Detroit Pistons players conduct exit interviews, talk tough season and bright future

Detroit Bad Boys

The Detroit Pistons 2023-24 season is officially in the history books. It’s not the kind of history you’ll want to crack open anytime soon. For the fans, for the organization, and for the players, this is a season everyone will want to forget. If it’s remembered for anything, hopefully, it is the inflection point. A true bottom, a clarifying year of ineptitude that forced those in charge to ask tough questions and make hard decisions. In fact, about 15 minutes after the last player spoke, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported the Pistons would, indeed, hire a new president of basketball operations as has long been speculated for the past month.

Many of those decisions are outside of the players’ individual hands. That is why you’re only going to be able to learn so much from player exit interviews. Typically they express gratitude, to reflect on how they improved, and to detail what they believe they must do to get even better next season.

Whether that is with the Detroit Pistons or with some other franchise? Again, that’s out of their hands. So, what did we learn from the Pistons players made available for season-ending exit interviews? Let’s break it down player by player.

Photo and graphic by Sean Corp

James Wiseman

Wiseman is a pending free agent who arrived in Detroit looking for legitimate playing time and a path to showing the Pistons and other NBA teams what the former No. 2 overall pick could do on the floor. Wiseman isn’t likely to return to Detroit – his deficiencies overlap Jalen Duren’s and they will likely look for a veteran complementary big man. But Wiseman did improve this season, and had a couple decent stretches.

He credited assistant coach Mark Bryant with making him a better, more consistent player.

“He was very instrumental in working on my low-post game and being more patient. He taught me the fundamentals of the game. He wanted me to go out there and play fundamentally sound.”

Photo and graphic by Sean Corp

Isaiah Stewart

Isaiah Stewart is the team’s most consistent defender, but he was limited to just 46 games this season because of a hamstring injury. Stewart said the hamstring feels much better, and while his goal was to play all 82 games this season, he was happy with his growth as a shooter and offensive player.

It remains to be seen what kind of role the team will have for him if he is still on the team next season, or if it will be as a starter or off the bench. He also had trouble describing just how things went so wrong or how the team of young men managed to stick together through all the losing. The one thing he was sure of, though, is he wants to keep working and building in Detroit.

“It’s a passion because you’re chasing something. You want to turn something around and make it great again,” Stewart said. “I trust in what we have going on here. I would say, all we can do is continue to put our heads down and continue to work together.”

He also had high praise for Monty Williams.

“I respect Monty because … he comes to this podium every time and he’s ready for anything.

Appreciate coach Mont for what he’s trying to show us and teach us every single day, and hold us to a standard.”

Photo and graphic by Sean Corp

Cade Cunningham

Cade Cunningham might have even surprised himself when he reflected on how his outlook has changed from today, a day after Detroit’s season ended for the second time with the league’s worst record, to the night he was drafted.

Today, he said, he was more optimistic about the future than he was then.

“I was confident, but I was also really nervous about what was to come,” Cunningham said. “I was going into the unknown. I know the NBA now. I know the players are out there. I’m confident about who I am, I am confident about who my teammates are.”

Cunningham also expressed excitement to have a healthy offseason that would allow him to immediately begin work in the offseason instead of a long ramp-up process that he experienced last year recovering from surgery.

He said he was going to focus on ball handling and conditioning as his two primary focus points this offseason, but that every part of his game – jump shooting, defense, mid-range shot, finishing – will all get attention.

He also reflected on just what went wrong this season.

“Obviously, not the year we hoped for coming in, but learned a lot for sure. A lot of lessons came out of it,” he said. “I’ve put thought to it before. It’s hard to say. But a lot went wrong. It was on us to try to adjust and find ways to start winning games.”

Still, he has a better sense of what it takes to win in the NBA, what he needs from himself, and what he needs from his organization.

“I’ve been blessed in basketball all my life, winning games, receiving accolades, whatever. Since I’ve gotten into the NBA, it’s humbled me to know how much it takes to succeed. I’m learning more and more about myself every day.”

That confidence extends to being willing to share his thoughts with the organization on what it will take for this team to take the next step. However, he didn’t necessarily share those specific thoughts with the media, and was sure to credit how the current crop of players could be part of the solution.

“If I’m asked, I’ll give an answer every time,” he said. “I am very comfortable and confident with how I see the game, how I see the players. I feel like I have a great feel for what guys are made of after I play against them.”

Photo and graphic by Sean Corp

Quentin Grimes

Quentin Grimes was limited to just six games after the midseason trade from the New York Knicks, and the shot didn’t seem to travel with him. He hit just 14% of his three-pointers. Still, he said he was happy he was able to show other things on the court that contribute to winning basketball. That included defense, communicating on the floor, making sure the ball didn’t stick in place, and being a willing cutter toward the basket. Side note: Grimes talks really fast, and I could barely keep pace with anything he was saying.

