Pistons Mailbag - June 16, 2021

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Last Pistons Mailbag before Tuesday’s lottery and that gets us off and running in this week’s edition.

SC.81 (@SeanCarmody81): Is there any realistic scenario where the Pistons trade down from the top three? I don’t think there is with the talent in the top three of the class, especially at one. But if we were to fall to five to six, I could see it.

Slim chance. Perhaps if the Pistons had won the lottery or been in the top three a year ago, Troy Weaver would have been open to trading down to add extra picks. But he drafted four players last year and finished the season with only two players – 2019 draft picks Sekou Doumbouya and Deividas Sirvydis – who preceded his arrival in Detroit. He’s put a lot of players in the pipeline already, so I think the equilibrium has shifted to quality over quantity at this point. That said, I can see one scenario where Weaver is enticed to trade down. Well, two scenarios with the same root motivation. Both Oklahoma City and Orlando have a chance to come out with two high picks. Oklahoma City gets Houston’s pick if it’s not in the top four and Orlando gets Chicago’s pick if it’s not in the top four. Since Houston can fall no further than fifth, then Oklahoma City could have two picks in the top eight. If the Pistons were to get the No. 1 pick – there’s a 14 percent chance of that – and Oklahoma City wound up with, say, the third and fifth picks, maybe there’s enough incentive there for OKC to trade three and five for one so it can keep Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham at home with the top pick. The Pistons could conceivably come away with Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga. If Chicago doesn’t get a top-four pick, the Bulls could pick no higher than eighth. If the Pistons get, say, the third pick, would Weaver trade three for picks five and eight if those wound up as Orlando’s picks? I think the OKC scenario is more realistic simply because the Thunder have so many future first-round picks that giving up two high picks to land Cunningham this season doesn’t seem like a huge loss in opportunity cost for them. The main takeaway from this exercise is that the Pistons could really use a break in Tuesday’s lottery to put them in position to even consider such scenarios. And, bottom line, I suspect Weaver doesn’t quite see the top five quite as equally as outsider evaluators do. My hunch is he has a clear pecking order or a dividing line that doesn’t go quite five deep. So I don’t know how eager he would be to trade down if he’s fortunate enough to land at one or two in Tuesday’s lottery.

@y3a_its_k3ith/IG: Will the Pistons need a “star” at the center of this young roster to be competitive?

That depends how you define “star,” I suppose. Some would say you need three “superstars” to be a legitimate NBA title contender, though the Pistons didn’t have three perceived superstars on any of their three NBA title teams even if the Bad Boys wound up with three Hall of Famers (Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Dennis Rodman). They need to up their talent level to become a consistent playoff contender, but right now they need to gain experience as much as anything; experience added on to some of the young talent they already have might forge a star or two. General manager Troy Weaver said at season’s end that the greatest improvement the Pistons could realize would be from internal individual progress. That’s true simply because the Pistons have so many young players and they’ll have relatively few new additions to the roster next season. But they could land a very significant player in the draft if the lottery favors them next week and that should provide the single biggest impact. In other words, adding a player like Cade Cunningham or Evan Mobley will do more to up the quality of the roster than the individual improvement any single player is likely to make over the course of one off-season. Collectively, Weaver is right – there are so many young players who figure to take a leap this off-season and their cumulative progress will be the most important force in moving the Pistons forward for 2021-22.

Ken (Dharamsala, India): Let’s say I’m a very young All-Star Pistons guard. My wife is going to law school, I am pursuing a Ph.D. in physics and I desperately want stability in my life to make these off-court goals easier. I don’t want to be traded ever and have to move. Under the current collective bargaining agreement, would I have to take a huge pay cut to get no-trade stability, a sense of community and a real relationship with fans? As you can see, bling isn’t that important to me but I’d still like to make a few Yankee dollars.

It’s been reported that there are no NBA players who currently have a no-trade clause written into their contracts. Zero. Further, in order to be eligible to negotiate a no-trade clause, a player must have eight years of NBA service and four years with his current team. No-trade clauses have always been pretty rare in the NBA but they’re becoming even less a thing as teams are leery of entering into contracts that will limit their ability to tack in another direction. And as contracts have become shorter – both by the letter of the law in successive CBAs, with the current limit of four- and five-year terms for free agents, and by the trend of limiting the length of contracts in general over the last five years or so – franchises have become lighter on their feet and more likely to undergo roster overhauls more frequently. But you kind of buried your lede, Ken – you’re an NBA player pursuing an advanced degree in physics? Now that’s a story. But let’s say you’re a 27-year-old who came into the league at 19 and have spent the past four years with the Pistons, rising to All-Star status. I’d have to believe that makes you an incredibly popular player if you’re also gifted enough to be a physics grad student. So maybe management is open to offering a no-trade clause. What you’d have to give back is anyone’s guess because, again, there isn’t much of a track record that would offer guidance. I promise I’ll do more digging on this once the Pistons acquire an All-Star Ph.D. candidate!

