When the Detroit Pistons won the NBA draft lottery last year, Troy Weaver said his faith never wavered. He would have been as ready to pick fifth or first.
The Pistons general manager is going to need to lean on that faith again this year after his team was one of the lottery’s biggest losers Tuesday night and will indeed pick fifth.
In what has almost become a tradition around Detroit — with the exception of last year’s anomaly that brought the team the No. 1 pick — the Pistons dropped in the draft order yet again, falling two spots to No. 5 and defying the odds of having a 52.1% chance to pick in the top four. Only the Houston Rockets fell as many spots as the Pistons, but at least they’ll pick third.
And that’s what draftniks think the June 23 draft is all about: the top three.
Because if you want to start a fistfight in a bar or in a chat room, announce to the world your feelings on the depth of this NBA draft class and whether there’s any truly elite player outside of Gonzaga power forward/center Chet Holmgren, Auburn forward Jabari Smith Jr. and Duke forward Paolo Banchero.
And if you want that fistfight to involve weaponry, try naming your choices for who might be worthy of being picked fourth or — gasp — fifth. Purdue guard Jaden Ivey? Kentucky guard Shaedon Sharpe? Iowa forward Keegan Murray? You can almost hear people cracking their knuckles.
Luckily for the Pistons, the guy in charge of the whole thing doesn’t seem like he’s anywhere close to giving in to emotion or self-pity. He was more than content to remain above the fray and not engage in talk of the so-called big three in Holmgren, Smith and Banchero — all players with size, which many observers believe the Pistons need.
“No, I didn’t see it as the big three,” Weaver said post-lottery. “I think there’s tremendous players all along the board. I mean length, everybody wants that. Length and size. You get in trouble when you reach for that.”
Then Weaver dropped a little draft history with the ultimate cautionary tale.
“I think Portland, if they could draft again, they would draft (Michael) Jordan over (Sam) Bowie, who had length and size,” he said, referencing the 1984 draft. “We’re going to draft the best player for us.”
Ouch! Yes, the Trail Blazers famously passed on Jordan to pick Bowie second overall and have regretted it every day since. Sorry, too soon, Portland?
Of course, the Blazers could argue they also drafted the best player for them in 1984 because they had an electric scoring guard in second-year man Clyde Drexler. But Weaver’s point stands. He doesn’t want to push a player that doesn’t fit the team’s rebuild.
There’s a steadiness in Weaver’s voice when he talks about fit. It doesn’t seem like a vague construct. His reaction to falling two spots this year was uncannily the same as it was last year, when the team moved up one spot to No. 1, later selecting Cade Cunningham. No elation, no anger, no emotion. If this whole basketball thing doesn’t work out, Weaver has one hell of a poker career waiting for him.
“We’re going to pick 5, we’ll do our homework, vet it all out,” he said. “There’s no disappointment where we’re picking. We’re excited to be able to draft at No. 5. We’ll be excited to make that pick and we’ll be ready to go on draft night.”
Then again, these are the Pistons. And this is Detroit. Falling in the draft is kind of our thing around here. Just ask any fan sporting a Red Wings sweater or a Pistons tank top. Since 1993, the Pistons have moved up only once in the lottery. The Wings at least have held steady in their spot the past two years after falling for four straight years.
Maybe Weaver has made peace with that history. Even if the rest of us haven’t. Fans were clearly disappointed in the Pistons’ draft drop and even reporters lacked the same energy they had last year, when Weaver’s post-lottery news conference lasted 12 minutes. On Tuesday, Detroit scribes tapped out after 7½ minutes. That’s not even three full rounds in a boxing ring.
It’s hard to deny the excitement factor that comes with the top pick, even if no one really knows who it should be. But listening to Weaver, if only for a short time Tuesday, it’s also hard to deny that he seems to have faith in finding the best fit for his team, even if he has to wait a little longer to make his selection.
Contact Carlos Monarrez at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.