Detroit Pistons have their ‘guy’ and plan for their rebuild. Now here comes the tricky part

Detroit Free Press

They’ve got the guy. And a couple other guys as well. And in a couple of months, the Detroit Pistons will have a chance to get another guy to fit somewhere between the guy and the guys.

Because in the NBA you can’t win without a few guys, but you can’t even think about winning without a guy. Cade Cunningham showed the Pistons no longer have to worry about that. Whatever his ceiling is, he isn’t close to it.

Let’s assume he gets where the Pistons hope. Let’s assume the stretches of takeover basketball he played this season become more than stretches, and that a few weeks of great play turn into a few months of great play — or more.

ROOKIE REVIEW: Cade Cunningham is the top NBA rookie, per ESPN’s top 25 under 25 rankings

NO SUMMER OFF: Cunningham won’t rest this offseason. He plans to reach ‘next level’

Let’s assume that he becomes a top-15 player in the next few seasons — or top-10, the kind of player Kevin Durant envisioned a few weeks ago, after the rookie dropped 34 on the Brooklyn Nets, saying:

“When you’ve got a 6-7 point guard, I mean, it’s a good start. Somebody that can wreck a whole defensive game plan with his size, his talent, his skill.”

Durant paused between those sentences to chuckle and look over at his teammate, Kyrie Irving, who was sitting next to him at the postgame news conference. Irving chuckled, too, then shook his head, acknowledging the kind of player Durant was describing, the kind of player he’d just witnessed.

So, yeah, let’s assume general manager Troy Weaver and coach Dwane Casey have their guy, a potentially generational talent through which everything else flows on the court.

Now what?

Those two sat with the media Tuesday afternoon at the team’s practice facility to talk about exactly that, about what they learned this season, where things are headed next season and what needs to happen to win more than 23 games.

The first thing?

“Continue to add talent,” Weaver said. “We want guys that play hard, play tough, dive on balls, but guess what? They’ve got to be talented. We need to improve our offense. We need to score. … Some of it’s gonna come internally.”

Such as Cunningham getting stronger and improving his finishing percentage around the rim. Or Saddiq Bey upping his midrange and 3-point shooting percentages. Or Isaiah Stewart taking more 3-pointers in general — the second-year forward hit a flurry of them the last couple weeks of the season.

WAIT TIL NEXT YEAR?: Dwane Casey knows Pistons expectations are on rise: ‘We’ve gotta come back better’

Casey has a plan for the offseason and said many of the young guys planned on sticking in Detroit and working out. But more offense isn’t only going to come from internal improvement.

It has to come from the draft — where the Pistons have a reasonable chance (40.1%) at a top-three pick and can’t fall farther than seventh. And it’s got to come from free agency and trades, as Weaver has both cap room and desirable contracts to play with.

“I like trades, and free agency can be a little tricky,” he said, “but I feel good about our process either way.”

Weaver has shown an eye for both in his first two seasons. He signed Jerami Grant to a three-year, $60 million contract in 2020, a deal that drew some skepticism but that now looks like a steal. And he traded for Marvin Bagley III earlier this season, giving Cunningham a lob threat and another young teammate to join the rebuilding timeline.

Expect Weaver to be judicious with the team’s cap room, though he did say he was going to be aggressive in finding players.

“Guys who move the needle,” he said.

How many they already have is a matter of perspective, I suppose. But even if there’s no clear No. 2 after Cunningham, we can surely agree that among Bey, Stewart, Bagley and Hayes, Weaver has at least two more needle-movers.

Each had their moments this season (and a couple have had a lot more than one). Bey took the biggest leap in his second season, tightening his handle and attacking closeouts to punish defenses for running him off the 3-point line.

He also showed fearlessness late in games, giving the Pistons two youngsters who love to take late-game shots. Even if he never becomes a primary shot creator, his shooting, strength and improved ball skill this season revealed there’s a good bit more in him.

Stewart took a jump as well, and not just with his long-range shooting that perked up down the stretch. His ball-screen defense on smaller players was uncanny, and something Weaver spotted during the scouting process.

If he continues to add range and consistency, he’ll form a tidy tandem with Bagley, who arrived in Detroit in the winter as a former No. 2 overall pick and heads into the offseason with a renewed love of basketball.

Hearing how much Bagley enjoyed playing in Detroit made Casey smile, and gave him a sense of pride for the development program he and his staff are building here in Detroit.

“We’re excited about going into the summer,” he said.

You could hear it in his voice and in the players’ voices, too. They know what they are building, and they know who they are building around.

As Stewart said of Cunningham last week:

“He’s the one.”

Or the guy.

And when he and everyone else were healthy after the All-Star break, these Pistons showed what the future might look like. Now it’s up to Weaver to keep adding and shaping, and it’s up to Casey to keep developing.

For the first time in a long time, the Pistons have more than just a plan. They have a future star and a budding identity and the resources to take advantage of all of it.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.  

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