Pistons Mailbag - July 14, 2021

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

What the Pistons choose to do with the No. 1 pick and whether or not it ends with Cade Cunningham donning a Pistons cap on draft night is the dominant theme of this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Ian (Westland, Mich.): I trust that Troy Weaver will make the right choice but I think the right choice has to include the Pistons coming away with either Cade Cunningham or Jalen Green.

You’re doubling the list of acceptable outcomes according to my informal Twitter survey of Pistons fans. I’d be willing to wager a dollar that you’ll be happy on July 30.

Zachary (Detroit): Cade Cunningham should CLEARLY be the No. 1 pick for the Pistons, but how high is Troy Weaver on Cade? Also, does Weaver know the fans of Detroit want Cade as our pick?

A fan base that wants its general manager to make picks based on its consensus opinion is destined to be a disappointed group. How about you let the guy who picked two NBA All-Rookie choices at 16 and 19 in his first try at this do his job on July 29? Pretty sure you’ll be pleased with the outcome. As for how high Weaver is on Cunningham, I would expect we’ll only learn the answer to that if the Pistons, indeed, draft Cunningham at No. 1.

Matthew LaFave (@MatthewLaFave): Any idea when Cade Cunningham’s draft workout will be?

Nope. But it’s pretty normal for players in the running for the No. 1 pick to hold their workout(s) – players of that caliber usually have a very limited number of teams they’ll agree to accommodate – in the last week or so before the draft. And to call it a “workout” might be a stretch. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cunningham never steps on the court at the Pistons Performance Center other than to tour the facilities. He’ll probably meet with Dwane Casey and Troy Weaver and their staffs, perhaps even with Pistons business executives or ownership, but a workout is unlikely. They know what he can do. The biggest thing with Cunningham, Jalen Green and whomever else the Pistons are seriously considering is to make sure the basis for a healthy working relationship exists. It’s for peace of mind on both ends: for the Pistons that they’re wisely expending their most valuable asset – the No. 1 pick in a draft considered perhaps the strongest in a decade is an extraordinary asset – and for the prospective newest Piston that he’s coming to an organization that will look out for his best interests and help him develop into the best possible version of himself.

With the caveat that I remain skeptical a package of 37, 42 and 52 will get the Pistons back into the first round, the bottom of the first round is filled with teams that might be incentivized to remove the cap hold linked to the first-round guarantee by trading out. The last six picks in the round belong to the Clippers, Nuggets, Nets, 76ers, Suns and Jazz. If they’re looking to get out and scanning the list of teams with multiple second-round picks this season to offer in return – on the large assumption that second-round picks this season is what one of those teams would be prioritizing – then the Pistons are an obvious trade partner. I don’t doubt that Troy Weaver would be interested in packaging those picks to move up for the right player, but Weaver also is cognizant of (a) a Pistons roster crunch, (b) a roster already tilting heavily toward young players that gets even younger if two of the few roster openings go to two more first-round picks and (c) a lack of future second-round picks in the assets drawer. So, yeah, I think if a player Weaver has as a top-10 or -12 talent is still there in the mid-20s he might well act on intelligence he’s accumulated regarding the possibility to move back into the first round. But I think the likelier outcome is the Pistons trade out of one or two or those picks for future second-rounders or use one or two of them to draft an international stash candidate.

@luke.s.012/IG: Is there anything that suggests the Pistons will trade down?

Nothing beyond speculation. Speculation over trading the No. 1 pick exceeds actual trades that involve the No. 1 pick by roughly a million to one historically. I fully expect the Pistons to keep the pick. But, hey, you never know. If somebody is crazy in love with a player and makes a crazy offer to see said player wearing his team’s uniform, anything is possible.

@mikevp10/IG: Any word on what the Rockets have offered to move up a spot in the draft?

There’s no indication they’ve offered anything at this point. If there’s a deal to be made – and, again, those types of deals don’t happen very often – it probably won’t happen until within a 48-hour window prior to the July 29 draft.

Peter (Jackson, Mich.): There has not been any news on the ankle injury Isaiah Stewart suffered in practice with the Select Team. Could you give Pistons fans an update? How serious was it? Will he be able to play in Summer League? Will he be ready for training camp?

