A look at Troy Weaver’s off-season additions and what comes next for Sekou Doumbouya are among the topics on the table in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.
George (Madison, Wis.): We now know that Jerami Grant was a great addition. I think we tend to overlook the consistency and contributions of Mason Plumlee and Delon Wright. We tend to focus on the rookies. Would you agree that they are surpassing fans’ initial expectations? So far, Troy Weaver is great at recognizing talent.
Langlois: I don’t know how to gauge what “fans’ initial expectations” were for Plumlee and Wright. I know there was a general sense of skepticism over the decision to offer Plumlee a three-year deal for a reported $25 million based on the notion that centers have a diminished role in today’s NBA, but I thought that was off base. Yes, teams have determined that establishing your offense around the concept of throwing the ball into the post is a losing proposition in most instances, but that wasn’t the role the Pistons had in mind for Plumlee and that’s never been his game. There remains a place in the game for a center who can move the ball, set reliably effective screens and defends responsibly and Plumlee checks all of those boxes. And an average salary of $8.3 million with a salary cap of $109.1 million is 7.6 percent of the cap. For a durable starter. C’mon. If that’s an overpay, sign me up for two or three more just like Plumlee. Wright’s contract came with him from Dallas, where he signed as a free agent in July 2019. The injury to Killian Hayes and the trade of Derrick Rose have given Wright a more prominent role than envisioned, but Hayes isn’t going to be out forever and Dennis Smith Jr. is likely to see his minutes inch up as his conditioning improves. Still, Wright figures to be solidly in the rotation for the foreseeable future and he’s an easy fit for any roster because of his size and versatility at both ends. Both players have been tremendous additions and ideal components for a team in the sort of transition that the Pistons find themselves. Yeah, Weaver’s moves have worked out very well. When you make as many transactions as he did, you’re going to win some, lose some. The eye-opening thing to me was that as a first-time general manager, he acted so decisively. There has never been a shortage of GMs who are hesitant to make moves because any transaction opens you to scrutiny. Here’s what Weaver said last month about his flurry of deals: “When I was growing up, I didn’t stick my toe in the pool. I jumped in. I sit on the front row of the rollercoaster with my hands up. I’m not going to come in and be gun shy. My clip will be empty.”
Thank You Stafford (@b_the_myth): Do you think with the minutes being a little more available for Sekou Doumbouya now, is it make or break time for him?
Langlois: I don’t think you can say a player who only recently turned 20 is at a make-or-break point in his career. And, having said that, prospect fatigue is a real thing – and not just for fans but for front offices. It’s hard to remain an objective observer when you don’t see a breakthrough month over month. The Pistons knew Doumbouya was going to require a greater degree of patience and instruction than most given not just his age – he was only eligible for the 2019 draft by eight days with a Dec. 23 birthday – but his relative inexperience, having begun to play basketball when he was 13. Not having the G League this season affected Doumbouya as much as any of the Pistons young players and more than most. There will be a greater opportunity for him now to get minutes. You don’t expect Doumbouya to turn into a starting-caliber player over the remainder of the season, necessarily, but signs of progress – starting with consistency – would be a most welcome way to finish off his second season and give him a platform to launch his third.
Jmart (@martinsonjacob5): With Blake Griffin being out, how will Dwane Casey enhance Sekou Doumbouya’s new role to play like he did toward the end of last season?
Langlois: Jerami Grant is likely to have power forward be his primary position now and Saddiq Bey is likely to be the starter at small forward. After that, everything is up for grabs. Doumbouya has an opportunity to earn minutes at both spots. But he’s going to have to earn some of those minutes, at least. Dwane Casey could use Grant exclusively at power forward, Bey there for the 12-15 minutes a game Grant sits and some combination of Josh Jackson and Svi Mykhailiuk at small forward behind Bey. They can still cobble together an effective rotation that doesn’t include Doumbouya, but he’ll be given a real chance to be part of it.
Charles (Redford Twp., Mich.): I read the statements by Blake Griffin and the Pistons regarding their mutual decision to find a resolution toward his future. I think it’s a great idea for all involved. But I keep reading that he has two years left on his contract. I thought next season (2021-22) was a player option. If that’s the case, doesn’t that basically mean he’s opting out of next season?
Langlois: Let’s talk in the abstract. If a player and his team agree to negotiate a buyout, it starts with the knowledge that a player is within his rights to exercise the option and get paid the full amount of the contract if he, in fact, has a player option. The team isn’t obligated to play him should he make that decision, but there’s little value for the team in paying a player his full salary without any expectation of him suiting up. So it stands to reason that it’s mutually beneficial for a negotiated settlement. The player might be willing to give up some part of his guaranteed income – on the expectation that it can be recouped by signing with another team, typically – but it’s unusual historically to give up significantly more than what an anticipated offer would be in free agency. And it’s the job of an agent to know what other teams are willing to pay before agreeing to the terms of a buyout. As for its ramifications on the salary cap, whatever amount is agreed to in the buyout would come off the cap. So if Player A was on next year’s cap for X dollars, that amount would change to X minus whatever a player leaves on the table in the buyout. If a player was on the books for $10 million for 2021-22 and accepted a buyout of $8 million, then the cap sheet will be changed to an $8 million charge for said player.
Keith (Hamtramck, Mich.): What happens if a player decides to ask his team to be released and wouldn’t accept trade options? Are teams obligated to release the player upon request?
Langlois: No. A contract is a contract unless both sides agree on something else. A player might want a different employer, but he doesn’t usually want out of his contract. And if he does, then it likely means he knows he could get more on the open market – but a player who outperforms his contract holds great value to his franchise, surely in trade.
Paul (Phoenix): I am surprised the Pistons gave in to New York on the second-round pick. They should have at least got their pick back. If New York wanted Rose, that should have been the deal – the Pistons’ own No. 2 pick back for Rose.
Langlois: You don’t suppose that Troy Weaver tried to get that pick? Trade talks are negotiations. One side asks for something, the other side counters and they either meet somewhere in the middle or the deal is dead. If your response to that is the Pistons should have drawn a line in the sand and not taken anything less than the more favorable of the two second-round 2021 picks you’re talking about – Detroit’s pick, which the Pistons sent to Philadelphia – then you have to be willing to walk away and not do the deal. There could have been any number of reasons that wasn’t palatable to the Pistons. As Dwane Casey talked about the trade, it was obvious that part of the motivation was to do right by Rose once it became fairly clear the Pistons had fallen out of playoff contention. Doing right by a veteran player with Rose’s resume has value to an organization, too, and if that value comes at the cost of holding out for a few slots in the second round of the draft, so be it.
Nathaniel (Jackson, Mich.): Help me understand how a protected draft pick works? Our 2021 first-rounder goes to Houston but only if it’s not in the lottery? What if over the next seven years we are only in the lottery? What happens then?
Langlois: Protections on the pick you’re talking about – the pick the Pistons sent to Houston in the deal that got them the No. 16 pick used to take Isaiah Stewart – have been reported as follows: 1-16 in 2021 and 2022, 1-18 in 2023 and 2024, 1-13 in 2025, 1-11 in 2026 and 1-9 in 2027. If the Pistons still haven’t sent Houston a pick in that time, then it will send its 2027 second-rounder to Houston.