Predraft workouts are back, though there are protocols in place that didn’t exist before the pandemic. There have been reports of teams working out players already. The NBA sent teams the parameters for individual workouts as the regular season was ending a month ago. Among the stipulations: Players must either test negative for COVID-19 before working out or have proof of vaccination. Portsmouth was not held again this season. In its place, the Tampa Bay Pro Combine was held earlier this month, targeting the same level of prospect – those looking to make an impression to win an invitation to the NBA draft combine or the G League Elite Camp in Chicago. The top handful of players from the Elite Camp get invited to the draft combine. Both events are set for this month with the Elite Camp first and the combine next week.

@adam_peterss/IG: Who is your favorite pick of the predicted top five (Cade, Mobley, Green, etc.)?

Mobley is extraordinarily intriguing with his length, fluidity and versatility. Cunningham is considered the no-doubt No. 1 pick by so many of the most reliable voices in the evaluation business that it creates the impression he’s head and shoulders above the field and I don’t think that’s the case. Green’s scoring potential is hard to resist, too. I think any one of those three could be a difference maker early in their careers. I have no reason to doubt Jalen Suggs or Jonathan Kuminga can have that type of impact, too, but it’s perhaps a little less certain with them. Or at least I have a more difficult time projecting their impact. But I think there will be five pretty happy teams on draft night, for sure.

Abdul (Dearborn, Mich.): Is it possible for the Pistons to sign Damian Lillard and Andre Drummond by trading away some players to clear up cap space?

No chance. Lillard is about to start a four-year “supermax” extension that will pay him $196 million over the next four seasons, so “signing” him is clearly not in play. Portland just fired the only coach Lillard has had in his eight NBA seasons, Terry Stotts, and it would be a monumental upset if he were put on the trade block. Lillard is as much the face of his franchise as any NBA player right now, so unless he pushes for a trade – and he’s been nothing but a loyal advocate of Portland since his arrival – there is no reason to think he’ll be playing anywhere other than Oregon for the foreseeable future. Drummond will be an unrestricted free agent. The Pistons would seem a most unlikely destination given the fact they have three centers (Isaiah Stewart, Mason Plumlee, Jahlil Okafor) under contract for next season, but stranger things have happened, I suppose. Don’t ask me to name any off the top of my head.

Ian (Westland, Mich.): What do you think about Kristaps Porzingis? If the Pistons could get him for expiring contracts and maybe Sekou Doumbouya, I would go for it even though he’s a bit injury prone. I’m hoping for the lottery we get in the top four. Cade Cunningham or Jalen Green would be nice and Evan Mobley or Jalen Suggs are players I’m sure Dwane Casey could work with.

In a vacuum, a 7-foot-3 guy with 3-point range and reasonable mobility would always be intriguing. But this particular 7-foot-3 guy comes with an injury history that’s muted his impact and he comes attached to a contract that obligates its holder to pay him $101 million over the next three seasons. Forget the hurdles in cobbling together a trade package that satisfies both parties’ needs and let’s say the Pistons had what Dallas was after and was encouraged that Porzingis had no long-term negative consequences from past injuries. If you’re going to add a contract that averages more than $30 million a year – more than 25 percent of the cap – you have to be very bullish on Porzingis and how he fits with the young players you’ve added and consider your core.

Peter (Jackson, Mich.): Do you think Troy Weaver bundles his second-round picks to move up? There aren’t really roster spots for four rookies even with the G-League contracts. If the Pistons do keep their second-round picks, some talents I like are Day’Ron Sharpe, Roko Prkacin and Isaiah Todd. Any chance one of those players catches Troy Weaver’s eye?

There’s always a chance some team picking late in the first round is looking to get off its pick to avoid the cap hold that comes with guaranteed first-round contracts. So, sure, that’s a possibility. I don’t know if packaging 37, 42 and 52 is enough to move up at least seven spots, but maybe it is. I wouldn’t bet on that being a realistic option on draft night. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the 37th pick is signed to a two-way contract; the Pistons drafted Saben Lee at 38 last November and he played on a two-way contract for all of 2020-21. The other two picks could be used to trade for future second-round picks or could be used for draft-and-stash prospects. The least likely outcome is that the Pistons have four rookies on their 2021-22 roster, either occupying the 15 standard roster spots or the two two-way slots. As for those specific players and how Weaver sees them, only he and his inner circle know for sure. That’s not the type of information they’re going to make public.

@hoodie.o_of_nyc/IG: What are your expectations for the Pistons next season?

That they’ll play as hard and be as competitive as they were in most games last season but play smarter and, by their experience gained and by the individual improvements they’ll make over the off-season, be in position to win more games – and follow through by actually winning more games – than they won in 2020-21. I don’t know how that translates into a wins/losses record or whether it will be enough to have them in the running for a playoff berth with a month to go in the season or not, but they’ll be a team opponents know will make them earn what they get.

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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