Washington, D.C. — Pistons general manager Troy Weaver is known for his moniker of restoring the franchise rather than calling it a rebuild. That’s been his method for bringing the Pistons back to their former glory also, trying to find hidden gems around the league — young players who maybe haven’t lived up to their potential so far in the NBA — as a potential short-term fix.
That was the case with Frank Jackson and with Josh Jackson, who went to the Sacramento Kings in last week’s trade for Marvin Bagley III, the newest piece to the reclamation. Bagley was a former No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 draft, and though he didn’t flourish with the Kings, Weaver is looking to give Bagley some shine and find some success with the Pistons.
“We’re excited to add Marvin to our group. He fits our timeline with these other young guys, but the one thing we were void of — and that’s on me — is some athleticism in the frontcourt, and he will provide the athletic big that rebounds and who can really run the floor and put the ball in the basket,” Weaver said Sunday. “He fits and we’re excited about having him and restoring his career.
“He was a No. 2 pick in Sacramento, and he’s had his ups and downs, but we’re excited to add this kind of person and talent to our ball club.”
In his two seasons, Weaver has tried to work magic without having significant cap space, which has made the rebuild a little slower than many expected. It’s been a slow and grueling process, but with making calculated moves on players like Bagley, they can get closer to contending quicker, without needing to take wild gambles in free agency.
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That was the case with Bagley, whose rookie deal is running out, making him a restricted free agent. The Pistons can match any offer that another team makes, and they could have waited themselves and joined the bidding, but Weaver wanted the benefit of the remainder of this season to help gauge where Bagley was.
“We wanted to bring him in the fold, touch him, feel him and work with him and know really how he fits as a person and as a player, instead of just waiting until free agency,” Weaver said. “I always believe in getting guys in house — similar to what we did with (Hamidou) Diallo.
“We’d like guys to come in and get within the walls and assimilate in the locker room and find out who they really are before we take a real investment in them. That was the thought process of trying to get him in here before free agency.”
Of course, with a former high pick like Bagley, there are questions about whether he’s had his opportunity and that maybe he’s just not going to pan out. That’s where Weaver thinks it’s worth the risk to see what Bagley has, and in the final stretch of the season, the Pistons have a chance to see what that looks like with the rest of the young core they’ve assembled.
Bagley shrugs off some of that criticism, and Weaver sees it as part of the deal that comes with the high pick. The expectations on Bagley aren’t anything unrealistic; it’s just to come in and contribute, and to let things fall where they will.
“Just be myself. Just be who I am. Play hard, bring energy. Block shots, take charges. Offensively, just play and let the game come and score,” Bagley said. “Whatever it is, just be me, play as hard as I possibly can and be able to look myself in the mirror after the game and know that I left it all out on the floor. That’s my only goal coming into the next few games that we have left in the season.”
The focus is not on the past, though; it’s on seeing where he can fit in with their current roster and help with the rebuild.
Obviously, he was a high pick in a class that’s really done well. Some people would say in that top five, he hasn’t done as well as those guys, and that’s obvious, but coming out, he was a tremendous prospect,” Weaver said. “We’re meeting him where he is, and we’ll try to build him up. He’s still obviously a young, talented player, and like I said previously, we’re going to try to give him an environment where he can thrive.
“The evaluation is the same: he’s a big, athletic guy who can really run and rebound and put the ball in the basket. We’re excited to add that talent to the mix.
“We don’t have a guy like that, and I’m charged with making sure we have enough tools in the toolbox — and this is a tool we didn’t have, and we’re excited about adding him.”