Troy Weaver called it “ground zero,” and it’s generating plenty of headlines in the wake of Detroit Pistons media day. While the phrase is certainly provocative, I think it’s more instructive to hone in on the C-suite language Weaver used when describing the organization he leads for the third year.
“You go from the red to the black, and the only way to do that is to get level. And we’re level right now,” Weaver said when describing his journey in “restoring” the Pistons to their former glory.
Weaver credited Ed Stefanski, who took over for Stan Van Gundy once he was fired, for “reshaping” the roster. In other words, tearing it down to the studs and giving Weaver a relatively clean slate.
When the former OKC exec arrived, he didn’t have many assets in hand, but also fewer liabilities outside of the monster contract of Blake Griffin. Weaver worked to put his stamp on the franchise and made aggressive moves to bring in Weaver type of players including draft hauls of Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart, Saddiq Bey, Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren.
He credited those players with now possessing plenty of “corporate knowledge,” another classic C-suite gem, for helping build the culture, getting better and holding each other accountable because they know what the organization expects of them.
Weaver wasn’t using “ground zero” to paint a picture of an impact site after mass destruction. Instead, he was saying after years of cleaning up a mess, they have enough tools in their toolbox, enough players with upside and, importantly, enough talent to compete on a nightly basis and to get better.
He’s always a guy who holds his cards close to his vest, even if he drops a colorful phrase now and again, but he allowed himself to acknowledge just how hard a journey it has been to get here.
“We are at a competing stage,” Weaver said, before holding that thought for several beats, before exhaling and wrapping up with, “finally.”
After years of proclaiming the team was young and would be charged with playing hard and competing, you get a sense that now Weaver and coach Dwane Casey are in a position to actually believe it.
It appears that the expectation “to compete every night” is no longer this team’s ceiling, but its floor. It is a base expectation to be in every game, and to continue improving.
Sifting through the Media Day fluff
Now that his cupboard is no longer bare, and he has, in his words, “a full complement of players,” what did we actually learn about that roster on media day?
Not much, truly, but then again, that’s not what media day is for. Media day is for photos and social engagement and some preseason photo and A/V responsibilities for the players. And for the reporters who cover the team, it’s a chance to take stock of every player before anyone is in a position to be particularly insightful or probing.
So you get players exuding confidence, talking about offseason improvements, guys who are in the best shape of their lives, and young men ready to take on whatever challenge the coaching staff puts in front of them. You get proclamations of trying to make the playoffs from Jaden Ivey, and being in conversation for defensive player of the year from Nerlens Noel.
But amid all the standard talking points and media-trained and canned responses, we did get a little peak inside what the plans for this team might be.
Isaiah Stewart will play plenty of power forward
Isaiah Stewart emphasized several times how the coaching staff has given him the green light to shoot. I suppose it should be no surprise that Weaver, a man who never saw a center he didn’t love, seems to want to emulate the big lineups deployed in Cleveland and elsewhere. Stewart, it seems, is the key to making that work.
“I think I’ll find myself at the four spot and being interchangeable spacing the floor,” Stewart said. He noted he sees the game of Al Horford as an inspiration, and if he can space the floor it not only opens up driving lanes for Detroit’s young guards, but it would open up playing time for a player with some vertical rim pressure — Marvin Bagley III, Jalen Duren or Nerlens Noel to share the floor with Beef Stew from time to time.
Dwane Casey’s leash will be shorter
Incumbent in having a full complement of players, is having guys who can be effective on the floor when, say, your 21 and younger set of guards might be struggling. “Being young is not an excuse now,” Casey said, noting that there were talented guys fighting for playing time at each position on the floor.
That tells me new forward Bojan Bogdanovich is starting and seeing plenty of minutes, Alec Burks will get plenty of minutes when healthy, and no matter how much the fan base might not like it, Cory Joseph is going to get plenty of run.
Killian Hayes has no illusions of starting
Whether he’s accepted his spot in the long-term pecking order or genuinely enjoys his role as a reserve, Hayes did not talk like someone who expected to share starting back court duties with Cade Cunningham. Hayes talked about working hard on his shot (and the release does look transformed), and how much he wants to provide energy and a defensive identity off the bench to help give the team a jolt of energy.
Cade Cunningham is stronger
It is “best shape of my life” season, after all. But simply looking at Cunningham’s shoulders and the definition and bulk in his arms, you can tell he bulked up this offseason. Case said he was up about 10 pounds of muscle to about 228 pounds.
Cunningham says the weight will allow him to avoid injury, get to his spots on the floor easier and play through contact.
Hamidou Diallo is on the outside looking in
This isn’t unfamiliar territory for Diallo, of course. He had to give way to the last gasp of “maybe Josh Jackson has figured it out” early last season before Jackson put that theory to bed and Diallo was able to take advantage.
Diallo doesn’t seem to be sweating it this year either.
“For me it’s simple. Just come in and do what I can do and let the chips fall where they fall,” Diallo said of his role and how he is approaching this season. And Diallo will probably once again find himself in a position to be at the front of the line if a wing struggles or gets injured and creates an opening.
It’ll be easy to root for Jaden Ivey
Teammate after teammate raved about Ivey’s competitive streak and his lightning quick athleticism. It’s not shocking for teammates to give rave reviews to rookies, but it seems Ivey is eager to prove himself and his teammates are eager to help put him in positions to succeed.
And it’s so easy to root for Ivey considering his familial roots in the Motor City. He emotionally recounted the strength he draws from the example of his single mother, and his ties to the city and how excited he always was to visit as a child.
I always loved Detroit. You know, I want to be a Piston for life, that’s for sure. It runs deep. Every single day, I wake up and try to rep the city well with that pride on my back.”
The vets know their role
Whether you’re talking about Cory Joseph, Nerlens Noel, Rodney McGruder or Alec Burks, they all know it’s all about the young guys. That doesn’t mean they don’t expect to see the floor, but it does mean they know their primary duty is to make the young guys better on and off the court.
You heard it time and again, particularly in helping Cade grow as a leader. They all marveled at his poise, his natural leadership abilities, but knew they had a part to play in helping him reach greatness. That’s easier to say when Ivey is an explosive potential rookie of the year, Killian has a remade shot, and Stewart is good for four 3s per game. Once harsh realities start to set in and not all those goals are accomplished, maybe these vets will agitate for more floor time. But for now, they are saying all the right things.
Isaiah Livers is the X factor
I actually don’t have any direct evidence for this in anything Livers said or Casey said. It is just something I believe. It didn’t hurt that Livers was the first player out to greet the media, or that he said all the right things about being a “chameleon type” who would do whatever is asked of him.
Livers is going to find the floor early and often, and a team that will be reliant on 3-point shooting will surely be reliant on Livers. I want to believe.