Detroit Pistons wanted to draft Austin Reaves in 2021. He explains why he said no thanks

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Austin Reaves, one of the breakout stars of the 2023 NBA playoffs, could have been a member of the Detroit Pistons.

Instead, he said no thanks after they essentially low-balled him.

Reaves recently made an appearance on All the Smoke, a Showtime production with former NBA players Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson, where he reminded Pistons fans he could have been part of their core.

This dates to the 2021 NBA draft, the same year the Pistons won the draft lottery and selected Cade Cunningham at No. 1 overall. The Pistons also held multiple picks in the top half of the second round, including selections No. 37 (later traded to Charlotte) and No. 42.

Reaves played two seasons at Wichita State before eventually transferring to Oklahoma, sitting out a season, and playing two years with the Sooners. He averaged 18.3 points as a senior with 4.6 assists and 5.5 rebounds, a strong preview of the all-around game he has displayed in the NBA though two seasons.

Reaves, 25, said the Pistons had let his agents know they wanted to take him at No. 42 and offer him a two-way contract, but the mutual interest wasn’t there on that type of deal. He said every team from No. 42 and on were only offering him a two-way contract, thus he preferred to go undrafted and get the same offer from a team he thought would put him in a better situation. The Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers were atop the list.

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“Everything comes full circle and all I needed was an opportunity and I knew that,” Reaves said.

“My agency put me in a good position to, you know, have all of that. We could’ve gotten drafted 42nd to Detroit but kind of declined that to put me in L.A. for a better spot,” Reaves said.

The Lakers before the 2021-22 season converted Reaves’ contract to a standard deal, signing him for two years and $2.5 million.

That move paid off for both parties in Year 2, as Reaves started in the backcourt down the stretch of last season and helped guide the Lakers to the Western Conference finals. He averaged 16.9 points on excellent efficiency (56.4 effective field goal percentage) and 4.6 assists in 16 games.

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Los Angeles Lakers guard Austin Reaves, left, tries to get past Detroit Pistons guard Alec Burks, middle, and forward Marvin Bagley III during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022, in Detroit.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Austin Reaves, left, tries to get past Detroit Pistons guard Alec Burks, middle, and forward Marvin Bagley III during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022, in Detroit.

After signing a four-year, $53 million deal with the Lakers this offseason, Reaves’ bet on himself has turned out even better.

It’s reasonable to assume Reaves and his team thought he would be a better fit with a win-now team in need of youth in the backcourt. The Pistons already had invested heavily in two young guards with Killian Hayes entering his second year and then Cunningham earlier on draft night.

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Reaves explained his agency had broken down teams into tiers. When he mentioned Detroit calling to potentially select him, Barnes did not have nice things to say about the franchise.

“That shouldn’t be on nobody’s tier … if we being honest,” Barnes said, which was met with laughter.

“You said it not me,” Reaves responded.

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The Pistons, after listening to Reaves’ agency and passing on him, pivoted and took Michigan forward Isaiah Livers at No. 42.

The odd part: Pistons general manager Troy Weaver, then in his second draft, gave Livers a two-year guaranteed contract, which Reaves said the Pistons weren’t offering him.

Livers was also coming off foot surgery which prematurely ended his college career, and played in 19 games during his rookie season. He has shot the ball well from 3-point range at 37.8% in 71 games in his two years and has shown he is a solid team defender. The Pistons this summer picked up his cheap $1.8 million team option for the 2023-24 season. The Pistons drafted Ausar Thompson at No. 5 overall, giving them more options on the wing and more competition for Livers. We’ll see what role he earns under new head coach Monty Williams.

The Pistons’ interest in Reaves turned out to be validated, but like the rest of the league, they failed to properly value him. That might continue to sting for a while.

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Austin Reaves: Detroit Pistons wanted to draft me, I said no thanks

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