The Detroit Pistons hit the lottery during the offseason.
It’s uncertain whether they’ll start cashing in that ticket in their season opener.
Guard Cade Cunningham, selected with the first overall pick by Detroit, has been sidelined much of the preseason by an ankle injury. He hasn’t gone through a full practice this week, but coach Dwane Casey hasn’t ruled him out heading into opening night against the visiting Chicago Bulls on Wednesday.
“We’re not going to put a timetable on him,” Casey said. “When he’s ready to go, he’ll go.”
Cunningham’s arrival, from Oklahoma State, has breathed new life into a moribund franchise. The Pistons reached the Eastern Conference Finals six consecutive years from 2003-08 but have been irrelevant for more than a decade.
Under general manager Troy Weaver, the roster has been rebuilt since last summer. The Pistons could have the youngest starting lineup in the league this season, with Cunningham joining second-year players Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart along with top returning scorer Jerami Grant.
Hayes has recovered from a concussion and is expected to play when the Pistons host the Bulls.
Casey saw his team forging an identity during preseason games.
“I liked our defensive intensity,” he said. “I liked how hard we played and competed. We developed a playing personality of going hard, playing hard, scrapping. … Defense has got to be our calling card until we really catch up and get everybody healthy, get a chance to play together and get the timing and rhythm as a unit.”
Outside of Cunningham, Detroit’s main addition this offseason was veteran big man Kelly Olynyk. He’s expected to create better offensive spacing with his outside shooting. Mason Plumlee, who was dealt to Charlotte this summer, was not a perimeter threat.
Grant blossomed as the No. 1 offensive option last season, averaging 22.3 points, and could be more efficient with better shooters around him.
“It should open up the floor for him,” Casey said. “(Opponents) have got the spacing issues that they’ve got to respect Kelly’s 3-point shooting. The alleys are going to be open, so there’s driving opportunities to get to the rim, get to the paint and make a play.”
There’s plenty of excitement surrounding the Bulls due to some key offseason additions. They believe they have solved their point guard issues by acquiring Lonzo Ball from New Orleans in a sign-and-trade agreement.
They engineered a similar deal with San Antonio for veteran swingman DeMar DeRozan. They’ll join last season’s major in-season acquisition, center Nikola Vucevic, and leading scorer Zach LaVine in what should be a high-throttle offense.
A 4-0 preseason record only added to the anticipation building around a team with playoff aspirations after four consecutive losing seasons.
“We’re an extremely explosive offensive team, that when we lock in on the defensive end, we can be extremely scary,” LaVine said. “We’ve got a bunch of guys out here playing for each other, trying to figure each other out, that are extremely unselfish and will do anything to win.”
Coach Billy Donovan said it will take some time before the core group develops chemistry.
“DeMar and Vooch, Zach, Lonzo, those guys are very, very gifted offensive players, and I think when you put a group like that together, they have to learn to play with each other,” he said. “I think that will take a little bit of time. But we are going to have to flow a little bit better. I think there are times we do it and it looks really, really good. But it’s too sporadic.”
–Field Level Media