Extensive chatter about the frontcourt puzzle for the Pistons with talk of Blake Griffin, Christian Wood, Justin Patton, Donta Hall, Thon Maker and John Henson in the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Lachlan Everett (@LachieEverett): Is it worth moving Blake Griffin even if it’s like the Drummond deal – so close to nothing in return – to get Wood more playing time at the four and to start the rebuild with the newest draft pick?
Langlois: It’s not quite an apples-to-apples comparison. A healthy Griffin – something Griffin sounded effusively confident he will be less than a month ago – will perform to the value of his contract and have legitimate trade value once he dispels doubts about the soundness of his surgically repaired knee. Drummond’s value had sunk – through no fault of his own – as the NBA changed around him, diminishing the importance of big men in general. There was zero likelihood of Drummond reclaiming his trade value over the life of his contract, which he tacitly acknowledged in an interview last week when he affirmed that he would pick up his 2020-21 option at $29 million knowing he wouldn’t be able to recoup that even in a long-term deal on the open market. It’s also been reported Drummond and the Cavaliers intend to negotiate an extension. It will be interesting to see what they settle on as a fair number. In talking to people around the league last season, nobody seemed to think Drummond would top $20 million in annual average value on a new contract and some thought that was significantly higher than what he’d land. But it’s always about what one team will offer, not an average of all 30 teams’ valuation. The Griffin of 2018-19, when he was an All-NBA pick, would clearly have value to a long list of potential trade partners. A healthy Griffin lives up to his contract. The Pistons – from owner Tom Gores through the front office to Dwane Casey and Griffin’s teammates – value Griffin highly. If it ever comes to it, the decision to trade him won’t be made lightly. They don’t need to trade him to create playing time for Wood, though. If Wood is retained in free agency and Griffin is healthy, Wood plays about 75 percent of his minutes at center and the rest at power forward. I’m of the opinion that Wood’s best value, long term, is at center, though I think he can play either spot more than adequately, a trait that allows the Pistons some degree or roster flexibility as they rebuild.
Austin Kent (@AustinKent): Have we seen the last of Donta Hall in a Pistons uniform?
Langlois: To be determined. Troy Weaver just got here, so I suspect that’s one of the topics under review with his addition. The first transaction the Pistons made upon Weaver’s arrival was signing Justin Patton, the 16th pick in the 2017 draft. If the Pistons are able to retain Christian Wood in free agency – which doesn’t start until mid-October – then that’s one less spot for a frontcourt player. The Pistons have a decision to make on Thon Maker over the off-season, not only whether to extend him a qualifying offer but whether to offer him any contract even if they choose not to do the QO. Hall obviously has his advocates in a front office that prioritized him last summer after he went undrafted, signing him to an Exhibit 10 deal, and bringing him to the NBA on a pair of 10-day contracts as the season was on the verge of being suspended. Patton was signed in the 2019-20 season by Oklahoma City, where Weaver was part of the front office, so he’s obviously intrigued by Patton. Whether the Pistons would have space for both Patton and Hall is one of the determinations Weaver, Ed Stefanski and Dwane Casey certainly will debate over the coming weeks.
Jordan (@jordanclarke29): What’s Justin Patton’s deal looking like? Is there a good chance he’ll still be a Piston by the time the season starts or is it non-guaranteed?
Langlois: It was reported that the Pistons signed Patton using the money they had left over from their mid-level exception for the 2019-20 season, a figure above the NBA minimum, but also that for 2020-21 the salary is non-guaranteed. The fact it’s above the minimum tells you there might have been some competition for Patton’s signature and the fact it’s non-guaranteed for next season tells you Patton’s agent had no firmer offer in hand. It’s easy to see why Patton generates interest. He was a productive player at Creighton in his only college season and was drafted just outside the lottery (16th). His NBA career stalled with foot injuries in each of his first two seasons and then he got caught up as collateral damage in the Jimmy Butler trade, going to a Philadelphia team that didn’t have a role for him. As discussed above, Patton will be competing with (perhaps) Thon Maker and (perhaps) Donta Hall for a roster spot, depending on what else the Pistons do in the draft, free agency and trades before training camp.
John Henson Fan Club (@JohnHensonFan): What kind of contract do you think John Henson will get? And do you think the Pistons will offer it?
Langlois: And you can add Henson to the mix in addition to Patton, Maker and Hall as the Pistons piece together their frontcourt puzzle. Henson is a guy that playoff contenders without cap space – and there likely will be a large number of such teams – might target relatively early in free agency to fill a clear roster need while the Pistons are making their bigger moves with cap space. As a veteran who’s played big minutes and filled a variety of roles, Henson likely will hold some appeal to those teams and that might be a more suitable option for him at this stage of his career. Dwane Casey spoke highly of him in his brief time with the Pistons and eventually settled on a Henson-Wood starting frontcourt. I think Henson can probably do something better than a minimum contract, perhaps something along the lines of a biannual exception deal. But there will be great uncertainty heading into free agency this season, at least until the NBA determines what the cap and luxury tax figures will be.
