The Pistons didn’t win the lottery, but they could have won the draft.
And after Jaden Ivey was selected fifth on Thursday night, it was hard not to remember 41 years ago.
Franchise history changed on June 9, 1981, when a mind-blowing Big Ten quarterback who had spent two years in college went all out to avoid being drafted to the Dallas Mavericks with the No. 1 pick. Fast forward to 2022, and another amazingly athletic A Big Ten quarterback who spent two years in college shunned a team ahead of the Pistons.
If Ivey’s time in Detroit turns out to be the same as head Isaiah Thomas, the Pistons were close to a third championship era when they took the star Purdue with the fifth pick after Sacramento selected Iowa’s Keegan Murray with the fourth pick.
Ivey, 6’4″ tall with a 6’9″ wingspan, has avoided training for Sacramento — he trained in Detroit and texted Pistons general manager Troy Weaver about his desire to play here — and his public comments prior to draft on Thursday, did not help. He doesn’t do much to hide his desire to avoid the Kings, whose 16-year playoff drought is the longest in the NBA.
“Of course it’s a dream come true,” Ivey said of the touchdown with the Pistons. “My grandfather played for the Detroit Lions. It was just an honor. I’m just happy that I have a great family here and I’m trying to enjoy this moment.”
Weaver dismissed the widely held belief that there were four potential stars at the top in the 2022 draft—Paolo Bankero, Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith, who won 1-2-3, and Ivey—when the Pistons finished fifth. in the May lottery. The meeting with Ivey seemed like an unexpected stroke of luck to the Pistons.
“What he brings to the table, he has electric speed,” Weaver said. “He will create opportunities for us with his speed. And he has measurable metrics to be an advocate of time and time.”
All week, there have been reports of Sacramento being besieged by NBA teams interested in trading for the 4th pick for a chance to draft Ivey. Weaver said that when the Kings turned down Ivey, the Pistons became uneasy.
“There was a lot of activity,” he said. “But we’ve settled in and we’re thrilled that we’ve landed. But, of course, a lot of activity. I have been around this game for a long time. Tonight was just as eventful as I was.”
By winning the 2021 lottery and drafting Cade Cunningham, who has lived up to expectations in a brilliant rookie season, Weaver has been given ample leeway in building a team around a versatile young playmaker. But it’s hard to imagine on paper a more suitable candidate alongside Cunningham than Ivey.
“I go well with Cade,” Ivy said. “A very selfless player. I could play without the ball or with the ball. We could take turns. Everything a coach needs. I think we’ll get along well with each other.”
Ivey, 20, can be especially devastating, playing on the weak side and catching heel defense while Cunningham plays pick and roll for him. Ivey also has to put tremendous pressure on the defense with his expressive ability to hit the paint. And Cunningham’s passing and Ivey’s speed make the Pistons a completely different team in transition.
“Versatility, length, athleticism, competitive spirit,” Weaver said of the Cunningham-Ivey pairing. “Looking forward to seeing these guys play together.”
Growing up in a family with so many connections to professional sports and coming to Detroit with such deep family roots may not have swayed Weaver in Ivey’s favor, but they inspire confidence in his chances of success.
“He sent me a message, he would love to be here,” Weaver said. “And he said his grandfather would smile. I’m sure they really embraced this moment. Just happy for him.”
Ivey became frankly emotional when his Detroit assignment became known, sobbing and falling into the arms of his mother, one of many in the family with ties to Detroit. Ivey’s grandfather, James Hunter, spent seven seasons with the Lions as a quarterback in the 1970s and 80s and tragically died of a heart attack in 2010 at the age of 56.
His father, Javin Hunter, starred as a wide receiver on Detroit Country Day and played at Notre Dame and the NFL for four years. While at Notre Dame, Hunter met Neele Ivey, the star of the Irish basketball team, leading them to the 2001 NCAA title and eventually replacing Hall of Famer Muffet McGraw as head coach. Niele Ivey played for the WNBA Detroit Shock in 2005.
Jayden Ivey actually grew up around Notre Dame women’s basketball, his mother being McGraw’s assistant for a long time before taking her place in 2020.
“I know I wouldn’t be on this stage without her,” he said from New York, where he spent the night at the Barclays Center, the drafting site.
Weaver expects that any hurdles Ivey may face in moving to the NBA will be overcome by his work ethic and family background with the rigor required to succeed at the highest level of sports.
“Moments won’t be too important to him,” Weaver said. “He was around it. He felt it. It’s always a plus when you have a player who runs a family business. He is a worker”.