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Cade Cunningham ready to put a city and a franchise’s legacy on his shoulders

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Cade will wear No. 2 for the Detroit Pistons after receiving permission from Chuck Daly’s family

Detroit Pistons Introduce First NBA Draft First Overall Pick Cade Cunningham Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

You can’t accuse Cade Cunningham of being afraid of the moment, the comparisons or the responsibility. He’s embraced it all. When facing gargantuan expectations along the way, whether at Montverde Academy, Oklahoma State or with the Detroit Pistons, he has only asked why people are thinking so small. No matter how great you say he could be, he asks why you don’t think he can be even better. He certainly thinks he can.

In a predraft conversation with Bleach Report, he said even as the No. 1 pick, he felt like people were overlooking him. Maybe everybody thinks I’m all this, and that I’m the number one guy at this level. But me, what’s wrong with me feeling like I’m even better than what y’all are saying?” he said.

As long as he puts in the work.

Enter the Detroit Pistons. Throughout the NBA Draft process and confirmed at the introductory press conference, Cunningham was put through a process. When owner Tom Gores, GM Troy Weaver and coach Dwane Casey spoke, they promised one thing. It was going to be a lot of hard work, and the franchise would fully support him along the way.

Cunningham entered the college season as the consensus No. 1 pick, and ended it the consensus No. 1 pick. Gores said as soon as he sat down and spoke to Cade, he knew he had “it.”

“I know everyone thought Cade was the No. 1 pick, but just like he’s done his whole life, he’s earned it with us too,” Gores said. “He is a natural leader.”

Detroit Pistons Introduce First NBA Draft First Overall Pick Cade Cunningham Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

For Weaver, the rigorous process the Pistons committed to in determining how to use the No. 1 pick was used to confirm what they had already knew — seen on tape, in background checks and throughout the interview process players are put through — he was the No. 1 guy.

“The connection that we had with him through this process will propel us into the future. You know instantly, but you have to run a process like anything else,” Weaver said.

As Gores said, Cade passed every test. Dwane Casey even confirmed he passed the vaunted “do you make your bed in the morning” test. Still, Cunningham wants more. And that extends to his chosen number.

Cunningham will wear No. 2 with the Detroit Pistons, just as he did at Oklahoma State. He received special permission from Cydney Daly, Chuck Daly’s daughter, to wear the number, which the Pistons retired in honor of the Hall of Fame coach’s two championships with the franchise.

“I know how much those numbers mean up there,” Cunningham said. “I want to wear that No. 2 with respect. Mr. Chuck Daly, a legend forever and I don’t want that name to ever die. I want to restore what he built.”

For Cunningham, it represents the burden of responsibility he is willing to take on, even as he knows it raises the expectations. He wears a number that represents the best moments of this franchise’s history, and the best man to ever coach it, in a city that takes great pride in its basketball legacy. All the pressure is fine for Cunningham, and he’s probably eager to pile more on, because he believes in his ability to pass any test.

Detroit Pistons Introduce First NBA Draft First Overall Pick Cade Cunningham Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Meet the Rookies

The Pistons introduced all four rookies today — Cunningham and second-round picks Isaiah Livers, Luka Garza and Balsa Koprivica.

“You can debate the player, but you’re not going to debate the person, and we’ve got the right people up here,” Weaver said of his draft class.

Similar to last year, the Pistons focused on high-character guys who were word-working, selfless, competitive players, Weaver said. They will join a similar crop of players coming back from last season, which featured five rookies — Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart, Saddiq Bey, Saben Lee and Deividas Sirvydis.

Isaiah Livers, a Kalamzoo native and University of Michigan standout said he was excited to be home.

“Once I knew the Pistons were on the clock, me, my mom and my dad, we were like let’s stay home, why not,” Liver, who will wear number 12, said. “They use the word restore, perfect. When I was in my interviews I said restore. I like that better than rebuild.”

He also earned major points for taking time out to ensure fans and the press knew how to pronounce his teammate Balsa Koprivica’s name (the ending is like pizza with a V, he confirms).

Luka Garza, the big man from Iowa will wear number 55, said: “I am going to work as hard as I can to maximize my potential on and off the floor.”

Koprivica will wear number 23 said he felt after his visit like it was a family, and one he wanted to be a part of. “When I had my name called, I was grateful to be here,” he said.