Pistons Mailbag - July 21, 2021

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

We’re a week from the draft and that has Pistons Twitter abuzz for this week’s edition.

Michael Shallvey (@shallvey): With the Pistons current involvement in USA Basketball, all I’m hearing is how they can recruit top talent to Detroit. Isn’t there an exactly equal chance Pistons can get recruited away from Detroit?

There were 17 on the Select Team and 12 on the Olympic team, so 29 total. There are 30 NBA teams and the Pistons had three of the 29 in Las Vegas. By my math, that gave them 10.3 percent of all players under the USA Basketball umbrella when the average for an NBA franchise should have been about 3 percent. So not “exactly equal.” The Pistons were much better represented in Las Vegas than the average NBA franchises, so for what it’s worth I would expect them to be OK with the dynamics of whatever recruitment might have gone on in the few days in the desert.

Good question. Cunningham wore No. 2 at Oklahoma State. Chuck Daly has a banner in the Little Caesars Arena rafters with the No. 2 on it to represent the two NBA championships the Pistons won on his watch, so it’s not a typically retired uniform number. If Cunningham’s the pick, we’ll all find out what number he’ll wear when they hold his introductory press conference, I would anticipate.

@franklucarelli/IG: In your opinion, are the Pistons drafting Cade Cunningham for sure?

I wouldn’t go as far as “for sure,” but if I was pressured for an answer today that’s my guess. Since the pictures (and videos) are out there of him attending the Tigers game Monday night with Dwane Casey and Saddiq Bey, we know he was in Detroit and presumably not as a tourist. I would expect the Pistons already have or will in the near future host at least another player or two – and within five minutes of writing that, ESPN.com reported the Pistons have other workouts scheduled for Jalen Green and Jalen Suggs and would attempt to line another up with Evan Mobley – so we can’t make too much of Cunningham’s visit but it’s at least an indication that he’s firmly on the radar. I remain of the opinion I held the night of June 22 when the Pistons won the lottery – the likeliest outcome is that the Pistons keep the top pick and use it to take Cunningham. I don’t know that it rises to the level of high probability but it’s likelier than any other option, including trading the pick or keeping it to select any other single player.

Cam (@CBolin21): Should we trade Jerami Grant for a first-rounder for this year or next?

If you change the “or” to an “and,” I still guess no. There is no sense the Pistons intend to be in the running for a top-four pick again in 2022 and Grant is the player above all others that stabilizes their offense to make them functional at that end. His ability to function as the No. 1 scoring option allows young players like Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart and Killian Hayes to settle in to more defined roles that aren’t overwhelming for them at this stage of their careers and there’s value in that going beyond what Grant’s stats suggest. I also continue to believe that there’s a measure of trust between Grant and Pistons general manager Troy Weaver that would make it more than a little unlikely he’d be traded so soon into his Pistons tenure. Weaver wouldn’t turn down a deal that would advance the interests of the franchise, but part of those interests includes having a general manager that players around the league know can be counted on to do right by players. So, back to your question. All first-rounders aren’t created equal, so if it’s a first-rounder this year when the draft order is already determined it would have to be a high first-rounder to even pique Weaver’s interest. I think that’s unlikely to come, though. The teams that would be most interested in adding Grant probably aren’t picking high enough in the first round to make for a likely trade partner.

@kyle_tasty/IG: If the Pistons draft Cade Cunningham, how do you envision him and Killian Hayes meshing together?

If Cunningham is the No. 1 pick, that’s going to be a question Troy Weaver and Dwane Casey get asked on draft night. I’ll be interested to hear how they respond, but I don’t think they’ll be anything other than excited about the possibilities of pairing two high-level playmakers with outstanding size. I don’t view Cunningham as a point guard in the sense that I don’t see him bringing the ball downcourt or guarding opposition points, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a primary playmaker who can be a terrific complement to Hayes as a young point guard who could benefit from not having to carry the burden of initiating offense on every possession. And I think the fact that Hayes is an advanced defender for his age and Cunningham’s defensive IQ is considered a strength should also make their pairing mutually beneficial.

Cdiamonds6467 (@cdiamonds6467): If the Pistons keep all three second-round picks, do you see an outcome where he could potentially look at a player like Michigan’s Isaiah Livers as a potential pick?

