Camp Questions: What do the Pistons do with their remaining roster spot?

Frank Jackson
The Pistons benefited from cut-down day last season, scooping up Frank Jackson when he was waived by Oklahoma City
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

(Editor’s note: The Pistons open training camp next week with a roster consisting entirely of players acquired within the past 12 months since Troy Weaver was named general manager in June 2020. They’ll be one of the NBA’s youngest teams again and development will be the driving force of their season. Pistons.com today continues a four-part series examining the leading agenda items to begin getting sorted out in training camp ahead of the 2021-22 NBA season. In Part III, we’ll look at the possibilities for the open 15th roster spot.)

A month ago, the Pistons had 16 guaranteed contracts and both two-way spots filled. Something had to give – 15 is the maximum roster spots for standard deals – before the start of the NBA regular season on Oct. 19. Troy Weaver got it done early by trading Sekou Doumbouya and Jahlil Okafor to Brooklyn for DeAndre Jordan, then buying out the veteran center.

The long-term net effect of the deal was using about 20 percent of next summer’s cap space to purchase four second-round picks from Brooklyn, motivated in part, perhaps, by the reality that a once-anticipated free-agent class has been thinned by contract extensions struck by many.

The short-term impact was opening up a roster spot. The Pistons go to camp with 14 guaranteed contracts next week and how that last spot gets filled, or if it gets filled, could be determined by what transpires during the preseason – in Detroit and around the NBA.

Among the possibilities:

Convert Luka Garza to a standard from a two-way contract.

The Iowa rookie had a strong Summer League and looks ready to contribute on the offensive end early in his NBA career. The reigning consensus college Player of the Year, Garza’s slimmed-down frame gave him better mobility and the early signs show he’ll be an effective 3-point shooter at the NBA distance.

The trade of Okafor means the Pistons are only two deep at center, Isaiah Stewart and Kelly Olynyk. An injury to either for any length of time would cut into Garza’s allotment of 45 days spent with the parent NBA team during the G League calendar, though the Pistons wouldn’t have their hand forced until Garza started approaching that number.

There’s also the fact that Stewart and Olynyk are likely two of the Pistons top six players and Dwane Casey figures to look for ways to use both in the same lineup occasionally, especially to match up with other teams that go big. Division rival Cleveland, for one example, figures to play big often with Jarrett Allen, No. 3 overall pick Evan Mobley and trade acquisition Lauri Markkanen all in the mix.

And, remember, Troy Weaver has a self-professed love of big men. Carrying only two centers and two power forwards (Jerami Grant, Trey Lyles) leaves the Pistons a little thin up front.

Wait until cutdown day and grab someone from another team’s roster.

That worked out pretty well for the Pistons last season when Frank Jackson was a casualty of cut-down day in Oklahoma City. The Pistons scooped up the No. 31 overall pick from the 2017 draft on a two-way contract just before Christmas, used him sparingly to preserve his days until the NBA lifted restrictions at the March All-Star break in a nod to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact and watched Jackson emerge as a consistent bench scorer and 40 percent 3-point threat thereafter.

You can bet there are a handful of teams with prospects Weaver and Casey find similarly intriguing who are on roster bubbles across the league. The Pistons could open a two-way spot by elevating Garza to a standard contract or, in the right situation, simply add a waived player to a standard deal and keep Garza on his two-way deal since the desire is for him to soak up plenty of G League experience as he adjusts to playing more on the perimeter at both ends.

Lock up Summer League breakout prospect Jamorko Pickett.

Pickett, undrafted out of Georgetown, is exactly the type of willowy wing prospect with a sweet 3-point stroke that NBA teams universally crave. The Pistons signed him to an Exhibit 10 deal to get him to come to training camp and that will allow them to stash him with the Motor City Cruise G League team – unless another NBA team offers him a spot on its roster, either on a standard or a two-way deal.

If Pickett shows the same type of ease and comfort transitioning to training camp as he did going from the Big East to Summer League, the Pistons might not want to risk losing him to another team. Again, elevating Garza to a standard deal would open a two-way spot for Pickett.

Leave the spot open going into the regular season.

Filling the position comes with an opportunity cost. Once the season opens and the dynamic for several teams begins to change, having an open roster spot could put the Pistons in position to benefit from moves that become necessary for other teams.

Cleveland last season picked up Jarrett Allen in the Brooklyn-Houston trade centered around James Harden. The Pistons will have cap room next off-season, one of the few franchises in that situation, making them a team that rival general managers will solicit when complicated trades require a third or fourth team to solve cap-management issues. It’s conceivable the Pistons could get a good player – or desirable draft compensation – simply by being in the right place at the right time with a roster opening.

As Dwane Casey uses the preseason to tinker with lineup combinations and gauge how deep into his bench the rotation should optimally go, Weaver will be watching camp practices and scouting preseason games across the league with the 15th Pistons roster spot in mind.

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