Weaver won’t put Detroit Pistons future at risk, but won’t write off whole seasons to do so, either

There’s been a few things going on in the world since the Pistons traded Andre Drummond and publicly acknowledged that the franchise was hitting the reset button.

You’re forgiven if, in fact, if you missed the hiring of new general manager Troy Weaver in June – or if you’re wondering how the fact the Pistons used the word “rebuilding” in February squares with Weaver’s proclamations that his full intent is to field a competitive team in his first season.

Rebuilding used to mean one thing and then came to mean something quite different with Philadelphia’s decision to do everything in its power to avoid bettering its roster to further the accumulation of losses and lottery odds for multiple seasons.

That’s not happening with the Pistons. Weaver makes that clear. The Pistons aren’t going to turn down trades that make them better in the present – unless that trade lessens the odds of being even better the season after that. They’re not going to load up on assets to chase a back-end playoff spot to the detriment of future roster building, but neither are they going to walk away from free agents available at fair or below-market price points to make it more likely they fare well in the lottery draw.

The Pistons are poised to have more cap space than all but two teams and be one of only a handful of franchises with meaningful space when free agency starts in a few weeks. Weaver was asked last week how he intends to use it – to pursue big-name free agents or to park other teams’ unwanted contracts in exchange for adding draft capital or other future assets.

“Both things are on the table,” he said. “But nothing’s changed on being competitive. When that changes, I won’t be around here.”

Here’s what he said next: “We’re going to try to be competitive without short-cutting our long-term future, but we’re looking at both scenarios for sure. I don’t know who you consider big free agents, but we plan on talking to guys that we’re very interested in, for sure, and also leveraging cap space to get assets. It’s a juggling act, a balancing act with being competitive on the forefront of that, tied into not mortgaging the future.”

Twice in that paragraph Weaver followed the assertion that he wanted to field a team Dwane Casey can win with on any given night with the qualifier that he won’t be pursuing deals to keep the Pistons on a treadmill of mediocrity in perpetuity. It’s a tough needle to thread, but if you’re into analytics it surely seems like the wiser course than enduring seasons of misery – inflicting horrific damage on team culture and the bond between a team and its fans in the process – for the 14 percent chance of landing the No. 1 pick even in a season when you lose more games than 29 other teams.

Fans don’t have an inexhaustible supply of loyalty and patience, but the vast majority are smart enough to spot the arc of a team’s trajectory. Pistons fans are ready to embrace a 35-win team with obvious growth potential over a 45-win team that’s maxed out. Only a vocal minority argue for something more like the Philadelphia plan, which so far has produced a team without a title that most see as at a crossroads – and on its second regime change since “The Process” was set in motion.

As the NBA and Players Association codify changes to the collective bargaining agreement and the salary cap and tax line are set, teams will have the certainty they need to start wheeling and dealing. Weaver is ready to maximize the use of his considerable cap space, pegged at $30 million as of now, to pave the smoothest path to a bright future.

That might mean splurging on a free agent, but only one whose prime won’t expire during the term of the contract and not at the risk of hamstringing the next series of moves. It might mean taking on a player or two who don’t fit neatly into a rebuilding blueprint, but not at all costs to team culture or to fielding a roster that Weaver and Casey see as embodying Pistons values.

There are still a few things swirling about in the world that will command your attention in the days and weeks ahead, but things are about to get interesting for the Pistons. Stay tuned.