Detroit Pistons’ Troy Weaver admits he struggled this year. But here’s his plan for summer

Detroit Free Press

Troy Weaver has had several small wins  during his almost-two years as the general manager of the Detroit Pistons.

His three-year, $60 million contract given to Jerami Grant was initially considered an overpay, but now looks like a steal. He has won a few trades, acquiring productive role players in Cory Joseph, Hamidou Diallo and Marvin Bagley III at low costs. His 2020 draft class of Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey are all emerging as productive building blocks.

And though he needed some luck, drafting Cade Cunningham first overall last offseason has given the Pistons a bona fide franchise player and seems to have  put the franchise on an upward trajectory.

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Yet, Weaver is still learning the job. He acknowledged that he made a mistake constructing this year’s roster in not giving Dwane Casey enough bodies, and enough athleticism, in the frontcourt. An early injury to Kelly Olynyk left the Pistons thin at center, and neither Olynyk or Stewart are true lob threats. The trade for Bagley, who thrived after arriving at the trade deadline, addressed that need.

The Pistons began the season 5-28 overall before surging after the All-Star break. Weaver acknowledged during his end-of-season availability on Tuesday that he felt as though he struggled as well.

“I’m right in there with the coaches, and I think I got better as the season (went on),” Weaver said. “Coach and I talked about this, I didn’t give coach enough tools and the Bagley trade was a big tool for us. We didn’t have enough athleticism up front. We needed to address that, and we did. I feel better for the team that we were able to acquire that young man and give us a tool we didn’t have. I think as the year went on, I continued to grow and find my footing. Like the team, it’s a big summer for the front office and myself. I’m looking forward to that challenge as well.”

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Ultimately, Weaver’s successes got the Pistons back on track. Despite a rough start to the season, the Pistons are entering the offseason with momentum. They went 11-14 after Feb. 16 and picked up wins over several contending teams. They got healthier after losing Grant and Olynyk for most of the first half of the season. Their young players grew up. The team got better.

Will the Pistons make a leap next season? It’s too early to say, but they have avenues to improve rapidly. Another offseason of development for their young players, along with significant cap space and perhaps another top-three pick, could accelerate their rebuild. They won’t rush the process, but the organization wants to win.

This offseason will be a big test for Weaver, who addressed this season and upcoming offseason during his media availability on Tuesday:

Pistons will be ‘aggressive’ in free agency, trade market

Detroit will have somewhere around $25 million in cap space available this summer — enough to make a splash on one player, or add multiple role players. They could create more as well, either by declining team options or swinging trades. Weaver has shown he isn’t shy when it comes to maneuvering pieces to acquire players he likes.

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“We’re going to look at everything,” Weaver said. “We’re going to be aggressive, turn over every rock and vet it out and try to come back better as a team, whether it’s one guy, two guys or three guys. We’re going to be aggressive in our approach and make sure that we come out ready to go and hopefully put a better product on the floor.”

The Pistons are still prioritizing sustainability in their rebuild, though. Some fans may be pining for a particular player, but don’t expect the front office to make any moves that’ll lower Detroit’s long-term ceiling. This won’t be a Milli Vanilli situation, he joked.

“I try to stay principled in making sure we’re building a sustainable model,” Weaver said. “We don’t want to appear, we want to arrive. We’ll take a little long in some people’s minds, but not in ours. We’re building the right way and we have a chance this summer to be aggressive in some other areas where we haven’t been in the past. We’ll look to do that.”

Weaver likes 2022 draft class

Detroit finished with the NBA’s third-worst record, which gives them the same 14% chance as the top two teams at the first overall pick, and a 52.1% chance at staying in the top four.

Pundits say this year’s draft, headlined by Jabari Smith Jr., Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero, isn’t as strong as last year’s class. If Weaver feels the same way, he didn’t tip his hand on Tuesday. And if the Pistons fall outside of the top four, he’s still confident they will land a good player.

“I don’t see a dropoff,” he said. “I like the draft. I liked it last year, I liked it this year. We’re going to vet them all out. This is for another day, but we’re going to vet them all out, and we’ll go through the process like we did last year. The whole key to the draft is adding a good player. Just want to add a good player. We don’t care where we pick them at. Excited about the top half of the draft but I don’t see the drop that others see.”

Bagley’s breakout reflects positive environment

In 18 games with the Pistons, Bagley averaged 14.6 points and 6.8 rebounds on 55.5% shooting. His efficiency would be a career-high mark if spread out over a full season. Bagley, the second overall pick of the 2018 draft, needed a fresh start after lagging behind with the Sacramento Kings. He found his groove in Detroit, and Monday he said playing with the Pistons was the most fun he has had playing basketball.

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Beyond Bagley, several players got back on track for the Pistons after slow starts. That includes Cunningham, Bey and Hayes. Since he took over, Weaver has talked about the importance of creating an environment in which young players can feel comfortable and thrive in. He feels as though the Pistons accomplished that this season.

“When you see that, you feel good about your environment with what the coaches are doing with these young men every day,” Weaver said. “That’s why we fight so hard to protect it. These guys will tail off, there will be some concern. These guys have grown as the season’s gone on, and that’s what makes you feel good about the environment and the culture.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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