Sure, that’s possible. One hurdle, though, is the roster crunch the Pistons are facing and how that influences the execution of the three second-round picks the Pistons hold at 37, 42 and 52. If I had to guess, I’d say 37 is spent on a player who signs a two-way contract, 42 is traded for future second-round picks and 52 is used on an international player who continues playing abroad for a season or two. But maybe 37 is used in trade and 42 is an international stash player and 52 is used to take a flyer on a player who maybe warrants a two-way deal or maybe comes to training camp needing to earn a spot. Or all three could be bundled in an attempt to move up. Or maybe somebody wants 37 and 42 and offers something intriguing. I don’t know how interested Livers would be in playing internationally, so maybe that diminishes his chances of being drafted by a team in a spot like the Pistons are in. (Yes, I would bet the Pistons will know which players are open to being drafted and playing internationally before executing the pick if that’s what they have in mind for that player.)

Paul (Phoenix): Going on the assumption Detroit keeps the No. 1 pick and drafts Cade Cunningham, what kind of cap space would the Pistons have if they release Rodney McGruder, Jahlil Okafor, Dennis Smith Jr. and get out of Cory Joseph’s contract? Would they have enough to get a power forward to back up Jerami Grant? Sekou Doumbouya needs extended playing time and could get it in the G League, so power forward and small forward backups could be the weakness. Tyler Cook would be the third center and the European, who I believe is 6-foot-8, could be the backup small forward. So the biggest need would be backup power forward. Thoughts?

Of the four veterans you mention jettisoning for cap purposes, McGruder has a non-guaranteed contract; Smith would be a restricted free agent if the Pistons extend a $7.7 million qualifying offer (unlikely) and a restricted free agent if they don’t extend a QO (likely); Okafor is under contract for the veteran’s minimum; and Joseph has $2.4 million guaranteed and another $10.2 million non-guaranteed on top of that, making it seem likely the Pistons will pay the guaranteed portion and waive Joseph. They’ll also have a cap hold of more than $10 million for the No. 1 draft pick, assuming they keep the pick. Because of that cap hold, I think it’s likely the Pistons are going to wind up operating as a team above the salary cap, which means their best tools to acquire free agents will be the mid-level and biannual exceptions. I think they have two clear needs in free agency (or trade) – a veteran point guard and a big man, preferably one who can serve as a stretch four/small-ball five. Whether the Pistons prioritize one over the other or consider them co-equal needs and wind up giving more of their free-agent money to whichever player they can attract is an open question. I think both Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart could wind up seeing time at the four. Stewart could do so fairly easily and it would be a way to get him more minutes. Bey could serve as the starter at small forward, have his minutes staggered with Jerami Grant and wind up splitting his time between the two positions. That would open up more minutes for Josh Jackson or Hamidou Diallo at small forward and more minutes at shooting guard for Frank Jackson or Killian Hayes if the free-agent point guard plus Saben Lee both command minutes at point guard. There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of possibilities, in large measure because Troy Weaver has built a roster of players with good length and size at their position to give them the versatility to move up or down a position.

Baby Curry (@BabyFaceCurry30): Can the Pistons trade the first pick for the Warriors’ seventh pick in the draft?

The Warriors should probably ask for Jerami Grant to be thrown in, too, don’t you think?

Darrell (Detroit): I’m all for seeing the Pistons improve greatly next season, however, I’m less interested in the Pistons obtaining free agents to make these improvements and more interested in seeing what the existing young players can become. We can safely assume that the No. 1 pick along with Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey, Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee and Isaiah Stewart will see plenty of playing time. We can add Hamidou Diallo, assuming he re-signs. But we need to see meaningful minutes for Sekou Doumbouya, Josh Jackson, Frank Jackson, Deividas Sirvydis and Saben Lee. If not, I fear most will not make the team after next season only to go to some other team and flourish. I’d be willing to sacrifice wins and a low playoff seed to ensure the Pistons find minutes for these players. I think the Pistons should try converting Frank Jackson back to point guard during Summer League since there is a logjam at wing. I’m all for continuing the retool by building in-house first, then look to free agency if these players can’t deliver after having received a fair opportunity to prove themselves. Building in-house is cheaper and maintains chemistry.

