Pistons Mailbag - June 19, 2019
With the NBA draft only a day away, the Pistons will get the first chance of the off-season to address their needs. That’s our launching point for this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Richard (Detroit): Do you think the Pistons will finally give up on trying to stay relevant and finally start to rebuild if this season is pretty much like the last 10-plus seasons. It seems like they are accomplishing nothing and always holding on to the wrong players for too long before realizing they should’ve given up on them.
Langlois: C’mon, really? They’ve got Blake Griffin for three more seasons. He’s coming off an All-NBA season and just turned 30. They hired Dwane Casey a year ago with the understanding that he wasn’t interested in a rebuilding job. Owner Tom Gores hired Ed Stefanski, who has said publicly that he told Gores explicitly that he wouldn’t run the front office if the marching orders were to rebuild. You really think that after a playoff season, this is the time everyone from ownership to the front office to the coaching staff will decide, yeah, let’s punt?
Adam (St. Petersburg, Fla.): We know that the Pistons need to target a point guard to replace Ish Smith (assuming they don’t re-sign him), would like a bigger wing than they currently have and a backup center. What do you think they will prioritize?
Langlois: Point guard. I think if you look at Dwane Casey and his experience in Toronto (Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet) and then read between the lines of what Ed Stefanski said on Monday (stressing the need for playmakers and shooters) when he spoke to reporters about the draft and the off-season ahead, point guard will win out over the desire to get a bigger wing. That position is so critical in today’s NBA that the Pistons ideally would come away with two point guards from free agency or the draft with one of them offering starting potential to give them flexibility a year from now when Reggie Jackson hits free agency and the other with the ability to win playing time this season in some capacity – remember, Casey would love to be able to play two point guards simultaneously as an option, which really requires three capable ones on the roster – now and be a suitable No. 2 full-time in the future. The Pistons might have enough on the wing now with augmenting from potentially the draft and a lesser free-agent signing. The development of Svi Mykhailiuk, 6-foot-8, could go a long way toward addressing their needs on the wing. That said, reality could intrude. The Pistons could well hit the ground running on June 30 but strike out on their top few options at point guard in a few hours, then have to choose whether to chase their third or fourth options at point guard or their first option on the wing. There will be more money in the market this summer than any since the wild summer of 2016 when the cap spike had everyone flush. The Pistons are going to have to be shrewd, patient and lucky to get all their needs met with the tools at their disposal.
Liam (@Liam27Whelan): Do you think the Pistons will give Isaiah Whitehead a chance at point guard next season?
Langlois: TBD. It likely depends on what they get done in the draft and free agency. I think there’s a decent chance they either draft a point guard in the second round or prioritize one in undrafted free agency because there are a lot of candidates, it seems, to be drafted from the middle of the second round on down. They’ve had a lot who might fit that description in for draft workouts over the last month, including players like Tennessee’s Jordan Bone, St. John’s Shamorie Ponds, Boston College’s Ky Bowman and Virginia Tech’s Justin Robinson. Whitehead has a great physique and a scorer’s bent. He’s had some success with the Nets during their depths. The Pistons got a good look at him with their G League affiliate in Grand Rapids over the second half of the season, so they’re comfortable knowing what they have and how he’ll compare to the other options available.
The Detroit Lions (RthaTruth): Can the Pistons find a starting shooting guard and small forward between the draft and free agency?
Langlois: Doubtful. They’d be thrilled to come away with one starter with their mid-level exception of $9.25 million. They’re not counting on the No. 15 pick to crack the rotation. Bonus if he does, but they’re not planning their summer around it. Ed Stefanski on Monday seemed to downplay even the expectation that they’d get a starter out of free agency, accentuating that the Pistons needed depth more than anything. They could roll with Luke Kennard and Bruce Brown as the starters next season at those spots. Having Brown in the starting lineup gives Reggie Jackson the option to guard off of the ball when it’s suitable for the opponent and that’s not a small consideration. Kennard makes a lot of sense with the second unit, but if Brown starts the Pistons need the best 3-point shooter they can field at the other starting spot and given their current roster makeup that’s Kennard.
Valery (@fraxior): Any possible trade that could get Wiggins away from Minnesota?
Langlois: Good player and he’d certainly fit the profile of what the Pistons are looking for in a scorer with size, playmaking ability and athleticism on the wing. Big problem: He’s going to make $122 million over the next four seasons. Nobody thinks he’s quite that good. There is no realistic way the Pistons make that trade – even if the T-wolves were only looking to dump the contract (they’d want talent in return, too, and wouldn’t have trouble getting a reasonable return if not equal value) and took Jon Leuer, Langston Galloway and Reggie Jackson. (Those are the contracts significant enough to add up without including Blake Griffin or Andre Drummond. Putting them in play is another discussion, but it’s fair to guess Minnesota has no interest in Drummond with Karl-Anthony Towns on the roster and the Pistons aren’t about to trade Griffin for Wiggins.) Having Griffin, Drummond and Wiggins on the roster for 2020-21 would mean more than $90 million would be committed to those three players. Add in the contracts for Luke Kennard, last year’s three rookies and this year’s No. 1 pick, at minimum, and you’d have precious little money for a point guard and the rest of your bench.
Ian (Westland, Mich.): There is a report that the Pistons are willing to go into the luxury tax for a franchise-altering player. Does that mean we are making a run at Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving or Kemba Walker? Please say we are targeting a big name in this free agency period.
