Troy Weaver’s odd letter to Detroit Pistons fans regrets nothing

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Pistons general manager Troy Weaver “apologizes” for a season chock full of Trauma for Wembanyama.

Weaver penned a short letter to fans posted Monday to, acknowledging the dreadful performance of his team this season, and affirming his belief in his “restoration” and its position this offseason.

That position is of course a 14% chance at landing No. 1 pick and prized French prospect Victor Wembanyama.

Why are the Pistons in that position? Well, they’ve been bad all season and worse lately, losing nine straight and 20 of their past 21 games. They’ve recently sat multiple contributors with various ailments and watched as Houston, San Antonio and Charlotte have separated themselves, while the Pistons have sunk to last place in the NBA standings.

“Rebuilding a team does not always follow a linear path, and we experienced that this year with the injury to Cade Cunningham that forced him to miss a majority of the season,” Weaver wrote. “While that injury impacted the continuity of our team, it also presented an opportunity for growth from others.”

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Weaver is correct. Rebuilds often do not follow a diagonal graph rising steadily year-over-year. There are ups and downs, and, more often, sudden leaps: Oklahoma City took a big jump this season. Cleveland and Memphis did so last season. Philadelphia sprouted to contention out of “The Process” half-a-decade ago. Each rebuild is different.

Cunningham’s injury is surely a worthwhile excuse to beget a lost season, but let’s acknowledge the Pistons stunk from the start, and were on pace to underachieve the expectations set both inside the organization (this is the “competing stage”) and outside (oddsmakers set their win total at 29.5).

They were 3-9 with Cunningham, and despite a mostly healthy rest of the roster, 15-44 at the All-Star break. Not the historically bad pace they’re on now, but nowhere near what was expected in Year 3 under Weaver. The pivot to tank can be traced to late February. The team’s top two veterans, Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks, have combined to play eight games since, and none since March 6.

“We are in an excellent spot to upgrade our roster this offseason,” Weaver wrote. “We’ve positioned ourselves for another high draft choice in this year’s draft, we have a favorable salary cap position, and we’ll continue to talk with teams and evaluate trade opportunities as they present themselves.”

This is both an exciting and dangerous offseason. Weaver, coach Dwane Casey — who has one year left on his deal — and the organization are clearly feeling pressure to greatly improve next season — the letter and its timing prove as much. But that improvement cannot be at the sacrifice of future flexibility with a “win-now move.” The top of the free agent crop is not especially appealing, so perhaps a trade is where the Pistons will look to upgrade the roster besides their draft picks, the return of Cunningham and internal improvement from a host of skilled young players. But that’s truly where a jump will come from. The young players. Weaver has said he won’t take shortcuts, and must be held to that standard, even as he enters Year 4 with little on-court success and impatience mounting. The Pistons and Weaver could get in more trouble with messaging about next season. The roster remains unproven. No matter what draft pick they end up with, managing expectations is important. Nobody wants to see another letter this time next year.

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“Make no mistake — we are all disappointed with our record this season but are confident that we continue to be on the right path to success,” Weaver wrote. “We appreciate your patience, trust and loyal support as we continue this journey together.”

Folding over the final months wasn’t the wrong move from Weaver and company. A potential generational prospect awaits the May 16 lottery winner, no matter the slim chance they have to land the top pick. They have given themselves the best chance. At 16-62, three fewer wins than Houston, and with four games left entering Tuesday vs. Miami, they’ll be guaranteed a top-five pick when they finish with the worst record. If they become a sustained challenger in the Eastern Conference this decade for the first time since 2008, no one should look back and care if they won a few extra games this season.

Yet the season fairly leaves a sour taste for all. The Pistons and their fans had hopes of building off last season’s late improvements, and at least being in the conversation for a play-in tournament spot, a la fellow rebuilders Orlando and Indiana. That dream died when Cunningham had shin surgery in December. And now the Pistons are on the verge of tying the 1979-80 team for the worst season in franchise history (hello, Dick Vitale!). This is the worst three-year run in the franchise’s 75-year history at 59-173 (.254 win percentage), worse than the previous mark in 1978-81 of 67-179 (.272 win percentage).

Weaver’s letter aside, the Pistons’ eyes are on the Wembanyama prize (and Scoot Henderson. And Brandon Miller). And that’s what matters anyway. Not their final record this season.

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