Pistons Mailbag - February 26, 2020

Christian Wood is having a breakout season and he’s the hot topic of the week in the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Charles (Redford Twp., Mich.): With Reggie Jackson being bought out, can the Pistons use the cap space for a Christian Wood contract extension?

We’ve dealt with this topic in Mailbag previously but, no, the Pistons can’t extend Christian Wood’s contract. It has nothing to do with cap space, so Jackson’s buyout has no bearing on Wood’s status. Only contracts of three years in length are eligible for a contract extension. The Pistons inherited the contract Wood brought with him from New Orleans when they claimed him off waivers last summer and it wasn’t for three years. Wood will be an unrestricted free agent on June 30 and the Pistons have his early Bird rights. The advantage in that primarily comes down to meaning they can exceed the salary cap to retain him. So, in theory, the Pistons can use their cap space, which should be around $35 million, on other players – either free agents or absorbing contracts in trade – and then go over the cap to sign Wood.

Jiuseppe (@soeyjos): Are they going to wait for the off-season to re-sign Christian Wood? And could you see him going elsewhere? I’m scared he will.

They have to wait for the off-season. That’s out of their hands. As for his future, anything is possible. Wood is comfortable with the Pistons and why wouldn’t he be? It’s the first NBA stop where he’s gotten a full-blown opportunity after stints with four other organizations. The practice of assessing a player’s market value is something of a fool’s errand because it’s intended as a consensus of what teams believe a player should be worth and free agency doesn’t work by consensus. It takes one team to believe a player is worth what he ultimately agrees to accept. An agent doesn’t solicit offers from a handful of teams and then agree to sign for the average of those deals; he steers his client to the best offer. There aren’t going to be more than a handful of teams with cap space this off-season – the Pistons being one of them – but all of those teams who aren’t over the luxury tax will have the non-taxpayer mid-level exception as their best ammunition to attract free agents. The full non-taxpayer MLE for 2020-21 is expected to be about $9.7 million in first-year salary. If some team with cap space really likes Wood and wants to get his attention when free agency opens, an offer that starts a little above that $9.7 million, I suspect, would do that. After the trade deadline, Pistons front office chief executive Ed Stefanski said the Pistons would use the rest of the season to evaluate their young players, Wood among them. We’ll see how aggressive the Pistons are with regard to Wood on June 30.

T.H. Robinson IV (@ThomasHenryRob1): Going forward, is Christian Wood more of a four or a five?

My guess is he’s going to be able to defend more centers than power forwards simply because the drift of the NBA indicates that a lot of players who wind up playing power forward are going to be yesterday’s small forwards. Wood has upper-end lateral mobility for a 7-footer, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy for him to defend the number of hybrid forwards who land at power forward in this era. There will be a handful of old-school centers whose strength would make for a challenging matchup for Wood in the paint, but his length is a mitigating factor in most of those matchups. And there aren’t a ton of those old-school centers around any more. He can get by just fine at either position, versatility which gives the Pistons flexibility in roster construction if they’re able to retain Wood.

Dave (Oak Park, Mich.): Do you think the Pistons see Christian Wood as a potential starter next season or as more of a reserve in the mold of early Cliff Robinson in Portland? And do they think his skills will mesh well with Blake Griffin’s game?

Wood has 22 more games to bring a little more clarity to how he’s viewed. He’s put together an impressive body of work so far but only recently has he been playing something approaching starter’s minutes. Wood has gone from playing less than 20 minutes a game in December to 30 minutes a game in February – but that’s only a 10-game sample size. So it will be instructive to see how he holds up over these last seven weeks of the season. As of today, I think the Pistons aren’t as much concerned about starter/reserve but are looking to see how Wood responds to the totality of his first full NBA season while having additional responsibility placed on him over the course of the season. He’s shown enough to prove he’s an asset and a no-doubt NBA player and that’s something that was very much in question coming into the season. Wood will determine how much farther he can go and that’s a process that will be furthered over the final quarter of the season.

Parker (@PDub358): Realistic starting lineup for the start of next season? Obviously, there’s the draft and free agency, but based on what we know. On that note, what do you see as some of the top Pistons draft targets? The draft is loaded with point guards – what do you think?

