Cunningham's NBA debut could be cherry on top of exciting Michigan sports Saturday
Detroit — Saturday could be a big day in the local sports landscape, and not just because of the big game in college football.
Cade Cunningham, the Pistons’ No. 1 overall pick, appears likely to make his NBA debut before a raucous home crowd at Little Caesars Arena. Cunningham, who suffered a left-ankle injury near the start of training camp, was not listed on the injury report for Saturday’s game against the Orlando Magic.
Cunningham has been limited for the past few weeks in practice, but he has been ramping up this week. It’s been a day-to-day approach for the Cunningham, the team medical staff and the front office in trying to make sure that the No. 1 pick was completely cleared to return to action, without risk of further injury.
Coach Dwane Casey said last week that Cunningham was still experiencing pain with certain movements, which delayed his return, but it appears he’s ready to make his debut, before what should be an electrified group of fans, on the same day as the Michigan-Michigan State in-state clash.
Cunningham didn’t travel with the Pistons on their three-game road trip and instead, he stayed back with a couple of coaches to do individual work and to work out with the G League affiliate, the Motor City Cruise.
Now comes the waiting game to see if he makes his debut on Saturday.
“We'll see. He went through some drills and some offensive stuff (Friday), and we'll see where he is (Saturday),” Casey said. “We're not putting a timetable on it, and if his body feels like it and the doctors agree with it, he'll go when he can go, and it's going to be the medical people's decision. I'm just waiting to see when he's available, and we're ready to go.”
Cunningham has the potential to add some offensive firepower that the Pistons have lacked in their first four games, all losses. They’ve had trouble hitting open shots and creating easier opportunities — both areas where Cunningham is projected to have a huge impact.
Casey cautions against expecting too much too soon. Cunningham may need some time to adjust to the speed of the game, and the practice time he’s had may not be enough in itself. The time to find out is coming.
“I think he's ready, and he understands what we need to be doing. I hope everyone doesn't come out and put tremendous pressure like, 'This young man is going to come out and save the day,' because he's not,” Casey said. “Even though he's a great young player, I don't want to put that kind of pressure on him. I want him to come out and play basketball, whenever he does come out, and let the game come to him.”
While Cunningham has been out, the Pistons have started Frank Jackson for two games and Josh Jackson for the past two games. It’s provided mixed results. The possibility of having Cunningham, a 6-foot-7 do-it-all player, waiting to join the rotation is enticing.
In the midst of all the Pistons’ pains, adding Cunningham to the mix could be the salve the team needs, to, at minimum, end their losing streak.
“He's going to bring some juice right away. He's been working hard, and he's been rehabbing and doing all those things,” Frank Jackson said. “It'll be fun to get him out there and get rolling and get comfortable. It could take time, but I think he's willing and ready to do what it takes to help our team excel, so I'm excited to get him out there.”
The Pistons have struggled throughout the early season with their shooting, their defense and turnovers. It’s been a confluence of issues. But facing the Magic (1-4) likely will be easier than their first three opponents, who have a combined record of 10-5.
“We're not 0-4 because of Cade Cunningham (being injured),” Casey said. “It's 0-4 because of us and things we've got to do better and do longer in that situation against really good teams. I don't want to put that kind of pressure on him when he does step on the floor.”
Magic at Pistons
►Tipoff: 7 Saturday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
►Outlook: The Pistons (0-4) are looking to get No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham (ankle) into the lineup, and to end their losing streak. Jerami Grant (elbow) practiced Friday and should be available to play.
— Rod Beard