PARIS — Overlooking the court at the Palais des Sports Marcel-Cerdan, home of Victor Wembanyama and Metropolitans 92, Pistons general manager Troy Weaver sat with his team of decision-makers in Paris on Tuesday and observed their experiment.
Detroit’s front office was nestled on the upper deck, overlooking the camera-filled commotion. The Pistons trained in front of media from France and across Europe as they prepared to face Chicago this Thursday in the city of love. And while the NBA is treating the event as a spectacle, Weaver and company are treating it as normal — another day at the office. There is work to be done, even 4,000 miles from home.
Weaver often observes. He’s on the sidelines in almost every training session, in almost every game. Weaver is constantly studying what he has created and looking for ways to make it better. The general manager, who is in his third season at the helm, believes in what he and his team are building — or as he likes to call it, “restoring” — but is sitting between 12 and 35 midway through the 2022-23 season , more needs to be done to convince the outside world that the Pistons are coming in due course.
During this open session in Paris, Weaver took 12 minutes to speak with him the athlete in an exclusive interview. He shared his thoughts on this rebuild season, the setbacks his team has endured, the development of Killian Hayes, the upcoming NBA trade deadline and more. The conversation can be read below.
(Editor’s Note: This dialogue has been edited for length and clarity)
When you held your season-opening press conference, what you wanted most this season was for your team to be competitive. Where do you stand mid-year with what you’ve seen in that regard?
Considering where we are and where we’ve gone through the season with health, I feel pretty good about it. We compete pretty much every night. We were understaffed most nights and still competed. The road trip out west really stands out for me, those six games. We were competitive in every game, we had a chance to win every game and we were three or four fewer starters. I was happy with the way we started this year.
Fans tend to think that development, whether individually or as a team, should be linear. Usually not. And when it comes to your team, I’m not sure people really recognize the starting point that you had and how it differs from other young teams like the Thunder who had a Paul George in trade to help them rebuild to boost, or the Magic, which had a hot player to trade in Nikola Vučević. You guys didn’t have anything close to that kind of starting point. When you took that job, how much did you consider at the time the lack of assets, trading chips and the challenge it would be to basically get this thing to work from scratch?
We knew it would be a great challenge and effort. We understand what the fans want. They want to see a winner on the floor. It takes time. That’s why we called it “Restoration.” One day it looks like the car will start and shine. Some days you see dull spots and rust that you didn’t see before. … Getting through this isn’t easy. That’s why I’ve been so careful that we have the right people to get through this. A lot of teams go through rebuilds, retooling, whatever you want to call it, and they don’t make it because of what they have in the dressing room. We’re very proud to have the right guys and a great locker room to help us fight our way through this. Trust me the dam is going to burst and when it bursts there will be a great flow. We just have to be patient, stay on board and keep working.
I’m even more confident than I was on June 18, 2020 that we’re going to get this thing where it needs to be.
This season has always been a development season. We’ve certainly seen it from individuals. However, with Cade Cunningham out for the season and having picked up serious injuries to other lads throughout the year, has it been a challenge for you to assess the team’s development? From my point of view, that was the most important thing for you this season.
Yes, in any case. It was a challenge for us. I don’t know how many different starting lineups Coach had. From a team development point of view, we could not find a unified identity for lack of better words. That was the challenge. Once we had all our big boys out we couldn’t establish an identity. Alec Burks was supposed to be the catalyst for our bench but he started the season injured. Since he’s back, our bank has been the #1 bank in the league. Having all of these things readily available to us wasn’t there. So from a team development, that was the rollercoaster ride. Individually, yes, you can see the growth in so many guys. From Killian, to Isaiah (Stewart), the rookie, a guy like Kevin Knox.
People don’t talk about it, but one guy I consider a core member for us that’s been out and not talked about enough is Isaiah Livers. His absence was profound. It was great to get him healthy again. Now it’s time for him to stay healthy, have the kind of season and growth that Killian, Isaiah (Stewart) and those other guys have had. It’s a big part of our future and what we’re trying to do.
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With Killian, I’m not sure I saw a turnaround in the season like he had. I think a lot of people thought because he played professionally before he got drafted that he was more ready than he was. Obviously that wasn’t the case and we talked about how development isn’t always linear. One thing we all miss or forget is that he didn’t really play against Americans until he set foot in the NBA. In Europe, they’re great at teaching the basics, but it’s certainly a different style of play than kids who grew up playing in America. Do you think a lot of his jump this year, to put it simply, is finally getting used to all the things that come with American basketball?
I’ve said it from day one that he needs to Americanize himself with his game, as well as with the culture and understanding what the American game is like, with the mentality. The second part of that is that I’m old enough to have kids that are through college and those that are still there, and everyone you send away doesn’t come back to their freshman year a changed person. Sometimes it’s their sophomore, junior year. It just takes time. So for me Killian only took a couple of years. Now he’s coming back from spring break in his junior year and it’s like, ‘Oh, wow, my kid has changed.’ It just took a while. Sometimes it lasts a year, comes back in the summer and it’s like, ‘Wow. He’s really changed. I am proud of him. He takes out his trash and makes his bed.’ Not all kids do that right away. This kid needed to be Americanized. His growth was different. I never wavered at the person or the player.
Does that calm you down?
nope Maybe for him. Not for me. Maybe everyone else. That he has faith in himself and his game, the American game. He only played for Ulm for one year and then he was gone. If he had played there for a few years then, well, ok. But a year and he was drafted. I’m proud of how he stuck with it and fought his way through many things in a foreign country. Now to see that he’s confident and confident as an NBA player is great.
What have you seen or learned about Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren that you might not have been able to calculate and evaluate remotely during the preliminary design process?
Jalen Duren has a chance to become a great player because he’s a great teammate. You can look at his physical gifts and all that stuff, but the way he was a teammate to a young kid is a big time. Jaden Ivey has a stubborn mentality when it comes to being successful. You can hear about things, but until you live with someone you don’t really know. He really wants to be successful, both as a player and as a person. To see that every day is really good and refreshing.
Last thing for you… If you look in from right out front, it seems to me that sooner rather than later you have aspirations to contend for a postseason spot. Does that change your guys’ approach to this year’s close compared to your approach over the past two years?
But first, before you answer that last question, is my initial observation fair?
That’s fair to say, but we’ll be approaching this deadline as we’ve approached the previous ones. We’ll turn every stone, and if something comes our way that we think our team can improve on, we’ll definitely look at it.
It’s all about the growth and development of the team. In any case, we want to be able to move the group forward and improve it. We look at everything.
(Photo by Troy Weaver: Kyle Terada / USA Today)