When NBA players and coaches compete against their former team for the first time, there’s often some animosity, as they have something to prove or have an axe to grind because of a bitter breakup.
There’s not an iota of acrimony for Troy Weaver in his first game back in Oklahoma City to face his former team on Monday.
During his dozen years in the Thunder front office, Weaver was one of the architects of the franchise’s success from the very beginning, starting from their move from Seattle as the SuperSonics to his decision to leave and take the helm as the Pistons’ general manager last summer.
Weaver has taken his knowledge and experience in working with Thunder general manager Sam Presti to help usher in a new Pistons era — what he calls a restoring rather than a rebuild — and has his new team well on its way.
“I was there for 12 years and other than being married for 27 years, it’s the place I’ve worked the longest and the longest relationship I’ve had in my life,” Weaver told The Detroit News. “There were a lot of good people I worked with there and a lot of those people turned into lifelong friends, and Oklahoma City is like a second home to me.”
Weaver always has been known for his eye for talent in bringing Russell Westbrook and James Harden to the Thunder, where they had a winning record in every season except the first year in Oklahoma City.
Aside from a loaded roster of talent on the court, Presti helped build a strong front office, with several executives who have moved on to lead other teams. Weaver is the most recent, and he’s looking to take the Pistons to new heights after more than a decade of being mired in mediocrity.
Weaver brings more than just an eye for talent; it’s also the overall vision for moving the franchise forward.
“There’s more to Troy as an executive than just being someone that can identify players. When you have strengths, certainly those are the things that stand out, but I think that there are other things about him that make him effective,” Presti said. “In addition to identifying players or being able to forecast a player, he’s got a really good feel for the game. I think his background as a coach is extraordinarily valuable.”
Weaver is credited with shepherding Carmelo Anthony to Syracuse and Westbrook to the Thunder, but beyond those relationships, he also sees the bigger picture of what fits in a complex structure of an organization.
He used that as a template to figure out how to remake the Pistons’ roster in less than a year, with only one player left from when Weaver took over in June. It’s not that Weaver was looking to tear up the roster, but with support from team owner Tom Gores, he has been empowered to get the Pistons back on a winning track.
“One of the best qualities is that he’s very convicted and he really believes in the direction that he feels the game should be played, and he really commits to that,” Presti said. “It’s a strength because he doesn’t kind of straddle the middle on anything, and that’s one of the reasons why I think he’ll be special over the course of time.”
Presti, 44, is the second-longest-tenured general manager in the NBA, and part of his success has been continuity. With Weaver, Presti found a strong assistant GM but also a good friend. They were both scouts — Weaver with the Utah Jazz and Presti with the San Antonio Spurs.
At some point, Presti knew Weaver, 52, was going to find the best opportunity for him to move on and guide his own team. When the Pistons came calling last summer, everything lined up, and Weaver and Presti knew it was the right time — and the right fit.
“Our relationship goes back to 2007. We spent I don’t know how many hours together — enough to finish each other’s sentences and know what the other person is thinking,” Presti said. “Whenever the opportunity came that he felt like was the right one for him, I had no doubt that he would do an excellent job because he’s got a great combination of qualities and talent that I think will serve him well.
“I wouldn’t say that it was a surprise to me that he’d be doing a good job whenever it was he decided that he found the right fit for him — and Detroit certainly is that.”
It’s been a slow go in Weaver’s first season, with the Pistons starting 14-35 and on a collision course with the draft lottery and a likely top-five pick. Part of that is due to the roster overhaul, which has involved moving team leaders Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose and having first-round pick Killian Hayes miss most of the season because of an injury.
Although they didn’t completely agree on every detail in Oklahoma City, Presti and Weaver worked toward the same goal of making the Thunder a strong franchise. In that, they undoubtedly succeeded.
Weaver and Presti have a special bond that will continue even as they’re competitors on different teams. They even had a trade this season, sending Svi Mykhailiuk to the Thunder for Hamidou Diallo, with Weaver seeing potential in adding one of his former draft picks.
That trade wasn’t weird for Presti, seeing Weaver first as a friend more than adversary, but both teams and both players got what they wanted out of the deal.
“First and foremost, he’s a tremendous friend, and our relationship is really special and one of the relationships in my life that I value and treasure, to know that it’s going to be there forever,” Presti said. “That is a tremendous thing, to be able to work with somebody for that long in this industry, whom you admire and respect. I really feel I’ve learned a tremendous amount from Troy during our decade-plus time together.
“I think we’ve been blessed in Oklahoma City over the last 12 years to have just some tremendous people come through our organization. Troy is obviously at the very top of that list.”
Pistons at Thunder
►Tip-off: 7 p.m. Monday, Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City
Outlook: The Thunder (20-29) have lost five of their last six games and will be without leading scorer Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for at least two more weeks because of plantar fasciitis.