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Pistons vs. Magic preview: Detroit gets an up-close look at a rebuild done right

Paolo Banchero vs. Cade Cunningham in a battle of No. 1 overall picks

Orlando Magic v Detroit Pistons Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

The Detroit Pistons have lost 18 games in a row with an NBA record losing streak firmly in site. The Pistons face the surging Orlando Magic tonight on the road. Detroit is also now down its starting center, Jalen Duren, who suffered an ankle sprain that will keep him out of the lineup for at least two weeks. That means Detroit’s starting lineup will once again look different. Backup center Marvin Bagley has been absent recently with his own injury issues, and that opens up the very real possibility that the Pistons will start James Wiseman tonight. Either that or the lineup goes small with Isaiah Stewart at center. I’m personally hoping for the latter, and that might be true even if Marvin Bagley is able to suit up, as it puts Detroit’s best defensive center option on the floor and could allow Detroit’s Ausar Thompson a path back into the starting unit and maximize his strengths as a cutter and multi-positional defender.

Game Vitals

When: 7 p.m. ET
Where: Amway Center, Orlando, Florida
Watch: Bally Sports Detroit
Odds: Pistons +11.5

Analysis

Let’s go back to the year 2020. Troy Weaver was ready to embark on a rebuild that required him to tear it down to the studs and build it back up from nothing. His predecessor had done the heavy lifting of cleaning up the books (one large Blake Griffin contract notwithstanding), and Troy got a chance to build a team in his image.

In Orlando, executive Jeff Weltman was ready to pull the plug on a Magic team on the treadmill of mediocrity. After a 33-win season, it was clear Orlando did not have the pieces to compete.

Troy Weaver was aggressive. He traded away Bruce Brown, Luke Kennard, Christian Wood, cap space, and a future first-round pick for a haul of Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart, Rodney McGruder and Delon Wright. He made more trades and stretched players to open up significant cap space to sign Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee. He traded Derrick Rose for a pick that became Isaiah Livers.

Weltman, meanwhile, traded Evan Fournier for, essentially, nothing (Jeff Teague’s contract). he traded Nikola Vucevic for something — Wendell Carter Jr. and a first-round pick that became Franz Wagner. He traded Aaron Gordon for Gary Harris, RJ Hampton and a 2025 first.

The dye was cast at that moment — one of these rebuilds was set up to succeed. It looks like the other was set up for failure. The Magic had the more attractive assets to trade by far, but they also came away with the best-contributing players (Carter Jr.) and the best draft asset (Wagner). Weaver is down a future first, traded Saddiq Bey for James Wiseman’s soon-to-expire contract, and has what looks like a productive backup big in Stewart.

Killian Hayes was selected in 2020, and Jalen Suggs was selected in 2021. Both are showing signs of life this year, but Suggs looks like he might contribute to the long-term future of the Magic after significant early struggles, while Hayes looks like he could be a backup point guard, but that will likely not be in Detroit.

The Pistons were lucky enough to pick first overall in 2021 and grabbed consensus pick Cade Cunningham. The Magic were lucky enough to pick first overall in 2022 and grabbed a decidedly not consensus pick in Paolo Banchero. Again, it looks like the Magic have the advantage.

Tonight, the 2-19 Pistons face the 14-7 Magic. One franchise is the most positively buzzed-about team in the NBA, and the other is being compared to watching a car crash in slow motion.

Projected Lineup

Detroit Pistons (2-19)

Cade Cunnigham, Jaden Ivey, Ausar Thompson, Bojan Bogdanovic, Isaiah Stewart

Orlando Magic (14-7)

Anthony Black, Gary Harris, Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero, Goga Bitadze

Question of the Game

What does Monty Williams’ bench unit look like tonight?