Pistons Mailbag - July 8, 2020

Talk of a potential second NBA “bubble” that would include the Pistons, front-office staffing and the decisions it faces over the off-season and a nugget on the potential return of Pistons teal top the menu for this week’s version of Pistons Mailbag.

Dakoda (Hudsonville, Mich.): What do you think the importance of opening a second bubble site for non-playoff contenders will be for Detroit? Coach Casey sounded less than enthusiastic last I checked, but wouldn’t it be prudent for young guys like Sekou Doumbouya to get some action in? Do you think these will be exhibition games or count towards teams’ records? I can’t imagine anyone trying to win if it would hurt their lottery odds in the second bubble after such a long break.

Langlois: While very little is firm about what shape the participation of the eight non-Orlando bubble teams will take, it’s a certainty that the records of the eight teams will not be affected by whatever takes place. The Pistons’ season – and that of the seven others excluded from the Orlando resumption of the 2019-20 season – is over. Their record, 20-46, has them slotted in the No. 5 position for lottery odds. Nothing will change that. Casey, by the reporting of ESPN.com’s Jackie MacMullan, wasn’t in favor of bringing the eight teams to Chicago – or, more accurately, wasn’t enamored with the concept of putting the eight teams in a bubble environment subject to the same rigorous protocols as Orlando will demand. The relevant part of MacMullan’s report with regard to Casey’s perspective said this: “Pistons coach Dwane Casey said he took an informal poll among the coaches who are not in Orlando and he says the majority of them prefer holding their own minicamps.” “We’d rather do that than go to the bubble,” Casey was quoted as saying, “because unlike those teams in Orlando, we wouldn’t be playing for the same reason. The reason we want these minicamps is to get our team together, to have that camaraderie, to improve and enjoy some competition. We feel we can do that safely in our own environment. We can’t let these guys sit around from March 11 to December without something. It’s going to hurt their careers. It’s too long of a layoff.” When Casey spoke with reporters who cover the Pistons last month, he mentioned Doumbouya prominently among reasons for hoping the Pistons would get approval from the NBA to hold some sort of organized team workouts over the course of the off-season.

Joe Truck (@Joe_Truck): Seems like a number of guys would choose not to play in a second bubble. What would the approach be to filling those spots?

Langlois: My hunch is that it would be more like a Summer League roster than the regular-season Pistons, or at least a hybrid that tilts more toward a typical Summer League construction. For starters, I’m going to assume that the pending free agents won’t participate since the Pistons’ season is over and they’re contracts have expired. That knocks out Langston Galloway, Christian Wood, Brandon Knight, John Henson and Jordan McRae. I also think it’s unlikely that veterans Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose participate to any significant degree in full-court, five-on-five activity. Among the players I would anticipate being included are Sekou Doumbouya, Luke Kennard (who said last month he would be a participant in whatever form team activities might take), Svi Mykhailiuk, Justin Patton, Bruce Brown, Khyri Thomas, Jordan Bone, Louis King and Donta Hall. Thon Maker is another who is a possibility, though it might depend on whether the Pistons intend to extend a qualifying offer to Maker, which would make him a restricted free agent. How the eight non-Orlando teams are instructed to deal with players who fall into that and similar categories is unclear. Bone and King, too, are restricted free agents coming off of two-way contracts. Hall was on an Exhibit 10 contract before signing two 10-day deals, the last of which was set to expire as the NBA season was suspended on March 11. Veteran Tony Snell is a player who could go either way. If he wishes to participate, I would imagine the Pistons would welcome him. Again, it’s unclear what parameters the NBA and Players Association will agree to and, beyond that, how teams will modify the terms to suit their goals. Dwane Casey has made it clear that his main concern is getting his young players in a structured, competitive environment to avoid having the potential of eight months (if training camp starts in early to mid-November, as speculated) with nothing more than individual workouts available to them.

Patrick B (@Patrick_J_B13): Who are some of the likely candidates for the open assistant general manager positions? All the people Ed Stefanski hired just a few years ago have left. Will these hires be Troy’s guys or will the other trio have as much say?

Langlois: It was reported by ESPN.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Tuesday that the Pistons were hiring Milwaukee Bucks executive David Mincberg as an assistant general manager. His title in Milwaukee was vice president of basketball strategy and he has a law degree. When you say “all the people Ed Stefanski hired just a few years ago have left,” that’s not really accurate. The Pistons hired Malik Rose as assistant general manager two years ago and Rose recently left to take a job with the NBA. Pat Garrity, associate general manager who is reported to be moving on, actually was hired by Stan Van Gundy and stayed on when Van Gundy left. The other key hire made by Stefanski was personnel director Gregg Polinsky, who remains on staff and heads up the scouting staffs, both pro and amateur, including international. As for whose hires new additions will be, Pistons owner Tom Gores said last month when discussing Weaver that there was no question he was coming in as the general manager. That implies that Weaver has the authority to fill out his staff and make personnel decisions – draft, free agency, trades – and that is only logical given Weaver’s stature. He’d been pursued by other organizations and was second in command in Oklahoma City. It’s unlikely he was leaving OKC to be second in command again. That doesn’t mean the decision-making process with the Pistons won’t be collaborative. Stefanski’s title remains unchanged – senior adviser to Gores. Ownership is always involved in major decisions and Stefanski’s role will be, as always, to give Gores the full picture to help inform his stance on those decisions.

