Pistons Mailbag - July 28, 2021

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

As the clock moves from days to hours for Thursday’s NBA draft, that – and how the Pistons will use their precious No. 1 pick – dominates the board for this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.


@chuckfromda6_/IG: Are we taking Cade?


Langlois:
My favorite kind of question: short and to the point. Answer: Don’t know. Would be my best guess at this point. But we know Cade Cunningham just visited last week and it’s been reported that Jalen Green was in over the weekend and the Pistons hoped to host Evan Mobley and, look, that alone is enough to make what Troy Weaver said on Tuesday – that no decision has yet been made – credible. It’s pretty standard practice for NBA front offices to hold their predraft meeting to set their final board in the 24 to 48 hours ahead of the draft. The general manager, his cabinet and the team’s scouts gather in a room and everybody’s final thoughts are solicited and exchanged. That’s when the board gets set and when players are ranked into tiers, for the teams that operate under that system, and then prioritized within tiers. For the purposes of the No. 1 pick, there probably aren’t going to ever be more than a handful of names seriously debated. Troy Weaver said on June 22 after the Pistons won the lottery that there would realistically be five players in consideration for the top pick. It’s obvious that Cunningham, Green and Mobley – widely expected to go 1-2-3 in some order – are among that group. My guess is we’ll find out if the Pistons are taking Cade Cunningham or someone else shortly after 8 p.m. Thursday when they go on the clock – and not before then.


Ian (Westland, Mich.): If Houston offers No. 2, Christian Wood and a pick swap for next year instead of getting one of our picks, I think I would do it.


Langlois:
I don’t know exactly how high the bar is to put an offer for the No. 1 pick over the top, but I wouldn’t expect Christian Wood to be part of the package that would do it for the Pistons. It says something that the Pistons had every opportunity to keep Wood in free agency last summer and instead targeted Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee and, in fact, worked with Houston to get the 16th pick to draft Isaiah Stewart. The Pistons put a value on Wood and somebody else clearly put a significantly higher value on him. It would be a little weird for the same two teams that held differing views on Wood only a year ago to come together on a deal now that includes him as part of the equation.


Langlois:
I don’t think Ian will join you. Maybe not Paul, either.


Paul (Phoenix): Cade Cunningham seems the most NBA-ready player offensively and defensively as well as in intangibles. Jalen Green shows explosive offensive ability and questionable defensive ability and a longer transition to impact player. I’m not a coach, scout or GM so am willing to be educated. If Detroit believes Green is the better player then trade the No. 1 pick to Houston, though you have to believe Houston is using a smoke screen. If Houston took Green with the pick, the Pistons get tons of No. 1 picks and Cade at No. 2, a great deal for Detroit. But if the Pistons believe Cunningham is the next Luka Doncic, just draft him and use the three second-round picks and a player to move back into the first round, keep Sekou Doumbouya and see what he does with a full year of playing (in the G League, if necessary). I have not seen any trade proposals that make sense for Detroit.


Langlois:
I don’t see any reason Houston would feel an urgency to trade up to No. 1 – and, presumably, pay a significant price – to take Jalen Green, though it remains possible that the Rockets (a) see Green as the clear best player in the draft and (b) have reason to believe the Pistons see it similarly. There is a pretty clear expectation around the NBA that whether the Pistons keep the pick or trade it, Cade Cunningham is widely expected to be the No. 1 pick.


Andre Woods (@Dre313Woods): The fans and the city have suffered long enough. We deserve Cade.


Langlois:
If your suffering will only be alleviated by landing the best player in the draft and a player good enough to someday, sooner rather than later, spearhead a run at an NBA title, shouldn’t that decision be left to the guy who has a proven ability to extrapolate how the raw tools of teenagers will translate to the NBA? I am fully aware that a significant number – a loud minority if not a majority – of Pistons fans are enthusiastically in favor of drafting Cade Cunningham and, if I had to guess, I’d put a dollar on him being the pick Thursday night. But it’s fairly amazing that fans think their cursory evaluations of the top prospects qualifies them to tell Troy Weaver what he should do. It’s the equivalent of telling a NASA scientist that you think he’s using the wrong widget to make sure the shuttle docks properly with the space station based on the fact that you watched every “Star Wars” movie. Weaver got Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey, two guys who made the All-Rookie teams, with the 16th and 19th picks. I think it’s probably safe to trust him with the first pick.


@jiunorthodox/IG: How big of a gap do you see between Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green and Evan Mobley?


