NBA Rumor: Pistons Front Office

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Tom Gores: 'We require a little bit of patience'

With five rookies on the 15-man roster and eight players 23 or younger, Gores knows that being competitive and having that translate to immediate success might not be possible. But he’s invested in watching the progress of the team and asks the same of Pistons fans. “We require a little bit of patience,” he said. “It was difficult, but it was the right thing to do and I like what Troy’s doing in jump starting it reasonably fast with all these young folks. It’s not about me. It’s about getting to the end road we all want to get to.”

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Then came June, when Weaver, who started with zero connections on perhaps the bottom rung of the basketball career ladder ascended to the top when the Detroit Pistons hired him as their general manager. He’s believed to be the first former AAU guy to hold such a job. “I love a good story. I love start-ups,” Pistons owner Tom Gores told Yahoo Sports. Gores, as a child, immigrated with his family from Lebanon to outside Flint, Michigan, where he worked his way into a self-made billionaire. “The story isn’t why we hired Troy though,” Gores said. “Troy’s ability to evaluate talent was the No. 1 reason. He is concise in how he sees talent. He sees it on a micro-level. I’ve met a lot of executives who know basketball. Troy is just on a whole different level.”

Tony Leotti is the new senior director of strategy and systems and will assist with overseeing the salary cap as well as strategy. Leotti had been with the Cleveland Cavaliers for four seasons in a joint role as director of basketball administration and team counsel. Leotti also worked with the NBA league office as associate vice president and senior associate counsel. Two new pro personnel evaluators are Harold Ellis and Ryan West. Ellis previously was a Pistons assistant coach from 2008-09 and a scout from 2009-12. Since then, he’s worked as a director of pro scouting with the Orlando Magic and director of player personnel with the New York Knicks.

The Thunder have been in this position before. For the fourth time in their 12 seasons, the Thunder have lost an assistant general manager to another team. It’s a testament to the sharp minds general manager Sam Presti has surrounded himself with in Oklahoma City. This time is a little different. Troy Weaver was different, from his eye for talent (documented by The Athletic’s James Edwards III) to his truth-telling style, from his storytelling to his trash-talking.

Weaver — the Thunder’s vice president of basketball operations for the last seven seasons — bridged the gap between executive and player better than any high-ranking front-office member in the Thunder’s history. It’s why so many players who’ve come through Oklahoma City were overjoyed when Weaver was named the general manager of the Detroit Pistons on June 18. When Thunder guard Chris Paul picked up his phone and saw Weaver was hired in Detroit, he called and congratulated him. Even before Weaver was hired — when there were reports Weaver was in the running for the Detroit GM job — Paul called then, too.

To wit: Weaver was the only candidate to interview with the Pistons’ owner, Tom Gores, according to a person familiar with the search who was not authorized to discuss it publicly. Beyond maximizing the Pistons’ forthcoming high draft pick and some newfound financial flexibility after the February moves to jettison Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, Weaver’s immediate challenges include learning his new terrain and meshing with the various voices in Detroit after spending the last 12 seasons in Oklahoma City. Gores leans heavily on Arn Tellem, the longtime power agent who serves as Detroit’s chairman, and Ed Stefanski, who will remain with the Pistons in his position as a senior adviser to Gores.

To wit: Weaver was the only candidate to interview with the Pistons’ owner, Tom Gores, according to a person familiar with the search who was not authorized to discuss it publicly. Beyond maximizing the Pistons’ forthcoming high draft pick and some newfound financial flexibility after the February moves to jettison Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, Weaver’s immediate challenges include learning his new terrain and meshing with the various voices in Detroit after spending the last 12 seasons in Oklahoma City. Gores leans heavily on Arn Tellem, the longtime power agent who serves as Detroit’s chairman, and Ed Stefanski, who will remain with the Pistons in his position as a senior adviser to Gores.

“You have two veteran big-time players that are looking to restore their careers: Blake Griffin, who is a perennial All-Star, and Derrick Rose. Both guys have had some injury history and they’re looking forward to building their careers back,” Weaver said. “That stood out and we’re excited to get them healthy and help us moving forward. “The second piece is the young players on the roster: Sekou (Doumbouya), (Luke) Kennard, Bruce Brown and Svi (Mykhailiuk) and (Christian) Wood. We feel like we have a good mixture of young guys with those two staples to start there.”

Weaver, Gores, Casey, Stefanski and Pistons vice chairman Arn Tellem were all on the video conference Monday. “I always recognized Troy as one of the top talent evaluators – you just look at the finished products in OKC, he had a big part of doing that. Not only that, he’s a man of his word,” Casey said. “He’s genuine, he’s real, and I will say this, and in today’s time, with all the unrest, here’s an opportunity for an African American man to be named to this position, and I’m going to credit Tom and Arn and Ed for opening up the door for the opportunity for him to step in.”

After hiring a general manager, the front office will begin its search for an assistant. The goal is to find someone light on experience who could eventually grow into a larger role within the organization. The timing of the decision to fill one or both positions shows that the organization is committing to change. Per a source, the team is prioritizing diversity in both searches. Former Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince, who is currently the vice president of basketball affairs for the Memphis Grizzlies, is a candidate for the assistant GM job.

The Pistons are in the market for their first general manager since 2018, but it remains to be seen if the role will be filled for the 2020-21 season. Sources told The Athletic that while the team’s focus is on hiring for that job, Detroit could consider hiring multiple assistant general managers instead. The timing of the hires and what roles will be filled will be dependent upon how the search pans out, per a source. Assistant GM Malik Rose left the team earlier this week for a role with the NBA.

It appears the team would prefer an experienced candidate for the GM job, someone who can step in and make an immediate impact. With Detroit rebuilding and focusing on young talent, a decision-maker with an eye for player evaluation and drafting seems to be of the utmost importance. The Pistons are likely to hold high lottery picks for the foreseeable future, and building the organization through young, cost-friendly talent appears to be their best path back toward relevancy.

DFP: Going into trade season, what are you trying to get accomplished? Ed Stefanski: “We as a front office, we talk to the league on a regular basis, finding out from teams what their philosophy may be right now, but the thing is, it always changes. A lot of teams — trying to make the playoffs — will wait to see where they are at the trade deadline in February to discern whether they are buyers or sellers. The majority of teams are waiting. Teams that are struggling mightily may be sellers right now and if there’s a deal out there, they’ll pull the trigger, but like every year, more trades are going to occur closer to the deadline.”

DFP: Besides the obvious issue of creating a future problem to solve a current one, can you further explain the reluctance to create a better cap situation at all costs? Ed Stefanski: “We’re in cap restrictions right now. We were this past free agency and we will be again the next free agency. If we had to get off assets for cap relief, with our cap situation it really wouldn’t improve more than what we already have — the midlevel exception — for next year. We wouldn’t improve substantially so to use assets to get off some of the contracts you may want to get off — I’m not saying we want to — but to do something like that? It still wouldn’t create a lot of room.”

DFP: Has Blake Griffin exceeded expectations? Ed Stefanski: “I didn’t know what to expect from Blake. In talking to him this summer, he mentioned this is the first summer in a while he’d been totally healthy and I think it’s shown. He’s very difficult (to defend), he’s a force out there, he’s playing at an All-Star level. I enjoy watching how the other teams want to come out and play him. A lot of teams get physical with him, … teams bring double teams, teams bring triple teams and he’s been real good at finding the open man. … Most of this year he’s found the open man and we run a lot of our offense through him.”
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Veteran Jodie Meeks seeks NBA return

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