There are three players – Blake Griffin, Luke Kennard, Langston Galloway – left from the roster Dwane Casey inherited. The Pistons are embarking on a rebuilding project. Predicting the starting lineup for next season is a pretty hollow exercise at this point. I’d say Griffin is the surest bet to be among them barring any physical setbacks between now and then. There is zero realistic chance that the Pistons could trade him before the season opener without sacrificing other assets, to those who wonder how Griffin is compatible with a rebuilding project. Kennard’s name popped up in rumors leading to the trade deadline, but if he’s still around he’s likely a starter. Derrick Rose is the only point guard under contract for next season, though Dwane Casey would prefer to bring him off the bench to better manage his minutes; whether he can afford that luxury depends who else the Pistons acquire. If Tony Snell is still around, he’s the odds-on favorite to start at small forward given his defensive versatility, 3-point shot and growth as a ballhandler/facilitator. Center is a complete wild card given that Christian Wood, Thon Maker and John Henson are all pending free agents. Donta Hall could factor if he impresses in his audition. The Pistons have to be considered the favorite to retain Wood, so my wild guess at this point is Griffin, Snell, Wood, Kennard and Rose/off-season acquisition with Sekou Doumbouya off the bench.

Jordan (@lfcjordann): Any updates on the timetable for Luke Kennard?

Kennard joined the Pistons in Denver, the first time he’s been with them on the road in some time, doing his rehabilitation at their new Pistons Performance Center prior to that. That’s the first indication that a return is coming. Tendinitis – Kennard is dealing with it in both knees – makes it harder to establish a timeline than, say, a fracture, which has a fairly stable recovery window of six to eight weeks. There are degrees of tendinitis and every case seems to have unique outcomes. Dwane Casey said he thought it would be sometime around the All-Star break a month or so ago, but he made clear that wasn’t grounded in anything concrete – only that Kennard had reported some progress. He’s done some shooting drills when the media has been able to see his activity after practices but nothing approaching full-scale running, cutting or jumping. Perhaps that’s about to change.

Christian Groot (@RedAlternates): Is Dwane Casey thinking about sending Sekou Doumbouya down to the G League anytime soon? He said it was a real possibility a couple of weeks ago and I think he needs it at this point.

He hasn’t ruled it out. But my guess is that if it happens now, it would be a very brief visit and probably wouldn’t interfere with the Pistons schedule. They don’t have a whole lot of options at this point with their frontcourt depleted by injury (Blake Griffin), trade (Andre Drummond) and buyout (Markieff Morris). I suspect the impetus for sending Doumbouya to the G League now would be a belief that he needs a confidence boost, but so far that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Eric (@Reiter98): For free agency this summer, do you recommend giving one-year deals and flipping them for assets at the trade deadline or sign two- or three-year deals with players?

I think anything and everything is possible. The likeliest outcome probably includes a little bit of everything – using cap space to trade for veterans that teams looking to clear cap space want to move; signing young free agents who require a little more projection than more established players to low-cost deals that maybe include a second or third year with some combination of player and team options; and signing journeymen to one-year deals to help field a competitive team during the rebuild while also holding the potential for trade value in February 2021.

Ronald (Belleville, Mich.) When will Blake Griffin return to start playing this season?

Griffin underwent knee surgery in January. The Pistons were reported to have applied for – and were granted – a disabled player exception for his roster spot. The next time you’ll see Griffin will be for the 2020-21 season.

Nathan Bower (@Natertot95): If the Pistons end up getting the first pick, should they look to trade back and potentially acquire another first-round pick in a future draft, much like Atlanta did with Luka Doncic?

It’s a nice idea and it’s likely one that would appeal to the front office. But it requires one team to really, really like a certain player and I’m not sure there’s a player in this draft who inspires that level of pursuit. Dallas was known leading up to that draft to covet Doncic – the Mavs have been proven conclusively right already – but this draft is drawing comparisons to 2013 when Anthony Bennett, who was out of the league at 23, wound up going first. Even if there’s a team that likes a certain player as much as Dallas coveted Doncic, a smart front office will be able to gauge whether that player is coveted enough by another team or teams to warrant the urgency to include something as valuable as a future No. 1 pick for the right to move up a few spots in this draft. I think it’s a long shot we see a Doncic-Trae Young type of deal in this draft.

