PORTLAND, OREGON - NOVEMBER 30: Head coach Dwane Casey of the Detroit Pistons reacts during the third quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers at Moda Center on November 30, 2021 in Portland, Oregon. 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. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Pistons itching to get going: ‘We can go and compete every night’

Troy Weaver knew he was handing Dwane Casey flawed rosters each of his first two seasons as Pistons general manager. That comes with the territory when you’re resetting and starting from scratch. It’s different this time around.

“I feel like we finally have a full complement of players,” Weaver said Monday on the eve of training camp’s opening. “First two years, we didn’t. We can go and compete every night.”

And that’s the mission for 2022-23: Compete every night and let the chips fall where they may. The Pistons are focused on the process. Many a rebuilding has been derailed by cheating that process and skipping steps.

The message has been disseminated and absorbed. Cade Cunningham, who turned 21 on Sunday, enters year two as the unquestioned centerpiece of Weaver’s restoration and has embraced the leadership role that naturally is thrust upon players of his caliber. Ask him what the expectations for the season are and he doesn’t get cornered into talking about a number of wins or what the standings will reflect when the dust settles.

“It’s realistic to say that we’ll have a bunch of locked-in guys that are playing to win every night,” he said. “That’s all we’re focused on is playing to win and making it easier for your teammate. Doing your job to the best of your ability and playing as hard as you can and if we do that, the wins take care of themselves.”

Rebuilding is more art than science. There’s no navigation app to show the Pistons exactly where they stand on their journey. But they know this much: They’re not in the same place they were last season.

“Most definitely, we’ll be improved from last season,” Isaiah Stewart, another 21-year-old, said. “You can ask any of my teammates that.”

The Pistons got more athletic with the drafting of rookies Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren, they’ve added veterans to address their 3-point shooting shortcomings, the roster is balanced positionally and Casey will have a lot of buttons to push when he needs something specific. It’s going to take time to figure out the best playing combinations and balance the starting, bench and closing units, but there are a lot more ingredients at hand to assure better outcomes this time around.

“It’s the most talent we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Casey, entering year five with the Pistons. “Also the youngest talent. My first year, we had more veteran guys who’d been around the league and made the playoffs. That was a different type of team. This team is more balanced, talent-wise.”

They’re also pitted against a slate of Eastern Conference rivals that’s likely the deepest in league history. That first Casey team to make the playoffs won 41 games and finished eighth. Last year Charlotte won 43, good for 10th and the last play-in spot. If that makes it tougher for the Pistons to prove their improvement by pointing to their record, Weaver and Casey believe it will be a boon in the long run.

“The East being very competitive and deep, I think it helps us,” Weaver said. “Because you have to go out there every night and play, grow and learn from that.”

Weaver cut his teeth in the NBA in Utah after leaving Syracuse and then spent more than a decade in Oklahoma City, there for deep rebuilds in both cities.

“I was in the West my entire career and the West was loaded,” he said. “We were able to grow because we had to compete, play hard, play smart every night. I see it the same way now with the East being so competitive.”

“It’s always good to have that kind of competition,” Casey said. “It’s the toughest I’ve seen in a long time as far as top to bottom. We want to be a handful, also. You come to Detroit, it’s not going to be a night off. It’s a big-time conference right now.”

When Weaver was hired and expressed a preference for calling his mission a restoration rather than a rebuilding – because only something that’s known greatness can be restored, he said, pointing to the three NBA championships the Pistons have won – he used the analogy of the 1966 Monte Carlo his father lovingly restored. To carry out that analogy, his first two years have been about sandblasting off the rust and getting the body in shape to lay on the glistening new layer of paint and apply all of the finishing touches.

“We had to reshape the roster and we were getting out of the red,” he said. “I think now we’re at ground zero. Now we’ve got a full complement of players to compete every night. We’re in the competing stage right now. You’ve got to be able to compete before you can contend and right now we’re in the competing stage.”