NBA Basketball

Pistons finish near the bottom but have reasons for optimism

(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

By NOAH TRISTER

AP Sports Writer

DETROIT (AP) Troy Weaver's first season as Detroit's general manager ended with the Pistons holding the second-worst record in the league.

Finally, though, it felt like the future looks a little brighter for this franchise.

"Obviously, the optimism is not in the record, because the record stinks," Weaver said Monday. "We'll continue to fight - claw, scratch, fight, whatever we've got to do to get out of this hole."

For over a decade now, the Pistons have been mired in mediocrity, rarely making the playoffs and exiting quickly whenever they did. Detroit began rebuilding in earnest in early 2020, moving on from Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson. Then Weaver arrived and made an even clearer break from the past, implementing a thorough overhaul in a matter of months.

The result was a 20-52 record, but the roster now includes a few promising rookies. Detroit showed some competitive spirit this year, but the Pistons were still bad enough to lock in one of the top six picks in the draft no matter what happens in the lottery.

Detroit beat teams like the Suns, 76ers, Lakers and Nets this season. The Pistons were scrappy enough to provide hope, but played poorly enough in close games to secure that high draft pick.

The challenge now will be building on this foundation.

"I think my first year in Toronto we won 23 games," said coach Dwane Casey, who will go into his fourth season with a contract extension through the 2023-24 season. "I see the big picture, I understand the big picture, I have a grasp of the big picture, and it takes time."

YOUTH

Detroit had three first-round draft picks last season, and two of those players were among the NBA's top rookies this year. Isaiah Stewart averaged 7.9 points and 6.7 rebounds per game while shooting 55% from the field. Saddiq Bey made 175 3-pointers, tops among all rookies.

"The best thing is the growth of our young players," Casey said. "All those little things from the rookies and making the advance and the steps that they made in their rookie year, would be the highlight I think for me as a coach."

Killian Hayes, the No. 7 pick in last year's draft, went through some injury problems but averaged 6.8 points and 5.3 assists in 26 games.

CENTERPIECE

The Pistons parted ways with Blake Griffin this season. By the time that happened, new acquisition Jerami Grant had emerged as the team's big scorer. The 27-year-old Grant averaged 22.3 points.

Grant still has room for growth.

"Just met with Jerami, and told him the exact thing," Casey said. "You're a really good player right now, your next step is to get out of the conversation of most improved, get in the conversation of being an All-Star. What helps you to be an All-Star is for us to win, for us to be in the playoff conversation."

THE DRAFT

Part of the reason the Pistons have been in a funk for so many years is because they haven't picked higher than seventh in the draft since 2003. That will change this year, barring a trade.

"I don't see any Shaqs or LeBrons in the draft, but some pretty talented players," Weaver said. "There will be hopefully someone we can add to the group and continue to push us forward."

UPHEAVAL

By the end of March, the Pistons only had one player left who had appeared in a game for them the previous season - Sekou Doumbouya, their 2019 first-round pick.

Detroit probably won't be doing as much wheeling and dealing this offseason, but Weaver said the overall approach is staying the same.

"We're going to double down," he said. "We're not going to change anything. We're going to continue to bring in like-minded people that fit what we're trying to do."

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Follow Noah Trister at https://twitter.com/noahtrister

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Updated May 17, 2021

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