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Weaver’s ‘cup of patience’ keeps Pistons from reckless rushing

Troy Weaver famously cited the three NBA championship banners the Pistons fly – putting them in the select company of just seven other franchises – when he signed on as general manager nearly three years ago.

Monty Williams, whose two NBA coaching stops came with franchises yet to hang a first banner, might echo those words when he’s formally introduced as Dwane Casey’s successor this week.

If there’s a restlessness among Pistons fans to see more tangible proof that they’re trending toward a fourth, start with the fact they won the race for a coach in Williams who had a wealth of options and chose this one. His faith in the future here, along with the three titles already hanging at Little Caesars Arena, offer a buffer against the reckless acts that manifest when desperation festers. Pistons fans with any sense of history know none of those three titles came without first enduring travails.

The lesson in there, for those who still value perspective and nuance in a hot-take world, is that skipping steps is the ultimate fool’s errand. It’s great to push all your chips to the middle of the table when you’re holding a strong hand. Doing it on a wing and a prayer is another thing.

The Pistons, from owner Tom Gores to Weaver and on down, announced with the Williams’ hiring that they’re ready to move aggressively to a next phase. But there’s a line separating aggressiveness from recklessness and it requires a heavy dose of self-discipline to stay on the right side of it.

Restlessness on its own isn’t inherently good or bad. If it’s channeled to generate creativity, it’s a force for good. If all it produces is desperation, the fruits of a rebuilding get squandered and you start from scratch.

There’s been a noticeable uptick in bold moves around the NBA in the last few years. If it’s possible to trace it to a definitive launching point, the move by the Clippers to ship a mountain of draft capital to Oklahoma City for Paul George in 2019 seems the likely landing spot. The Clippers argued it made sense because trading for George enabled the free-agent bonanza of landing Kawhi Leonard and it’s hard to argue with that logic, the lack of a payoff for the franchise notwithstanding.

But it also set the bar for other teams dangling stars – often of lesser magnitude – and what became the standard demand for a king’s ransom in return. Look at the mania of last off-season when players like Rudy Gobert, Dejounte Murray and Donovan Mitchell changed uniforms.

Time will tell how those all-in decisions turn, but restlessness in places like Atlanta and Minnesota might seem preferable to the despair that threatens to replace it if early returns predict their futures.

The Pistons have a world of possibilities today that they could have only hoped to possess when Weaver joined them in June 2020. The evidence shines through the 17-win total amassed during an injury-ravaged season. Maybe it takes the Williams hiring to prove it to skeptics. He had $21 million and three years of pay still coming plus the chance to pick his spot next season when some desperate team changes course, as Atlanta did mid-season this year to land last year’s hot free-agent coach, Quin Snyder

That 2020 version of the Pistons had an aging roster that maxed out as a .500 team and first-round fodder. Without benefit of a star to dangle, Weaver completely gutted the roster in a calendar year and started from step one.

In Cade Cunningham, the Pistons now have a player the world expects to be a fixture at future All-Star games. If he’s joined there by Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren someday in the not-too-distant future, no one would register surprise. They’ve got a solid chance to add another player of that caliber later this month when they draft fifth. They have a coach in Williams with a track record of hastening the learning curve of young players.

And they’ll take $30 million of cap space into an off-season where restlessness and its byproducts create an environment rife with opportunity for franchises – the Pistons high among their number – unencumbered by contracts out of whack with production.

A new collective bargaining agreement that punishes franchises trying to outspend their mistakes creates another pathway to opportunity for Weaver and the Pistons this summer. Pair that with the reality of a thin unrestricted free-agent class and the likelihood of the Pistons again using their cap space to facilitate trades seems a good bet.

If you’re looking for clues as to how Weaver will go about his business this summer, go back to his April debriefing as the season ended. Asked what he learned about himself during a season undermined by injury, starting with Cunningham’s season-ender 12 games in, he said this:

“It’s funny. Coach (Dwane Casey) and I, at the beginning of the season, we said, ‘In the morning we drink a cup of urgency; at night we’ll drink a cup of patience.’ It’s still the same. I’m just being patient, staying through the process. It’s not all linear. … As I get older, I just become more patient. I think that’s what I’m learning about myself.”

That means the Pistons aren’t a likely candidate to win headlines this summer, beyond the ones for landing Williams as coach, by sending a load of first-round picks out for a “star” who’s even money to turn restlessness into despair by this time next summer. As Pistons fans with a sense of history can attest, you don’t win titles by skipping steps. The Pistons have taken too many strong, assertive ones in launching Weaver’s restoration to yield to reckless impatience at this point.