Pistons Mailbag - August 19, 2020

Thursday’s lottery and its implications for the Pistons and the NBA’s decision to allow the non-Orlando bubble teams to gather for a team camp are among the topics on the table in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Tank Casey (@RedAlternates): Any idea on who will be representing us at the lottery? My guess would be Troy Weaver.

Langlois: Logical guess – and you’re right. It will be the 14th time the Pistons have been part of the NBA draft lottery in 36 lotteries held and – quite remarkably – they’ve never moved up. Contrast that with the fact that Cleveland has not only moved up but won the No. 1 pick four times since 2003 – and three times in a four-year span within the last decade. Crazy.

Adam (St. Petersburg, Fla.): How do you expect the fact that the NBA has now approved a team camp for the Pistons to help them?

Langlois: News came down just Tuesday night that the NBA and the Players Association have OK’d a plan that would allow the Pistons and the seven other non-Orlando bubble teams to conduct their own on-site camps. They won’t be gathering to scrimmage against other teams, but each team will congregate at its practice facility (or another site of their choosing, I suppose) and create a campus-like environment where strict pandemic safety and testing protocols can be practiced. This is something Dwane Casey (and Troy Weaver since his arrival in June) had expressed desire to happen, mostly for the benefit of the young players on their roster – Sekou Doumbouya, foremost, but also Bruce Brown, Khyri Thomas, Svi Mykhailiuk, et al. It’s strictly a voluntary camp, but you can expect those players, at minimum to be part of it. I haven’t seen clarification yet as to how it affects players like Jordan Bone and Louis King, who are technically restricted free agents coming off two-way contracts. But since March 11, all those players have been permitted to do is work out on their own – and clearance to do so at the team’s practice facility under the supervision of a coach didn’t come until June. So Casey was logically concerned that going nine months or more – the span between March 11 and the targeted December start of the 2020-21 NBA season – between competitive games would dull the skills and instincts of his young players. This might not completely address the issue, but it’s better than the alternative.

Ian (Westland, Mich.): I don’t think we should give much away if we are to go after Lonzo Ball. He hasn’t proven he can lead a team and his scoring and shooting percentages are low and he’s a poor foul shooter for late-game situations. But he’s still young and if he can fulfill his potential it might be worth giving him a shot if you don’t have to give up much.

Langlois: You’re referring to a report which claimed, without citing a source, that the Pistons and Charlotte would be two teams in the bidding should New Orleans look to move Lonzo Ball ahead of handing out some big contracts to retain its own players. On the credibility scale, that one ranks pretty low. It’s logical that the Pelicans look at their roster with Jrue Holiday making big money, Brandon Ingram about to and Zion Williamson already due to make eight figures and make some decisions about which core pieces they can afford to trade. Ball doesn’t come cheap – he’ll make $11 million next season, the fourth of his rookie deal – so you have to be convinced of his future in order to give up something of consequence for a player who can be a restricted free agent after the 2020-21 season. I doubt it’s a deal any lottery team would make until after the draft.

(@PTP_99): Are there any murmurings about trading for another first-round draft pick after their selection on draft night?

Langlois: I think there’s a stronger likelihood of the Pistons trading the lottery pick they have than of picking up a second first-round pick. I don’t think either option is likely, for what it’s worth. What would the Pistons have that would entice another team to give up a first-round pick? Golden State is one logical candidate to be willing to trade a first-round pick for immediate help given the need for rotation pieces on a roster that’s extremely top heavy – Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins are on the books for $130 million next season, meaning the Warriors will be about a mid-level exception deal away from the luxury tax ceiling with just four players under contract. They’re going to need relatively cheap players who can come in and produce for not much money. Luke Kennard, it figures, would be of interest if the Warriors don’t think wherever their lottery pick falls will yield an immediately useful asset. Whether either team would find such a deal appealing remains to be seen, but it’s the type of trade that makes sense in concept. Thursday’s lottery is the first piece of a much bigger puzzle in that regard.

Bill Blasky (@bill_blasky): I’d like to see the Pistons take the best point guard on the board with their first-round pick. However, this team really doesn’t have much talent at any position. (Except for Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, who are past their prime.) Any players besides the point guards you think would have potential?