Pretty sure no news is good news on this front. All indications are it was a minor issue. I’m not sure how the Pistons plan to deploy their rookies in Summer League, but Stewart and Saddiq Bey both had such prominent roles with the Pistons in 2020-21 that they’re probably first in line to cede playing time to players with less certain futures. The Pistons know what they have with those two. It will depend on how they fill out the roster to some degree, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Stewart and Bey don’t wind up atop the minutes leaderboard for the Summer League Pistons.

@sportswithfatima/IG: What do you think about Sekou Doumbouya’s future with the Pistons?

Any outcome remains possible. Doumbouya was thought to be a raw prospect when the Pistons drafted him and dealing with a global pandemic that hamstrung the way the NBA typically does business for more than a year didn’t help push his development forward. Losing the G League opportunity when what Doumbouya needed more than anything was real, live, five-on-five basketball was costly for him. He’s one of only two players that Pistons general manager Troy Weaver didn’t acquire, which might not mean much but at least clouds his value to the team with an important decision approaching on whether or not to pick up his fourth-year option at a fairly significant number, $5.5 million. We don’t know for sure yet that Doumbouya will be part of the Summer League Pistons, but I would expect him to be and it will be a good first step for him to show greater consistency and effectiveness in that environment.

John Bambo (@AldrinBambo): It seems we have way too many prospects at the perimeter position. Which of them do you think has really impressed Troy Weaver?

Well, Weaver acquired pretty much all of them. Everybody who finished the season on the roster other than 2019 draft picks Sekou Doumbouya and Deividas Sirvydis were Weaver acquisitions and only Sirvydis of them is a perimeter player. I don’t know that the Pistons really have “too many” prospects, only that almost all of the players at those positions are of a similar age and remain largely unfinished products. Weaver traded for Hamidou Diallo ahead of his restricted free agency, so it’s logical to assume he made the trade with the intention of keeping him. There’s surely enough room for Killian Hayes and Saben Lee at point guard with Diallo and Frank Jackson, another restricted free agent, in the backcourt given Diallo’s defensively versatility. Sirvydis has another guaranteed year on his contract and I doubt he’s going anywhere. He’ll be a fixture of the Motor City Cruise lineup, I would expect, and a big season there could help Sirvydis solidify a future with the Pistons. Josh Jackson’s defensive versatility and size make him different enough from all the others to separate him from the field. You’d like more 3-point shooting from the group, but other than that they check a lot of boxes.

Oliver (Tartu, Estonia): Any information about the construction of the Motor City Cruise roster? Is Rob Murphy part of the Pistons draft process? Some of the players working out for the Pistons these days are actually candidates for the Cruise roster. Can you name any specific player?

The Cruise roster will be put together in increments. I’m sure there are G League veterans that Rob Murphy, Troy Weaver and his staff have identified as potential pieces for the Cruise roster, but those players will have options to weigh – international offers for more money with the trade-off being a more challenging path to the NBA should an opportunity arise. On draft night – actually, before that in many cases – teams contact players who’ve gone undrafted to talk about Summer League rosters and a few of those players are prioritized with some in line for Exhibit 10 contracts that are essentially training camp invitations with some money involved and the possibility of greater opportunity. Murphy has known Weaver for a few decades and I’m sure his opinion is valued, but I think he’s got enough on his plate as president and general manager of the Cruise, where he’s launching a franchise as head of both basketball and business operations. That said, he’s coming directly from college basketball and I’m sure his network of contacts will be of value in the information-gathering process for Weaver and his team.

Kevin (Totowa, N.J.): If a drafted player doesn’t like the terms of the contract he’s being offered, what can be done to sort out a deal?

When’s the last time you heard about a rookie holdout in the NBA? Glenn Robinson in 1994 is the answer. Since then, the NBA instituted a rookie salary scale for first-round picks where each of the 30 draft slots is assigned a value that descends from 1 to 30. Teams can offer anywhere between 80 and 120 percent of that value and it’s become standard practice to offer the full 120 percent. There’s no such scale for second-round picks but players who aren’t picked in the first round have precious little leverage. They’re almost always signing for the league minimum with the only variance the length of the contract and the number of guaranteed years. Their best chance to make the sort of money that matters is to sign early and get to work. Once they establish themselves as NBA players, they’re in a better position to negotiate when it’s time to sign a second contract.

