DETROIT, MI - JULY 30: General Manager Troy Weaver of the Detroit Pistons talks to the media during the press conference on July 30, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images)

New NBA labor rules could give Pistons draft-night openings

Troy Weaver compares draft night to a walk in the park, but not quite in the way you imagine that.

“Walk through the park at night, you’ve got to be ready for whatever’s going to come,” Weaver said Tuesday with the draft a little more than 48 hours away. “And draft night is that way. You’ve got to be prepared for different scenarios, trade scenarios, different playing dropping, players rising. That’s why the work is so important now, so on draft night we’re equipped to handle what happens.”

Last year the Pistons pounced when opportunity presented itself. After taking Jaden Ivey with the fifth pick, Weaver traded a future first-round pick he’d obtained 24 hours earlier from Portland for Jerami Grant and wound up with Jalen Duren at 13, a player he might seriously have considered at five if Ivey hadn’t gotten past Sacramento at four.

The Pistons go into Thursday’s draft with the fifth and 31st picks, but it’s no better than 50-50 those are the picks exercised by Weaver when the dust settles.

As a team with a high lottery pick, the first pick of the second round and about $30 million in cap space, more than all but a few teams, the Pistons could be in position to benefit as soon as draft night from fraught cap situations for teams. That goes double this season with a new collective bargaining agreement set to take effect in July that contains more punitive measures for tax-paying teams.

All of those things could converge to give Weaver opportunities to trade down from five, up from 31 or any other combination of scenarios that have been game-planned in the Pistons war room.

“There’s some thought there,” Weaver said about the opportunity to make trades – as soon as draft night but also after it – with teams looking to slash payroll or create cap space and offload solid veterans, not unlike what New York did last year in sending Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel to the Pistons to create cap space to pursue Jalen Brunson. “Teams are really having to start looking at their roster composition and how it plays out.

“There could be some vulnerable situations that we could take advantage of and we want to be prepared and working hard to make sure that if those opportunities are afforded, we’re there.”

The other component of that Burks-Noel deal has largely gone unappreciated, but Weaver did great work in reacquiring the Pistons own 2023 second-round pick in that deal, one they originally sent to Philadelphia on draft night in 2018 to acquire the 38th pick used on Khyri Thomas. It’s a rare draft where there aren’t future NBA starters or perhaps an All-Star still available when the first round concludes.

“You usually get a good player in the top of the second round,” Weaver said. “I think I would say 31 to 38 has probably been a better crop of players than 21 to 28. Somebody can do that study. I would wager that there’s been better players from 31 to 38 than 21 to 28.”

Holding the first pick of the second round gives the Pistons a measure of leverage, too, and again the new CBA adds another layer of intrigue. Teams picking in the 20s typically are in “win-now” mode and some of them might be motivated – either by cap concerns or otherwise – to trade out of the first round to avoid the guaranteed roster spot and cap hold that comes with first-rounders.

“Thirty-one is a valuable pick,” Weaver said. “I think it carries a lot of weight for different reasons. The contract, teams that may want to do different things with a second-round pick vs. a first-round pick. We like the pick and think we can do a lot with it.”

Weaver can stand pat, pick a player at five he thinks ideally augments the Cade Cunningham-Ivey-Duren-Isaiah Stewart core and take another swing for the fences at 31. But he’ll have every sense on high alert when he goes for a walk in the park Thursday night, prepared for whatever comes at the Pistons.