Ahmed (San Antonio): Since the NBA is having a shorter season, do you think it would lead into a 65-game season moving forward? The players union could make an argument and get the support in their favor, right?
Langlois: They’d go to an even number of games to balance home/road schedules, so let’s use 66 as the number instead and that’s pretty close to exactly a 20 percent reduction in games – and also the number of games played by the Pistons this season and in the 2011-12 lockout. It’s been reported that throwing open the doors to fans accounts for approximately 40 percent of NBA revenue – ticket sales plus all the attendant spending that goes with game attendance, including parking, concessions and merchandise sales plus the sponsorship guarantees and suites revenue – then it follows that cutting out 20 percent of dates and 20 percent of TV content is going to leave a very large hole in Basketball Related Income, the index that determines the salary cap and, ultimately, the pot of money that goes to the players. The Players Association is going to be leery of anything that hits their pocketbook to a significant extent. If they can get past that hurdle – how to make as much money with 20 percent less content – then, yeah, I think players and owners would be able to come to agreement swiftly on a plan to reduce the number of games. There’s a school of thought that fewer games would mean better quality of play and, in theory, more compelling entertainment that would make up for the content shortfall. But it’s a leap of faith that it would play out that way and there are tens of millions – hundreds of millions, more like it – dollars at stake, which makes it an especially distressing leap. The current crisis will have people rethinking every aspect of every business model, the NBA no exception. At the end of the day, there is going to be a significant loss of revenue to account for and it’s a stretch to think that a majority of owners and players are going to respond to that by saying, OK, let’s play fewer games and see how that goes.
Ken (Dharamsala, India): “Detroit Basketball” means stifling, disrupting, intimidating, hustling defense that makes the other team do uncomfortable things that lead to Pistons possessions. It makes the other team flinch and miss shots. The Bad Boys were the best defensive team ever and the fathers of Detroit Basketball. The 2004 Finals had sports announcers fumbling and stumbling after three games trying to explain Lakers losses. A ho-hum Lakers series walkover? Detroit Basketball had other ideas. Does Troy Weaver know the importance of defense and the tradition of Detroit Basketball?
Langlois: He gave every impression he understood it quite well in his introductory press conference, conducted virtually. He said there was “greatness in the walls” of the organization and mentioned key players from both championship eras. As a basketball lifer who would have been old enough even during the Bad Boys era to have keen awareness of unfolding events, it stands to reason Weaver has vivid memories of those days. For all the star power he oversaw as part of Oklahoma City’s front office, the Thunder were consistently among the league’s top defensive teams, as well. I suspect Weaver will build a team in an image not only in keeping with Dwane Casey’s preferences but one that will resonate with Pistons fans, as well.
Rick (Frederick, Md.): No doubt Oklahoma City had excellent drafts in 2008 and succeeding years, even including 2013. But how about more recent picks like Mitch McGary, Josh Huestis, Cameron Payne, Terrence Ferguson, et al?
Langlois: Weaver was a key piece of a front office that drafted future MVPs in three successive drafts – Kevin Durant (2007, before Weaver signed on), Russell Westbrook (2008) and James Harden (2009). The Thunder picked Stephen Adams with the 12th pick in 2013 after one uneven season at Pittsburgh in which Adams averaged 7.2 points and 6.3 rebounds. They were a very good team by that point and drafting outside of the lottery with the exception of taking Cameron Payne with the 14th pick in 2015 after a 45-37 record – amid a season when Durant was limited to 27 games – didn’t get OKC into the playoffs. Payne was a miss, though he’s still only 25 and coming off of a strong G League season that just this week earned him a two-year deal with Phoenix. When you look at what was on the board at the time – and what the OKC roster needed – you can understand it. The next two players to go were Kelly Oubre and Terry Rozier, who’ve gone on to have the best careers of the last 17 first-round picks from that class. The Thunder missed on getting Devin Booker by one pick, Booker going 13th to Phoenix. Weaver said that when you’re drafting where OKC was picking for the last several years, you’re more willing to take a swing on talent or to draft for position. I think they drafted for position with the Payne pick, needing to find an effective backup point guard. The Thunder had just traded Reggie Jackson to the Pistons, knowing they didn’t have the cap space to retain him, and the draft was their likeliest means of filling that spot. They clearly took a swing at McGary with the 21st pick. Had McGary been able to avoid issues with substance abuse that eventually cost him his spot in the NBA, he’d shown flashes of becoming a very difficult matchup. Ferguson has been an average role player, but he’s 22 with 123 career starts for a good team, so it’s a little early to write him off. Huestis was the 29th pick – it’s 50-50 a player will leave any mark on the NBA in that range – and a special circumstance, drafted with the understanding he wouldn’t sign an NBA contract in his first season as the Thunder dealt with severe cap issues.