The losses, like the winter snowfall, are starting to pile up in Detroit. The basketball, at times, can be ugly. The future seems so far away because the present is currently under construction, sitting hollow and unfinished. The most important thing when building something, though, is the foundation. You need the piece that can be the base for what’s being erected. You need sturdy ground to build upon.

For the Pistons, a franchise that just suffered its ninth straight defeat on Monday night with a 114-103 loss to the Thunder, their bedrock is Cade Cunningham. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft is starting to operate like a franchise-changing player. Detroit’s record might not suggest that, but Cunningham is beginning to show the world why he was the top choice, tapped to be the lifeboat of an organization trying to swim back toward land.

Over his past four games, exactly a month since making his debut after missing all of training camp and preseason with an ankle injury, the 20-year-old is averaging 22 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists while shooting 51 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3. Cunningham is scoring from all over the floor. He’s gone from taking a back seat to asserting himself in the game’s most critical moments. Slowly but surely, Cunningham is starting to insert himself as the go-to guy. And slowly but surely, guys are beginning to default to him.

“He’s trying to figure it out,” Trail Blazers coach and Pistons legend Chauncey Billups said last week. “I watched him a couple of games ago. I’ve seen him sometimes thinking, ‘When should I shoot, when should I try to play-make?’ thinking he has an advantage, and he probably does, but maybe it’s time to pass. I don’t think he had to think about those things before, when he was in college. Just be aggressive at all times. He’s now playing with guys that are really good players. He’s probably never played with anybody that was better than him before. Those are adjustments that have to happen when you make it to the NBA, and he’s just going through those things.

“I love everything about him. I think he’s a winner. He’s multi-talented, he can kinda do it all. You can put the ball in his hands and he can play-make for you, get a basket for you. I think he’s going to be an excellent player.”

The most challenging part when rebuilding an organization is finding “The Guy.” There’s a reason tanking is running rampant in the Association unlike it does in other pro sports leagues. The difference between the first pick and the fourth can set a franchise back years, particularly for small-to-mid market franchises unable to simply toss cash at the league’s most elite talent. Finding that player to build your core around is important to long-term success for markets without the cache.