Weaver stays true to restoration blueprint for Pistons

Troy Weaver is a baseball fan. A big one. Loves his Washington Nationals. The job he holds as general manager of the Pistons, brought on to oversee a rebuilding that he prefers to label a restoration – because only something that’s known greatness, as the Pistons and their three NBA championship banners affirm they have, can be restored – has something more in common with baseball than basketball.

Where basketball is ruled by a clock, baseball hews to a different standard. Nine innings, three outs apiece, no matter how many times the minute hand whirls.

Weaver knows there’s not limitless time to complete the restoration of the Pistons, but he’s not putting a timeline on its completion. He’s not about to let the tick-tick-tick of the clock seep into any of his decision making. And that’s why the trade deadline came and went and Jerami Grant was still wearing a Pistons uniform.

“You need really good players that are really good people to help lead these young guys,” he said. “You can’t have a team of 15 guys under 24 years old. They’ll eat each other and all of ’em won’t make it out.”

The Pistons, already one of the NBA’s youngest teams, came out the other side of the trade deadline younger still. Weaver traded Trey Lyles and Josh Jackson, 26 and 25, for Marvin Bagley III, 22. That gives the Pistons 12 players 24 or younger and eight 22 or younger in addition to three 30-year-olds – Cory Joseph, Kelly Olynyk and Rodney McGruder – and Grant, 27.

Bagley’s addition represents one of the pillars of Weaver’s blueprint for the job at hand. Before any meaningful timelines can be established, Weaver knows the talent base needs to be widened.

“In the restoring, one, we have to get the right people,” he said. “We have to get enough talent and we need to get that talent to be cohesive. We’re in the process right now of still acquiring the talent.”

There are only so many opportunities to improve the talent pool. Weaver has been a fearless trader, but the return is limited by what’s available to offer. The draft can be transformational – hello, Cade Cunningham! – but lottery picks come one a year without unusual circumstances. Free agency can fill holes, but Weaver’s opportunities there so far have been constrained by the necessary steps taken to extricate the Pistons from past decisions.

The good news is another lottery pick beckons and free agency will be unburdened by the expiration of $45 million in dead money spent on players no longer on the roster.

“When I got here, we didn’t have enough talent,” Weaver said. “Acquiring a guy like Bagley helps that. We’ll have another good pick this year, which will help that. Now we have cap space, which will help. Acquiring the talent and the right people is where we are right now.”

The Pistons have 25 games to see how Bagley’s talent fits, then they’ll get their time in the batter’s box in late June/early July when the draft and free agency offer gaping opportunities to further bolster the roster.

Armed with those weapons, Weaver comes as close as a general manager can to laying out a timeline for progress.

“We expect next season to have enough talent. Now, after we have the talent, we have to get it to be cohesive so it can start competing. That’s where we are right now. Continue to acquire the talent, which should be bolstered by this addition of Bagley, another draft pick and the free agency process. Next season, we’re looking forward to having more talent here so we can start to compete at a high level.”

If you had set up residence at Little Caesars Arena over the past two weeks, you’d have some context for that synopsis. Cleveland, four years into its rebuild, has taken a remarkable leap forward this season. Minnesota, with two No. 1 overall picks since 2015, is on the verge of ending an agonizing playoff drought. Charlotte is rounding a corner two seasons after drafting LaMelo Ball and three years after the trade of Kemba Walker launched its rebuilding. Memphis is surging in the West four years after breaking from its Marc Gasol-Mike Conley past and landing high lottery picks in back-to-back years to net Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant.

There is no magic wand to wave and shrink the process. Even if you get most of your biggest decisions right – as Weaver has with Grant and Cunningham and with the maneuvering he did to add extra first-round picks spent on Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey – it’s still a multiyear ordeal.

“The process is to build a sustainable winner and that takes time,” Weaver said. “I’m sure everyone would like us to fast track it, but you only have one shot at this thing. We’ll continue to follow the blueprint and we feel very confident we’ll come out on the other side of this thing the right way.”