself in dismissing the notion of a rebuilding spanning several seasons. A lottery pick and cap space give him the chance for a most active and productive first off-season to get the Pistons rebuilding – oops, restoration – on track.

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