Niyo: Weaver, Pistons won’t bring down the house in free agency

Detroit News

Detroit – They’ve tried with sticks and straw before. And to be sure, we’ve seen our share of bricks thrown up while watching the Pistons try to build a winner here over the last decade or more.

But as Troy Weaver stood on one of the practice courts inside the Pistons’ Performance Center late Friday afternoon, watching his two newest draft picks, Ausar Thompson and Marcus Sasser, handling their first media interviews as NBA players, there was a fresh air of confidence in his voice.

The job isn’t done. Far from it, he knows. But one phase of the so-called “restoration” that Weaver began exactly three years ago this week now seems complete. Finally.

“Yes, absolutely,” the Pistons’ general manager said Friday, a day after adding two more first-round picks to a roster that now boasts eight key players who are 22 years old and younger. “I feel like we’ve got enough of those pieces in the young core that now we can really find out what we have.”

More specifically, they can find out what new head coach Monty Williams has to work with in Detroit. With a healthy Cade Cunningham back to run the show, and last season’s rookies, Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren, poised to make a Year 2 leap, and the two newcomers adding some much-needed defensive wiring, and so on.

But before fans get too far ahead of themselves − and the Pistons’ plans for spending nearly $30 million in salary-cap space this summer – they might want to take a breath of their own.

More: Pistons draft picks Thompson, Sasser look to revitalize team’s winning ways

“Yeah, you can say a lot of different things,” Weaver nodded Friday, before saying some things that probably needed to be said about patience and priorities and the rest of his offseason plans.

“Before we start putting windows on the house, we wanted to make sure we got the foundation right,” Weaver said. “And now with Coach here, and these two mixing in with the other young guys, we’re excited about that.”

For good reason, too. In Thompson, who starred in the Overtime Elite program with his twin brother, Amen, the past two seasons, the Pistons added something they’d been sorely missing. He’s a 6-foot-7 wing with elite athleticism, plenty of offensive upside and high-level potential as a defender capable of checking an opponent’s toughest assignment every night.

Defensive menace

Sasser, likewise, is a defensive menace, a tenacious on-ball hawk who routinely blows up pick-and-roll games at one end of the court and then adds some high-volume shooting prowess at the other. (Sasser shot 46% on catch-and-shoot threes last season at Houston.)

More than that, though, what had the Pistons feeling so convicted about this draft class – enough so that Weaver passed on at least one serious trade offer for the No. 5 pick Thursday night and then moved up to draft Sasser later in the first round − was the players’ makeup.

“In drafting, unlike trades and free agency, you get to show who you are,” Weaver said. “And these two young men represent what we want to be about here in Detroit. We doubled down hard with these two. These two young men are about the right things.”

More: Wojo: Pistons take big, critical swings, land intriguing talent

They’re about the same things the Pistons’ new head coach preaches as well. Discipline, determination, selflessness. “You can tell that there’s a lot of backbone and fiber that has been instilled,” Williams said.

But what they can’t tell yet is just how this will all come together. It remains to be seen how the foundation will settle, and what cracks they’ll find. Who fits where, and how?

“I mean, you really want to see Coach Williams coach this team and really get a feel for those guys,” Weaver said, who’ll get his first glimpses along with Williams in a couple weeks when some of the Pistons’ young players get on the court for the NBA’s Summer League in Las Vegas. “How we fill out the rest of (the roster) in free agency and whatnot, it’s not pressing right now.”

That doesn’t mean he won’t press the issue in the interim, with free agency officially getting underway June 30. Or in the trade talks that already are swirling, as a new collective bargaining agreement kicks in and adds to the upheaval across the league.

Free-agent options

The Pistons will be players in the marketplace in some form or fashion. And there should be options for Weaver to upgrade his team, whether it’s through offer sheets or sign-and-trade deals for restricted free agents (Cam Johnson? Grant Williams?) or straight signings  (Jerami Grant? Harrison Barnes?) next month.

But there’s also the possibility of using that cap space in the short term to “take advantage” of other teams’ “vulnerable situations,” as Weaver put it prior to the draft. Taking a bad contract off another team’s books (Tobias Harris?) to acquire future assets, perhaps, or something smaller on the margins.

Still, while you’re busy crunching the numbers on some of those big (bad?) ideas, consider what else Weaver said Friday. He insists he’s going to be careful about adding players who might “subtract” in the long run, either through bad chemistry or stunting growth.

“We don’t want to interfere with these young guys becoming who they are,” he said. “And that has been a beautiful thing about our veterans here: They haven’t. (Bojan) Bogdanovich, (Alec) Burks, (Rodney) McGruder, those guys haven’t gotten in the way. They’ve actually helped those guys.  …

“So we’re going to be careful with that. Before we bring in guys that can kind of deter us from really finding out who these guys are.”

Or to put it another way, he says, “We don’t want to build a straw house.”

They’ve tried that here before, and we all know how that story ends.

Twitter: @John_Niyo

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