The Detroit Pistons current trajectory is being built from the ground up. That has to be done when you don’t have the luxury of being a hot free-agent destination, like the Los Angeles’ or New Yorks of the world. The Pistons don’t have to look too far to find a recent blueprint for success. Look no further than their own division in the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Step one to building a contender in-house is to draft well. This is easier said than done, but is essential to setting up a franchise for success.
The Cavaliers have drafted well looking back to 2018, when you could start seeing some of their future roster pieces come along. They drafted Collin Sexton No. 8 overall in 2018, followed by Darius Garland No. 5 in 2019, then Isaac Okoro No. 5 in 2020 before finding their way up the board to grab a future cornerstone in Evan Mobley at No. 3 in 2021.
Currently, only Mobley and Garland are considered pieces of Cleveland’s core, but other draft selections helped pave the way.
Outside of the box trades have also benefitted the shaping of the Cavs roster. GM Koby Altman was able to jump in on the James Harden-to-Brooklyn mega deal, which netted Jarrett Allen, another piece of the core who made an All-Star team last season and signed a 5-year, $100 million extension with the team.
At last season’s trade deadline, Cleveland acquired guard Caris LeVert in exchange for the then-injured Ricky Rubio and draft capital. Rubio then returned to Cleveland on a more team-friendly deal in the offseason.
In free agency, the acquisition to note is Lauri Markkanen coming to Cleveland via a sign-and-trade in 2021. Another piece added to the Cavs arsenal.
These moves gave Altman the opportunity to push in his proverbial poker chips should the right time arise.
That did end up coming about for Cleveland, acquiring star guard Donovan Mitchell from Utah to put alongside their core of Garland, Mobley and Allen.
To get Mitchell out of Utah in a sell-now situation, the Cavs sent Markkanen, Sexton and their 2022 first-round pick Ochai Agbaji along with three unprotected firsts and two pick-swaps. Altman cashed in on his prior moves to bring a star player into his franchise.
For the team, this was as clear of a sign that they are ready to be a contender as they ever will be.
The Mitchell trade has paid dividends to this point. Cleveland is currently sitting as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference standings, with a 34-22 record.
What can the Detroit Pistons draw from Cleveland?
The Cavs have shown that a homegrown approach to getting a franchise back on track is possible, it just takes some creativity.
For Detroit, GM Troy Weaver has shown that he drafts well and can make some out of the ordinary moves to put the Detroit Pistons in the best spot possible.
Of course, having your past No. 1 overall draft pick and franchise player Cade Cunningham miss his second season due to injury wasn’t to plan. But, the Pistons seem to have their guy and need to work to put the best possible pieces around him to compete once he returns to the floor.
Weaver does have assets that other teams would be interested in via trade. Could those assets net a star player? I’m not sure.
It’s important to note that Detroit does not have as much draft capital as Cleveland at the ready should a deal pop up immediately. The Pistons are limited in trading their first-round draft picks, as they currently owe a protected first to New York, and must wait to trade a first two years after the pick owed to the Knicks conveys.
This isn’t to say that Weaver couldn’t make a deal if the right one pops up, he will just need to be more creative if a trade partner requires unprotected first-round picks in return. The Pistons have some intriguing young players, who at the end of the day may not all fit together, which can help alleviate some draft compensation needs.
Things happen around the league. Star players become unhappy and want out to a fresh, more exciting start.
With Cunningham’s return and a potential high-lottery draft pick added to the Pistons roster next season, Detroit could be a prime spot to make a franchise altering move for a star.
One does come to mind.
There may be a star combo guard out there whose team seems to be going downhill, that also happens to be from Michigan. Hm..