Detroit Pistons GM Troy Weaver building team to honor city’s robust basketball heritage

Detroit Free Press

Shawn Windsor
| Detroit Free Press

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Troy Weaver sees a lot of his hometown in Detroit. He sees a lot of Detroit in himself, too. And if you’re wondering what he’s trying to do as the general manager of the Detroit Pistons, this is the best place to start — identity. 

The Pistons haven’t had one in years. More than a decade, truthfully, even when you account for the two playoff teams in 2016 and 2019.  

Those teams got swept in the first round, and while they were entertaining at times, they could have played anywhere — like, say, Orlando … or Minnesota. 

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Weaver is after something more identifiable, something that resonates with Detroit’s history, its sense of itself. He didn’t stay in Oklahoma City the last 12 years as the No. 2 man waiting for the best place to build a winner. He waited for the right place to build one. 

A place that took him back to his roots, to Washington D.C. He has found that here, and not just because D.C. produced Marvin Gaye and Dave Bing, a couple of legends that Detroit likes to claim, he joked. 

“I’m a music lover,” he said recently, though the city’s rich history wasn’t the driving force behind his decision to finally leave Oklahoma. “Coming here … with (Detroit’s) rich history, it was just the feel. Detroit was a perfect fit for myself, for my family. Sometimes teams — mostly in college athletics, hire great coaches but they aren’t always a great fit. I think fit is very important in leadership roles. I felt I could really plant my feet and grow (here) when this opportunity opened up.” 

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Weaver grew up a Bullets fan. He went to the parade when they won the NBA title in 1978. Even though he was 10, he was struck by their ruggedness, by their defensive style, by their big men — Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes.  

Maybe that’s why when the Pistons won their first championship 11 years later, he fell in love with the Bad Boys, too. He got into AAU coaching toward the end of the Bad Boys’ run while attending Bowie State University.  

By the time the Pistons’ Goin’ to Work squad won it all in 2004, Weaver was an assistant coach for Jim Boeheim at Syracuse. The next year, he landed a job as lead scout with the Utah Jazz. 

For as long as he has been in the league, those Bullets and Pistons teams shaped his thoughts about team building. That was obvious in Oklahoma City, where he had a hand in putting together some of the best defensive teams in the league. 

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Folks think of those Thunder teams and picture Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But it was their overall length and grit that propelled them in the playoffs. 

Weaver wants something similar here. He thinks the city wants it, too. 

“People come when they see an identity,” Weaver said. “That’s what people relate to.” 

That’s why he drafted Killian Hayes and made trades to draft Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart in the first round. It’s why he signed Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee — though he wanted Plumlee, too, because he’s a good screen-setter and roll man and he thought that would speed up Hayes’ development in pick-and-roll actions

Weaver took a flier on Josh Jackson — the Detroit native and No. 4 pick in 2017 who flamed out in Phoenix — because Jackson competes, is long and defends. And he drafted Saben Lee in the second round because he is long for his height — 6 feet 2 — and because he also defends. 

He’s betting that a mix of players at all three levels — pre-prime, prime and the backside of prime — all of whom have something to prove, will increase the competitive spirit in the locker room and in practice. 

“You want guys flying around,” he said. “We wanted to create an environment of guys competing. People mistake playing hard with being competitive.” 

Weaver thinks it is working already, in practice and in the four preseason games.  

“Right now, they want it so bad that they haven’t been able to relax yet,” he said, especially the young guys. 

Weaver is banking that the mix of players he signed will help as well. He wants the veterans to lead the youngsters. He wants players like Grant and Jackson to find new levels. He wants the young guys to defend like crazy. 

“The rookies, which I’m calling the ‘core four,’ are all team guys,” he said. “They are selfless, they have a tremendous amount of respect for the game.” 

He also wanted flexibility moving forward, which means tradeable assets and a salary structure that doesn’t weigh the franchise down. And while it’s easy to question the Plumlee and Grant signings, both serve a purpose, and one — Grant — has shown he can be a third option and plus defender on a conference finalist, as he did last season in Denver. Besides, neither are locked into long-term contracts

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Above all, Weaver wanted to change the culture. Thinking if he can do that, it will eventually show up on the court, and the city will spot the change and see the best of Detroit basketball. 

“The goal was to put a team out there this city could resonate with,” he said. “I think we were pretty successful doing that.” 

To do this, Weaver needed to be in the city. 

“Had to be in the city,” he said — he lives on the east side about 12 minutes from the team’s practice building.  

So far, he has spent his time either at home or at work. The pandemic has kept him from exploring. But he has been here often enough over the years to know what’s out there. He can’t wait to mix up in it.  

Though he’s guessing what’s out there will only redouble what he already knows: Detroit feels like home. He wants his team to reflect that. 


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