Troy Weaver: Detroit Pistons won’t ‘put a cap’ on Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren

Detroit Free Press

Troy Weaver leaned back in his chair and pondered the question — what’s still left on his bucket list?

The Detroit Pistons‘ general manager, along with head coach Dwane Casey, were as panelists at a Detroit Economic Club meeting at Little Caesars Arena on Thursday. Weaver and Casey shared their thoughts on their expectations for the team while sitting on stage. Pistons color commentator Greg Kelser moderated the session. Weaver took a beat before bringing the microphone to his mouth. The question was engineered for a crowd-pleasing response.

“Bring the Pistons a fourth championship,” Weaver said.

Weaver, now in his third full season leading the Pistons, was hired to do that one thing. He hasn’t been shy about his aspirations to “restore” the franchise back to its former glory. The “Bad Boys” and “Goin’ To Work” eras are often referenced as a threshold he wants this core of players to reach. He has been diligently maneuvering to build a roster capable of doing so.

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The Pistons are 1-4, but there have been signs that the rebuild remains on track. The 2022 rookie class — Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren — has aced its first week of real basketball. Cade Cunningham is settling in as a leader, and Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart are thriving in their roles. In an exclusive Q&A with the Free Press, Weaver talked about his hopes for this season and what he’s seen so far.

Questions and answers have been edited for clarity.

There was a question about your five favorite players of all time, and you said Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the GOAT. We joke about your love for big men, but he’s one of the few players who have a genuine case. What pushes him over the top for you?

“He lost four games from grade school until he got drafted in the NBA. I think that six MVPs, No. 1 all-time leading scorer — until soon it will be LeBron (James) — top five in rebounds, top five in blocks. I think that because of the way he handled the media, he’ll never get his credit. But I just think he’s the best player of all time and my favorite player of all time.”

How good is it to attend events like this? You see the interest in the team and you have a chance to connect with the fanbase.

“It’s great to have. Coach and myself being part of the community, we go to different events and it’s great to see people excited about the Pistons and where we’re going. These are always great platforms for us.”

At media day, you mentioned being on level ground after digging out of a hole for two years. I don’t know if injuries have changed the calculus a little as far as being on level ground now, but do you feel as though you’re watching games now different compared to those first two years, given that the roster is better?

“I think we’re trying to get the team healthy, but I like where we are, being competitive. We’re at ground zero and I like where we are. Excited about moving through the season. It’s good.”

You’ve drafted stars and have seen firsthand what it takes to get to that level. Year 2 for Cade. How have you seen him embrace that challenge through five games?

“It’s early, but mentally he has it. As the season goes on, you’ll see him continue to grow. He’s excited for Year 2, as are we, and we expect him to continue to grow and develop.”

Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren have had strong debuts. Still a lot of basketball to be played, but how encouraging it to see them come out of the gate firing?

“Two great young men. They’re just trying to learn the system, trying to learn the NBA all at the same time. It’s going to be highs and lows, but we’re excited about them and their future, and two great young men.”

We knew about Ivey’s athleticism, but for him to establish himself as a playmaker, is this something you expected or it is more of a surprise given that his assist-to-turnover ratio in college wasn’t the strongest?

“The NBA is a different game than college. The floor opens up, people can’t camp in the lane like they do in college. His passing has been great thus far. We thought with his speed, that he could have those opportunities provided early.”

Duren is 18 years old and has been thrust into a big role with injuries. The impact plays he has made, he has a loud style of basketball. How impressed have you been?

“He and Ivey, we don’t put a cap on these young players. We didn’t know if it would be six weeks, six months or 16 months from now. We’re excited about what they bring to the table. We’ve seen flashes already.”

Bojan Bogdanovic is leading the NBA in 3-pointers made, 3-point percentage and is also leading the Pistons in scoring. That trade obviously made a lot of sense on paper, but he has immediately set the tone offensively. How much does that raise the floor for this team?

“He’s a veteran, he’s a proven winner. He’s bringing a lot to the table. He’s really showing these young guys the way. We’re a better team just naturally with him on the floor, just because of IQ. What I really like about him is his competitive spirit. We’re excited about him.”

Isaiah Stewart is in a different role this season, being more of a floor-spacer. We’ve seen the work he has put in behind the scenes over the years, so this isn’t a surprise. How do you evaluate a player who’s between phases of their career and is being asked to show a very different skill than he has been asked to do up until this point in his career?

“He’s a quick study, but he’s adapting to his game, being versatile. He’s leaning into it, and the sky is the limit. His versatility is the strength of who he is, and who he’ll become. It’s not easy. He’s just 21 years old, and is learning all these things and adapting his game early. We have all the confidence in the world that he’ll continue to figure it out.”

Killian Hayes has been up and down. What do you want to see from him this season to get back on track?

“He’s a young player as well, 21 years old, trying to find his way. Been up and down since the season started. We expect him to find his way and get his legs under him and really help his growth.”

Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel haven’t made their debuts due to injuries. Obviously, two vets who can help this team now. Is there a timetable on when they’ll return?

“Nerlens should be ready to go here soon. Burks, still a little ways away on him. We’ll be excited when he gets back. He’ll bring a lot to the table for us.”

Six months from now when you look back on the season, what do you hope to say the team accomplished?

“That we took a step forward, and we competed every night.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.

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