Pistons Mailbag - February 3, 2021

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

What to do if the Pistons get trade offers for ascendant star Jerami Grant? That gets the ball rolling on this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag?

Charles (Redford Twp., Mich.): Toward the trade deadline, the Warriors call and say they will give the Pistons Minnesota’s 2021 draft pick for Jerami Grant. Do you do it?

After Klay Thompson’s Achilles injury knocked him out for the season, the Warriors turned around and traded a first-round pick for Kelly Oubre. That trade saw Golden State’s anticipated luxury tax bill spike from $66 million to $134 million just for taking on Oubre and his $14.4 million salary. Grant’s making $19 million this season. If the Warriors had a trade exception available to them for that amount and could do the deal without sending back significant salary, Golden State’s luxury tax bill would be about $221 million. Now, the NBA has said luxury taxes would be reduced by the same rate as its BRI (basketball-related income, the figure that determines the salary cap every season) decreases, a figure that could lop off about $66 million. At any rate, we’re talking about an enormous financial impact for a team whose championship potential seems limited this season. Maybe in the off-season, given the opportunity to move salaries around and with the potential for business as usual – or a lot closer to it than the NBA will get in 2020-21, at least – the Warriors, buoyed by the return of Thompson, will be inclined to run up the tab in pursuit of another title before their championship window closes. As for the Pistons, it’s a fascinating question. Minnesota’s pick is protected for the top three in 2021 and unprotected in 2022. The calculation would have to include Troy Weaver’s evaluation of the next two drafts at the top. Minnesota is arguably the worst team in the NBA right now – its minus-9.3 point differential is worst by a full point – but the new lottery odds mean even finishing with the worst record only gives the Timberwolves a 40 percent chance at a top-three pick. I don’t believe for a second that the Pistons signed Grant with the intention of trading him, but the reality is that any player who outperforms his contract will have positive trade value. And that describes Grant. So teams are likely to kick the tires on him. As with all players, there’s a tipping point where a trade benefits the franchise. A potential top-five pick probably would put it in that ballpark.

J.H. Scramble (@JHScramble): When is the next time the Pistons make the playoffs? Before 2025?

Depends entirely on the moves made between now and then. But I’d bet on Troy Weaver’s ability to identify the potential of college players – based more on his work in Oklahoma City but also on the early returns of Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart relative to their draft status – and to target undervalued NBA players based on the flowering of Jerami Grant. There are only four players from last year’s roster on this year’s team. I wouldn’t expect the turnover to be nearly that drastic from year to year any longer – this is Weaver’s roster now – but Weaver has shown he’ll act swiftly when he spots an opportunity. That’s another way of saying we have precious little idea of what the roster will look like in 2023 or beyond. The Pistons clearly have a direction now and there’s little question about what type of player Weaver and Dwane Casey want to acquire. Beyond that, it’s just a matter of the level of impact they get from those types of players.

Ahmed (San Antonio): If Giannis Antetokounmpo wins another MVP award, he would join Bill Russell as the only player to win three straight. While LeBron James is playing like an MVP, other than winning games and putting up big numbers what could Giannis and LeBron have to do in order to win this season’s MVP?

I don’t think either Antetokounmpo or James is the current front-runner for the MVP award. Coming into the season, there was a lot of buzz for Luka Doncic to win it if Antetokounmpo didn’t. Over the first quarter of the season – we’ll be nearly at the one-third marker by week’s end – it’s become more of a Nikola Jokic-Joel Embiid race. There’s plenty of time for things to change. Embiid could be challenged to play in enough games around what seems a troublesome issue with his back. But Jokic could generate a lot of support if he continues his eye-popping statistical season and Denver, which seems to be hitting its stride, finishes among the top three or four in the West.

Ken (Dharamsala, India): First quarter of the season shows new Pistons moving with the ball on offense, being at times pesky on defense. Isaiah Stewart gets good notices from opposing broadcasters. What else do you see in this bustling rebuild year?

I think it’s safe to say the biggest surprise of the year – and also the most pleasant development – has been Jerami Grant’s emergence as a bona fide standout at both ends. Not only is he scoring efficiently, he’s doing it in a variety of ways – shooting 40 percent from the 3-point arc but also showing an off-the-dribble game and growing playmaking ability – and defending at a high level. The biggest disappointment, just as clearly, was the injury to Killian Hayes. If Hayes is able to avoid surgery, which appears the case based on the announced regimen of rest and rehabilitation for him with an evaluation to follow around mid-March, then it’s more just about delaying his development timetable rather than worrying about any long-term consequences. From a more macro perspective, the emphasis Troy Weaver put on acquiring players who combine high character with strong competitive natures is an organizational bet that won’t pay immediate dividends beyond the fact that the Pistons have been in pretty much every game – Saturday’s loss at Golden State was the only time this year they’ve lost by more than 15 points – but is destined to be rewarded in ensuring seasons. It’s a roster full of stand-up guys, by all accounts.

Yeah Buddy (@Meeeshigan): We are typically a playoff bubble team. This year we’ve beaten some of the league’s best but we have a dismal record. Are we the team that beats the league’s best or the team that’s one game from the league cellar?

The Pistons deserve a better record than 5-16, but I don’t think you can reasonably argue that they’re a playoff-worthy team through the first quarter of the season. It would be a tall order to expect a team with only four returning players to play with consistency and cohesion even in a normal season, which typically includes a solid three weeks or so of veterans working out together and scrimmaging several times a week even before formal training camp opens. None of that was possible this year. There were several Pistons who’d never met some of their new teammates until after training camp had been going for several days – remember, the first week of camp was limited to individual workouts at staggered times. The Pistons are certainly not unique in having disparate outcomes this NBA season. It will be interesting to see if it’s something that continues throughout the season or if the aberrant outcomes become a little less frequent as teams begin to capture identities that have proven elusive to date.

Vladmoldoveanu9 (@VladMoldoveanu9): Should we expect a Derrick Rose trade? Can we package him for a young player or draft pick?

Prepared to answer this question every week until March 25. I don’t know if you should expect a Rose trade, but he’s certainly the player whose name will be discussed more than anyone else’s for the usual reasons – he’s a proven scorer who creates his own shots, he’s a veteran who understands the pressure of having the ball in his hands to decide games and he’s on a team-friendly expiring contract. If Rose stays healthy, he’ll be the subject of multiple inquiries. That doesn’t mean he’ll absolutely be traded, but you’d have to consider him the most likely because so many teams could both use him and trade for him without engaging in extraordinary salary-cap gymnastics to do so.

Matt Chabot (@mattchabot16): Are we supposed to give a pass to management for passing on Haliburton for Hayes? I’m still not ready to. This is why we’re never going to be able to rebuild. When we get high picks, they want to get fancy instead of taking a guy that could impact both sides of the ball.

If you’re closing the book on a 19-year-old kid from another country with seven games under his belt, I’ve got nothing for you.

Paplu (Totowa, N.J.): What is the possibility we see a female head coach in the future?

It’s going to happen. There are enough candidates in the pipeline now to make that an inevitability. Whichever management/ownership group has the courage to crack the glass first owes it to the candidate – and, indeed, to all who would follow – to make sure the circumstances into which she’s stepping make success possible. Because if the first female head coach’s tenure unfolds poorly, even if the causes are largely beyond her control, it’s going to make it that much more difficult for the next qualified woman to get hired.

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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