Grading the Detroit Pistons’ 2021 NBA offseason
The Detroit Pistons were pretty much in tank mode the entire 2020-21 season and finished with a 20-52 record, the 2nd worst in the NBA. Despite the dismal campaign, the draft gods rewarded Detroit with the most favorable ping pong ball in the lottery, landing the no. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA draft. Pistons fans hope this could be the turning point for their beloved franchise.
For a rebuilding franchise, the Pistons undoubtedly kicked off their summer on the highest of notes by getting the top pick. This should mark the beginning of what should be a step in the positive direction. While the youth movement is still in full swing, surrounding their young guys with seasoned veterans to teach them about the ins and outs of the NBA must have been one of Detroit’s top priorities. With the offseason pretty much done, let’s take a look and see how the Pistons fared with their moves this summer.
Obviously, selecting consensus top pick Cade Cunningham with the no. 1 overall selection should warrant Detroit an A+ all by itself. Draft experts projected the Oklahoma State star as a can’t miss prospect, while some even believe he is a generational talent. Some analysts compared Cunningham’s game to that of a Luka Doncic, or perhaps a Khris Middleton. Detroit-native Jalen Rose recently said he sees some Grant Hill in the 19-year old kid.
Regardless of the initial comparisons, Cunningham definitely has the tools to become a face of the franchise type player that the Pistons can build their team around. Though he isn’t the most athletic player out there, Cunningham possesses an all-around offensive game that can make him an outstanding three-level scorer in the NBA, as well as an elite playmaker with the elite guard skills he possesses.
With the NBA Summer League having gone by, Pistons fans already got a glimpse of what their prized no. 1 overall pick is all about. In three appearances, Cunningham averaged 18.7 points and 5.7 rebounds, while shooting 42.9 percent from the field. While the Arlington, Texas native’s numbers in Vegas weren’t all that eye popping, he definitely showed flashes of what he is capable of doing. In one of their games against the New York Knicks, Cunningham dropped 24 points and made it rain with seven 3-pointers. He definitely showcased his potential and how he can pour it on when his shot is falling.
Most importantly, it seems like Cunningham has already fully embraced being a Piston. He already has an on-point moniker with “Motor Cade” and looks determined to resurrect the franchise back to its glory days.
Aside from Cunningham, Detroit also had three other draft picks. They already signed their 42nd pick Isaiah Livers and no. 47th pick Luka Garza to two-way deals. Livers played four years at Michigan and was recruited to the school by John Belein, who is now the Senior Player Development Advisor for the Pistons. Meanwhile, Garza had a standout 4-year career with the Hawkeyes and was named National Player of the Year this past collegiate campaign.
Meanwhile, their no. 57 pick Balsa Koprivica, recently signed a 3-year deal in Serbia, though Detroit will retain his rights should he find his way to the NBA. Detroit acquired the 57th pick when they traded veteran big man Mason Plumlee along with pick no. 37 to the Charlotte Hornets in a salary dump move. In addition to their three rookies this upcoming season, the Pistons also signed undrafted forward Chris Smith to two-way deal.
The rookies not named Cade Cunningham will likely not see much NBA playing time in their debut campaigns and will likely play more with the Motor City Cruise, the Pistons’ G-League affiliate. Nonetheless, Detroit should get a good look at them and see if they eventually develop into NBA-caliber players.
In terms of free agents, the Pistons also added and retained some veteran free agents to help mentor their young roster. Perhaps Detroit’s biggest offseason recruit is 30-year old big man Kelly Olynyk. The Canadian big man signed a 3-year $37.1 million deal to go to the Motor City. They also re-signed Cory Joseph to a 2-year, $10 million deal. The Pistons acquired Joseph and a couple of 2nd round picks last season in exchange for Delon Wright. The Pistons also brought back Rodney McGruder to a the veteran’s minimum.
Detroit also made sure to bring back some of their young free agents. The Pistons re-signed Hamidou Diallo to a 2-year, $10.4 million contract and re-upped incoming sophomore guard Saben Lee to a 3-year deal. Detroit also brought back 23-year old guard Frank Jackson to a 2-year, $6.2 million deal. The Pistons also signed former lottery pick Trey Lyles to a 2-year, $5-million deal.
Overall, the Pistons definitely had a solid offseason highlighted by bringing in the man that should eventually bring them back to relevance in Cade Cunningham. As for their free agent moves, they brought in and brought back some veterans that should serve as mentors for their young squad. Bannering a future core of Cunningham, last year’s no. 7 pick Killian Hayes, and 2021 All-Rookie Team selections Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart, the vets should be an important part of what the Pistons plan to do moving forward.
Obviously, it’s still likely going to be a rough 2021-22 campaign for the Pistons as they continue to embark on this rebuilding journey. Nonetheless, they did well by establishing some kind of foundation this summer.
Offseason grade: A