Thomas (New York City): If we assume that Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green reach their ceilings and that Killian Hayes and the other young Pistons do, too (a pleasant thought!), is there an argument that Green would be the better pick? That potential for crunch-time scoring with superior athleticism seems so attractive and teams need that kind of player to win in the playoffs.

I don’t know that it would be wise to try to factor in the projected development arcs of everybody on the roster when considering how to execute a decision as critical as the No. 1 pick. The most important thing to weigh for Troy Weaver is which player from this draft class is likely to become the best player. Part of that is deciding the ceilings of each prospect but hand in hand with that is the likelihood of reaching that ceiling. I think the clear reason that Cade Cunningham is pretty much everybody’s No. 1 prospect is they’re all pretty sure that Cunningham is a good bet to hit his mark, so even if some believe Green has a higher ceiling they’re still going with Cunningham as the top prospect based on his more certain outcome. Weaver has to weigh those factors as part of his calculation. Worrying about fit and how a prospect might fit with a fully realized Killian Hayes? That runs the risk of poisoning the pool of knowledge and making a bad decision.

Mason Gerstenschlager (@MasonGerstensc2): I saw an interesting trade proposal with Houston where the Pistons trade No. 1 for Houston’s No. 2 plus Houston’s first-round pick next year along with a 2023 top-five protected second-round pick.

Interesting, indeed. What’s the difference in value between the first and second picks? The answer is the delta between what the guy with the No. 1 pick thinks about the difference in value between the top two players on his board vs. what the guy with the No. 2 picks sees as the difference. If Troy Weaver thinks it’s basically a coin flip but Rockets GM Rafael Stone sees one player as markedly better than everyone else, then the Pistons could leverage that difference into a bounty. If the gap isn’t very wide, then Stone is only going to go so far to move up one spot. If Weaver thinks there’s a big difference between his top player and whoever is second for him, then there’s probably no realistic trade offer that he’d accept. All of that is basically unknowable for us unless the two general managers publicly declare their scouting reports.

Rick (Adamstown, Md.): How would you compare Cade Cunningham as a player to Magic Johnson in college?

I wouldn’t put that burden on him. Magic Johnson is the greatest passer in the history of basketball and, for my money, the greatest player. If we’re going to compare Cunningham to a player from the pre-2000 days, I stick with Grant Hill. Hill was an outstanding playmaker, as Cunningham appears to be, but I don’t see either possessing the otherworldly vision Magic possessed.

@klupton2403/IG: What do you think the chances are that the Pistons make the playoffs next year?

Going from 20 wins (the equivalent of a 23-win season over an 82-game schedule) to the playoffs would be a dramatic leap. I wouldn’t put it out of the question, especially with the NBA sticking with the play-in tournament. Every team’s young players should benefit from having a normal summer development program they were robbed of last year, but the Pistons simply have more young players who stand to benefit than almost every other team. And they’re the only team adding the No. 1 pick in an outstanding draft. The Pistons point differential last season of minus-4.5 was smaller than five other teams and better by nearly or more than half that of four teams – Orlando (9.3), Cleveland (8.5), Houston (7.9) and Oklahoma City (10.6). The Pistons were competitive in a lot of games and lost more than their share of close ones, befitting a team with such inexperience and little familiarity with each other. It stands to reason they’ll win a few more of those types of games next season with a more talented, more experienced, more stable roster. They’ll still be relatively inexperienced and likely still have the ball in the hands of very young players – Killian Hayes and potentially the No. 1 overall pick – at the end of games, so they’re still probably going to take their share of lumps in close games for a while. But, yeah, they’ll be better in 2021-22. The problem with saying they’ll make the playoffs is identifying the team(s) they’ll have to jump to do so. All of those teams expect to be better next season, too, and they’ll all have a chance to do so.

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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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