You name seven players who are locks to get ample playing time and then five more who should also get meaningful minutes. Twelve players? It’s pretty tough to accommodate all of that. Injuries have a way of winnowing a rotation down to a manageable number most of the time, though. I don’t expect the Pistons to be especially busy in free agency next month simply because they won’t have a ton of cap space – essentially, I think they’ll be operating as a team over the cap – and also not many roster spots. But I think they’ll go into free agency hoping to land two players who can challenge for rotation spots. Certainly, building in-house is close to a necessity for any teams with aims at competing for a title. Even the Miami Heat teams that won two titles in the last decade after signing free agents LeBron James and Chris Bosh were really only able to do that because of the emergence of Dwyane Wade as the free agent who helped pull in James and Bosh. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a champion that didn’t pull significantly from external sources, too, either free agency or trade. Pistons fans understand that well. Jack McCloskey became known as Trader Jack for his deals and supplemented his great Pistons drafts (Hall of Famers Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman, plus John Salley) with trades for Bill Laimbeer, Vinnie Johnson, James Edwards, Rick Mahorn, Adrian Dantley and, finally, Mark Aguirre. The Goin’ to Work Pistons drafted Tayshaun Prince but acquired every other significant contributor via trade. Part of rebuilding is using the cap space it’s possible to accrue from a reset to selectively target talent upgrades. Next summer, the Pistons project to have significant cap space and I suspect they’ll be looking to add more than just players who can compete for a rotation spot at that point.

Ken (Dharamsala, India): What is there about NBA fans that frustrates or bemuses you the most? My problem with fans is that they don’t watch what the four guys off the ball are doing both offensively and defensively. In so doing, they miss much of an intriguing game.

It definitely falls under the “bemused” category, but it’s how strongly convicted fans become of opinions they form based on a sliver of knowledge available to them. The draft is a most vivid example. Fans bang the drums for certain players that they have probably seen mostly on YouTube video. I assume they know, on an intellectual level, that the professionals who scout talent for a living and devote scores of hours to analyzing and investigating the backgrounds of several dozen players for months every year are in far better position to accurately assess their ability to translate success from one level of basketball to the NBA. But they sure get emotionally attached to players irrationally and angry that their judgments aren’t shared by the team they follow.

Hevvy (Harper Woods, Mich.): I don’t get all the Josh Jackson trade talk. He got better this year and I think he will continue to get better. I think he will be better than Hamidou Diallo. If we trade him, we will regret it. Remember Khris Middleon, Spencer Dinwiddie. Don’t do it, please.

When you look at rosters and speculate which players are most likely to be traded, you tend to rule out the ones who have little trade value or more value to their current team that they’d figure to have in the marketplace. The Pistons have a lot of players – last year’s rookies come to mind – who surely would stir up trade interest but are too early in their careers for their trade value to make it an appropriate time for the Pistons to pursue that avenue. For a specific example, I think if the Pistons were intent on trading Saddiq Bey right now, they’d generate a lot of interest. But the value he brings to the Pistons figures to become much greater over the next few seasons, making it very unlikely any team would offer enough to make it a worthwhile risk for the Pistons at this time. Josh Jackson is perhaps the most obvious Pistons player in that sweet spot – a likelihood of holding value for other teams, but only one year of team control left for the Pistons – that makes him a trade candidate. Other teams do similar calculations. It’s not likely other general managers are picking up the phone to inquire about the availability of Isaiah Stewart or Killian Hayes at this point. But they see Jackson – one year left on his contract at a very manageable figure, a player ready to step in and contribute and defend at a high level with some scoring punch to boot – and those with a need for what he can offer are likely to consider him a player within reach. For the teams that need a versatile wing with two-way ability that won’t cost an arm and a leg to obtain and don’t fill their need in free agency, Jackson is someone who’ll generate some buzz. I don’t think the Pistons are necessarily eager to move him, but the emergence of other players – Bey and Hamidou Diallo, most prominently – has put the Pistons in a different spot than they were when Troy Weaver spotted Jackson as an undervalued asset on the market last fall.

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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