If Troy Weaver wants to restore Detroit Pistons, here’s why 2023 NBA draft is pivotal

Detroit Free Press

It’ll sting a bit when Victor Wembanyama walks across the stage at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn tonight and dons a San Antonio Spurs cap. It might sting a little, too, when Scoot Henderson and Brandon Miller do the same with the teams that draft them.

Remember, though, that even “generational” talents don’t always hit, and even when they do, there’s still plenty of trophies to be had. LeBron James has played 20 seasons and in 16 of them someone else won the title.

Besides, Troy Weaver, the Detroit Pistons’ general manager, is trying to rebuild this franchise in a way that’ll look familiar to those who love the Pistons. This doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have taken Wembanyama had the Pistons won the lottery — of course he would have, and everyone would’ve danced.

But it does mean that Weaver’s restoration plan doesn’t involve finding the sun.

“We want to be the third iteration of a team that (Pistons’ fans) go: ‘that looks familiar.’”

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He is convinced he is doing that.

“We just haven’t won any games yet,” he said. “As we get healthy, with coach (Monty) Williams, we’re very optimistic about (our chances.)”

Obviously, the previous two title teams had talent, lots of it. This gets lost nationally behind the teams’ nicknames: “Bad Boys” and “Goin’ to work.”

Both monikers fit the city and region, though, and the names made for catchy narratives. Neither team would’ve made their mark, however, if they hadn’t been stocked with All-Star talent.

With the fifth pick in tonight’s NBA draft, Weaver has a chance to add more talent. Perhaps not an All-Star level one, but tonight is a critical opportunity to add to the core.

The current iteration of the Pistons has three potential All-Stars. If Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren all hit, and that’s clearly a big “if,” then Weaver doesn’t necessarily need to find a fourth in the draft, though it would help.

What he needs is a starter, preferably one that can play both ends, ideally on the perimeter in some capacity. Every spring, the playoffs reveal that the best teams are the ones sturdiest on the margins.

All title contenders, or even hopefuls, are built around a couple of stars. The rest of the roster often decides how the playoffs unfold.

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The Denver Nuggets, for example, are led by the transcendent Nikola Jokic and the blossoming Jamal Murray. They don’t win the title without a couple of former Pistons: Bruce Brown and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

Nor do they win without Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. None of these four players are All-Stars. Gordon has been close to that level, especially this past season, and as a former No. 4 pick, he’s exactly the kind of player the Pistons should hope to get tonight.

Denver’s Finals opponent, the Miami Heat, are built around a single star in Jimmy Butler and a secondary star in Bam Adebayo, but what made the Heat so tough, aside from Erik Spoelstra’s coaching, were the next six players on the roster.

Again, assuming Weaver already has his players to build around, tonight’s draft is about team building. Now, the Pistons could luck into another potential star player. Almost every draft produces serious difference-makers outside its first few picks.

It’s possible that one of the six or so players the Pistons are considering — and have worked out — could turn into such a difference-maker. And while Weaver loves to talk about “turning over every stone” and finding players who are “Pistons,” this still involves some luck.

Odds are one of Amen Thompson, Ausur Thompson, Cam Whitmore, Jarace Walker, Anthony Black and Taylor Hendricks will become a very good player. Maybe one of the Thompson twins develops a reliable jumper. Or Whitmore learns to see the floor and make plays for others. Or Walker or Black extend their range.

Every one of these players has areas of concern, at least relative to the top three picks, but most years, a player — or two — from the second-tier group addresses that concern. Figuring out which one is partly a guess.

Yet not every facet of the evaluation is a gamble. Gordon, for example, developed a decent 3-point shot, and that semi-threat helped the Nuggets immensely. What made him so valuable, though, despite his overall lack of ball skill and shot making, is his competitive spirit and commitment on both ends of the floor.

Weaver trusts that even if his pick tonight doesn’t turn into a first or second option on offense, he can identify the intangibles, and find someone who will make the Pistons better.

What does he want?

“Serious basketball players,” he said. Ones who are “committed to restoring the Pistons. We want guys that want to represent the Pistons on the floor and off the floor in the community. Guys that work. Guys that really understand the dynamics of the team.”

This may sound trite, but teams are undone every season by lack of chemistry and a shared goal, and by lack of understanding. The qualities Weaver seeks are essential for young teams, as players try to find their way in the league.

To help himself see, Weaver asks himself this:

“In a draft you always say, OK, who is a Piston?”

That’s where it starts and, frankly, where it ends. Because the rest is a matter of timing and luck. And while the Pistons didn’t get any lottery luck, they could really use some draft luck.

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

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