Pistons Mailbag - April 25, 2019
The season that was, the off-season ahead and 2019-20 beyond that are all grist for the mill in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Kevin (Farmington Hills, Mich.): Can you put a nice spin on this past season and what we have to look forward to and be excited about for next season?
Langlois: The front office and Dwane Casey are well aware of their roster needs. In addition to addressing center and point guard – where Zaza Pachulia, Ish Smith and Jose Calderon will be free agents – the glaring need will be to address the lack of size on the wing. Even if the Pistons decide to pick up the option on Glenn Robinson III, they’ll need a bigger wing. It’s possible that Svi Mykhailiuk helps address that. But it’s not a given that he’ll be rotation worthy as soon as next season, so I would expect Ed Stefanski to be open about the need to add size at that position heading into the draft and free agency. The moves at the trade deadline were not the moves of a team desperately clawing for a playoff spot. They were moves – trading Stanley Johnson and the 20-some games of team control remaining before restricted free agency for the season-plus of control on Thon Maker; dealing Reggie Bullock for Mykhailiuk and a future second-round pick – of a team looking to restock its assets drawer. Signing Wayne Ellington – something the Pistons couldn’t have known was coming when they made those deals – allowed them to stay competitive for a playoff berth this season. There is no substantive difference between drafting 15th (where the Pistons will pick) and 13th or 14th in the back end of the lottery. It’s not expected to be a great draft, but the Pistons still will have the chance to land an important piece for the future – just likely not 2019-20. I would expect the front office to be aggressive in making moves. I think they’ll attempt to be very active on the trade market now that they’ve had a full season to assess needs and Casey’s had a season to figure out what he has and what he needs to fully realize his vision for a team built around Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. Reggie Jackson having a full summer to prepare for a season for the first time in three years should yield the best version of Jackson next season and that could be very important. They’ll benefit from the continuity of a coach who’s had a season to implement a system that represented a fairly significant change in philosophy on both ends.
Ed (Grand Blanc, Mich.): The Pistons lack of size at small forward is a need. Whom do you see the Pistons pursuing to fill this void in the draft or free agency?
Langlois: It’s a decidedly top heavy group of free agent small forwards, led by Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler and Khris Middleton. They’ll all be well out of reach for a team which has the mid-level exception as its most attractive bait. I would expect a short-term deal for a journeyman player to be the most likely ultimate result, though they’ll kick the tires on more permanent solutions, you can be sure. They could look at a reunion with Reggie Bullock, who gives them more size than they have now and very good to elite 3-point shooting. Wayne Ellington has been thrilled with his experience and that remains an option, though it doesn’t really get to solving the need for more size. The Pistons will have to decide what qualities they’re looking for at that position, really. Do they prioritize someone who gives them more size and strength for defensive matchups or do they decide 3-point shooting and playmaking off the dribble are more important qualities? As for the draft, I’ll be most curious to see what happens with a few freshmen considered sure-fire top-10 picks prior to the season, North Carolina’s Nassir Little and Indiana’s Romeo Langford. Will one or both fall to 15? They’re probably not ready to contribute consistently next season and there’s no guarantee the Pistons like either well enough, but in theory to get a potential top-10 talent outside the lottery is the type of move that could pay off in two or three years. Also, the usual disclaimer applies: The Pistons aren’t going to draft with need atop their priority list, nor should they. If at their turn the best prospect is a power forward – even with Blake Griffin under contract for three more seasons – they should take that guy.
Ian (Westland, Mich.): Someone we might try to trade for with first-round picks is Danilo Gallinari. It’ll be interesting to see how he does next year. He is getting older but like this year where a lot of good free agents are available the year after there is not the same amount of talent.
Langlois: First-round picks? You want to trade more than one first-round pick for a soon-to-be 31-year-old with one year left on his contract who should not be guarding small forwards and, thus, would have to play most of his minutes at the position Blake Griffin is going to play all but 12 or 14 a night? That strikes me as a horrendous allocation of assets. I like Gallinari in a vacuum, but that move just doesn’t make sense.
Bugsick25 (@bugsick25): After laying the foundation, what would be a reasonable goal for next season?
Langlois: Too soon to offer any specificity on that. Nobody’s roster has changed for next season yet. I’m sure the front office goes into the off-season with a goal of improving the roster while exercising the same type of long- and short-term balance they exhibited at the trade deadline when they bettered their future without materially harming their immediate prospects. The Pistons project to have cap space next summer, which means they’ll be judicious about handing out long-term deals this summer. The reasonable goal for next season: win more games than this season while continuing to improve their prospects for future strides.
Shaun (@greatmurbinski): The Pistons have a lot of expiring contracts next year. Do those still have the same value on the trade market that they did before the salary cap exploded?
