No one is predicting a Woodward Avenue championship parade in June.
But it’s clear the Detroit Pistons, coming off three straight losing seasons, are seen in a different light as the season opener against the Orlando Magic at Little Caesars Arena approaches. The Pistons were one of eight teams cited by general managers as having the best core of promising young players in the league, according to a survey published by NBA.com.
The optimism is a product of Pistons General Manager Troy Weaver’s stewardship of the franchise since he was hired in the summer of 2020. Three draft classes have produced guard Cade Cunningham, forward Saddiq Bey, center Isaiah Stewart, guard Killian Hayes, forward Isaiah Livers, guard Jaden Ivey and center Jalen Duren. The same survey picked Cunningham as one of several young players to breakout this season.
Combined with the additions of veteran shooters Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks, some are predicting the Pistons to at least challenge for the play-in tournament after three straight losing seasons. That was the sentiment shared by fans who attended the recent open scrimmage at Little Caesars Arena.
Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores has similar optimism for the upcoming season, and while he also expects the typical adversity to come, he shared his confidence in the franchise’s direction with players during a gathering at Gores’ Malibu home, which was a resumption of the event that was put on hold because of the pandemic.
“I've now owned the team for 11 years, and I've never felt this way,” Gores said. “This is a great foundation, it's a tremendous foundation. Part of the reason I love the players on this team is that you have tremendous skill, but there's a lot of humility here. With humility, you also reflect and that’s how you improve. I really love this energy. I love it, and I don't say that often.”
As an assistant general manager with the Oklahoma City Thunder for just over a decade, Weaver developed a reputation as a supreme talent evaluator. Weaver was an integral part of draft processes that landed All-Stars Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
That reputation attracted the interest of Gores and Pistons Vice Chairman Arn Tellem when they recruited Weaver to head up the Pistons organization, announcing his hiring in May 2020.
“Troy is an outstanding executive with an exceptional track record for identifying and developing talent,” Gores said at the time. “In talking with Troy, he’s got both the skill and temperament to lead, and the confidence and creativity to work collaboratively with others. We’re excited for him to take the reins as general manager of the Pistons at this important moment.”
The Pistons were coming off a pandemic-shortened 20-46 season and the organization had collectively decided it was time to rebuild through the draft. Weaver went to work and by the start of the 2021-22 season, not one player Weaver inherited remained on the Pistons roster.
Weaver’s first two draft classes landed Hayes, Bey, Stewart and Cunningham. And on the morning of this past June’s NBA Draft, Gores told Weaver to “go for it.” The Pistons used the fifth overall pick to select Ivey, a Purdue guard. A draft night trade later added the athletic Duren who played one season at Memphis.
Weaver has established he is looking for athletic prospects, but there is a clear emphasis on character and work ethic, which Gores heartily endorses.
With Pistons head coach Dwane Casey’s ability to develop young talent, Gores likes how things are headed, something he felt he had to share with most organization representatives visiting his Malibu home in August. After two summers of necessary pandemic protocols, the party was also an opportunity for the young players to get to know Gores.
“Having annual parties and traditions like that to start the year off is obviously a plus and we're always grateful for that,” Livers said. “But most importantly, it's just being around the owner, which ironically enough you already see Tom a good amount more than you would see any other owners.”
‘Jump on the bandwagon’
Several thousand fans gathered at LCA earlier this month to watch the Pistons at the team’s annual open scrimmage. The crowd was dotted with Lions and Tigers jerseys since both franchises would be in action later in the day.
Casey greeted the crowd.
“I know there’s a million things you could be doing this morning rather than come out here to watch Pistons practice, but we love it,” Casey said. “We’re expecting a great year this year. Stay with us. Jump on the bandwagon now, stay with us through the ups and downs of the season. Good things are going to happen. There’s a big pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”
Emitt Allen, 11, who was attending the scrimmage with his mother and friends, is on the bandwagon and shares the overall optimism. He is expecting a major step forward. He expects Cunningham to make the All-Star Game. He is also expecting Cunningham to make third team All-NBA.
“We have a young core so in the few next years I think we'll be consistent with making the playoffs,” Allen said.