Langlois: The most important thing for the Pistons if they wind up with a top-five pick is to take the best player regardless of position. I’d say that in almost every instance for a team drafting that high. The only possible exception would, again, be for a team like Golden State that only finds itself in the lottery due to an aberration. But, yes, Troy Weaver goes into his first draft with the Pistons with a relatively blank slate. The deepest position on the roster is shooting guard but if the Pistons get the top pick and Weaver agrees with the loose consensus that Georgia’s Anthony Edwards is the best prospect – the one with the best chance at becoming a bona fide star – then I don’t doubt for a second that he’d be the pick.

Ken (Dharamsala, India): I marveled at Tony Parker, who could keep his dribble alive in the paint, change speeds, feel the double-team coming and make the right decision to get a quality shot for the Spurs. Derrick Rose does the same, as does Ish Smith. The Bad Boys’ trio of outstanding guards could all dribble in the paint and absolutely fracture opposing defenses. Do you see ballhandlers on this squad? Do you think this can be coached, particularly in this pandemic idle time?

Langlois: Players do drill work routinely to improve ballhandling. The Pistons still employ Arnie Kander, their longtime strength and conditioning coach and all-around guru on how the body ticks, and he devised some remarkably creative ballhandling drills over the years that are still in use. The more confident a player becomes in his ballhandling, the more effective he will be in handling it in tight quarters. So to that extent, yes, it can be coached. It’s a little tough to work on handling it amid multiple defenders during the pandemic because the Pistons – one of the eight teams not part of the Orlando bubble – are still limited to one-on-zero workouts, each player doing individual drill work with the aid of one coach. That changes with this week’s news that the eight non-bubble teams can hold on-site team camps from mid-September through early October.

Charles (Redford Twp., Mich.): Could or would the Pistons consider offering Blake Griffin a new contract for, say, $20 million a year for four to five years starting this off-season? That would bring his per-year salary down to a very reasonable rate immediately while giving the oft-injured Griffin comfortable long-term security. Such a contract could would allow the Pistons to trade Griffin easily (if healthy) or allow more cap space to build around him.

Langlois: Extensions don’t work that way, Charles. His contract – assuming Griffin picks up the option for 2021-22 – runs two more years. The extension would start for the 2022-23 season, not override the two existing years on his deal at a lower rate. He’s on the books for $37 million next season and that wouldn’t be reduced even in the event of an extension that lowers his compensation in future seasons. Yes, the Pistons could extend Griffn’s contract this off-season because it was signed three years ago and five-year contracts can be extended on the third anniversary of their signing. It’s unlikely the Pistons would do so at this time, however, with Griffin coming off of knee surgery. He’d also be 33 at the time the extension would kick in. Griffin’s trade value at present is likely very thin given the uncertainty over his knee coupled with his annual compensation. Griffin said last week that he feels a “world of difference” in the knee over a year ago, when he had his first surgery, after having a follow-up procedure to clean up loose bodies in the joint in January. That’s a very positive sign, but the size of his current contract – he’s owed $76 million over the next two seasons – would make it unlikely that another franchise would take it on without seeing hard evidence of his return to form.

Peter (Jackson, Mich.): The Pistons primary need is point guard. The two point guards I am most impressed with in this draft are Killian Hayes and Kira Lewis. Any chance the Pistons select one of them as the point guard of the future?

Langlois: First things first, Peter. The lottery is Thursday and where the Pistons wind up picking will be the first determinant in answering your question. Hayes is considered an unlikely top-five pick and Lewis an unlikely top-10 pick, though take those determinations with a large grain of salt in a draft where the separation among prospects at the top of the draft is so narrow. If Troy Weaver sees something in Hayes or Lewis, the mock drafts you’re looking at aren’t going to deter him from grabbing one or the other. In general, the point guard who appears to be thought of atop the positional rankings is LaMelo Ball. Hayes would be in the next tier along with Tyrese Halliburton. There might be another narrow gap between the next group that would include Lewis, Cole Anthony, Theo Maledon and R.J. Hampton.