If Cade Cunningham becomes a Detroit Piston on Thursday, he won’t need a full introduction to the city.
Cunningham got his initial taste earlier this week, when he flew to Detroit for his pre-draft interview and workout with the team. He attended the Detroit Tigers’ 14-0 win over the Texas Rangers on Monday, and photos and videos emerged on social media of fans chanting, “We want Cade!” at Comerica Park.
He worked out in front of Pistons brass at the Pistons Performance Center the following day, a league source told the Free Press. The Pistons are the only team he plans on meeting with before Thursday’s draft. (Though, he said, he would meet with any team that acquired the No. 1 pick from the Pistons.)
“I wanted to meet with the team with the No. 1 pick and I feel like I’m the No. 1 pick,” Cunningham said during a media availability via video call Friday. “I met with Detroit, they’re the ones that had the pick.”
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But Cunningham is already a big fan of the city. The Arlington, Texas, native said he listens to some of Detroit’s up-and-coming rappers in the city, such as 42 Dugg and Babyface Ray. He also mentioned The Temptations, though he said he’d have to pull out his phone to list all of the local artists he enjoys. Culturally, he feels like he fits right in.
That’s certainly good news for the Pistons. Cunningham is universally considered to be the best overall prospect — a 6-foot-8 point guard who can do just about everything offensively and still play defense. The Pistons’ selection at No. 1 isn’t due for a few days, but Cunningham fits the profile of an NBA superstar.
For a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2008, there may not be a better fit.
“I love Detroit,” Cunningham said. “I’ve already been listening to Detroit music and things like that, way before the draft lottery, any of that stuff. I was already hip to the culture in Detroit. It’s a city that has a lot of things going on, and I feel like getting the sports team rolling again would be huge for the city. Detroit fits me, that’s the main thing I’m going to try to do is step in and embody the swag that people from Detroit walk with, the people from Michigan in general. They have an underdog, go-get-what-you-want feel to them and I like that about the city.
“If I am able to go in there and be the No. 1 pick, I’m going to try to carry that same swag, in how I walk on the court and make the most out of it and wear the red, white and blue for sure,” he continued.
Cunningham was a star in his lone season at Oklahoma State, averaging 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game on 43.8% overall shooting and 40% from 3. He’s an elite shooter, possesses strong floor vision and can defend multiple positions. Pistons general manager Troy Weaver has compared him to 1994 No. 3 overall pick (and 2018 Basketball Hall of Fame inductee) Grant Hill, another oversized floor general with the Pistons who could score.
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Cunningham said he took a lot away from his visit with Weaver earlier this week, and even used Weaver’s preferred wording, saying the Pistons are in a “restore,” rather than a rebuild.
“The organization has a lot of great people within it,” Cunningham said. “I mean, starting from the owners, Troy Weaver is a great GM, and then, you know, all the way down. They got just great people throughout. So I learned a lot on my visit. If they take me I’ll definitely be excited to be there. And, they’re a great organization, got a lot of good things going for them. I think they’re in the restoration period. I don’t think they’re rebuilding. They’re just trying to restore what they got going on. So definitely an exciting time for that organization for sure.”
Pistons fans already appear sold on Cunningham. He posed for photos with fans downtown before the Tigers game, and he got the celebrity treatment once inside Comerica. Cunningham was widely considered to be the best player of the 2020 high school class, which means he’s no stranger to special treatment. But the warm reception he’s already gotten in Detroit will stick with him.
“That was cool,” Cunningham said about hearing his name chanted at Comerica Park. “They showed a lot of love throughout. When I was walking through the city, walking through the stadium, things like that, they showed a lot of love. That type of stuff means a lot, anytime they show love. I remember dreaming of being a top guy, and being from Arlington, I’m all the way out in Detroit and people are talking about ‘We want Cade,’ things like that. It’s surreal for me. I know I’ve played a lot of big games, but that type of stuff still gives me the chills, and I’m still super appreciative of it.”
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