DETROIT — The Detroit Pistons have gone through several coaches, multiple regime changes, an ownership transition and an arena change since the last time they won a playoff game in 2008.
Lottery luck could be the biggest step in changing fortunes for the proud franchise, being awarded the first pick in next month’s NBA draft.
“Finally,” some would say.
After years of being in the worst spot a team could be in, either barely making the playoffs but not being bad enough to take an impact player in the draft, they picked the perfect year to hit the reset button — during the pandemic when there would be no fans and in a year when the draft is as top-heavy as it’s been in recent years.
Personnel and a select group of fans roared from the Pistons Performance Facility in downtown Detroit when the Houston Rockets wound up with the second pick, while Pistons representative and 2021 Naismith Hall of Famer Ben Wallace smirked from a conference room.
Oklahoma State guard Cade Cunningham is widely regarded as being the top pick, and Pistons general manager Troy Weaver said he would bring in as many as five players to consider at No. 1. Other top players include USC’s Evan Mobley and Jalen Green, who played for the G League Ignite this season.
“He's a talented young man, and he's for sure at the top of the list,” Weaver said of Cunningham on a conference call following the announcement. Weaver and the Pistons staff are in Chicago for the draft combine, where players will be worked out, measured and interviewed between now and Friday.
Weaver, who carries a low-key public demeanor, said his reaction was simply “Praise God” in a hotel room full of staffers.
Who will the Detroit Pistons take at No. 1?
Sources told Yahoo Sports Cunningham has plans on visiting one team, the Detroit Pistons. Per BetMGM, he's -2000 to go No. 1 overall. This marks the Pistons’ highest pick since 2003, when they took Darko Milicic second in a loaded draft. Despite Milicic not panning out, they won the 2004 championship.
They had the No. 1 pick in 1970, taking Hall of Famer Bob Lanier. In 1981, they selected Isiah Thomas second. In 1994, the Pistons took Grant Hill third.
Cunningham draws comparisons to Hill because of his ball-handling and playmaking, but the very athletic Green could be in play, too.
The hope is Cunningham or whomever the Pistons select will play a huge part in reshaping the franchise, a process Weaver calls “restoring” instead of rebuilding since the Pistons have had a history of being great, winning three NBA championships.
Weaver has been on the job for a year and quickly turned the Pistons from a middle-of-the-road team to one with future cap flexibility and a defined direction. Saddiq Bey was a draft-night trade and finished third in Rookie of the Year voting, while fellow rookie Isaiah Stewart made All-Rookie second team.
Point guard Killian Hayes was selected seventh last season and missed a chunk of the season with a hip injury, but showed flashes when he returned.
It’s highly doubtful any current position will stop the Pistons from taking the best player available, regardless of the overlap.
Blake Griffin was bought out in March before signing with Brooklyn, Derrick Rose was traded a month earlier to the New York Knicks and it resulted in the second-worst record in the league and best lottery odds.
The Pistons were competitive most nights, and head coach Dwane Casey received a contract extension after the season from Weaver, solidifying some organizational stability for the foreseeable future. There are remnants throughout the playoffs of Pistons from the recent past contributing for other teams, like Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris Sr. and Luke Kennard.
Perhaps one day soon, the Pistons' new arena in downtown Detroit can roar like their Palace once did in the last couple decades.
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