Detroit Pistons’ Isaiah Livers knows his key to success next season is staying healthy

Detroit Free Press

A year ago, Isaiah Livers was focused on making up for lost time.

The third-year Detroit Pistons wing — and Michigan alumnus — suffered a stress fracture in his right foot during the 2021 Big Ten tournament. The injury limited him to just 19 games in 2021-22, his rookie season. Last summer was his first healthy summer in two years. He made his Las Vegas Summer League debut last July and trained twice a day all offseason. Sometimes, he trained three times a day.

He was “grinding,” in his own words. And he learned soon after that his heavy workload came with a cost.

Right hip soreness caused Livers to miss Detroit’s first two games last season. On Dec. 1, he sprained his right shoulder during a game against the Dallas Mavericks. Two weeks later, on Dec. 15 — as he entered the final stage of his rehab — he reaggravated the AC joint in his right shoulder during a workout. It delayed his return by nearly a month.

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In all, Livers missed 30 games last season, and through two seasons, he has played just 71 total. In April, the 6-foot-7 wing said his offseason plan was to “elevate” his game. Rather than grinding on the court again, his focus has primarily been on preparing his body for the rigors of an 82-game season. Instead of making up for lost time, he’s using his minutes more wisely.

“I’ve built a new friendship with the weight room,” Livers told the Free Press on Friday, outside of the Pistons’ Midtown practice facility. “I feel a lot more explosive, bouncier, and I feel more in control of my body. It’s no secret, the No. 1 thing about me is just avoiding injuries. It’s been some small injuries. I tweaked my workout plan to the point where I won’t have those wear-and-tears, those nagging injuries. I’ve been put on a smart plan where I’m not overworking myself. This is the season. I’m excited and we have big things to look forward to.”

Livers is approaching a pivotal year. The Pistons picked up his option in June, meaning he’ll enter restricted free agency next summer. Despite playing less than a full season thus far, the 2021 second-round pick has established himself as one of Detroit’s core players by knocking down 37.8% of his 3-pointers through two seasons, and becoming one of the best defenders on the roster. His two-way production has filled a need, and he has a fan in general manager Troy Weaver.

The 25-year-old is pacing himself. It may sound counterintuitive, given that he has a big audition ahead of him. But he understands that the best way to secure his future is to get through an entire season intact. The Pistons know he can play. He just has to, well, play.

“I get to this point where I want to work, work, work, work, because obviously work creates results,” Livers said. “I just gotta be smart, have more of that pro mindset. I sat down with the front office right after the season and that was my No. 1 thing. I eat healthy. It’s just No. 1, stay healthy and keep stretching, take care of my body, see the trainers. I stuck around Michigan all summer just to make sure my body is all right and I’ve been crystal clear.”

Slowing down has been a learning process. The NBA season is denser than college, with twice as many games played and frequent travel between. His old workout habits at Michigan no longer apply. He’s establishing a new approach, and picking the brains of older players on how to get his body ready.

“I’m going to be honest with you, that’s what I’m still learning right now,” he said. “I’m not going to say I’m perfect with the plan right now, because basketball is a lot of my life. It’s very fun. I find basketball very soothing in times of, when I could be bored or just want to take my mind off things. That can be good and bad, especially for a guy like me. I’ve always valued just work. I’ve always heard that hard work beats talent, so that’s the question I’m answering.

“I don’t have all the answers, all I can do is learn from veterans around the league, veterans on my team and you can probably ask all of them, I ask a lot of questions to get my body right,” he continued. “It’s just the process of following it and being faithful to it.”

Livers, and the rest of the Pistons, are ready to move on from a disappointing 19-63 season. He sees momentum going into next season. The Pistons have a new head coach in Monty Williams and added two first-round picks in Ausar Thompson and Marcus Sasser, both of whom impressed in Summer League. And of course, 2021 No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham will be back after playing just 12 games last season due to shin surgery.

