Making sense of Detroit Pistons’ latest NBA lottery loss

Detroit Free Press

Troy Weaver’s face said it all. 

NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum reached the seventh pick of the lottery, picked up the card and revealed the Detroit Pistons’ logo under it. Weaver’s expression was blank, at first. Then, he acknowledged the camera. A wry smile took over his face. 

The Pistons entered Thursday’s NBA Draft lottery with the fifth-best odds of landing the No. 1 pick. It was their highest odds in 26 years. Ultimately, it didn’t matter. The Pistons dropped two spots — their worst drop in lottery history. 

Outside of that 1994 draft that saw them select Grant Hill with the third pick, the Pistons have historically picked between seventh and 12th in the lottery with their own pick. And that’ll be true again this year. 

It’s hardly a slap in the face, even if it feels like one. Thursday was Detroit’s ninth lottery appearance in 11 years, and they haven’t had a draft pick higher than seventh during that span. Of all the players selected in that stretch, only Luke Kennard, who was drafted in 2017, remains on the roster. After a decade of mediocrity, the Pistons have little to show for it.

Add that to the Red Wings falling to the fourth pick in their own lottery this year, despite having the worst record in the NHL, and it’s no wonder Detroit sports fans are upset. 

And fans won’t admit it, but this one felt different. The Pistons traded Andre Drummond in February and bought out Reggie Jackson and Markieff Morris shortly after. The ensuing youth movement helped them lose nine of their final 10 games leading up to the NBA’s suspension on March 11, securing their best draft odds since before Kennard was even born. Weaver, who has a sterling reputation across the league, was hired to lead the rebuild. The organization has been open and upfront about its desire to build a team the right way. If this wasn’t its year to get lucky, will it ever happen? 

This brings us back to Weaver, and his soft smile. It’s easy to blame the Pistons’ lack of lottery luck for their overall lack of playoff success this decade. But they’ve had more than enough luck to build a roster capable of making it out of the first round of the playoffs. They just haven’t picked the right players. 

The NBA’s Orlando bubble has been an excellent showcase for the players the Pistons could’ve had. A brief refresher:

  • Suns star Devin Booker, the 13th pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, made the NBA’s All-Seeding Games First Team after helping Phoenix go 8-0 in the bubble by averaging 30.5 points and six assists. The Pistons selected Stanley Johnson eighth overall in that draft.  
  • Former Michigan standout Caris Levert, the 20th pick of the 2016 NBA Draft, made the NBA’s All-Seeding Games Second Team after leading the Nets with 25 points and 6.7 assists per game. On the season, he’s averaging 18.7 points and 4.4 assists. The Pistons took Henry Ellenson two spots above him in 2016. 
  • Jazz star Donovan Mitchell, who went a pick after Kennard in 2017, scored the third-most points in NBA postseason history with a 57-point outing against Denver in Game 1 of the first round of the NBA playoffs. 

There are more examples, but you get the gist. 

Weaver understands that even without a desired lottery outcome, a franchise can get a difference-maker in the draft. He told reporters Thursday night that he doesn’t want a “woe is me” attitude surrounding the franchise. What’s done is done. The Pistons will do their homework and do their best to take the best available player.

Thursday’s outcome wasn’t encouraging. But in a draft that lacks consensus on who the best players are, it’s very possible that one of Weaver’s top targets will be available at the seventh pick. 

And the Pistons’ own recent history suggests that they can get a franchise player at that spot, even if it isn’t yet clear who that player is. 

Maybe Weaver’s smile suggests that he knows who that player is. Or maybe it was an acknowledgement that it’s going to take more than luck to get the Pistons on the right path. Either way, it’s clear that the Pistons can create their own.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Pistons content. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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