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The Troy Weaver era, one year later

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Weaver has emptied his clip in his first year leading the Detroit Pistons rebuild

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One year ago, Troy Weaver was hired away from the Oklahoma City Thunder to lead a complete rebuild of the Detroit Pistons.

In his introductory comments, Weaver was careful not to use the term rebuild, but actions, as they say, speak louder than words. And there have been plenty of actions in the past 365 days, and while he might use terms like “restore” and “reload,” it’s clear Weaver was interested in an extreme makeover.

Heck, within one month of Weaver coming on board, the Palace of Auburn Hills was imploded. A fitting bit of symbolism closing off one, often storied era of Detroit basketball, and setting the stage for a new one.

It was clear before Weaver came on board a major reset was forthcoming as adviser Ed Stefanski worked to clear the decks of as much long-term money and as many disgruntled veterans as he could to set the stage to hire a transformative GM.

And if wasn’t clear to fans then, it was certainly clear once Troy started making moves. Heck, the first two official additions of his tenure are already out of the organization. Justin Patton, a big man prospect from his OKC days was his first flyer but he never stuck. The first executive hired under Weaver, David Mincberg, is out as well.

At the same time, Weaver has always been clear he wants to rebuild the new Pistons in the image of those great Detroit teams of year’s past — the Bad Boys of the 80s and the Going to Work crew of the 2000s.

It’s why, if things go right, this picture might be long-remembered in Detroit.

Weaver and Casey held a health and safety compliant offseason voluntary workout and Weaver apparently saw nothing but pieces who wouldn’t fit. He got rid of everyone but Sekou Doumbouya in pretty short order.

Bruce Brown for a bag of balls and a Toronto second-round pick. Dishing four(!) second-round picks to convince the Clippers to take restricted free agent Luke Kennard and sign him to his preffered long-term number as a way to get back a prime asset like a first-round pick (used to take Saddiq Bey).

Saying goodbye to the one player who seemed like a no-brainer re-signing priority in Christian Wood to take back Trevor Ariza and Isaiah Stewart. Then turning Ariza into half a season of Delon Wright.

In January, Weaver dropped an all-timer when discussing his aggressive approach to the offseason.

The moves were dizzying, but the results were almost universally promising. It seems that when Weaver shoots, he does not miss.

NCAA Basketball: Pac-12 Tournament-Washington vs Arizona Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Draft

The biggest question mark following Weaver’s first draft was actually his highest and most consequential, which I understand is an awfully big caveat. We don’t know what Detroit has yet in Killian Hayes. We do know the early returns were borderline disastrous on offense and then he sustained an injury that kept him out for months.

When he returned, his offense went from five alarm fire to simply concerning with the hope of Hayes being young and needing to build strength and consistency as he looks to develop a jumper and become dangerous in the paint.

Those other picks though .... bullseyes.

Isaiah Stewart was a surprise selection at No. 16 overall. The big man out of Washington quickly became a fan favorite, contributed on both ends of the floor and earned second-team All-Rookie honors. Saddiq Bey was one of those can’t miss guys who every GM feels has a limited ceiling so they choose to miss on him. Bey fell to No. 19 and the Pistons happily scooped up the two-year Villanova product who was viewed as a great 3-and-D candidate.

He delivered the threes, almost breaking the record for most treys in a rookie season, and he delivered solid D with a mature understanding of defense, communication and the rhythm of the game. He earned first-team All-Rookie honors.

Then there was Saben Lee, another surprise pick but one Detroit was all too happy to make. The Pistons had a first-round grade on the Vanderbilt guard as an athletic point guard prospect who didn’t spend much time in college as the lead ball handler.

Signed as a two-way player, the 38th pick logged nearly 800 minutes and scored in double figures eight times. More importantly, even absent a jump shot, he showed he could use his athleticism and high basketball IQ to orchestrate the offense and find sold looks inside the paint.

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Free Agency

As pleasantly surprised at Weaver’s aggressiveness was during the NBA Draft, I think many Pistons fans were hoping he’d pump the breaks a bit as the team went into free agency. Detroit seemed like a classic rebuilding opportunity — hoard all your cash, take on bad contracts for picks and ensure you’re an absolutely dreadful team on the floor.

Instead, Weaver turned his thirst for action onto the free agent market and kept on making moves.

He made trades for guys like Zhaire Smith and Dwayne Dedmon simply so he could stretch their salaries over multiple years and open up an even bigger war chest. He signed perfectly competent reserve center Mason Plumlee for $8 million a year to be a starter.

Not something you typically see (or typically want to see) a rebuilding team do.

He signed Josh Jackson and Jahlil Okafor as reclamation projects. He signed draft-and-stash player Deividas Sirvydis to a guaranteed multi-year deal. The big prize, though, and the one Weaver got raked over the coals for, was handing over $60 million to Jerami Grant, a quality defender with a limited catch-and-shoot game as a third or fourth banana in Denver.

Weaver bet on Grant to be the young (26 years old) veteran who could be a focal point of the offense and allow the young players to develop in more natural, lesser roles around him. Grant bet on himself that he was more than a catch-and-shoot player.