Photo and graphic by Sean Corp

Jaden Ivey

You can say one thing for Jaden Ivey, he’s not looking to do anything but express appreciation, commitment and faith. Despite a season that his role diminished and go from a starter to a bench player for long stretches of the season, Ivey was unwavering in his admiration for his coach and the opportunity for growth – both this past season and in the summer ahead.

“Obviously, continuing to grow, including the mental game. It’s more than just being able to go out there and score the ball,” Ivey said.

He noted that he’s been playing through nagging injuries and that his coach would always question whether he was truly healthy enough to play, but Ivey kept going out there.

“I love to play. Simple as that.”

He also appreciated the chance to play with Cunningham for long stretches, which he was unable to do his rookie season with Cade missing most of the year due to injury.

“It was the first year that we got to play side by side with each other. There were times where it was a struggle, but there were times where we really thrived together.”

Ivey also discussed how he learned how to use his speed effectively at the NBA level. He’s always been one of the fastest players on the court, but he worked with his coaches and teammates to strategically use his speed.

“My speed is something that is deadly on the court, and be able to selectively use it. Not all the time, but being able to use my speed to get my teammates involved, and use it on the defensive end as well.”

Photo and graphic by Sean Corp

Jalen Duren

Like many of his teammates, Jalen Duren talked about how adversity will help the team build strength going forward. That there were positive things to take away from such a miserable season.

The biggest thing, Duren said, was to be able to build chemistry with team cornerstone Cade Cunningham.

“Cade, this was his first year back, and him being such a big part of what we’re building, it’s huge to build that chemistry. This was the year to do that. This was the year to come together and learn each other and continue to build on what we’re trying to do here.”

Photo and graphic by Sean Corp

Simone Fontecchio

Nobody sounded more appreciative to be a member of the Detroit Pistons than Simone Fontecchio, who arrived in a mid-season trade with the Utah Jazz. That might or might not have something to do with the fact that the pending restricted free agent is about to get a significant bump in his pay this offseason.

It certainly sounds like that payday is going to come from the Pistons, who can match any offer, and Fontecchio couldn’t be happier with that outcome.

“I love my time here. I love Detroit. I love the Pistons organization. We’re going to work this summer for me staying here long term,” Fontecchio said.

He talked about how he was able to show more of his game in Detroit, and was happy the team trusted him with such a large amount of responsibility on both ends of the court.

“Coming here, I got more shots, had the ball in my hands, it was definitely a different role, and I really enjoyed it,” he said. “I definitely showed I can do a lot on the floor and established yself as a good NBA role player, and that was my goal coming into the season.”

What made that transition easy was playing alongside Cunningham.

“I love it from the first moment. I think it was my first game here with Cade against the Clippers. He came up to me and started asking me questions, like, ‘Tell me where you want the ball and how you want the ball.’ Nobody has ever asked me stuff like this. I told him do your thing and I will try and be available as much as I could.”

Photo and graphic by Sean Corp

Ausar Thompson

Ausar Thompson couldn’t say too much about the blood clot diagnosis that derailed a strong rookie year and kept him out of the team’s final 20 games of the season.

“I wasn’t feeling like myself. Thank god the doctor got to it, and now I’m on a mental journey and physical journey to get back,” Thompson said.

Of his rookie season, he said the grind of the game was more mental than physical and that there were a lot of positives he could take away from his abbreviated rookie season.

“You really can’t get too high or two low. Was pleased with my ability to touch the paint, pass the ball, finish at the rim, play defense.”

This offseason, it’s no surprise that Thompson is mainly focused on improving as a shooter. His ultimate goal, he said, is being a three-level scorer.

“If someone is forced to guard me a little higher, I don’t think it’s going to be easy.”

Photo and graphic by Sean Corp

Marcus Sasser

Marcus Sasser did not mince words about the difficulty in jumping from the college game to the NBA.

“An 82-game season. It’s a lot of games,” he said. It’s the NBA. You’re playing against the best players in the world. You have to learn to move on to the next game.”

Sasser said that he was pleased with his ability to score the basketball, though he wants to be more efficient. He also wants to continue to build his bag, and credited the team’s veterans with showing him the little things players can do to succeed in the NBA. Specifically, he called out Taj Gibson, Monte Morris, and Cade Cunningham as players who gave him pointers on how to be effective on both ends – both within the rules and maybe what you can get away with in certain moments.

His offseason plans also include getting stronger and trying to improve on the defensive end so that teams can’t easily take advantage of his size when they post up down low.

“I got to get strong this summer so I can hold my ground when they try to post me up.”

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