Niyo: Demolition man: Troy Weaver’s trades lay foundation for young Pistons

Detroit News

Troy Weaver finally put down the jackhammer.

And that left Dwane Casey a quiet moment before practice Thursday to talk to his work crew.

“The dust has settled,” the Pistons’ coach explained later, “and what we have, like I told the team, is a big part of our foundation, a big part of our core going forward.”

There’s no turning back, obviously, since the demolition work is largely completed in Detroit.

But there’s also no denying the progress we’re already seeing, even if the Pistons’ record will continue to say otherwise for the rest of this season, at least. Though if you’ve really been paying attention, that in itself is another sign of progress for this franchise, which has spent the last decade trapped in a poorly-constructed money pit.

Now, though, there’s a blueprint that makes sense. And after the Pistons’ general manager made one more modification before taking a mandated break at Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, swinging another deal — the Grim Weaver’s ninth in nine months on the job here — late Wednesday night, that was the point Casey was trying to make.

The Pistons’ coach wasn’t allowed to comment specifically on Weaver’s latest move, because it hadn’t been formally approved the by league office yet. But this one sent Delon Wright to Sacramento in exchange for another veteran guard in Cory Joseph, a 2021 second-round pick (via the Lakers) and a 2024 second-round pick.

That trade hardly qualifies as a blockbuster, but it creates some cap room, perhaps, and helps replenish some of the draft capital Weaver gave up in the flurry of deals he made late last fall, including the four future second-rounders included in the three-way that sent Luke Kennard to the Clippers, Bruce Brown to Brooklyn, and brought back a first-rounder the Pistons used to draft Saddiq Bey.

Detroit now owns three second-round picks in this summer’s draft, and two of those could belong to teams that miss the playoffs in Toronto and Charlotte. Prior to Thursday’s play, those picks projected as Nos. 37 and 48 overall, with the Lakers pick that was conveyed by Sacramento pegged 54th overall. More than likely, Weaver will opt to package two of those picks to move up in this draft or trade one for a future pick or two.

More: Pistons’ Wayne Ellington focuses on court as trade deadline nears: ‘It’s part of the game’

For subscribers: Beard: Three best, worst Pistons deals in the past decade

Dealing Wright also may help in the way no one really wants to admit, or even talk about. Detroit is tied with Houston for the second-worst record in the NBA, 2 ½ games behind Minnesota. The Rockets, fresh off ending a 20-game losing streak Monday night, unloaded leading scorer Victor Oladipo in a last-minute deal with Miami, all but assuring their misery will continue through the end of the regular season.

Not far behind, though, is Orlando, which also waved the white flag on its season Thursday, trading away its three best players — Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon — in separate deals. The Magic are 2 ½ games ahead of the Pistons in the Eastern Conference standings right now, but aren’t likely to win many the rest of the way with a gutted roster.

And that matters, because the NBA draft lottery rules give the same odds of landing the No. 1 pick — or a top-three pick, for that matter — to the three worst teams. A big part of Weaver’s “restoration” plans here hinge on that lottery luck and whether it brings a premium-grade talent like Cade Cunningham or Jalen Suggs to Detroit. The Pistons, of course, haven’t picked higher than seventh overall since 2003. (Cough, cough.)

Still, that’s a worry for the offseason. In the interim, this latest trade also frees up minutes at the point, where top pick Killian Hayes is close to a return after missing more than two months with a torn hip labrum. And where fellow rookie Saben Lee and Dennis Smith Jr. also figure to get a longer look over the final two months, along with Joseph.

“We want to make sure we see what combinations work together,” Casey said. “Can Killian play off the ball as a secondary ball-handler? Can he play as a primary ball-handler? Those things we want to see and give him time in those situations to develop.”

And that’s what a lot of this will boil down to now: Player development. It’s an area where Casey has excelled as an NBA coach, particularly in his last stop in Toronto, and one of the reasons why Weaver insists “we have the best coach in the world for what we’re going through.”

“I enjoy coaching it,” Casey said Thursday. “I don’t enjoy getting our butts whupped, but that’s kind of a byproduct of a young group in the league.”

So is the intrigue, though, which is something the Pistons’ fans haven’t enjoyed in quite some time.

If the early returns were a little underwhelming with Hayes, who was thrust immediately into the starting point guard role before he was ready, the other first-rounders Weaver added last fall already are forcing us to reassess any Pistons post-draft analyses.

Bey has emerged as a confident young 3-and-D player that’s capable of more, perhaps, as Casey noted last week following the rookie’s 28-point, 12-rebound effort against Toronto. He said he envisions the 6-foot-8, 215-pound wing operating out of ball screens with his passing ability, not just spotting up at the three-point line.

“He’s just beginning,” Casey said. “He’s scratching the surface. … He’s just a solid, solid pro, and he’s going to be a star in this league for a long, long time.”

Likewise, in the short time we’ve seen center Isaiah Stewart getting extended minutes as a rookie, we’ve seen far more versatility than expected. The high-motor intensity and rebounding are as advertised, but now Stewart is stepping out and knocking down shots from the perimeter — 4-for-7 from three-point range over the last four games.

Add that to Jerami Grant’s breakout season, Mason Plumlee’s career year and Josh Jackson’s solid performance as a two-way player off the bench, and there are encouraging signs up and down a revamped roster. One that includes just one holdover from last season in 20-year-old Sekou Doumbouya. And one that’ll undoubtedly get churned again this summer.

“But at some point,” Casey said, “it’s gonna come where, ‘This is us’ and ‘This is who we’re gonna be for the next 2-3-4 years’ and ‘This is what we’re building around.’ We’re not there yet, I don’t think. But it’s coming. And I see it coming.”

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