The beginning of Troy Weaver’s tenure with the Detroit Pistons began with a bang. Weaver traded Bruce Brown and Luke Kennard, signed Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee, and acquired enough centers to fill an entire division’s worth of rosters at one point. Many onlookers scratched their heads searching for an explanation of what the moves meant for Detroit’s future. It was Weaver’s first time leading the decision-making for an NBA franchise. Skepticism was more than fair.
Nearly two years later, Troy Weaver’s vision is clear. And his Pistons tenure shows that a clear vision is more important than “winning” each transaction.
The signs and skepticism were there early on. The Grant and Plumlee contracts seemed like overpays for a team that seemed destined to rebuild after moving veterans the previous trade deadline. Both contracts were for three years, and that set a firm timeline.
With Blake Griffin’s contract expiring in the summer of 2022 Pistons fans often identified this offseason as the year the team would finally begin to turn a corner, spend money and compete. It’s easy to fall into this trap. Having money to spend on free agents is the clearest way to upgrade the roster. But the Grant and Plumlee contract lengths suggested that Weaver was looking at the summer of 2023 to really make moves. Given the recent history of how Detroit free agent spending, a bit of patience was and is a welcome sight.
Fast forward to last summer and Weaver stuck to the plan. He signed Kelly Olynyk to a three-year contract with only $3 million guaranteed in the final year. Trey Lyles inked a straight two-year deal. Hamidou Diallo and Frank Jackson re-signed on short-term deals.
Despite 17 trades and $150 million in free agent deals, the Pistons’ cap sheet for 2023-24 remains beautifully empty.
Meanwhile, Weaver built through the draft. After selecting Killian Hayes with the seventh overall pick in 2020, Detroit obtained the draft rights to Isaiah Stewart in a trade where they sent out a couple of future draft assets. Then Weaver traded for the draft rights to Saddiq Bey as part of the Luke Kennard deal and sent four second-round picks to the Clippers.
Those deals were not great value on their face. Zach Lowe noted as much at the time.
It became clear Detroit was not going to compete for the playoffs in the near future. One might even say it signaled an intention to tank. If that is the vision, it seems even more important to get good value in your trades and signings. Giving up value to get the right piece is fine if you’re a contender. But if you’re restoring your franchise, you want to accumulate assets rather than giving them up.
Weaver took a different approach. He transformed the roster in a way that he felt was important. He got the players he felt would be right for the Pistons’ new foundation. If he gave up some value in the process, so be it. He did things his way.
The results were immediately apparent. Though Detroit was devoid of high-end talent, they competed nearly every time they took the floor. Through all the losing, there was never a whisper of internal strife or players-only meetings. The stories that came out of the Pistons franchise were largely positive: Jerami Grant turned down the same money offered by a contender to come play in Detroit, Saddiq Bey was an absurdly hard worker, and the coaching staff and front office were in lockstep. A culture was blooming.
The reward for that culture-building came last summer when Cade Cunningham fell into the Pistons’ lap after winning the NBA Draft Lottery. Troy Weaver got his franchise player. The team struggled, but there were signs of brilliance when things began to click. Next, a critical offseason approached.
This offseason began like Weaver’s first – with a puzzling trade. Jerami Grant went to the Blazers for a likely late 2025 first-round pick and cap space. The return was a far cry from what was rumored a year ago. But Troy Weaver was not done. He never seems to be done.
That pick turned into Jalen Duren. The extra cap space became Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel, and two second-round picks.
There were two major consequences of acquiring Burks and Noel aside from obtaining draft assets. First, Detroit took on two one-year deals, maintaining a clear cap sheet for next summer. Second, Burks and Noel make enough that throwing a bunch of money at a free agent is unlikely. Apologies to Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, and Josh Smith, but not being able to sign $30 million worth of long-term contracts maintains the flexibility that Weaver has worked so hard to build.
As a result of Weaver sticking to his clear vision, the Pistons now have the ability to make a splash in the next two offseasons. Detroit’s cap sheets are clear enough that they have plenty of room to both sign their young players to fair extensions and add key pieces with an eye toward contention.
None of that would be possible if Weaver had not stuck to his plan. It’s easy to sit back as a losing franchise and fight to win every trade around the margins. It’s much more difficult to take risks and concede some value now in order to execute a vision that won’t manifest until later. Troy Weaver has done the latter at an impressively high level.
Because of Weaver’s patience and vision, the Pistons’ future is now brighter than it has been in at least 15 years. And Troy Weaver is the exact right person to lead this young roster in restoring the franchise’s storied past.