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Cade Cunningham makes Pistons’ future look far more inviting

Pistons rookie Cade Cunningham

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 9: Cade Cunningham #2 of the Detroit Pistons talks to the fans during open practice at the Little Caesars Arena on October 9, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Pistons have never had one of their own lottery picks help them win a playoff series before leaving the team.

Lindsey Hunter, whom Detroit drafted No. 10 in 1993 with a pick acquired from the Heat in a trade the year before, played a key role off the bench in the Pistons’ 2004 championship run and remained a rotation reserve as they made the next four Eastern Conference finals. However, that was Hunter’s second stint in Detroit.

Darko Milicic, the Pistons’ infamous 2003 No. 2 pick (a selection acquired in a trade with the Grizzlies years prior), played garbage time in the 2004 and 2005 playoffs.

The No. 9 pick in 2001, Rodney White played three minutes in Detroit’s first-round win over the Raptors that season.

Otherwise, no Pistons lottery pick has played has played at all in a series victory.

Put another way: No Detroit lottery pick has started for the Pistons beyond the first round. Every other franchise has gotten post-first-round playoff starts from its lottery picks:

pbt 2021 pistons offseason grade

That ought to change with No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham.

Detroit’s long-overdue lottery luck could transform a franchise that had fallen into a rut.

Cunningham has the size and skill to thrive in the NBA. Though his athleticism isn’t ideal and a lingering ankle injury has stalled his takeoff, Cunningham has already created a buzz.

The Pistons positioned Cunningham to succeed early by signing Kelly Olynyk (three years, $37,195,122 with $28 million guaranteed). That’s a lot to pay a 30-year-old who doesn’t fit Detroit’s timeline. But the stretch big will provide spacing that can give his younger teammates room to grow – and maybe win more quickly than expected.

To open cap space for Olynyk, the Pistons traded down 20 spots in the second round to unload Mason Plumlee’s contract onto the Hornets. Plumlee exceeded expectations last season (showing just how misguided his deal was, because it still needed a sweetener to dump). But Isaiah Stewart, 20, is ready to step up as Detroit’s interior-based center.

Beyond Cunningham, in a stark departure from last year, the Pistons’ offseason was mostly about retention. Jerami Grant, Saddiq Bey and Stewart return to a core that of course now includes Cunningham.

Detroit also re-signed Hamidou Diallo (two years, $10.4 million with a team option), Cory Joseph (1+1, $10.065 million), Frank Jackson (two years, $6.15 million with a team option), Saben Lee (three years, minimum with a team option) and Rodney McGruder (one year, minimum). That’s a good price on Diallo, showing the value of trading for the 23-year-old athlete to gain his matching rights last season.

Just so Pistons fans don’t feel too satisfied with this team, Detroit signed Trey Lyles (two years, $5.125 million with a team option). Lyles previously called Detroit one of the NBA’s five worst cities.

No. 42 pick Isaiah Livers, No. 52 pick Luka Garza and stashed No. 57 pick Balsa Koprivica are the other key new additions.

In the DeAndre Jordan trade that was primarily about acquiring future second-round picks in exchange for taking a cap hit, the Pistons moved Sekou Doumbouya, the last of the players general manager Troy Weaver inherited just last year. Weaver has put his complete stamp on this team so quickly.

Of course, landing the No. 1 pick helps in building a new identity.

The Pistons haven’t won a playoff game in 12 years. Relatedly, it has been even longer since they moved up in the lottery, 2003 for Darko. In fact, that’s the only time they have ever moved up in the lottery.

Detroit did nothing better this offseason than get lucky in this year’s drawing. But that’s plenty.

Offseason grade: B