Those bets paid off with Grant exploding out of the gate as a high-usage player who could create his own shot, keep hitting perimeter shots at good efficiency and guard all over the floor. In the end, Grant finished second in the NBA for the Most Improved Player award.

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In-Season Moves

Crucially, while all these additions delivered exactly as advertised or better for Detroit, the Pistons did, in fact, lose plenty of games. Especially once the team traded Derrick Rose and granted Blake Griffin his freedom for a pound of flesh (or $13 million).

Rose was quintessential Rose in Detroit — great at attacking and creating offense out of nothing, but not great at getting the limited weapons in Detroit involved and not playing much defense. He wanted to play for a contender and got his wish being sent to New York for a second-rounder and another flyer for Detroit, this time Dennis Smith Jr.

Griffin, meanwhile, just had nothing left. As one of only two dangerous players in Detroit, teams loaded up to take away Griffin’s remaining moves, which wasn’t much after years of injuries. He found no easy path to the paint, was still working his body back to full strength and his 3-point would not fall.

Eventually both sides wanted a fresh start and Griffin is much happier (and more dangerous) in Brooklyn.

Those moves open up even more time for the rookies and other young players — including two-way player Frank Jackson who became a lethal weapon from the perimeter by season’s end, and Tyler Cook, who latched on with a few 10-day contracts as an athletic young big.

The team also stripped off the last remaining non-Sekou piece of the puzzle in trading Svi Mykhailiuk to the Thunder to take a bet on the development of impending restricted free agent Hamidou Diallo.

Weaver, showing he was just as unsentimental about his own players as he was the previous regime’s, also sent Delon Wright packing for a couple seconds and some future financial flexibility in Cory Joseph and his partially-guaranteed deal.

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A New Direction

The Pistons went from a directionless franchise to one with plenty of intriguing/exciting pieces that can either continue to develop or be sent out and remixed in deals for future players/picks as the team continues to take shape.

When the Pistons shut their season down last year, the team had almost nothing to build around. A soon-to-be expensive Christian Wood, a chance to sign Luke Kennard to a long-term deal if you believed he could stay healthy and ... not much else. Bruce Brown as a glue guy with nothing to latch on to? Sekou Doumbouya slowly developing into who knows what?

Now, though, Detroit has a solid mix of young players and tradable pieces.

Jerami Grant showed he was worth every penny of that high-profile deal and the questions have gone from ones of Weaver’s sanity to ones of when or if it makes sense to sell high on a quality asset. Mason Plumlee could be moved easily to teams in need of center help and Detroit would get something useful in return — either a comparable vet, a young player worth gambling on or future picks.

Josh Jackson continues to rehabilitate his image and his game after flaming out as a top-3 pick in Phoenix. He’s not an All-Star, but there is a method to his madness, and if he could develop a 35% 3-point shot watch out.

Even gosh danged Sirvydis showed just enough with a truly lightning quick shot release at the end of the season that he is no longer simply a punchline.

And if any of those players are moved, Bey and Stewart showed they are ready to step in and continue their development as NBA starters. They won’t win you games at this point, but they won’t lose them, either, and they should continue to get better and better.

Hayes, meanwhile, has the most to prove (joining “longest tenured Piston” Sekou in that department) with his iffy offensive game. But he is the best passer in Detroit since ... ??? and shows the kind of vision and awareness you want in a point guard. He also showed great signs, especially for a 19 year old, on the defensive end.

NBA: NBA Draft Lottery Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The Future — Reloading the Chamber

The Pistons are about to learn their ultimate fate in a matter of days at the NBA Draft lottery. With the second-worst record in the league they have a 14% chance at picking No. 1 and a 20.1% chance of falling all the way to No. 6. The Pistons, as if you need reminding, have never moved up in the history of the NBA Draft Lottery.

It’s Detroit’s chance to add a maybe superstar in Cade Cunningham, or a maybe stealth two-way big man in Evan Mobley, or a bonafide bucket getter in Jalen Green or a proven competitor in Jalen Suggs ... or ... or ... or ... We will find out.

The Pistons also have picks 37, 42 and 52. I’m sure Troy will be just as aggressive this year in trying to get back into the first round or moving around in the second.

Detroit will also have 13 players already under contract if the team brings back Diallo, Jackson and Lee, and lets Smith Wayne Ellington, Joseph and Rodney McGruder walk. That with up to four picks means maybe, MAYBE, a less active free agent season.

But he’s also looking at roughly $13 million in cap space, and if he parts with a vet or two that could open up the possibility of another Grant-level impact signing.

With Weaver, we know after one year to always expect the unexpected.

It leaves you wondering where the Pistons will be one year from today. Will it be as completely unexpected as today versus one year ago?

No matter what happens, what the past 365 days has shown Pistons fans is that for perhaps the first time in a decade the Pistons are a young team armed with talent, draft picks, guys hungry to prove themselves, assets able to be moved and most importantly ... hope.