Roster crunch means Pistons could look to get creative with both No. 1 and No. 2 picks

Anthony Tolliver is one of just two Pistons who’ll be unrestricted free agents on July 1.
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

There’s justifiable speculation that the Pistons would be open to trading their first-round pick, given the fact they already tried once. But what about their second-round pick?

That might be even more likely – at least to the extent that there could be a market for the 49th pick.

That’s driven less by the long odds of the 49th pick experiencing a lasting NBA career, given draft history, than it is by the realities of the roster.

The Pistons simply don’t have many free agents. That’s a good thing given Stan Van Gundy’s desire for a little more roster continuity after massaging it extensively in his two years on the job. Only Andre Drummond and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope remain from the roster he inherited.

Anthony Tolliver and Steve Blake stand as the lone unrestricted free agents from the 15 players who finished the season, an unusually low number. The Pistons hold team options on or have partially or non-guaranteed deals with Joel Anthony, Spencer Dinwiddie, Lorenzo Brown and Darrun Hilliard, though everything Van Gundy has said about Hilliard makes it virtually certain he’ll be back.

Andre Drummond will be a restricted free agent, but there is next to no chance he’s not wearing a Pistons uniform next season. Barring trade, nine others will also be back: Aron Baynes behind Drummond at center; Tobias Harris at power forward; Marcus Morris, Stanley Johnson and Reggie Bullock at small forward; Caldwell-Pope, Jodie Meeks and Hillard at shooting guard; and Reggie Jackson at point guard.

So the likelihood – unless trades that send out more players than they return occur – is that there will be no more than five roster openings, four if the Pistons exercise their first-round pick on a player they don’t intend to stash in an international league.

They need a backup point guard and at least one more power forward. If they decline their option on Anthony, they’ll also need a third center. It’s conceivable they add a stretch four – perhaps Tolliver’s return, perhaps someone similar – and then another big man who can play either power forward or serve as the No. 3 center.

And since general manager Jeff Bower said at last week’s NBA draft combine that the No. 18 pick probably wouldn’t affect free-agent plans – translation: the Pistons aren’t going to trust the fate of their rotation to someone drafted at that position – then No. 18 won’t be considered as the backup point guard or the power forward.

Van Gundy isn’t going to carry only two point guards, so if they don’t draft one then either Dinwiddie – who didn’t show enough, based on everything Van Gundy said over the course of the season, to be considered the No. 2 point guard – Brown or another player fills the No. 3 point guard job.

The roster squeeze is on in full force. It’s difficult to envision them using a spot on the No. 49 draft slot. Among the possibilities, then, are using the pick on an international player who’ll spend at least one more season in development overseas or trading it for a future second-round pick containing reasonable protections. The Pistons are without second-rounders in 2017, ’19 and ’20, keep in mind, as a result of trades for Jackson and Morris.

Those second-rounders come in handy in making such deals and the Pistons under Van Gundy have mined the trade route more than free agency to build the roster. Restoring their cache of second-rounders could help them execute future such trades.

On Friday, I’ll go into a little greater depth on the likelihood of each player being back in a Pistons uniform next season.