Bill Blasky (@bill_blasky): The Pistons off-season looks to be a difficult one given they have needs at literally every position. Is point guard the biggest need, though?

I think Dwane Casey would answer affirmatively. When the Pistons visited Oklahoma City after the All-Star break, he marveled at what he called three starting-level point guards the Thunder possessed in Chris Paul, Shea Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder. He often used three point guards simultaneously in Toronto when he had Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright. I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes more the norm than the exception that teams use four or even five roster spots on players who can serve as point guards. The draft seems deepest in point guards this season and while I fully believe the Pistons will draft the player they think has the best NBA future ahead of him the odds say point guard is the likeliest outcome with their anticipated lottery pick. Even if that happens, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were to acquire two more point guards by other means, trade or free agency, to combine with Derrick Rose for 2020-21.

John Henson Fan Club (@JohnHensonFan): What are the chances John Henson gets a good contract offer from Detroit?

Brandon Knight Fan Club (@BKnightFanClub): Is there any chance that Brandon Knight will return next year?

All three of the players on the roster today capable of playing center – not including Donta Hall, who is on a 10-day deal – are about to become unrestricted free agents: Christian Wood, Thon Maker and John Henson. It’s conceivable that any of the three comes back but it’s probably a long shot that all three are back. Casey likes Maker’s motor and he’s praised Henson’s basketball IQ. The Pistons might prefer a bulkier body type be added to the mix. Knight can knock down 3-point shots and play on the ball, though he hasn’t been a full-time point guard in recent seasons. If I had to pick one, I’d give Henson a better chance of being around next season but Knight can make a case to be back over the next seven weeks. He’s had strong showings against both Portland and Denver to open the four-game road trip.

Ari Mamba Wagner (@AriHoopsWagner): I’m interested to hear your take on whom the Pistons should draft.

Ed Stefanski will be overseeing his third draft but only the second with his full front office in place and only the second with a No. 1 pick. In last year’s draft, the Pistons picked two European teens with their first two picks. That might be completely random and not indicative of anything other than the fact they believed those were the two best prospects available at their slots. But it at least shows the Pistons have no reticence to draft international players. Stefanski also said when he drafted Sekou Doumbouya that a team needs multiple rangy wings these days, so file that away, I guess. More relevantly, the fact the Pistons took Doumbouya – the youngest player drafted since eligibility rules were altered following the 2005 NBA draft – indicates a willingness to project on young prospects more than some front offices might be willing to take on. The draft is heavy on point guards through the lottery, it appears, and there are a few young, international point guards in this draft. I don’t trust any of that to be instructive of what the Pistons might do in June, but it’s all we’ve got to go on. As for whom the Pistons should draft, that’s beyond my reach at this point. I haven’t seen most of the players projected to go in the lottery beyond the occasional glimpse or video clip. That’s a poor way to assess draft viability.

Bigdog (@Bugsygod): If the Pistons get the No. 1 pick, do they take LaMelo Ball or Anthony Edwards? Both have big upsides. I’d take Ball.

I think the pool is a lot wider than those two prospects at this point. You’ll still find support for James Wiseman at No. 1. With the lack of anything approaching a consensus, there’s still time for somebody considered a late-lottery pick to rise into the conversation. In fact, Auburn’s Isaac Okoro has come from outside the first round to a top-five possibility in the past few months. Between now and the May draft combine, there could be others who rise similarly. I haven’t seen nearly enough of Ball to form any opinion on him. Edwards certainly passes the eye test. I see some concern over the lack of team success at Georgia hurting his draft stock, but Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons both went No. 1 overall despite their teams having very disappointing seasons. I doubt his status is going to be affected, ultimately, by Georgia’s record. A player who has consistently caught my eye is Kentucky’s Tyrese Maxey. I wouldn’t be surprised if he turns out to be the top player – or at least in the top two or three – from this draft in four years.

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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