Pistons add top pick Cade Cunningham to youth movement

Posted at 8:30 PM, Jul 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-30 20:30:40-04

DETROIT (AP) — Detroit Pistons general manager Troy Weaver didn’t want to overthink the first pick in the NBA draft. He never got an offer he liked to change his mind, either.

Weaver stuck with the franchise’s youth movement and grabbed Cade Cunningham, the 6-foot-8 Oklahoma State guard considered the no-brainer choice at No. 1.

“This was almost anti-climactic because everyone had him first in their mock drafts,” he said with a smile Thursday night. “He gives our roster so much flexibility because we can play him in the frontcourt or the backcourt. That and his leadership — he’s a human connector -- are two of the things that put him over the top.”

Cunningham said he had been waiting for the moment since hearing the results of last month’s lottery. He kissed his 2-year-old daughter, Riley, and pulled on a blue Pistons hat and sunglasses in the glow of becoming the top pick.

“I’ve been working hard for a long time to be the No. 1 guy, and when I heard the Pistons got the pick, I was ecstatic,” he said. “I’m going into a great situation where I can grow. I’ll forever be grateful for Detroit trusting me like this.”

Cunningham, the Big 12 Player of the Year and a consensus first-team All-American as a freshman, led the Cowboys to a 21-9 record and their first NCAA Tournament berth in four years. The point guard from Arlington, Texas, averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists last season but the stats don’t fully reflect his playmaking ability.

Cunningham will join a team that has won just 20 games each of the past two seasons and hasn’t finished better than .500 for five straight years.

He will add another weapon to a Detroit lineup that had four players aged 21 or younger in their rotation last season.

Two of the four, Killian Hayes and Saben Lee, are pass-first guards who could play alongside Cunningham in a lineup with leading scorer Jeremi Grant (22.3 ppg), and two 2021 All-Rookie selections, 3-point specialist Saddiq Bey and rebounder Isaiah Stewart. Grant, who will be 27 this season, will be the only one in that group older than 22.

“I think having a great young core will definitely help our chemistry because we will have to work harder for everything because we won’t have a lot of experience,” Cunningham said. “The Pistons had a huge draft last year and got guys who are hungry and super gifted.

“I’m excited to come and do what I can to help those guys speed up the process of getting back to winning championships.”

Weaver said he never got a trade offer that tempted him to move the pick, so Cunningham it was.

“We had 20 wins, so we need multiple players who can handle the ball and make plays for us,” Weaver said. “We have some young guys that really work, and we wanted someone who can blend into that ethos. He definitely brings a lot to the table.”

Detroit hadn’t had the first-overall pick since 1970, when they selected Hall of Famer Bob Lanier out of St. Bonaventure. They won the lottery after finishing 20-52 in a season that saw them trade Derrick Rose and buy out Blake Griffin’s contract.

The Pistons had three second-round picks. They sent the 37th pick - JT Thor - to Charlotte for the 57th choice to get Mason Plumlee’s contract off the books, then stayed local by taking Michigan forward Isaiah Livers at No. 42.

The 6-foot-7 forward will be reunited with Pistons adviser John Beilein, who coached the Wolverines to a national championship game appearance in 2018, Livers’ freshman season.

The Pistons took Iowa center Luka Garza at No. 52, marking the first time they had taken two consensus first-team All-Americans in the same draft since Jimmy Walker and Bob Lloyd in 1967.

Detroit finished by taking Serbian center Balša Koprivica at No. 57. Koprivica played high-school ball with Cunningham at Monteverde Academy in Florida before playing two seasons at Florida State.