On Williams’ first day, he acknowledged last season’s poor record. He then made it clear that the team won’t acknowledge it anymore. The Pistons are focused on growing and learning winning habits. Livers and many of his teammates, including James Wiseman, have been in Detroit all summer working out at the practice facility. There’s a sense of urgency, from top to bottom.

“It’s time,” Livers said. “As a Detroit Piston, as a player, as a fan of just the Detroit Pistons my whole life, this is the year. Monty WIlliams put together a masterful coaching staff alongside him and got coach Mont himself. We’ve got some guys coming back, some young cats ready to play. We’re all excited. Spirits are high, no one’s putting themself first. I think everybody’s goal right now is championships. We’re just growing, championships. Growing, championships. We had a talk with coach Mont the first day, it’s growing. We’re going to focus on growing first, and then championships. If we stick to that plan, we’re going to get to where we wanna be.”

More than 2,000 miles away from the Pistons’ practice facility on Friday, Cunningham and Jalen Duren were in Las Vegas practicing with Team USA’s World Cup team. Livers and Cunningham — 2021 draft classmates — have both missed significant time. Livers is impressed by what he has seen from Cunningham thus far.

Cunningham and Duren helped lead the USA Select Team to two consecutive wins over the older team as they scrimmaged together. For the Pistons to make a leap next season, they’ll need Cunningham not just healthy, but playing at a star level. The early signs have been good.

“We all know that he has a mature game, that’s not going anywhere,” Livers said. “That’s just part of his character. He’s put on that muscle. When you’re watching, he’s got some fire in his stomach. We played one-on-one maybe two months ago, and the dude was just strong. He couldn’t move as much as he can now, but he looks really good right now. Him and Jalen are over there practicing with USA, so shoutout to them. I’m going to pray for them always. But I’m excited to get back on the court with him, because that’s my guy.”

Livers said he and the rest of Detroit’s young players have been in the gym and weight room all summer. There’s nowhere to go but up after a 19-win season, but the organization has greater long-term goals.

“There’s no reason to go and sit on the beach,” he said. “Coach Mont used the quote, ‘You can’t find greatness on the beach.’ And that stuck with me. Since he was hired, that stuck with me and I’ve been in Michigan just working my tail off, because I truly believe in that. I played for coach (John) Beilein, coach (Juwan) Howard (at Michigan). They believe in the same thing. (Monty’s) a guy that I definitely get along with.”

Pistons team up with NASCAR, Ally Financial for Pistons-themed show car

NASCAR returns to Michigan this weekend, with the Cup Series FireKeepers Casino 400 slated for Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. The Pistons will also be present, thanks to a unique partnership.

Professional driver Alex Bowman will drive his No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro during the race on Sunday, and it’ll be Pistons-themed. The Pistons logo adorns the side of the car, and the team’s “In It For My City” slogan is located under the logo. The back of the car also features the team’s normal and “313” logos.

The common thread is Ally Financial, which sponsors both Bowman and the Pistons.

The car was unveiled at the Pistons’ practice facility Friday. Bowman and his crew chief, Blake Harris, were present for the unveiling. Livers, former Pistons center James Edwards and former NFL safety Bernard Pollard were also present.

Livers, Bowman, Edwards and Pollard participated in a game of A-L-L-Y (aka H-O-R-S-E when the financial company isn’t sponsoring it), and Livers successfully managed to fit inside the cockpit of Bowman’s car afterward — though Bowman removed the seat from the car first to make room for the 6-foot-7 wing.

“Raced here a bunch, so for us, we’re coming down the line,” Bowman said. “The playoffs start in a couple of weeks and we’re in a tough point situation where we pretty much need a win to get into the playoffs at this point. A lot of pressure this weekend, but it’s Ally’s backyard and hopefully we can make it happen.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.

Listen to “The Pistons Pulse” with new episodes each week, wherever you listen to podcasts. Catch all of our podcasts and daily voice briefing at freep.com/podcasts.

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