Pistons Mailbag - July 15, 2020

The draft, free agency, the Orlando bubble and the possibility of any advantages to the Pistons of not being there are among the items on the menu in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Nate Tropiano (@TheYoungTrop): Are we aiming for LaMelo?

Langlois: The draft is still three months away, the lottery six weeks off. I don’t think there’s any “aiming” for an individual player at this point. This is an unusual draft in that there is nothing close to a consensus top player. Some like LaMelo Ball, some like Anthony Edwards, some like James Wiseman. I’d bet if you had the 14 lottery teams rank their top 10 prospects in order – even if front offices haven’t set their draft boards yet – you’d get a wider mix of results than in 80-plus percent of draft years. While there might be some loose agreement that Ball’s upside is higher than that of other point guards, there probably is also a general sense that his floor might be lower. The sample size to judge him isn’t much – a dozen games in the Australian pro league over a few months last fall before he shut it down with a bone bruise in his foot, most prominently. In a perfect world, the Pistons would come out of the lottery with their starting point guard for the next generation. Whether new general manager Troy Weaver and the team around him as the draft nears views Ball as the likeliest to clear that bar is anyone’s guess. And until the August 25 lottery, there’s no way to even peg the odds that he’d be within reach for the Pistons.

Leon (Grayling, Mich.): I think the Pistons need to prioritize the following moves this off-season: re-sign Christian Wood, John Henson, Brandon Knight and possibly Langston Galloway. Pursue in free agency Fred VanVleet, Justin Holiday and Nerlens Noel. What are your thoughts?

Langlois: The priority with a rebuilding team has to be on making moves that will have a payoff three and four years down the road. I’m not sure signing veteran free agents like Henson, Knight, Galloway, Holiday and Noel would register as priorities. And I’m not downplaying the ability to contribute even in a rebuilding phase of any of those veterans. Only that if those moves happen, they wouldn’t be the first dominoes to fall. Wood and VanVleet would slot into a different category. And you could rightly call additions of players like that – players who should have as many prime years left as the term of the contracts they sign – a priority with one significant caveat: the size of their contracts. If the Pistons can retain Wood without using their cap space, that would be a major win. If they’re able to sign him by using the exception for players with early Bird status – that’s Wood – then they can use their cap space to acquire other players or draft assets. VanVleet would cost them probably well more than 50 percent of their cap space, perhaps two-thirds depending on what adjustments the NBA makes to the salary cap. There’s a price point at which signing VanVleet makes perfectly good sense and a price point at which the contract threatens to become a drag on rebuilding. Good front offices set those bars and stay disciplined once free agency opens. The cap space the Pistons wind up with has to be used wisely. If they sign older veterans, then they should be players who either have great reputations so that the losing that usually accompanies rebuilding doesn’t become acceptable to younger players or players who would conceivably have trade value for contending teams at next season’s trade deadline – or, in an ideal world, players who fit both categories.

Tank Casey (@RedAlternates): Do you know the names of any of the prospects the Pistons might have had predraft interviews with?

Langlois: Short answer: no. The Pistons in recent administrations and under more normal circumstances have announced the players who’ve accepted their invitations for individual or group workouts. In addition, some of that information has come out at the NBA draft combine in May. But I haven’t seen any NBA team disclosing the identities of players with whom they’ve conducted virtual interview sessions. I think it’s fairly safe to assume that the Pistons have been able to arrange interviews with whichever prospects they’ve inquired. They’re holding the fifth-best odds at acquiring the top pick, players have had plenty of time on their hands and there is nothing especially intrusive about a virtual interview that doesn’t require any travel or physical exertion. If there have been any holdouts, chances are the August 25 draft lottery will lend a degree of clarity to the pecking order. In that case, agents for the few players considered consensus top-four picks – maybe Anthony Edwards, maybe LaMelo Ball, maybe James Wiseman – might stiff arm a team picking outside that range.

Mr. Blue Sky (@nicosuave6): The Athletic recently had a survey saying we have the best media food in the league. What’s your favorite offering from the Pizzarena?

Langlois: I think the outstanding quality about media dining at Little Caesars Arena is the variety. It’s a big space – much larger than most media dining rooms – so they’ve got the room to accommodate the large selections. If you want pizza, there’s pizza. If you want chicken fingers or chicken wings and fries, there’s that. If you want hot dogs or other sausages, there’s that. If you want to make your own salad, there’s a well-stocked salad bar. There’s a make-your-own-nachos station. There’s usually a meat-carving station. And then there’s a regular buffet that usually includes two entrée options plus various vegetables and pasta or rice dishes. In a fair number of NBA arenas, you get no choices. At LCA, you can eat healthy or you can indulge in pretty much any guilty-pleasure food of your choice. Then there’s a soft-serve ice cream station and various cookies/desserts. No popcorn machine, though.

Hitman Danny (@HitmanDanny313): On paper, is this the worst Pistons roster ever?

Langlois: The 1979-80 Pistons went 16-66 and in December of that season owner Bill Davidson hired Jack McCloskey, who not much more than a month into his tenure traded the most accomplished player on the roster, Bob Lanier. The Pistons had been under the administration of Dick Vitale for the past one-plus seasons and he had stocked the roster with many young players with local ties. He drafted John Long and Terry Tyler from the University of Detroit teams he coached in 1978, then drafted Michigan State’s Greg Kelser, Michigan’s Phil Hubbard and U of D’s Terry Duerod in 1979. The Pistons also had native Detroiters Eric Money and James McElroy on the roster. Vitale was fired early in the 1979-80 season and replaced by assistant Richie Adubato. Years later, Adubato – known for his quick wit – told me he looked out one night, turned to his assistant coach and quipped, “We have a hell of a team – for the Big Ten.” Long, Tyler, Hubbard and Kelser all had solid NBA careers, but with all due respect that team had no one close to Blake Griffin or Derrick Rose.

