Pistons Drop to 8

If there was ever a year to not draw a top-3 pick, this was the one

Draft Lottery 2013
The Pistons will pick 8th in the 2013 Draft.
Jesse D. Garrabrant (NBAE/Getty)
Timing is everything. What at first blush might appear crushing disappointment in Tuesday’s lottery results … well, not really.

If there was a common refrain I heard last week in Chicago among team personnel executives at the NBA draft combine, it was some variation on this theme: If there was ever a year you didn’t want to exhaust your supply of lottery luck and draw a top-three pick, this was the one.

Joe Dumars and his staff aren’t going to lose any sleep over Tuesday results. Oh, sure, they would have preferred to stay at No. 7 rather than getting bumped to No. 8 – the exact scenario that played out two years ago, when they wound up taking Brandon Knight – and they wouldn’t have given back the No. 1 pick if it had turned out that way.

Joe D talked to Pistons owner Tom Gores shortly after the results were made known Tuesday night and told him, “There were no franchise changers that you’re looking at in this draft, so to be at seven or eight, we’re going to get a good player,” Dumars said by conference call from New York. “We’re going to add another really nice piece to the core that we already have and we’ll move forward. I’m very, very comfortable with it and OK with it. Totally OK with it.”

The consensus on the 2013 draft is that it’s a fairly typical draft, minus star power at the top. Given the NBA’s rookie salary structure, where contract figures are slotted regardless of impact projections, the Pistons might well get a comparable player at No. 8 for half the money they would have paid at No. 1 – a $2.2 million first-year salary compared to $4.4 million that Cleveland, which won the lottery for the third time in 10 years and second time in the last three, will be handing over to its pick.

That makes it another case of good timing for the Pistons, because this is an off-season when they’ll have significant cap space – more than all but two other teams. Teams over the cap or below it by only a modest amount aren’t much affected by the amount of their rookie cap hold simply because they won’t be active in free agency beyond picking at the fringes. But the Pistons will have more than $20 million in cap space and the extra $2 million they’ll have by picking eighth instead of first might be the difference in closing the deal with Plan A instead of Plan B, or in being able to add a second high-quality player as opposed to settling for lesser options.

So who is likely to join the Greg Monroe-Knight-Andre Drummond core culled from the past three lotteries?

Well, unless Trey Burke is this year’s Knight or Anthony Bennett this year’s Drummond, the Pistons might be looking at a pool of players led by Alex Len, Michael Carter-Williams, C.J. McCollum and Shabazz Muhammad.

The only two players fairly certain to be unavailable with the eighth pick are Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel and Kansas’ Ben McLemore. The next tier of players – those more likely than not to be off the board, perhaps – includes Michigan’s Burke, Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, Georgetown’s Otto Porter and UNLV’s Bennett, though it wouldn’t be an upset if one or two of those players gets past the top seven, especially given the injury status of Bennett (shoulder surgery) and Len (ankle surgery) which will prevent them from working out and puts their availability for the start of training camp in some doubt.

Dumars said the Pistons wouldn’t hesitate to take a big man – Zeller or Len, for example – if that’s what the draft dictates.

“You rate these wing guys and if it gets to the point where they’re all gone, the ones you rated in the top seven or eight, then you’ve got to take the best big guy or the best player on the board at that point,” he said. “We’ve been very open that our preference is to look at the perimeter, but by no means are we locked in to that where that’s all we’re going to take, no matter what. If the top guys we rate at seven or eight are gone off the board, you can rest assured we’re going to take the best big that’s left.”

And after that, take their considerable cap space – $2 million more than they would have had by winning Tuesday’s lottery – do the heavy lifting of a tantalizing summer in the trade and free-agent marketplace.