Troy Weaver: Pistons' Cade Cunningham could make season debut after road trip
The Pistons will start the regular season without No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham, who suffered an ankle injury near the start of training camp.
Cunningham’s return might not be far off, though.
General manager Troy Weaver hinted Cunningham has been working his way back in practice and that the rookie could play after the Pistons return from their three-game road trip following the opener.
“He’s pretty much day-to-day, but we need to ramp him up and get some conditioning going and get him acclimated to going full speed in 5-on-5,” Weaver said Wednesday morning on the “Stoney & Jansen Show” on 97.1 The Ticket. “Hopefully, we’ll get him back sooner than later, but I would anticipate hopefully seeing him when we get back off the road.”
The Pistons’ next home game is Oct. 30 against the Orlando Magic, the first of a back-to-back, with a road game at the Brooklyn Nets on Halloween.
Cunningham didn’t play in any of the four preseason games and after a promising Summer League, there was some hope he would recover from his ankle injury in time for the regular season.
The Pistons’ medical team and front office have been ultra-cautious in not wanting to bring the No. 1 pick back too quickly, looking to avoid a potential injury. The Pistons also have had some injuries to Killian Hayes (concussion) and Saddiq Bey (ankle) in the preseason, which has slowed their jelling process. Both Bey and Hayes are expected to play in Wednesday’s opener.
Weaver said he’s expecting big things from Hayes after a tough rookie season where he was only able to play in 26 games.
“He had the injuries last year and it was tough sledding coming over from Europe and trying to get going without Summer League and some of those things,” Weaver said. “We’re confident that he stays healthy and he’ll get his feet under him and get going in the right direction.
“He’s just 20 years old. He, Isaiah Stewart and Cade are our 20-year-olds, so you have to exercise a little patience there, but we’re excited about where he is now and what’s ahead of him. You have to be patient with these young players and coach them up and let them grow, but we’re excited about Killian.”
Cunningham was supposed to be the headliner in the preseason, but because of the injuries, some of the other players had to step into bigger roles and try to make an impression to earn more playing time.
That included Josh Jackson and Frank Jackson, who look to be in a competition for minutes at the wing positions. After the injuries, they both stepped into the starting lineup and had good showings.
“Josh had a tremendous camp, and he really improved. Frank Jackson has really stepped up and Killian has improved,” Weaver said. “Saddiq Bey has really made a jump. Of course, he was All-Rookie, but he’s made a jump in his overall game. He’s really coming on.”
The Pistons open the season with an unusual home-and-home against the Bulls, with the rematch on Saturday at United Center. Having multiple games against the same opponent was a somewhat popular decision during the pandemic to help reduce some of the travel.
Starting the season with it is something different, though it has its advantages, including simplifying the scouting and helping to focus on matchups a little more before moving on to the regular slate.
“It was more back-to-back at home, but it's good. You can concentrate on one team and we go there this weekend but I'd rather someone else,” coach Dwane Casey joked. “They're some experienced, savvy guys and they added (Nikola) Vucevic last year. They've got a (high-level) group, and people forget that DeMar (DeRozan) and Vucevic played college basketball together and they're best buddies. They're going to be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference this year.”
The Bulls finished 31-41 last season and missed the playoffs, but they’re poised to make a run with their veteran additions. Some pundits project them to be firmly in the postseason and maybe as a dark horse to challenge for the conference finals.
Sense of pride
Casey had a strong working relationship with DeRozan from their time in Toronto together, and following shootaround on Wednesday morning, Casey made a point to catch up with his former player.
“It’s funny, because I never hang out after shootaround," Casey said. "He is one guy I did stay after shootaround to give a hug to. He is one of the nicest young men I have been associated with, and he is like a son.
“I remember his father’s last words to me was ‘Kick him in the butt,’ and his dad passed away, but he was a good man. So, I just took him under my wing as a young kid in Toronto and just watched him grow. Now he’s a father and a great basketball player, and I couldn’t be prouder. That’s why we are in this business.”