The Detroit Pistons opened the 2021 NBA draft on Thursday night by taking Oklahoma State star Cade Cunningham.
Cunningham, a 6-foot-8 guard from Dallas, now will be asked to try to lead the Pistons back into the playoff mix in the Eastern Conference. Detroit has made the postseason three times in the past 12 seasons, but hasn’t won a single playoff game since reaching the Eastern Conference finals for a sixth straight time in 2008.
The Pistons will hope that can finally change after some luck in last month’s NBA draft lottery landed them the top overall pick for the first time since 1970. That year, Detroit drafted a future Hall of Famer in St. Bonaventure center Bob Lanier.
The Pistons will be thrilled to get anywhere near the same outcome this time around, as Cunningham steps onto a roster featuring a couple of impressive players from last year’s draft in forward Saddiq Bey and center Isaiah Stewart, plus last year’s free agent signing Jerami Grant, who is currently playing with Team USA at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
The Houston Rockets followed Detroit by taking the player they had been linked to heavily for weeks: Jalen Green, the explosive shooting guard who made history last year by being part of the inaugural G League Ignite team.
Green averaged 17.9 points and shot 36.5% from 3-point range for the Ignite during the G League’s bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, showing off the kind of ability that made him a five-star recruit.
Green now will be the centerpiece of Houston’s rebuilding efforts in the wake of trading away franchise icon James Harden last season, as he’ll play alongside big man Christian Wood with the Rockets under coach Stephen Silas.
While Cunningham’s selection officially tipped off the draft, the action began much earlier Thursday, with several trades consummated or nearing completion.
One of them was by the Pistons themselves, as sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that Detroit was set to ship center Mason Plumlee to the Charlotte Hornets, along with the No. 37 overall selection, for the No. 57 pick. The Philadelphia 76ers, on the other hand, paid cash to acquire the No. 53 selection from the New Orleans Pelicans, while the Brooklyn Nets sent guard Landry Shamet to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for the No. 29 pick and guard Jevon Carter.
All of those deals, however, were dwarfed by the one, as reported by Wojnarowski, that would send former MVP Russell Westbrook from the Washington Wizards to his hometown Los Angeles Lakers for a package featuring forward Kyle Kuzma, guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and center Montrezl Harrell and draft pick considerations.
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