Comparing NBA rebuilds: Are the Detroit Pistons close to an all-in move?

Detroit Pistons v Chicago Bulls
Detroit Pistons v Chicago Bulls / Michael Reaves/GettyImages
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Made official this past weekend, the Detroit Pistons have been eliminated from playoff contention. This should come as a surprise to absolutely no one, as Detroit has put together one of the worst seasons in NBA history.

We are now in year four of the rebuild, with their last playoff appearance coming back in 2018-2019, and still are looking for the light at the end of the tunnel. But what about the other teams that were at the bottom of the barrel along with Detroit as their rebuild began? How have they fared thus far, and how did their rebuilds differ from Detroit’s?

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The bottom of the standings the year in which Detroit’s rebuild was officially kicked off was Cleveland (19-46), Atlanta (20-47), Detroit (20-46), Minnesota (19-45), and Golden State (15-50). For the sake of similarity, let’s throw out the Warriors as they were only struggling due to injury, and returned to relevance the next season. Their situation was different and not even a rebuild, so they've been excluded from this conversation.

Four NBA rebuilds and where they are now

Cleveland Cavaliers' Route

The Cavaliers had a slight head start on Detroit, as they had two top 10 draft picks before the Pistons rebuild began. In 2018, Cleveland selected Collin Sexton eighth overall. They followed that draft up with Darius Garland and Dylan Windler in the first round the next year. Still bottoming out, they used the fifth overall in 2020 to select Isaac Okoro, and third overall in 2021 to take USC big man Evan Mobley. 

That would round out their roster, built via the draft. In terms of transactions, the Cavs made their first big trade in 2021, sending 28 year old Larry Nance and some draft capital out for a combination of picks, and Lauri Markkanen. This trade set the table for the Cavs that we know now. Lauri (then just 24 y.o, averaging almost 15 ppg), Collin Sexton (then 26 y.o, averaging 16 ppg), recent draft selection Ochai Agbaji, and a shocking five first round picks for all-star Donovan Mitchell. There were some stipulations on the draft picks, but that was essentially the deal that vaulted the Cavs into contention. 

Cleveland’s route to contention was primarily built around flipping aging Larry Nance and capital for budding star Lauri Markkanen, drafting great talent both to keep and use as bait, flipping some of that talent in Sexton, and mortgaging the future to get perennial all-star Mitchell. The Cavs truly went about their rebuild from all angles, utilizing all possibilities. They may have limited their window in the trade to get Mitchell, but sitting at 2nd in the East at the moment, it seems to have worked.