A peek inside Detroit Pistons’ arduous NBA draft process that yielded Cade Cunningham

Detroit Free Press

Thursday was a triumphant day for the Detroit Pistons. They drafted Cade Cunningham first overall, and used three second-round picks on players that general manager Troy Weaver believes strongly in.

On Friday, all four of the Pistons’ draft picks were introduced to the media. Cunningham, Isaiah Livers, Luka Garza and Balsa Koprivica all took the stage at the Pistons Performance Center alongside Weaver, team owner Tom Gores and head coach Dwane Casey.

It was Weaver’s second draft as GM, and he said it was an opportunity to continue what he started a year ago — adding high-character players he believes will aid the “restoring” of the team back to championship contention.

DRAFT GRADES: Cade Cunningham makes Pistons winners. How about Round 2?

“I’m just as excited as I was today as I was last year when we brought in four young men,” Weaver said. “The common theme remains the same. They asked after the season what we look for in the draft, and I said we want to double down on what we did last year. We wanted hardworking, selfless, competitive guys who are about the right thing.”

The process behind drafting Cade Cunningham

Despite widely being considered the best prospect in the draft and a potential All NBA-caliber player, Weaver made it clear that the Pistons wouldn’t rush their decision-making with the No. 1 pick. It was a talented draft with four players who would’ve went number one a year ago, and they took their time vetting every single player.

[ Cade Cunningham will wear Chuck Daly’s retired No. 2 jersey ]

Cunningham was on top of their draft board, but Weaver said Tuesday they hadn’t made a decision on the pick.

The Pistons knew from the start of the process that Cunningham was worthy of being the pick, Gores said. But they still had to get to know him first.

“He was intense through this process,” Gores said of his general manager. “He just went through everything. He didn’t care what he read, what he saw. He needed to see it himself. He’s a guy that gets on the ground this last year. He went to every game, COVID or not, and really got the players to embrace him.”

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

Weaver, Casey and Gores gave more insight behind the process on Friday. They met with Cunningham several times in the weeks leading up to the draft, including in New York on Wednesday. Gores flew Cunningham’s family out to Los Angeles to get to know them better. Cunningham also visited Detroit last week.

“From the onset, people thought I was being cliché when we wanted to run a process,” Weaver said. “And we did. And we landed here for a reason. We got the right guy in the draft, we got the right guy for the organization. The connection that we got, that we have with him through this process will propel us into the future. But you know instantly, but you have to run a process like anything else. We ran our process and like I said last night, we landed here. Excited to be here with Cade.”

Cunningham embraces comparisons to NBA greats

Weaver hasn’t been shy with his praise for Cunningham’s talent. In the weeks leading up to the draft, he compared him to Pistons great and Hall-of-Famer Grant Hill. Thursday night, he saw a parallel between how Cunningham and Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird think the game of basketball.

[ After going No. 1, Cade Cunningham embracing the responsibility of leading Pistons ]

“Hearing my name in those sentences with guys like that, it’s surreal knowing that those are legends, some of the best guys to ever play the game,” Cunningham said. “I think it gives me more confidence to know that Weaver is a guy that really knows basketball. So for him to put a name like that beside my name, it gives me confidence to know that I can get to that point and that’s something that I can achieve that level. I’m blessed to be in this position, I’m happy that the Pistons took me with this pick, and I’m excited to contribute to what they got going on as much as I can.”

Isaiah Livers’ surprise scouting experience

Livers, who the Pistons selected 42nd overall, said he was thrilled to be selected by the Pistons. He’s a Kalamazoo native and the 2017 Michigan Mr. Basketball who had a standout four-year career for the Wolverines. He’ll get to stay close to home.

“I’m just excited to be back home man,” he said. “I played down the street at Michigan. Once I knew the Pistons were on the clock at 42, me, my mom and my dad, we were like let’s stay home, why not.”

[ ESPN analyst: Pistons may have gotten NBA draft steal with Isaiah Livers ]

During his draft evaluation process with the Pistons, Casey’s young son played a small role in Livers making a good impression with the team.

“Isaiah came in to visit, and my son was in there,” Casey said. “My son was peeping in, watching us talk and I’m interviewing Isaiah about his family and where he’s from and playing at the University of Michigan, and my son wrote a note and slid it under the door. And I looked at it and I don’t know if Isaiah remembered or not, but he said ‘Dad, we gotta recruit him. He’s a nice guy.’ So he didn’t care about playing or anything like that, and kids are honest.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Pistons content. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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