Detroit Pistons’ front office gets some love from ESPN but still lots of work to be done

Detroit Free Press

Slow progress is better than no progress.

That’s how Detroit Pistons fans who have seen ESPN’s annual NBA future power rankings may feel. The list, now in its 12th year, is a composite of each franchise’s roster, management, draft capital, market and financial/payroll situation; it ranks their chances of on-court success over the next three seasons.

The Pistons, one of Detroit’s four rebuilding teams, understandably come in near the bottom of the rankings. Detroit (20-49) is tied for the league’s second-worst record heading into play Tuesday and is a lock for a lottery pick this year, and a likely lottery team next year as well.

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Yet ESPN analysts Bobby Marks and Kevin Pelton seem to like what new Pistons GM Troy Weaver and Co. are doing. While the team’s roster and management were ranked among the league’s worst, their draft assets (seventh) and cap situation (eighth) are points of strength.

In the April 2020 rankings, the Pistons were ranked 29th overall, but as of Tuesday, they’d moved up to 26th. The team has not been ranked higher than the 20s since 2017. As we said, slow progress.

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“(Pistons GM Troy) Weaver’s first draft yielded two apparent hits in Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart, with No. 7 pick Killian Hayes slower to contribute in the NBA,” Pelton wrote. “Jerami Grant, signed in free agency, also impressed in a larger offensive role. Still, the Pistons have a long way to go to contend in the East and don’t have the benefit of substantial cap flexibility until Blake Griffin’s dead money comes off the book in 2022.”

It’s hard to dislike the Pistons’ most recent draft class, as even second-rounder Saben Lee looks like a rotational player with the potential for a larger role. Bey (11.9 points per game and 38.4% 3-point shooting) and Stewart (7.9 points and 6.6 rebounds in 21 minutes per game) are all but guaranteed All-Rookie selections at season’s end.

Grant and Mason Plumlee appear to be two of 2020’s better free agent signings as the season winds down — a thought some NBA fans might have found laughable when the deals were announced.

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But the Griffin point is a fair one; Detroit negotiated a buyout so the former All-Star could chase a ring with the Brooklyn Nets (the No. 1 team in the rankings this year). And there’s a draft pick owed to the Houston Rockets for the Stewart trade, as Pelton points out.

Come 2022, however, the Pistons should have the money to offer a max contract to a star free agent. A star, or two, to complement Grant, Hayes and Bey will be necessary to leapfrog even teams with just good or mediocre standing — but much bigger headliners — such as the Dallas Mavericks, Charlotte Hornets or New Orleans Pelicans.

We can’t give away all the goods of the article, but Pistons fans may be interested to know the Sacramento Kings, Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder all come in ahead of Detroit. The Washington Wizards, seemingly at a crossroads with established veterans Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal, are ranked near the Pistons as well.

Where Detroit lands on next year’s list largely hinges on how upcoming free agent dollars and draft picks are spent, as well as the development of Hayes.

RANK EM: Grading Detroit’s rebuilds, from promising to failing: Lions, Pistons, Red Wings, Tigers

FADE FOR CADE?: Where Pistons rank in 2021 NBA draft lottery standings

If Weaver can keep the Pistons moving in the right direction, pretty soon that progress can turn into playoffs.

Follow the Free Press on Facebook and Twitter for more news. Tyler Davis can be contacted at or on Twitter @TDavisFreep.

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