Pistons’ pick of Cade Cunningham the latest sign of a new era in Detroit sports

Detroit Free Press

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Being a sports fan in Detroit has been a miserable experience for most of the past five years.

It has felt like a lifetime.

The Pistons, Red Wings, Lions and Tigers have been stuck in rebuilding mode, racking up ugly losses and painful, forgettable seasons.

It makes you want to scream: “Enough already! I give! Please make it stop!”

But suddenly, you can feel something new…

Something completely unfamiliar…

Hope.

Maybe the misery is about to come to an end.

Finally.

All four teams seem to be moving in the right direction, and none more than the Pistons, who took Cade Cunningham on Thursday with the No. 1 pick in the draft. Cunningham is a 6-foot-8 point guard from Oklahoma State and is widely considered the best player in this draft because he can do it all — shoot, defend, pass and lead. He looks like a future All-Star and face of the franchise. Best of all, he wants to be here.

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“I love Detroit,” Cunningham told reporters earlier in July after a pre-draft workout. “I’ve already been listening to Detroit music and things like that, way before the draft lottery, any of that stuff.”

And all the people said: Hallelujah!

This is somebody you can build a franchise around, and that’s something to be excited about.

“His mind allows him to play faster and see things even if he’s not a superior athlete,” Pistons general manager Troy Weaver said. “He’s a very sharp young man. He understands what the Detroit Pistons are all about, in the past. And like I said, we’re trying to restore that. And he really gets it. He’s very aware.”

Cunningham struggled to explain his emotions during an interview on ESPN. “It’s still crazy to be in the moment,” he said. “Words can’t really explain the emotions.”

Then he put on a pair of Buffs and looked into the camera.

“Detroit Pistons, I’m all the way in!” he said. “Let’s do it!”

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It’s hard to believe

I understand if you are skeptical.

Losing eats away your optimism. You see a first-round pick and you expect him to flop, or get injured. You expect new coaches to flame out. And we certainly have seen enough of that. But losing, especially as often as our teams have done it, brings something alluring: Talented top picks, the kind that can supercharge the rebuilding process.

And that’s why I have so much optimism for Detroit’s big-league squads.

All four have accumulated fascinating building blocks.

Does that guarantee anything? No.

But it offers hope.

I have faith in Weaver, who has made several fantastic moves in a short time, reshaping the roster.

“We wanted guys to come in here and work and continue to bleed into our ethos of working hard and playing together, being selfless, being competitive,” Weaver said. “And (Cunningham) has a tremendous competitive spirit. But he’s very intelligent on the floor. And like I said, the leadership, the versatility, and connect-ability put him over the top.”

I have just as much faith in Wings GM Steve Yzerman because he has a proven track record after building the Tampa Bay Lightning into two-time Stanley Cup champions. So after Yzerman took a big defensemen and a massive goaltender, I trust that he knows what he’s doing.

“We hope we made good choices,” Yzerman told reporters this week.

Hope.

No doubt.

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Heading in the right direction

I believe the Tigers are also headed in the right direction.

You can criticize Tigers general manager Al Avila for many of the trades he made when slashing payroll, but you have to acknowledge that he did a fantastic job hiring manager AJ Hinch. The Tigers also just pulled off a fantastic draft, drawing high marks from scouting experts. The team’s play has improved significantly, too, since a 9-24 start, several prospects are playing well in the minor leagues and it’s just fun to watch them again.

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As far as the Lions … even though the new regime hasn’t coached in a game — much less won one — I expect plenty of losing this fall, it feels like this organization has a direction. A purpose.

Can you question the moves the organizations have made? Certainly; success is hardly certain.

Maybe center Evan Mobley or shooting guard Jalen Green become bigger stars than Cunningham.

Maybe high school shortstop Marcelo Mayer will have a better career than high school pitcher Jackson Jobe, the Tigers’ pick at No. 3 in July.

Maybe cornerbacks Jaycee Horn or Patrick Surtain II — or quarterback Justin Fields — will have more productive careers than Lions offensive lineman Penei Sewell.

But I understand what they’re doing. There is logic behind these draft decisions.

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Cunningham just fits in

Again, none more so than the Pistons taking Cunningham.

Because he is the best all-around player in this draft.

“I was already hip to the culture in Detroit,” Cunningham said last week. “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.”

Dang, this guy is easy to like.

Welcome to Detroit, Cade.

I have a feeling you are going to fit in perfectly with Casey Mize and Jobe and Simon Edvinsson and Spencer Torkelson and Sewell and Riley Greene.

These guys represent the future.

Now, let me be clear.

I don’t think any of these teams will be in the playoffs in the next year. But they are heading in the right direction. You can see the building blocks starting to accumulate and that is creating something new.

Hope.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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