Andrew Spinner (@spinnerandrew): What are the first three solid steps to properly rebuild from here?

Langlois: I don’t know that there’s any particular formula or three-step blueprint. The best plan is to hire great people, establish a workplace culture that motivates them to be their best and to work collaboratively to make as many well-informed decisions as possible. Building and maintaining competitive rosters is tough work. It’s extremely fluid. One dynamic player can change the fabric of the roster and require a thorough overhauling of it, so good organizations have to have the ability to stay on top of that and maintain flexibility. Not unlike any successful business, it’s about gathering as much information as possible, sharing it with co-workers as efficiently as possible and formulating the process that enables an organization to act on that information as prudently as possible. Breakdowns at any step in the process undermine the majority of operations. So if you can master that end of it, the rest is easy. Once you’ve got the processes down, you’ve maximized your ability to nail the draft, make the best use of cap space and evaluate NBA personnel to best inform trades and free-agent decisions. Even at that, the best organizations miss often on personnel moves. It’s the nature of the business. If you’re Troy Weaver and you’re settling into the job as Pistons general manager, I would imagine his first priority right now is to get his team around him just right – hire the smartest people who fit best and offer the best chance to execute all those things itemized above. Then it would be preparing as fully as possible for the mid-October draft and the opening of free agency and trade season. So, to tailor all of that to your question: Hire and organize a great team, prepare for the draft, know the cap situation and apply that to the big picture of trades/free agency.

Luka (@LukaKneevi4): Does Khyri Thomas have coach Casey’s confidence and support or is he an afterthought for next year’s roster? Besides injury, what is his biggest flaw?

Langlois: The NBA has some amending to do with dates for contracts to be picked up or fully guaranteed and that will be the first hurdle for Thomas to clear. The Pistons have an option on the third and final year of the contract he signed in 2018. Casey had high praise for Thomas after watching him in Summer League that year, but a hamstring injury put him behind Bruce Brown to open their rookie training camps and limited Thomas’ ability to contribute in 2018-19. Then came the broken foot suffered early in the 2019-20 season. Thomas has played a total of 256 NBA minutes in his first two seasons and, meanwhile, Brown and Svi Mykhailiuk – all three players were drafted within nine picks of each other in the 2018 second round – ran with their opportunities. It’s not clear which way the Pistons will go with Thomas. I’m sure Troy Weaver will solicit input from all the key decision makers around him more familiar with Thomas from his first two seasons, Casey foremost, and also consider his evaluation of Thomas from his Creighton days. Thomas has real potential as a 3-and-D player with outstanding shot mechanics, defensive tenacity and a high basketball IQ. That’s a solid starting point and enough, with consistency that comes with experience, to carve out a niche. But his lack of experience, owing to the injuries primarily, has held him back.

Bill Blasky (@bill_blasky): Is playing out the 2019-20 season even worth it? Would it make more sense to just move on and look toward next year? Seems like with guys opting out of playing and the risk, it’s not worth it?

Langlois: It’s certainly worth exploring every option that would enable the safe completion of the season and the crowning of a champion. Nothing aside from total isolation is going to be risk-free until effective vaccines and treatments to combat the novel coronavirus have been developed, but the NBA has poured thousands of man hours into devising an environment – the Orlando bubble on the Walt Disney World campus – that gives the season a fighting chance to be completed without undue risk for participants. That said, this is very much a fluid and evolving undertaking. Less than a month ago, Orlando looked among the safest places in the nation for the NBA to set up shop. Over the last third of June, cases began skyrocketing in Florida and other Sun Belt states that had maintained a low caseload for the first several months of the pandemic and had begun loosening restrictions. What will things look like in another month? By October, when the Finals are scheduled? I think all outcomes are possible. So is it worth it? Get back to me in October.

Mike (@mikephilly): A little out of left field, but about a year ago excitement was starting to stir amid Pistons fans at the prospect of a teal City Edition jersey. As a new era begins under Troy Weaver, is there any chance Detroit explores rebranding their Icon/Association uniforms, teal or not?

Langlois: The Pistons are sticking with their Association (white), Icon (blue) and Statement (gray) editions of their uniforms for the 2020-21 season. The City Edition uniform’s unveiling date is to be determined due to the uncertainty of scheduling with respect to COVID-19 and its impact on the 2020-21 schedule. All of those things would have been put in motion long before Weaver was hired as general manager last month, not that uniform design is ever a thing that most GMs fret. As for a throwback edition – teal or otherwise – that would fall under the Classic Edition uniform, limited to special anniversary seasons. The Pistons will be participating for the 2022-23 season, marking the 65th anniversary of their relocation from Fort Wayne to Detroit for the 1957-58 season. So two years from now would be the time frame for a potential resuscitation of the teal uniforms, which have become infinitely more popular in retrospect than they ever were in real time.