The people have spoken.
last weekwe asked you to weigh in on the state of the Pistons to see how much faith the fan base has in the organization heading in the right direction. Close to 2,000 subscribers shared their confidence levels in the front office, the development of particular players, Dwane Casey and much more.
Now it’s time to see the results, which yielded more optimism than even I anticipated. And I expected a lot.
Can you get any more optimistic than 98 percent? I guess you can, but the response to the direction of the franchise was overwhelmingly favorable.
Since Troy Weaver took over as general manager, the Pistons have done everything but put Ws in the win column, and that’s OK. Over the last two years, the organization has found its face of the franchise in Cade Cunninghammultiple first-round picks who project to be solid NBA players (at minimum) and a second-round pick who might be a legitimate rotation player (read more below), all while remaining one of the more financially flexible teams in the NBA for the next two years.
Given where the Pistons were just three years ago, can you ask for anything more?
It’s understandable that fans are excited about where Detroit is headed. It’s always exciting to root for youth, and the Pistons’ crop is near the top in the NBA. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and it doesn’t appear to be a freight train.
I, for one, am a bit shocked by the result here, but in a good way.
In my five years covering this franchise, I’ve learned that fans can be a bit too optimistic. Excitement tends to lead to an overevaluation of the squad. That wasn’t the case here. While Detroit has an interesting team and plenty to support, its roster is still very young. Eleven of the 16 players currently under contract on the main roster are aged 24 or younger. That’s a very, very young squad.
It’s not impossible to win in the NBA with this much youth, but should it be expected? I don’t think so. A 30-win or 35-win season for the Pistons, I believe, would be met with acceptable applause as long as the key young players continue to show improvement within the overall team dynamic.
Once again, the majority of fans vote with real caution here.
I think this is a fair result, especially if you, like me, are in the camp that believes Detroit can win 30-35 games in an improved Eastern Conference. As long as the franchise is in the hunt for the Play-In Tournament at the end of the season, I believe fans will be fulfilled. Making the Play-In with this young team seems to be the most realistic ceiling heading into this year and would be met with overwhelming happiness. Still, it looks like Pistons fans will settle for a team that is outside that range as long as, again, the players improve within the team dynamic.
While the confidence level in Weaver and his staff are overwhelmingly high, I’m a bit surprised that “very confident” got just 63.9 percent of the vote from survey responders, given that 98 percent were “confident” the Pistons are going down the right path. Maybe that’s on me for not having more options for Question 1.
Regardless, Weaver and his crew have painted a new, fresh coat of paint on a historic franchise that has desperately needed a makeover for several years. As mentioned before, there are a plethora of young players to get excited about. Weaver has shown a willingness to make trades, which is always exciting for a fan base. He hasn’t made a big trade or splashy free-agency signing, but Detroit hasn’t needed to swing for the fences just yet.
Maybe that comes next summer. Until then, though, Weaver and his staff have done everything possible to change the perception and direction of the Pistons.
From my point of view, the fan base’s overall view of Casey has shifted dramatically over the last year. When the team was trying to compete for a playoff spot, there appeared to be more frustration from fans, even though the Pistons made the postseason in the only year Casey possessed a playoff-caliber roster.
To me, many fans began to see Casey’s impact during the second half of last season. The Pistons had a 14-game losing streak from mid-November to mid-December, creating a sense of disappointment even though the team was not expected to win many games. That was before Detroit held a pivotal team meeting in February just before the All-Star break. The Pistons went to Boston the next night, beat the Celtics — the hottest team in the league at the time — and played close to .500 basketball the rest of the way.
At a time when they could have packed it in for the final two months of the season, the Pistons instead got better, allowing them to enter this summer with legitimate momentum. Many of the players told me their belief in Casey, the principles he and his staff were preaching, and the culture they were laying down played a significant role in the turnaround.
I think the fans noticed that, too.
I understand why fans voted for 2020 No. 7 pick Killian Hayes, but I think the answer to this question is Cunningham. Though he was impressive last season, Cunningham’s also the player on this roster with the most potential to be a superstar. If the Pistons are going to shock the world anytime soon, the easiest path is for Cunningham to get closer to that level.
Back to Hayes. So far, the 21-year-old guard hasn’t cemented himself as a “for sure” piece of the Pistons’ future. His development as a scorer has a ways to go, but he’s young, and there’s still time. If he can improve around the rim and/or from 3, he will give his career a clearer path going forward and provide another young piece for the Pistons to feel confident in going forward.
Isaiah Livers, a second-round pick last year, is the player I was referencing when I said Detroit has “a second-round pick who might be a legitimate rotation player.” Livers made more than 40 percent from 3 as a rookie, though in a small sample of just 64 long-range attempts. He also showed off good defensive chops and instincts.
On top of that, I thought Livers was the team’s best performer at Las Vegas Summer League last month. He was really, really good defensively, and while he had a horrid shooting performance in Detroit’s opening game, I don’t think anyone is worried that the man who has been a deadeye shooter at every level will fall off a cliff.
I think it’s possible Livers starts on this Pistons team at some point this season. I wouldn’t bet money on it, but he certainly possesses a lot of the qualities Casey cherishes in a player.
This is undoubtedly the first “Detroit vs. Everybody” result of the survey.
Of course, many Pistons fans believe Cunningham has the skills and potential to be an All-Star as early as next season. But I can guarantee many of those who voted “no” think Cunningham will get snubbed in some capacity, whether it’s because he plays for the Pistons or because the team won’t have enough wins for him to get the proper attention.
“Yes” should have been the only answer.
I think an “A” grade is a wee bit strong, but, again, these responses speak to the optimism that has been brewing around the organization for the last two years.
Landing lottery talents in Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren at the 2022 NBA Draft is obviously the biggest reward of the offseason so far, especially since the Pistons began the night with just one first-round pick (No. 5). Weaver and his staff used Jerami Grant to land Duren, the big man out of Memphis, after a series of moves.
Additionally, I think the Pistons should be applauded for not doing anything drastic in free agency despite having the most cap space in the league to start the offseason. The biggest realistic free agents for Detroit to pursue were Deandre Ayton and Miles Bridges. The latter remains unsigned as he faces felony domestic violence and child abuse charges. The former is a good player, but was he good enough to cut into the Pistons’ financial flexibility moving forward? I don’t think so, but I can understand why someone might.
Outside of that, Detroit played it pretty safe, using its cap space to bring in two veteran rotation players via trade. The organization re-signed Marvin Bagley III to a deal that many thought was an overpay, which is a fair critique without knowing who Detroit was bidding against.
I’d give the Pistons’ offseason a B-plus.
(Photo of Isaiah Livers: Alonzo Adams/USA Today)