The Detroit Pistons got their man. Troy Weaver, one of the most celebrated executives in the NBA is the general manager of the Pistons. This organizational victory wouldn’t be possible without the cunning patience of Ed Stefanski.
Yes, it is time to give Stefanski his due. The Pistons are set up for a bright future and have the potential for sustained success for the first time in a decade. And that is almost entirely because of some shrewd, and unheralded, moves made by Tom Gores’ senior adviser.
Stefanski has been a target to a large contingent of frustrated and cynical Detroit Pistons fans. His track record doesn’t point to championship-level success, critics argue. He certainly doesn’t embody the bold young, analytically trained young executives a lot of fans have pined for.
Fans were begging for a savior but Stefanski knew no savior was walking through the door. Not in the sorry shape the Pistons organization was in.
While people begged for aggressive, franchise altering moves and a young GM out of the Boston, Philly, Houston factory of organizational competence.
Stefankski couldn’t find someone worthy to fill the vacant position of GM two years ago so he put it on himself to run the team. While some mocked him and the franchise for having him hire himself, Stefanski knew to hire a quality GM he needed to do all the dirty work.
His boldest move two years ago was to do nothing. His boldest moves since have been not forcing big moves that would ultimately lead to only short-term gain. That has been the problem that has plagued Detroit for years. Big, but short-sighted swings.
While fans called him an idiot and others called for his head, Stefanski put his head down and played the long game. The Pistons needed to clean up its balance sheet and set itself up for future success.
When he attempted to hire a GM two years ago the shortcomings of the franchise were as obvious as they were difficult to resolve. A depleted roster already up against the luxury tax. Huge long-term deals in Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson. Few draft assets and a lack of dynamic young players.
Stefanski decided to address each of those in subtle but significant ways. He focused on using the precious few draft assets the team had and could that with a commitment to actually developing young players. He needed to offload the bloated contracts of Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond. While it’d be great to move the deals for assets, those offerers never presented themselves, and he was smart enough not to sacrifice future assets to move them sooner. So he traded Drummond for essentially nothing and waived Jackson so he could catch on with the contending Clippers.
He signed veterans to smaller deals and opened up opportunities in the rotation for young players like Bruce Brown, Svi Mykhailiuk, Luke Kennard and Christian Wood to grow as players. And even his veteran signing of Derrick Rose looks like a savvy move. Sure, Pistons fans were hopeful to see him traded for a first-round pick at the deadline but perhaps it is time to reward Stefanski’s patience instead of only seeing it as a missed opportunity.
There might not be any players players on that list you focus your rebuild around, but they are skilled, can be part of good teams over the next several years and are tradable. If new GM Troy Weaver takes a look at his roster of talent and decides that a Kennard or Svi don’t make sense on his timeline out they go.
Importantly, the Pistons now have something rare — financial space. Typically Detroit sees cap space and can’t use it fast enough. The Pistons have the opportunity now to take on someone ELSE’S bloated contract in a trade while also netting future assets in return. It’s what smart teams do and before this offseason, Detroit wasn’t really in a position to do it.
Now Troy Weaver can sign a young free agent the same way the Nets took a flyer on Spencer Dinwiddie years ago. The Pistons can trade for a bloated contract and future picks. Or Weaver can swing big on a restricted free agent and see if someone can be stolen away form their original organization.
Weaver also has actual young prospects worthy of evaluation and pegged to get actual NBA minutes. The Pistons have a long way to go, but it’s a lot more interesting seeing Wood, Svi and Doumbouya on the floor instead of Drummond, Jackson, Jon Leuer and Langston Galloway (though I have love for Langston).
The Pistons have plenty of avenues toward a successful rebuild. They have all their own picks and at least a few intriguing young prospects. They have financial flexibility and zero long-term liabilities of concern. Stefanski patiently put the pieces into place so that an executive the caliber of Troy Weaver said, “yeah, this is where I think I can make my mark.”
It might have taken two years, but thanks to Stefanski’s patience, the organization finally has its man.