Langlois: The salary-cap bubble didn’t last long. Teams spent right up to the elevated cap that summer, 2016, for the most part. What’s changed is teams becoming more analytically astute – they don’t just crunch numbers to tell them how to play or what lineups to field, but also what players (and types of players) to pursue – and being more selective with how they spend their money, not their willingness to spend it. So teams will weigh the cost-benefit equation in any transaction. If swallowing expiring contracts is the surest path to get where they want to go, it will hold appeal for them.
BigBowlcutBrand (@kesteph5): Whom do you see the Pistons going after in the draft? Do we move around?
Langlois: They’ll go for the best player – the player they think will emerge before the end of his rookie contract as the best talent available at 15 and the one who best suits the needs of what Dwane Casey wants. Roster considerations will factor, but not as the overriding factor. And with a number of needs, it’s almost irrelevant to consider position. You could make the case for drafting a player at any position, center or power forward – where Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin reside – included. They sit for a quarter of the game. Even the most NBA-ready rookie available at 15 would be hard-pressed to win 12-plus minutes a game for a playoff team.
Rudy (@rudyjuly2): In terms of free agency, what is the largest average salary the Pistons can offer any player with their current cap situation? I’d just like to know what the ceiling is in terms of free-agent shopping?
Langlois: The Pistons have the mid-level exception at their disposal as their top tool. For teams over the salary cap but under the luxury tax – where the Pistons in all likelihood will wind up – the projected MLE for next season is $9.25 million. They can push all of that into one pile to sign a single player or split it up over multiple players. For the right guy, you’d expect the Pistons to offer it all in a single bunch. But they might decide there’s nobody willing to take the MLE worth that and more bang for the buck can be had by filling more than one need. They’ll also have the biannual exception of $3.6 million. That can net another solid rotation player. Without consideration for the No. 1 pick – what position he’ll fill or how the organization views his readiness to help next season – and without consideration for how trades will alter the roster, the Pistons as of today have to fill backup center and backup point guard and improve the size and quality of their wing rotation.
Freddie (@freddiemoorejr5): What good backup center would be a good fit with my beloved Detroit Pistons? I love Andre Drummond, but I think we could get better true center play on both sides, offense and defense.
Langlois: If you’re suggesting the Pistons can afford to acquire a center better than Andre Drummond with the assets they have to offer, I’ve got nothing for you. If you’re asking how can they improve their center play when he’s off the floor, the answer is good scouting. My strong hunch is they’re going to prioritize wings and point guard and attempt to get by with a cheaper option beyond Drummond. Given his durability and ability to play 30-plus minutes a night, that seems prudent. Orlando found Khem Birch three years after he went undrafted. There are other guys like him out there to be developed.
That Guy (@DtownDgen): What becomes of Reggie Jackson? Can he play 33 minutes a game? Were the Pistons limiting his minutes to keep his body healthy?
Langlois: Jackson said something on Wednesday, after the Milwaukee series ended, that struck a chord. He was asked about his eye-opening put-back dunk to end the first half and talked about how Arnie Kander told him that because of the injuries that sidelined him the past two seasons and greatly limited his off-season workouts. Kander told him that as other players start to wear down, his body will start to feel stronger. Jackson scoffed at the suggestion, but said it proved right. By season’s end, he felt he was starting to feel his best. That’s encouraging for next season. He goes into the off-season healthy, so he’ll have the benefit of a normal summer program. Blake Griffin spoke often of how he felt the summer he experienced in 2018 – the first time in four years he wasn’t focused on injury rehabilitation – was at the root of his resurgent season. I’m less concerned with how many minutes Jackson plays as his impact in those minutes. Thirty minutes of 2015-16 Reggie Jackson would be a big deal for the 2019-20 Pistons.
Eric (@Reiter98): One issue for the Pistons is bench scoring. Can they get a guy in the off-season to get them buckets off of the bench. Jamal Crawford maybe?
Langlois: Depends what he’s willing to take, I suppose. A super sub is a luxury. The Pistons need to fill the other areas we’ve detailed – backup point guard, backup big man and, most critically addressing the wing positions – before they can aspire to a premium bench scorer. If you’re talking about the 2019-20 version of Jamal Crawford, now 39, I’m not sure he’ll be that guy, anyway.
John (@NYYDETBOY27): Will the Pistons add an athletic wing that can drive, shoot and dunk? Any chance we move Reggie Jackson or Andre Drummond this summer?
Langlois: Athletic wings who can shoot and make plays off the dribble? You’re going to have to ratchet your expectations down a notch or two. You’ve basically just described guys like Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant and Jimmy Butler. Those guys are going to command maximum salaries or, at the next tier down, eight figures a year. You generally have to accept one or two of the qualities sought in wings – size enough to provide defensive versatility, 3-point shooting, playmaking off the dribble. If you get all three, you’re talking about someone in high demand. If you can get that accomplished with the mid-level exception as your primary bait, you have a future in NBA management awaiting you.