Troy Weaver thinks Detroit Pistons have enough to win. His next move will be huge

Detroit Free Press

Troy Weaver’s next decision will be a big one. No, not who he takes in the NBA draft. That’ll depend on luck, and as the Detroit Pistons general manager said Tuesday afternoon, he wasn’t raised to rely on luck.

“I know people look at me crazy all the time,” he said. “From Day 1, I was never dependent on the lottery. It’s exactly what it is … a lottery. We have enough in this building to move forward.”

That’s some deep faith, no doubt, knowing that there’s a pretty sizable prize out there for the winner of this year’s lottery. But whether the Pistons luck into 7-foot-5 French phenom Victor Wembanyama or not, Weaver will need somebody to coach next season’s roster.

FROM THE GM: Detroit Pistons’ Troy Weaver knows what next coach needs: Discipline, development, defense

MISSING LINK: It may be hard to remember, but Cade Cunningham remains key to Pistons’ rebuild

And that person is about as critical as anything else for the franchise to start winning. As for having “enough in the building” to move forward?

That’s up for debate. It would help if those the players “in the building” were healthy.

More than anything, Weaver craves seeing the team he built actually play on the floor. Hard to blame him after 2021 No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham missed 70 games this season, and the Pistons won just 17 games to narrowly avoid tying the worst total in franchise history.

Your view of the rebuild and, by extension, the job Weaver has done is surely clouded by the interminable season that just finished: All … that … losing. But if you accept that losing your best player — and your best point guard — hurts exponentially more than losing almost anyone else on the roster, then all those losses are slightly more understandable.

And perhaps you can focus on what went right: Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren. Those two, along with Cunningham, give the Pistons three players under 22 with All-Star potential.

Yeah, potential has become a dirty word around these parts. You’ve been hearing it for years, most notably three years ago when Weaver drafted Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey in the first round.

But those three hardly showed All-Star potential as rookies. At best, Bey and Stewart looked like future rotation pieces. And now Bey is gone, shipped off in a deal for another youngster who is more potential than anything else, James Wiseman.

Then again, taking a flyer on a talented big man during a near-historically bad season is certainly the time to do it. Wiseman and Marvin Bagley III aren’t likely to both remain Pistons as the rebuild moves on. One will probably have to go.

That’s a worry for another time, though. For now, let’s get back to Duren and Ivey, because those two — and Cunningham — show serious promise.

Whether or not the Pistons get lucky in the lottery next month, this is still a group to build around. Weaver said Tuesday he didn’t want to put any kind of ceiling on Duren. Even the weariest Piston fan should be able to acknowledge that.

As for Ivey?

“Whatever he’s supposed to be, he’ll become, because he works,” Weaver said.

Duren and Ivey were basically the only reasons to watch the team over the final two months, with losses in 22 of its final 24 games. And they are the reasons — along with Cunningham — that the Pistons should be a bit more competitive next season.

Obviously, if Weaver lucks into Wembanyama, that’ll change the calculus of everything. Perhaps not the immediate expectations — he’s still just 19 after a season in the G League and will need time to adjust to the NBA — but the buzz? Let’s just say the team will need to expand its media seating capacity.

Again, though, that’s getting ahead of the story, and it involves luck and, as Weaver noted, he was brought up to turn 15 cents into a dollar. He’s betting that Cunningham will show the same skill in turning this lost season into a high-interest return next fall.

“He’s a mental giant,” Weaver said. “Young players who learn process, that’s how you step into your greatness. He understands that (process) having gone through this injury.”

If all three take another step next season, and if the veterans — most importantly Bojan Bogdanovic — stay healthy, and if Weaver adds another veteran or two to the roster? Then maybe the Pistons won’t be as far from competing as it seems.

Former head coach Dwane Casey sure thinks so; he said it again Tuesday when he met with reporters ahead of Weaver. Weaver thinks so, too, and it’s why he didn’t let Casey leave before thanking him for his service.

“I want everyone to know what this man did for the organization,” said Weaver, as he put his arm around Casey’s shoulder. “We’re eternally grateful. When I first got here, they were marching a different way. We had to change courses, and that’s not easy for an experienced, successful coach.”

And Casey was most certainly a successful coach before he got to Detroit.

“To be on the frontline, (to) take these bullets, I can’t thank him enough,” Weaver said. “We’ve had all-rookies every year. Casey did it with style, grace and integrity. That’s why he’ll be with us, because of how he conducts himself.”

Toss the good feelings aside if you wish. Fair enough. All the losing is difficult, and rebuilds can’t go on forever.

Yet there is a reason Weaver won’t have to convince good coaching candidates to come to Detroit. There is talent here. He just has to find the right leader.

“I know what this team needs,” he said. “It’s simple: Discipline, development and defense. That’s going to be the call for the next coach. That’s our marching orders.”

A tall order, yes. But one that will determine Weaver’s legacy as much as anything else, unless another tall order, for a very, very tall Frenchman, comes through next month.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

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