Pistons Mailbag - January 1, 2020

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

What a way to ring in the new year: the first 2020 edition of Pistons Mailbag. We’re even waiving the holiday delivery fee.

Jacked Up Detroit (@JackedUpDetroit): Is it time to pull the plug on this Pistons roster and start the rebuild? I say yes.

If you’re talking about at the trade deadline, if you’re going in expecting dramatic moves, you’re probably going to wind up disappointed. The mere fact that every NBA team but one is over the cap figures to have the effect of tamping down trade activity. There’ll be some, of course, but the type of moves you’re alluding to – ones that shift big contracts – become difficult to achieve in an environment where teams are dealing without cap space. If you’re talking about the 2020 off-season, though, different story. To a degree, a rebuild is going to happen organically. Reggie Jackson’s contract is up and Andre Drummond holds a player option that most expect him to exercise, given the fact it’s a thin free-agent crop and he’ll be a 26-year-old with eight years of high-end productivity and amazing durability on his resume. Even if Drummond falls short of recouping the $29 million he’s due to make next season by not opting out – I don’t know that, but it’s not likely he’ll know that either at the time the decision must be made – he would still be an obvious candidate for a long-term deal that guarantees him significant money for the next three to five years. Blake Griffin will be the only player on the roster making eight figures for more than one more season. (Tony Snell, with a $12.1 million player option for 2020-21, is also likely to be on the books come July.) The only other players under team control for next season would be Derrick Rose, Luke Kennard, the three second-year players (Bruce Brown, Khyri Thomas, Svi Mykhailiuk) and Sekou Doumbouya. (The Pistons will also have two-way players Jordan Bone and Louis King as restricted free agents and won’t occupy much cap space.) That leaves a lot of cap space and wiggle room with an even more open landscape for 2021-22.

Donald (Holland, Mich.): I believe we are not going to win a championship with these old players. I think we should trade Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson for draft picks. We need to take risks for young, explosive, athletic players. What do you think?

Griffin’s trade value has evaporated until he regains his footing coming off of injury and surgery. There always will be a limited pool of trade partners for a player with a contract as weighty as Griffin’s – he has $76 million due him over the next two seasons, assuming he picks up his player option for 2021-22, plus nearly $20 million still owed him this season – but that assumes he’s healthy and producing in line with his contract. Griffin was one of the top 10 to 15 players in the NBA last season and was most responsible for the Pistons making the playoffs, but the knee injury that hampered his finish last season and required off-season surgery has clearly dragged down his performance this season. You can’t trade Griffin right now for any realistic return and, in fact, would have to surrender an asset or two to move the contract. To a lesser degree, that’s also true of Jackson, who is still out with a lower-back injury. There’s not all that much left of his contract – he’s in the final year and owed about $10 million of his $18 million 2019-20 salary – so it wouldn’t be nearly as complicated as it would be in Griffin’s case, but it still isn’t bringing back assets. Drummond’s case is different – last year of his deal though the fact he has a player option for next season adds a layer of uncertainty that figures to thin out potential trade partners. Young, explosive, athletic players are every team’s holy grail. They are incredibly coveted, valuable commodities. You don’t get them for players with big contracts unless those players are performing at All-Star levels. You sure aren’t getting them for injured players making the kind of money we’re talking about in these instances.

Larry (Sulphur, La.): The Pistons obviously have been bitten by the injury bug this year. With that said, the chemistry seems to be the biggest issue with the Pistons. Wouldn’t it be easier to accept that Blake Griffin isn’t ready and shut him down until he is actually 100 percent and allow Christian Wood to start? Then open the depth chart to allow the rookies to come in and learn how to develop in the actual games.

Chemistry isn’t an issue for the Pistons, at least in the classic sense. If there’s any chemistry issues, it stems from the revolving door of lineups Dwane Casey has had to employ as a result of the litany of injuries the Pistons have endured. As for Griffin, the fact he’s in and out of the lineup with knee soreness is concerning. He was cleared for training camp, then missed the first 10 games of the season. It was hoped that the few weeks of rest after the trauma of training camp would be enough to resolve the issue, but clearly it has lingered. I don’t know that anyone really can confidently predict what the second half of the season will hold for him. If they felt that sitting him out for a few more weeks would fix the problem, they’d do it. But Griffin said after one recent game that he felt great, then was out of the lineup two nights later with knee soreness. At one point Casey said it wasn’t as easy as sitting him out – that to really get back in gear, Griffin needed to play. That’s where we’re at – a balancing act of trying to play through it but not further jeopardizing his availability.

J.R. Swish (@swish_jose): When are the young guys going to get minutes?

Bruce Brown is playing 27 minutes a game and Svi Mykhailiuk 18 as second-year players. Khyri Thomas has been out for several weeks with a broken foot and only recently got out of a walking boot. The only other first- or second-year player on the 15-man roster is rookie Sekou Doumbouya, who turned 19 last week and was never expected to be in the rotation. Not sure what other young guys you’d expect to see. Two-way players Jordan Bone and Louis King have gotten cameos here and there, but as with Doumbouya this was always supposed to be a season of G League experience for them. Dwane Casey, of all coaches, can’t be accused of not giving young players their shot.

Garrett Roush (@GarrettRoush): What are the cap-room scenarios for 2020 free agency – whether Drummond opts in or out of his player option? If the Pistons fall short of the playoffs, will they make a big splash next summer or focus more on development?

There is more than a $50 million gap between the high end of what’s possible to have in cap space and the low end, the low end of available space coming if Andre Drummond and Tony Snell both opt in and the Pistons pick up all of their team options on young players. The projected salary cap for 2020-21 is $116 million. If Drummond opts out and Snell opts in – that’s the likeliest scenario, though Drummond’s choice is tougher to gauge – the Pistons could have about $30 million in space. If both players opt in, they’ll effectively have no cap space.

Jason Gruchula (@curseofthegooch): When will Sekou Doumbouya contribute consistently?

TBD. It was never a reasonable expectation that he’d be a rotation fixture as a rookie given his resume – drafted as an 18-year-old with one year of experience in France’s top pro league under his belt and even that interrupted by a wrist injury. He’ll get a lot more minutes the rest of the season with Grand Rapids than he will with the Pistons, in all likelihood. The best-case scenario is that Doumbouya finishes the season on an upward trajectory, has a most productive summer and puts himself in the mix for minutes next season.

Jordan (@lfcjordann): What have you made of our rookies in the short minutes they’ve played and who have you been impressed by the most? For me, Louis King has impressed me a lot.

The sample sizes are so fleeting that it’s reckless to project meaningfully on their potential. King is as advertised – why the Pistons rushed to contact him on draft night and commit one of their two available two-way contracts to him. He’s long and willowy and athletic. With physical maturity and experience – and, of course, with the universal skill needed for players to truly make a mark these days: 3-point shooting – King has a chance to be a very useful NBA player. I like Jordan Bone a great deal and think as he becomes more instinctive as a point guard his physical tools are going to make him a weapon. When it comes to physical tools, though, Sekou Doumbouya is in a class by himself. You know how they say when some baseball players take batting practice, the sound of the bat cracking the ball is different? When Doumbouya is working out by himself and goes in to dunk, it feels more forceful than most. He’s sudden and powerful and still so frightfully young that you can only wonder what a finished product – or even with some of the rough edges smoothed out a little – might look like.

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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