Pistons GM Troy Weaver, despite tough early returns, will stay aggressive in rebuild
Remaking a roster generally isn’t an easy proposition. There can be tough decisions about which players stay and which ones need to be traded, released or to move on from.
Beyond the ties to star players and those with long tenures, another difficult part is figuring out which new players to bring in, a delicate balance of retaining the culture and creating a new path forward for the franchise.
In his first offseason as Pistons general manager, Troy Weaver has struck the right chord with upgrading the roster he inherited, along with looking to find the right pieces to augment the holdovers. It’s been a balancing act, with aggressive moves in free-agency, in addition to adding two picks in the first round and one in the second round of the draft.
The Pistons made the biggest splash in free-agency and the trade market, with 11 new additions to the roster. He wasn’t complacent in his desire to move forward, whether it meant taking on additional players or dead money in the salary cap.
Weaver’s mentality wasn’t about possibly making a wrong move; it was about attacking the rebuild aggressively with everything in his arsenal.
“When I was growing up, I didn't stick my toe in the pool; I jumped in,” Weaver said Thursday. “I sit on the front on the roller coaster with my hands up so I'm not going to come in and be gun-shy. My clip will be empty.”
That approach led to taking a chance on forward Jerami Grant with a contract worth $60 million. It was risky in that Grant hadn’t been a No. 1 option in his six seasons in the league and was a role player with the Denver Nuggets last season.
Weaver leveraged a longtime relationship he had with Grant’s family and wrested him away from the Nuggets to be the bandleader for the Pistons. It’s paid off so far, as Grant is playing at an All-Star level in the first 11 games, with 20-plus points in 10 straight games and leading the Pistons in scoring for 10 straight games, the first time that’s been done since Jerry Stackhouse in 2001-02.
“Belief is the first step of success. Jerami and I had a great connection since he was a teenager. He believed in me and I believed in him. What he's doing, to the rest of the world may be a surprise but not to me,” Weaver said. “I expect him to continue to progress and get better as well. I'm excited that he took a chance on himself and he took a chance on the Pistons. I'm not surprised at all, to be honest.”
Along with Grant, Weaver’s long-term vision for the future is centered around the four rookies, whom he refers to as the Core Four — a nod to the New York Yankees’ tandem that was the centerpiece of their World Series teams. Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart and second-round pick Saben Lee are the Pistons’ version and the early returns are encouraging on their progress.
Hayes’ hip injury has put a damper on the optimism, but the other three have started to show that the moves to add young depth could be the best direction for the team in the long term. How long Hayes will be out is unclear, but Weaver is more worried about the team and more concerned.
“It's a gut punch for the kid because he wants to be successful, like any other rookie or young player. Now that progress has to be slowed down and he has to take care of his injury,” Weaver said. “I'm more worried about him and making sure he keeps the right mindset, which I know he will. That's why we had so much belief in him. He was a rookie point guard and trying to find his way, and time and minutes were going to help him continue to grow, and now that's been taken away.
“Now, he has to continue to grow in other areas. It's tough, but he's built for this. He's a guy who can handle it; he's a worker, he's diligent and tough-mind and we'll see on the other side of it. He'll be better from it.”
The Pistons have had an inauspicious start to the season, with only two wins in their first 11 games. The other side is that they’ve played one of the toughest schedules in the league and they haven’t lost by more than 15 points, though they’ve played some of the top teams in the league, including three times against the Milwaukee Bucks.
The progress can be slow sometimes and there were times they had two rookies in the starting lineup and other instances with inexperienced players on the court during crunch time, but the path to rebuilding isn’t a straight line, nor is it easy to navigate.
Some of the hard work is done, by deciding which players are part of the foundation. The hardest part is just figuring out the direction and how they’ll get there.
With Weaver, it’s clear.
“We wanted to come in and establish a mindset of being competitive every day, in practice, so that it could carry over to the games. We've done that thus far,” he said. “The 2-9 record doesn't really say that we are progressing, but I like to progression we're making. Guys are competitive every day (in practice) and in games.
“There's another level we need to get to, but we'll get there. With this rookie class, we wanted to make sure to get the person right, and the mentality and the and in the DNA. I feel confident that we've done that.”
Pistons at Heat
Tipoff: 8 Saturday, AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami
Outlook: The Heat (4-6) have lost two straight after much of their roster was impacted by contact tracing due to COVID-19 exposure. ... The Pistons (2-9) have lost all four of their road games this season.