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DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 2: Jalen Duren #0 of the Detroit Pistons, Isaiah Stewart #28 of the Detroit Pistons and Marvin Bagley III #35 of the Detroit Pistons look on during open practice at the Little Caesars Arena on October 2, 2022 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 2022 NBAE (Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Training camp primer: Pistons ready to kick restoration into a higher gear

The Pistons went into year three of Troy Weaver’s restoration project prepared to exhibit tangible proof of progress. Then Cade Cunningham got hurt before fall raking was wrapped up to cast the season in a radically different light.

The Pistons go into year four – which kicks off with the first practice of training camp on Tuesday – certain they’ve moved the needle significantly in stuffing the pipeline with more athleticism, size and talent than they’ve had since the waning days of the Goin’ to Work era that saw them add the third NBA title in franchise history amid a run of seven consecutive 50-win seasons and six straight trips to the conference finals or beyond.

Here's a snapshot of where the Pistons are and what’s gone on since they bagged up the basketballs last spring.

KEY OFF-SEASON MOVES

  • Hiring Monty Williams – When Dwane Casey announced following the April 9 season finale at Chicago that he would transition to a front-office role, Williams was readying the Phoenix Suns for a first-round playoff series with the Los Angeles Clippers. It would have been ludicrous to suggest him at the time as a successor to Casey. But when the Suns made the stunning decision to part ways with the guy who’d taken them from 19 wins the year before his 2019 arrival to the 2021 NBA Finals, he became the focus of what seemed a long-shot mission to woo him as Pistons coach. Williams was pursued by contenders Philadelphia and Milwaukee and was inclined to take a year off, in part due to a family health concern, before Pistons owner Tom Gores won him over with a market-setting offer – a reported six-year, $78 million deal. Beyond providing his young roster an ideal fit with a track record of turning around teams in similar straits in both New Orleans and Phoenix, the Williams signing is a clear signal Gores and Weaver believe the Pistons are ready for the next phase of their rebuilding.
  • Drafting Ausar Thompson and Marcus Sasser – Thompson, the No. 5 pick, put on a show at Summer League, displaying the combination of size and athleticism on the wing that every team covets. The Pistons expect he’ll be ready to make a major impact at the defensive end from day one. He also opened eyes in Las Vegas for his rebounding, passing and breathtaking speed in transition. Sasser comes to a crowded backcourt, but the 40-point flourish he recorded in the Summer League finale spoke to his appeal as a scoring threat who also happens to relish the dirty work of defense. How much did the Pistons want Sasser? They gave up two future second-round picks to move up from 31, the first pick of the second round, to 25 to ensure they’d land the Houston All-American.
  • Adding veterans Monte Morris and Joe Harris for peanuts – Weaver parlayed the bulk of his cap space into taking on Morris, a former Michigan Mr. Basketball at Flint Beecher, and Harris – and netting an extra second-round pick in the process. Harris has twice led the NBA in 3-point shooting and Morris has been among the league’s steadiest backcourt players, whether starting or coming off the bench. Both players vastly improve the roster’s 3-point shooting, depth and flexibility.

ROSTER STATUS

  • Who’s missing? – Three players, all with multiple years of service with the Pistons, won’t be back. Rodney McGruder and Cory Joseph both wound up signing with Golden State as free agents. Hamidou Diallo remains a free agent. R.J. Hampton, signed by the Pistons in February after being waived by Orlando, signed a two-way contract with the Miami Heat this month. Eugene Omoruyi, who signed two 10-day contracts with the Pistons last season and eventually a standard contract, signed a two-way deal with Washington.
  • Camp roster – The Pistons have 14 players signed to standard contracts and two to two-way deals. The NBA allows 15 standard deals and – in a new wrinkle to the recently adopted collective bargaining agreement – three two-way contracts, up from two. The addition of a third two-way deal also resulted in raising the maximum players allowed at training camp to 21 from 20. The Pistons filled out their camp roster by adding five players to deals that essentially serve as a mechanism to steer players to an NBA team’s G League affiliate. The five players expected in Pistons camp on such deals are ex-Michigan point guard Zavier Simpson; ex-Missouri big man Jontay Porter, brother of Denver star Michael Porter; 6-foot-8 forward Tosan Evbuomwan, a 2023 Princeton product who played for the Summer League Pistons; and two players who are Motor City Cruise returnees, Syracuse 3-point specialist Buddy Boeheim and athletic wing Stanley Umude.

THINGS TO WATCH

  • The big man rotation – How will Williams employ the four young big men: Isaiah Stewart, Jalen Duren, Marvin Bagley III and James Wiseman? Stewart’s encouraging transition to power forward last season means it’s realistic for him to play alongside any of the three others. Can any two of the other three give the Pistons enough advantages to outweigh whatever disadvantages might arise from playing them in tandem?
  • The perimeter puzzle – If at full health, Williams is going to have tough choices to make if the rotation maxes out at 10. Cunningham, Duren, Stewart, Bojan Bogdanovic and Jaden Ivey might be the likeliest starting unit and they’re almost certainly all rotation locks. Morris and Alec Burks also seem certain to play. Thompson gave every indication his defense and athleticism will prove too meaningful to ignore. But if they’re all in the rotation, then three from the group of Wiseman, Bagley, Isaiah Livers, Harris and Kilian Hayes are out of the rotation. And that assumes Sasser doesn’t make it impossible to exclude him. The Pistons are still young and unproven, but they have more depth and roster flexibility than they’ve had in a generation.
  • The Pistons open preseason with their lone home game of four scheduled when they host Phoenix at 3 p.m. Sunday. They open the regular season Oct. 25 at Miami and play the home opener Oct. 28 vs. Chicago. Their new coach will have a lot to explore between now and then.