In an uncertain draft, No. 7 pick empowers Weaver to gamble on greatness

There is no LeBron James, no Kevin Durant in the 2020 NBA draft, Troy Weaver admitted after Thursday kept intact a Pistons history of never moving up in 14 trips to the lottery. They’ll pick seventh, getting bumped two spots when Eastern Conference rivals Charlotte and Chicago jumped over them into the top four.

But maybe there’s a Paul George, Kawhi Leonard or Giannis Antetokounmpo. George went 10th in 2010, Leonard 15th in 2011 and Antetokounmpo 15th in 2013. You wouldn’t get much pushback if you suggested they were three of the top five players in the game today and zero resistance if you expanded it to a top 10.

Maybe there’s a lesson in there somewhere. Greatness was anticipated for James and Durant, who arrived to the NBA as the LeBron James and Kevin Durant you know today – no, not as fully developed, not as championship-ready, but as superstars in waiting. They were too good to fail.

George, Leonard and Antetokounmpo did not arrive as those players, which explains why they went 10th, 15th and 15th. Personnel whizzes could squint and see potential for big things in all three, but there was too much projection in play for the general managers picking at the top of the lottery to roll the dice and risk the blowback for what would have seemed audacious reaches.

In most drafts, a general manager in Troy Weaver’s position – picking seventh in his first draft since being named Pistons GM in June – would know with a fairly high degree of certainty a few weeks or more before the draft the identity of four, five or all six players who would be off the board at his turn.

In this draft, that’s a lot less likely.

“This draft is going to be scrambled all around,” Weaver said.

Anthony Edwards, LaMelo Ball and James Wiseman form the loose consensus top three, but no one would faint if one or two were still on the board when Weaver lets NBA headquarters know who dons the Pistons cap on draft night.

And there is some empowerment in that uncertainty for a general manager, especially one whose outstanding trait is the ability to project what an 18- or 19-year-old lump of clay will look like fully formed – as Weaver most famously did with Russell Westbrook at Oklahoma City when the Thunder had the fourth pick in 2008.

No GM wants to be remembered for blowing the top pick – or a top-five pick, for that matter. But when you’re picking seventh in a draft that everyone concedes is lacking sizzle, you can roll the dice with a degree of impunity.

No one can say who might be in play for that pick at this point. Maybe Weaver really loves someone projected in the top five and, given the wide range of possibilities this draft portends, that guy will be there at seven and, hey, easy pick.

But maybe he sees potential greatness in a player the various mock drafts have going more in the George-Leonard-Antetokounmpo range. (And, to be clear, the very few mock drafts with any credibility are put together by media members with access to a representative number of front offices and power agents who might or might not be forthcoming or even honest in what they’re willing to share, so regard all of them skeptically.)

And if he is, it’s going to be an easy year for Weaver – confident in his eye for talent, unburdened by draft misses of the franchise’s past, abetted by the lack of regard for this draft’s quality – to take a swing for the fences.

So when he asked that Pistons fans not adopt the “woe is me” posture after their lottery misfortune, take him at his word. When there’s a LeBron or an Anthony Davis at the top of the draft, it’s a proper response to feel crestfallen when your logo shows up before it’s supposed to. Not this time. Not for this draft.

Teams are already leery of the talent pool and many are squeezed by a salary cap certain to come in below initial projections. All of that creates more opportunity for a GM with the cap space Weaver will have, more than all but New York and Atlanta. For a new general manager acclaimed for his ability to extrapolate what a player will become, there are worse scenarios than holding the seventh pick in 2020.