Langlois:
Not enough to make it an easy decision if I were charged with making the No. 1 pick. If we were to fast forward five years, I can see any of the three having established himself as the best player from the 2021 draft. I would pick Cunningham as the most likely to take the early lead based on the fact he had success as his team’s primary ballhandler in a role closest to what he’ll likely be asked to play in the NBA. I understand why nearly every mock draft – frankly, every one that has any measurable credibility – has Cunningham first with a consistent logic that even if Green and Mobley have similar or even, perhaps, superior ceilings, Cunningham’s floor is more clearly higher than anyone else’s and that floor still has him as a well above average NBA player. I get that when you’re drafting first, you want more than well above average player, but it’s also important to make sure you’re coming away with at least that much. And I also buy the argument that Cunningham is as or more likely to reach his ceiling than any other prospect. All of that still doesn’t make it an easy call. And so the answer to how big of a gap is “not all that big.”


Oliver (Tartu, Estonia): Assuming Wayne Ellington, Rodney McGruder and Cory Joseph are not remaining with the Pistons, how big is the need for additional veteran presence in addition to Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee? Do you have an opinion who would fit in that role and is realistic to acquire? My initial suggestions would be Patty Mills or Goran Dragic if he becomes available.


Langlois:
Troy Weaver was pretty clear when he said after the 2020-21 season ended that he always wanted a roster with a strong veteran presence. I’m guessing there will be a minimum of two high-character veterans brought in via free agency, one almost certainly a point guard. I wouldn’t rule out a return by Cory Joseph even if the Pistons, as expected, choose to waive him and pay only the $2.4 million guaranteed portion of his contract to avoid taking on the full $12.6 million left on the last year of the three-year contract Joseph signed with Sacramento as a free agent in 2019. I’m not saying it’s likely, but if Joseph doesn’t find another suitor early in free agency and the Pistons haven’t struck a deal with another veteran point guard a reunion is within the realm of reasonable possibilities. He’s beyond comfortable in Dwane Casey’s system and Detroit is about as close to home for the Toronto native as it gets without wearing a Raptors uniform. I’d expect the second free agent the Pistons add to be a versatile big man, preferably one who brings the 3-point shooting tool with him.


Philip (Auburn Hills, Mich.) With the draft almost here, I’ll give you a break from any Cade questions. In terms of projections for next season, what are your expectations? I’m thinking play-in as a ninth or 10th seed. Some are saying another tank season to get a shot at the lottery again, but if we’re looking to sign a star player or players next year, wouldn’t a tanking season hinder them from signing as opposed to signing with an up-and-coming team a star or two away from being contenders?


Langlois:
The Pistons are going to be a better team next season. They had five rookies last season, four of whom played rotation minutes for significant stretches or the entire season. Those players figure to all take notable leaps and that alone will push the Pistons forward. They’ll add the No. 1 pick from the 2021 draft – or a trove of assets in return should they trade out of the top spot – and that will further their progress. And after a season where the roster turned over almost completely, they figure to benefit from far greater stability this time around. How that all translates to wins remains to be seen. The Pistons will still have the ball in the hands of very young players – Killian Hayes and, potentially, the No. 1 pick – an inordinate amount of the time and that makes winning close games problematic. If you look at the final Eastern Conference standings from 2020-21, it’s tough to pick out the teams that even an improved Pistons roster will leapfrog to put themselves in playoff position. I don’t think Troy Weaver, Dwane Casey and the key decision-makers are thinking in terms quite as stark as you laid out – gun for the playoffs or maximize lottery odds. I think they’re going to look for real players in free agency – they’ll be limited to the mid-level and biannual exceptions as their best tools, but those can find you real players – and pieces that can be more than short-term rentals. They’re going to prepare for the season with the intention of competing to win every night. But they won’t make moves that compromise their future. They won’t be trading future first-round picks for anything less than players who can help over the long haul and they won’t be tying their hands contractually in the quest for a short-term bump. They have the potential to have as much or more cap room than any team in the NBA a year from now and they won’t sacrifice any of that for anything other than players that they feel as certain about as future assets as they do about the likes of Jerami Grant, Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart and Killian Hayes.


@davetron_3030: Have there been any workouts besides for the top guys?


Langlois:
Yes, there have. The Pistons have three second-round picks and that makes it pretty easy to get players from all across the spectrum of prospects to agree to come to work out for your team. The Pistons have not released any information as to the players they’ve hosted for workouts, though. Some teams do, some don’t. There have been several anecdotal accounts of players identified as having worked out for the Pistons. One way that happens is when players work out for teams that invite media to interview prospects and the players themselves say what teams have hosted them. Agents also can sometimes be forthcoming with information about clients’ workouts.

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