Jason Axel Bowman (@jaxyjg): With the team not playing in Orlando, what advantages do you think the team and front office have for the future compared to teams who are prepping to play right now?

Langlois: It’s a stretch given what we know at the moment to contend that the Pistons have any advantage over the teams that will be playing a minimum of eight games in Orlando and then advancing to the playoffs. I suppose you could say they’re avoiding any chance of injuries that would affect the 2020-21 season. Teams that make the playoffs and especially those that go deep into the playoffs will risk having injured players – and there will, inevitably, be injuries coming out of Orlando – unavailable for much or all of 2020-21 if there isn’t going to be much of a break between seasons as it appears there won’t be with a projected Oct. 12 end date for this year’s Finals and the speculated Dec. 1 start of next season. All front offices are going to have ample time to determine their game plans for the off-season. That is probably more helpful for the Pistons and teams that had front-office turnover at the top – the Bulls also have a new leadership team in place and the Knicks, as well – than for franchises with holdover regimes. The Pistons not being in Orlando doesn’t give the front office any particular advantage over those that are there. It would really be a stretch to suggest that the front offices of teams in Orlando will be distracted to any significant degree, though adhering to NBA protocols in the bubble might force them to go about their business in somewhat unconventional ways. There is a school of thought that the eight teams excluded from the bubble won’t have the same networking opportunities to discuss trades that those teams inside the bubble will, but I wouldn’t put much stock in that. Everybody does business by text and phone as a matter of course these days. There might be the rare special circumstance where a face-to-face meeting between general managers closes a deal, but in general I don’t think it will impede the Pistons from accomplishing their off-season goals.

Suffering Sports Fan (@PistonUpNorth): What are the chances the Pistons are able to re-sign Christian Wood? How important is signing him to their rebuild?

Langlois: The Pistons have to be considered the odds-on favorite to re-sign Wood. They’ve got the home-court advantage – the early Bird rights – that allow them to offer a first-year salary of around $10 million while still preserving their cap space. If they feel the bidding will start higher than that, they will have more cap space to use than all but the Knicks and Hawks. The thing the front office must weigh is how high they’re willing to go for Wood and whether they expect another team to jump out with an early offer significantly higher than the $10 million threshold.

Generic_Name (@Landon90147733): Bill Laimbeer next head coach?

Langlois: Laimbeer left his spot as a WNBA head coach in 2009 to take a role on Rick Adelman’s staff in Minnesota with the Timberwolves to see if he could get any nibbles as an NBA head coach. It didn’t happen. He spent two years in the NBA and went back to being a WNBA head coach. I don’t know that there’s anybody in an NBA front office now in position to make a hire that has an obvious tie to Laimbeer and an inclination to hire him. I’m not talking out of school in pointing out that Laimbeer has an abrasive personality that would make for a very controversial sell in today’s environment. It would be walking out on a very long limb for a general manager to hire Laimbeer as an NBA head coach. I don’t see that happening.

Michelle (Dearborn, Mich.): According to Gregg Popovich, the NBA “bubble” is safe. So why was everyone concerned before? Is there something they were not told before?

Langlois: The Orlando bubble is safe relative to many work environments, I suppose, but when you gather roughly 350 players – the rosters of 22 teams – and put them in a situation where they will be exhaling strenuously at close proximity as a matter of routine in the course of NBA games, there’s a risk of rapid transmission. The safeguards in place include daily testing, so the likelihood is slim that multiple infected players would be in action. But one asymptomatic player who experiences a false negative test could, theoretically, infect as many as 25 other players, multiple staff members, officials and game administrators. The NBA has taken every conceivable precaution after exhaustive study of how to safely relaunch the season, but ultimately you must concede that there is no such thing as a risk-free path to a return.

Duke Billingslea (@neon3853): In the way-too-early view of the 2020-21 Detroit Pistons, which current Pistons free agents stay and which go?

Langlois: Christian Wood is the most obvious priority with the stipulation that there will be a price past which, I have to believe, the front office doesn’t choose to go. Langston Galloway is the player other than Wood most likely to be worthy of a rotation spot for any NBA team and, because of that, he’s probably likely to get some interest that steers him elsewhere – though there’s no question Dwane Casey is a big fan and Galloway fits to a T the profile of a player Troy Weaver and Casey want to have around in a transition phase like the Pistons are entering. Brandon Knight extolls those same virtues and could be back. John Henson, similar to Galloway, might find suitors among playoff contenders. Jordan McRae is a wild card. He wasn’t here long enough to gauge whether he had won enough admirers to be part of the future. But he’s a proven scorer and getting players who can generate points is a valued trait for transitioning teams.

Young Pun #BLM (@Life_Of_Pun): Who should the Pistons go after in the draft? Someone like James Wiseman or someone like LaMelo Ball?

Langlois: The someone they think has the best chance to make the biggest impact. Beyond that, the slate is clean. The Pistons don’t have to concern themselves with position or skill sets or anything else at this point. Just get the guy you think will be around the longest and hold the most value on the open market. Full stop. Who that is at this point is anybody’s guess.