Pistons Mailbag - February 24, 2021

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

We’re a month away from the trade deadline and that’s where we begin with the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Paul (Phoenix): There are rumors the Pelicans are trying to trade Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and J.J. Redick. Would the Pistons be interested in Hart? His salary is not high and he has two years left on it. He looks like a good fit in Detroit – good offense, tough defense. His youth fits the timeline, also.

Hart’s a guy any coach would gladly take, but I’d pump the brakes on the notion that New Orleans is looking to deal him. For all the reasons you state, he’s a fit there – and he’d be a fit on any roster. There are certain players who wind up playing for a lot of teams and not because their last team wanted to move on, necessarily, but because the next team has a bigger role or more money to offer and that player is someone that generates a market because of his ability to fit with any roster. Hart is one of those guys who’ll play – barring injury or other misfortune – until he decides to retire well into his 30s. If New Orleans trades him, it will be because it’s identified a pressing need and Hart has enough value in trade to properly address that need. When he hits free agency, he’ll be a guy with a lot of options for someone who isn’t an All-Star.

Robert (Albany, Ore.): Absolutely love the job Troy Weaver and Dwane Casey are doing. The Pistons are very fun to watch with all their multiskilled players. What do you envision going forward to next season with trades, draft and free agency?

The Pistons, as it stands now, won’t be a cap space team next off-season. So free agency will be less of a factor in 2021-22 than it was for this season, though I would expect Troy Weaver to look to add another significant piece via the mid-level exception. And I surely would expect Weaver to be active again in the trade market, given his modus operandi so far. He’s proven he’s not at all hesitant to make deals and put something at risk for the chance to improve the roster. I’ll add this caveat on trade activity: Weaver has wheeled and dealed and has a roster almost entirely made up of guys he brought in, so the rate of activity might never reach the peak it hit in November when he had a type in mind and was hellbent on stockpiling the organization with that type of player as soon as possible. As for the draft, I think it’s pretty much the same story as always – take the player you think has the greatest chance to have the biggest impact over the next several seasons beyond year one or two. We’ll probably spend a lot of time talking about positions and the truth is position is likely to matter almost not at all. They’re going to take the guy they think has the best chance to be an impact player.

Adam (St. Petersburg, Fla.): If the Pistons were to get the No. 1 pick – yeah, I’m saying they’re due for a little lottery luck – is Cade Cunningham the clear top choice?

There seems a much more clear consensus for the 2021 draft that Oklahoma State freshman Cunningham is the No. 1 prospect than there was last year when it was generally split three ways among the guys who wound up going 1-2-3 – Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman and LaMelo Ball. There seems to be a top five that has emerged in Cunningham, G League Ignite prospects Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga, Southern Cal freshman Evan Mobley and Gonzaga freshman Jalen Suggs. But nobody has surged among that group to come close to forming a consensus No. 2 yet, let alone challenge for replacing Cunningham at the top. As for any notion that the presence of Killian Hayes would dissuade the Pistons from taking the 6-foot-8 Cunningham, I don’t see that as even a trifling concern. If the Pistons were to have the opportunity to pair the 6-foot-5 Hayes and with the 6-foot-8 Cunningham and have two plus-size ballhandlers/playmakers, that seems like nothing but a blessing. I don’t see an issue with those guys getting in each other’s way.

Neil (Georgetown, Texas): If there is a buyout with Blake Griffin, how do you see the roster spot being filled?

Two ways that could go. The first would be to convert Saben Lee or Frank Jackson, playing on two-way contracts, to a standard contract. Lee would be the more likely given the situation at point guard – not to mention the two dynamic games we’ve seen from him this week – though if Delon Wright is able to come back when it’s time for his two-week re-evaluation then that becomes less pressing. The second would be to add another frontcourt player. With Jahlil Okafor out for at least another month after his knee surgery earlier this month and Griffin idled, the Pistons could use another body up front. They could actually address both of those needs, though, by converting Lee to a standard contract and then signing a big man to a two-way deal.

Phil (@philbywestland): If Blake Griffin is bought out, the Pistons can just give Saben Lee a full-time contract, correct? They don’t have to worry about the 50-game limit?

If the Pistons had a roster spot open, yes, they could convert Lee’s contract from two-way to standard. In the past, players on two-way contracts were limited to 45 days with the parent NBA team and “days” included practices. This season, given the strain put on rosters by COVID-19 protocols, the NBA has raised the limit from 45 to 50 days and eliminated practices as counting toward the total. So the 50 days are 50 games, in essence, and that makes it a lot more doable for the Pistons to keep Lee on a two-way deal and have him available for all practices and most of the remaining 42 games.

Premiere NBA (@lOntiveroz): What is the status of Killian Hayes and do you think the Pistons will be buyers, sellers or make no moves up until the trade deadline?

There haven’t been any updates since the Pistons announced on Jan. 20 that Hayes would rehabilitate and be re-evaluated in eight weeks after he was diagnosed with a subluxation (a partial dislocation) of the right hip – and that’s more than likely good news. I would take no news to mean he’s on course with his rehab. Eight weeks from Jan. 20 takes us to March 17, so we’re three weeks away from any expectation that there’s a next phase coming for Hayes. If all goes well and he checks off the boxes satisfactorily when he gets checked out, it’s possible he gets cleared to take a next step then. The Pistons haven’t ruled out a return this season. The regular season ends May 16, two months after the timetable for a re-evaluation. That at least makes it possible he gets a chance to end his rookie season in uniform and banking some experience to take into an off-season that will be filled with instruction, weight training and whatever else the Pistons can devise to help prepare Hayes for his second season and make up for what he lost over the past year between the pandemic and his injury.

Darrell (Detroit): Do you think the Pistons should try to trade Wayne Ellington sooner rather than later for several second-round picks? It doesn’t appear the team will make the playoffs, so it’s probably more beneficial to allow Svi Mykhailiuk to regain his form by being first off of the bench.

I wouldn’t expect “several” second-round picks to be the return for Ellington. He’s a role player – a valuable one for his volume and above-average 3-point shooting, but one who probably wouldn’t play major minutes for an acquiring contender – on an expiring contract. The realistic haul for someone like that isn’t multiple second-rounders. I don’t think the Pistons need to trade Ellington for Mykhailiuk to regain his shooting stroke. Mykhailiuk has been getting enough opportunities over the past two weeks to regain that independently of Ellington’s role. It just hasn’t happened yet. It would be an important breakthrough for the Pistons when it happens, though, because he has become a solid player in many other areas whereas a year ago – and it was right about this time when he began to turn the corner in those other areas – it was pretty much an all-or-nothing proposition with Mykhailiuk and his 3-point shot. If that wasn’t falling back then, there wasn’t much he could do to help you. Now he can hold his own even on nights he goes 1 for 4 or 2 for 9 from the 3-point line.

Charles (Redford Twp., Mich.): I like Isaiah Stewart’s energy, but I notice he has a hard time catching the ball. Does he have small hands or just butterfingers? If it’s the latter, is that something you think he can work on or are good hands just something people are blessed with?

Good hands are an often overlooked and very underrated tool in a big man’s arsenal. Chris Webber had the best hands for a big man in my memory. I suspect you’re reacting to two instances from Tuesday’s win at Orlando, one on a pass from Saben Lee that was on target but probably wasn’t one Stewart was expecting. By and large, I think Stewart’s hands are good ones. It hasn’t been a pattern for him. But, yes, it’s something you can work on and it’s something that does get worked on.

Pistons.com editor Keith Langlois answers your questions about the Pistons and NBA. To have your question considered, submit it along with your name, email address and city/state using the form below.

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