Niyo: Weaver, Pistons take on another big project at trade deadline

Detroit News

Detroit – Troy Weaver warned everyone shortly after he took this job as the Pistons’ general manager: He sees the big picture a little differently than others do.

And Thursday afternoon, shortly before the NBA’s 3 p.m. trade deadline, he offered another big reminder of that.

While much of the attention leading up to the league’s D-day in Detroit focused on whether the Pistons would deal veteran forward Bojan Bogdanovic − or perhaps another vet in Alec Burks − Weaver instead opted to send one of his initial draft choices as GM packing.

Saddiq Bey, the most accomplished of the Pistons’ three first-round selections from that 2020 class, landed in Atlanta as part of a multi-team deal that brought Golden State center James Wiseman, the No. 2 overall pick in that same ’20 draft, back to Detroit. The Hawks also included five second-round picks that the Warriors then sent – along with the Pistons’ Kevin Knox – to Portland to acquire the player the defending champs really wanted in point guard Gary Payton II.

For the Pistons, this move clearly fits a pattern, as Weaver takes another big swing on a reclamation project. He did it a year ago at the deadline when he traded away Josh Jackson, Trey Lyles and a pair of second-round picks to land Sacramento’s Marvin Bagley, the No. 2 pick in the 2018 draft. And he did it again Thursday with this deal for Wiseman, a player he coveted more than any other in that 2020 class but one who’d never really found a home with the Warriors.

The nation’s top prep recruit in 2019 hasn’t played much competitive basketball since then, from a brief cameo at Memphis to an injury-plagued introduction to the NBA that saw him play in just 60 games for Golden State – the fourth-lowest total for a top-two pick with his debut team in league history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

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It became obvious this season with the Warriors that the young center’s development – or lack thereof − didn’t really fit Golden State’s own timeline. Wiseman fell out of the rotation, spent time in the G League, and had played in just two of the Warriors’ last 21 games prior to Thursday’s trade. (Shipping him out for a lesser salary at the deadline also saves Golden State roughly $37 million in luxury tax penalties over the next 16 months.)

If nothing else, the gifted 7-footer should get a better chance to prove himself here in Detroit, where he’ll get more minutes – maybe even starter’s minutes on some nights — and won’t face the pressure that comes with being viewed as the bust on a championship-or-bust team. Wiseman, who turns 22 late next month, is under contract for one more year (at $12 million) before he becomes a restricted free agent, so this isn’t merely a two-month tryout, either. The Warriors were selling low here, no question.

Not a huge risk

And it’s probably not a huge risk for the Pistons in giving up Bey, who’d essentially played his way out of a starter’s role this season with his defensive struggles and his offensive inefficiency, at times. He’s on a lesser contract ($4.5 million next season) but, like Wiseman, becomes extension-eligible this summer. And given his body of work – NBA All-Rookie honors, a 51-point game last March, and so on − Bey’s asking price may have been higher than the Pistons cared to spend on a player they came to view long-term as a bench scorer.

Weaver and the Pistons also are high on the 3-and-D potential of Isaiah Livers, who was busy knocking down three-pointers alongside Bey after practice Thursday, barely an hour before the trade with Golden State was finalized. Providing he can stay healthy, Livers likely will see his minutes increase now with Bey heading to Atlanta.

Still, this is a gamble − a confusing one, at that – and another move that will be panned by a fan base that has grown impatient with all this talk of potential in the absence of progress with these Pistons.

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Even though the deals Weaver didn’t make Thursday – hanging on to Bogdanovic and Burks – suggest the front office is planning on making a serious playoff push next year, a 57-153 record in Weaver’s tenure understandably breeds cynicism. And when Casey talks about the Pistons getting “ready to take off and go forward next year,” it’s hard to blame anyone for questioning the path.

Weaver likely will add another top-five pick in this draft, and even with Thursday’s salary pickup, the Pistons should have more cap space heading into free agency this summer than all but a handful of other teams in the league. But someone’s going to have to put all these pieces together at some point, and neither Casey – nor Weaver – has proven they can here, obviously.

Still a project at this point

Adding Wiseman to the mix doesn’t do much in that regard, either. He’s still a project at this point, particularly defensively, which means he’ll fit right in with this year’s disaster in Detroit. (There’s that cynicism I was talking about.) But it’s hard to find a great fit moving forward, too, considering the promise rookie big man Jalen Duren has shown this season. Playing them together probably won’t work at this stage of their careers, yet giving some of Duren’s minutes to Wiseman seems a bit counterproductive, doesn’t it?

Then again, if we’ve learned anything about Weaver thus far in his tenure as GM, it’s that he trusts his eye for talent. And much like with fellow 2020 first-rounder Isaiah Stewart – and more recently with Duren − he’s had his eye on Wiseman for a while.

So while that Bagley trade − and the subsequent extension (three years, $37.5 million) – hasn’t aged all that well, particularly given his injury woes, maybe all this is what Weaver was talking about early in his first year as GM. He said he’d heard all the jokes about him “collecting” big men, and he welcomed them.

“I love bigs,” he explained. “People always say they want the opposite. … But I believe that’s the way we win, by controlling the backboards.”

And whether you believe in this plan or not, it appears the Pistons are sticking with it.

Twitter: @JohnNiyo

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