After being limited to just 12 games last season after undergoing surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left leg, the guard worked on his entire repertoire during the offseason and wants to showcase it in new coach Monty Williams' system.
"I just want to be a great leader. I want to be the best teammate I can be," Cunningham said during media day. "I want the team to defend at a high level, from the guard spot -- that's huge to start it off. ... I feel like I have a lot of different parts to my game that will help us play winning basketball."
Cunningham averaged 19.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 6.0 assists prior to his injury last season. Without him, the Pistons struggled, ending with a league-worst 17-65 record. During that time, Cunningham watched closely from the sidelines in street clothes.
He says the experience taught him a valuable lesson.
"I definitely learned a lot about myself and my mental makeup and everything, but I think mostly, I learned a lot more about my teammates, not being always on the court with them," Cunningham said. "Kind of seeing them from a coach's perspective with just watching their game, watching their habits and things like that, I feel like I learned a lot more about my teammates that will help me through the season."
During the offseason, Cunningham's confidence in his return grew while playing for the USA Select Team in Las Vegas. Team USA coach Steve Kerr said Cunningham "looked great" in scrimmages and that "the injury is clearly behind him."
"I was definitely happy with how I played," Cunningham said. "That was one of my big goals for the summer, to be healthy enough to go play for Team USA and to be a part of that," Cunningham said. "... So that was great, but it's still a learning curve. There's still things that might pop up every once in a while, just with my body getting back acclimated to playing."
Now, he's looking to bring that experience back to Detroit to help the younger players, including rookie Ausar Thompson, who was drafted fifth overall.
"I feel like the first thing you notice about him is he doesn't feel like he's 22," Thompson said. "He feels like a 10-year vet with the way he conducts himself and his leadership is crazy for someone his age so I'm just trying to learn from him."
Pistons second-year center Jalen Duren also joined Cunningham in Dallas -- near his hometown of Arlington --- for some open runs over the summer as they continue to develop chemistry. That bonding experience hopefully will help with the team's foundation.
The Pistons haven't been relevant in years, going 15 consecutive seasons without a playoff win -- the longest active drought in the NBA, per ESPN Stats & Information.
They hope to change that. General manager Troy Weaver feels that with Cunningham back in the mix amid a young nucleus, the team is "ready to go" after finishing .500 or worse in seven consecutive seasons.
"He is the linchpin of what we're doing, and we're excited that he's healthy and the role he'll play with the team," Weaver said. "When he's healthy, he has a chance to become a big-time player."