Schoch: F’ing Finally! NBA Lottery Win Can Revive Detroit’s Dead Pro Sports Scene

Written By Matt Schoch on June 23, 2021

One of my real considerations when deciding to leave Michigan for the first time in 2010 was centered around the Detroit sports teams.

The Detroit Tigers had the best hitter and pitcher in baseball. Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson had limitless potential. The Red Wings and Pistons had been good for pretty much my whole life.

These teams will surely win titles in the next several years, and while my close friends and family celebrate, I’ll be hundreds of miles away.

It’s a hilarious thought, in retrospect.

In my decade away from Michigan, I guess didn’t miss much, thankfully.

But on Tuesday night, after years and years of Detroit sports offering a completely separate experience from following real sports, we got our first jolt of good fortune.

Cade Cunningham is likely coming to Michigan, and the return of Detroit sports could be coming with him.

Detroit Pistons win NBA Draft Lottery after years of misses

By now you’ve heard about it.

(And that’s kind of my point I’ll be making … when was the last time you heard about Detroit sports?)

The Detroit Pistons, after tanking to the league’s second-worst record, defied the odds and won the NBA Draft Lottery.

Detroit had just a 14.0% chance of landing it but moved up on the lottery with its own pick for the first time since the lottery was instituted in 1985.

The Pistons will pick first for the third time in franchise history and first time since 1970, a scant 51 years ago.

Thanks to general manager Troy Weaver, the top draft prospect will not be coming to a hopeless situation.

A foundation of young talent has been laid in short order. Although he is just 27, Jerami Grant is the experienced veteran. Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey are real pieces. Killian Hayes, Sekou Doumbouya, Saben Lee and still others have shown enough flashes to believe there’s something there.

A year ago, this organization was not ready for the top pick. A big-name prospect maybe would have just bided his time in Detroit, with the clock starting until the inevitable trade demand a few years down the line.

That doesn’t feel like the case here.

Cade Cunningham headed to Detroit, it seems

There are couple formalities to get out of the way here.

First, as we sit here Wednesday morning, there’s no guarantee that Cunningham, the Oklahoma State star guard, will be the pick. PointsBet Sportsbook has Cunningham at -800 to go first, and BetMGM Sportsbook pegs it at -2000.

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Weaver is a great talent evaluator, but he’s also proven to be unconventional.

I would take Cunningham first, but I also like Evan Mobley of USC a lot. There are murmurs that Detroit likes Jalen Green of the G League Ignite team quite a bit, too.

Weaver has a duty to watch all the tape, talk to his confidants and trust his gut.

And if he believes Mobley or Green are the pick, maybe he can extract a little value in a high-leverage trade, such as the Jayson Tatum or Luka Doncic draft deals from the recent past.

Second, it’s worth noting that Cunningham is not LeBron James. But he’s certainly no Anthony Bennett, either.

(Speaking of which, how about the Cleveland Cavaliers moving up in the lottery again? Michigander Dan Gilbert must be living right.)

Cunningham seems to have a high floor as a versatile offensive piece, and a willing and able defensive player with the intangibles to compete and lead.

Whether he’s a regular All-Star or just a very good player is a legitimate question, but that’s a pretty damn good problem to have, considering where we’ve been!

Detroit should probably just cash in the lottery ticket and ride with Cade, but Weaver has the autonomy to choose his own path.

Detroit hopes tumbled over the wall with Torii Hunter

Speaking of paths, it’s sure been rough lately for Detroit fans.

And since we’re Detroit, and not a coastal hub or even a Midwest pillar, you won’t hear about it as much as Bill Buckner or Steve Bartman. But we’ve got our own lingering pain here.

Prime Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander were teamed with Max Scherzer and Prince Fielder for a Tigers team that surely would break through. But a magical 2012 run was slapped back in an instant by the San Francisco Giants in a World Series sweep.

Then, in 2013, David Ortiz muscled a grand slam off Joaquin Benoit to knot a 5-1 score with two outs in the eighth inning of Game 2 of the ALCS.

Even worse, with a leaky bullpen and a few years of built-up frustration about the team, we fans knew it was coming.

And after Torii Hunter tumbled over the wall at Fenway Park, we knew it was over.

Even worse, our painful moment was a meme, just another mostly forgotten chapter for an insufferable sports fan base.

Still worse, it plunged Detroit sports to a place where there’s no longer any such thing as a rival fan base. When you’re at the bottom, nobody cares about you.

You think the Green Bay Packers consider the Lions to be rivals?

Detroit sports could rise from the ashes

This is not a woe-is-us story, I promise. Detroit sports are not cursed, nor are us fans.

Incompetent management and overwhelmed ownership are the key culprits of this past decade of disaster.

But along with the good fortune of the Pistons lottery strike, steady figures such as Weaver, Steve Yzerman, A.J. Hinch and (gasp) maybe even Brad Holmes give legitimate reason for hope.

Headlined by Moritz Seider, the Red Wings have a few young gems to believe in, a crop of top picks are starting to make their mark with the Tigers, and the Lions can’t get worse, right?

Still, there’s nothing like landing an NBA top draft pick in a good draft season.

Unlike a top NFL quarterback, the bust rate is low. Plus, basketball is the easiest sport in which a single young star can make their mark quickly in a major way.

Whatever happens from here, Tuesday was a good night for Detroit sports fans.

Those who follow the NBA closely already know something is happening in Detroit. Soon, there’s a chance everyone — in all corners of sports fandom — will know it.

Photo by Sue Ogrocki/AP
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Matt Schoch

A Michigan native, Matt has worked at newspapers in Michigan, Missouri and the Virgin Islands. A versatile sports reporter, Matt has covered sailing on the Great Lakes, cricket in the Caribbean, high school and pro playoffs, and the Olympics in Rio. He's also the host of the Locked On Pistons Podcast and producer of a documentary on Emoni Bates. A former blackjack dealer, Matt has studied the industry from all sides.

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