Langlois: Sigh. For the umpteenth time, Tom Gores’ willingness to go into the luxury tax does not supersede the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement. The Pistons are over the salary cap, which means the most they can spend on a free agent – by way of the mid-level exception for teams over the cap but under the tax line – is $9.25 million. That’s it. If Kawhi Leonard wants to sign for $9.25 million, I am reasonably certain the Pistons would agree to accept his signature on a contract. The way teams often go into the luxury tax is by re-signing their own free agents – they can do so without regard for cap space – which, theoretically, the Pistons could do this season by maxing out Ish Smith. The “report” you’re citing, no doubt, comes from a question posed to Ed Stefanski on Monday, to which he replied, “Tom Gores has been fantastic. He gives us whatever we want. If we can get a guy that moves the needle to us being in that top four, let’s say, in the East, Tom will pay the tax.” Yes, all of that is true. Gores has said publicly he’s eager to pay luxury tax if it means the Pistons can acquire a player that vaults them into that strata. But it doesn’t mean you can do it by circumventing CBA parameters. If the Pistons were to trade expiring contracts – say, lumping Jon Leuer, Langston Galloway and Reggie Jackson together – and acquiring a theoretical player earning roughly the combined $35 million those three make who has multiple years left on his contract, then the Pistons almost assuredly would be paying luxury tax for the 2020-21 season (assuming Andre Drummond doesn’t opt out next summer). But they can’t sign a free agent this summer for anything more than a first-year salary of $9.25 million and that alone isn’t pushing them into the tax.
Dakoda (Hudsonville, Mich.): Every NBA team since 2005 has had a future Hall of Famer on the roster and this is usually their best player or two. But there are very few of this caliber of player in the league (LeBron, Kevin Durant, Kawhi, et al). There are several players, though, that could be the second or third option on a championship team (Kyle Lowry, Kemba Walker, et al). My question, then, is this: Since the Pistons lack a future Hall of Famer and Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond seem more capable of being the second or third option on a championship team, what exactly does Ed Stefanski mean when he says the Pistons want to “maximize Blake Griffin’s window” because “maximize” and “win titles” are two different things in my opinion.
Langlois: I’m not sure I’ve ever heard Stefanski say exactly that with regard to Blake Griffin’s window, but I won’t quibble. It’s fair to extrapolate, based on the tenor of what owner Tom Gores and Stefanski have said publicly, that the Pistons are trying to build a title contender and Griffin is firmly at the center of their plans. I will quibble with your dismissal of Griffin as a future Hall of Famer. He’s been an All-NBA player five times in his career, which matches the number achieved by the player generally regarded as the greatest in franchise history, Isiah Thomas. Two other Pistons Hall of Famers, Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman, did it three and two times, respectively. Those players all were part of championship teams, which furthered their cause, but Griffin’s resume stacks up with all but a very select few for his generation. Griffin is a likely Hall of Famer if he retired today, but if he puts together a few more seasons like 2018-19 he’ll erase any doubt. As for your broader point, I don’t see much mystery. The Pistons are trying to build a team that can challenge for titles. Two years ago no one would have thought Milwaukee would be in that discussion but here the Bucks are. Toronto just celebrated a championship that very few would have predicted even two months ago. You keep striving to acquire talented players and see where it leads. To get a player like Griffin is an enormous piece of the puzzle. Once you land him, it seems more prudent to attempt to fit pieces around him instead of trying to spin him off for lesser parts in a long-shot attempt to find someone who might someday be remotely as good as … Blake Griffin.
April (Fenton, Mich.): What would we need to add to complete a swap of our No. 15 pick to Boston for the 20th and 22nd picks? Is this something that you feel Boston would do? It seems the difference between the value at 15 and 22 aren’t that far apart.
Langlois: Boston already has the 14th pick in addition to the two later first-rounders, so that would seem to dampen its enthusiasm to move up for a player it might covet more. But who knows? Maybe there are two players Boston loves who are available after 13 picks are made and the Celtics give the Pistons a call. I don’t think the Pistons would want to add anything more to sweeten the deal. Truth is, they simply don’t have the luxury of throwing future picks into the deal given that they don’t have their own second-round pick from 2020 through ’23 (though they own the Lakers’ No. 2 pick in 2021). I suspect it’s probably a deal the Pistons would like – Ed Stefanski stressed on Monday that the Pistons need to build depth – given the general impression that, as you wrote, there doesn’t appear to be much depreciation in value from pick 15 to pick 20 or 25 this year.
Ken (Dharamsala, India): Orthopedic surgeons say the rash of Achilles and knee injuries in the NBA are because athletes are bulking up and carrying more weight and thus putting more strain on joints and tendons. I am wondering if special conditioning regimens can be developed to strengthen Achilles tendons and knees to prevent career-threatening injuries? The Pistons have been hit hard by Achilles injuries over the years. It would be nice to eliminate some of it.
Langlois: From your lips to the ears of the basketball gods, Ken. The NBA is keenly aware of the need to protect its most precious assets – the players, and especially the star players who drive TV ratings and thus revenue and, because of the workload they assume, are at most risk of catastrophic injury. It’s astonishing how training and medical staffs have been expanded and how far the science has come in treating injuries over even the last 10 years. Injury prevention is the next frontier. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban took to Twitter after Kevin Durant’s devastating Achilles injury last week to implore that resources be pumped into pushing on that front. I’ll paraphrase to clean up Twitterspeak: “The takeaway from last night’s Finals game should be that the NBA and the Players Association invest in research into diagnostic tools that allow for proactive analysis of tendons and ligaments so that we can pre-empt the devastating injures to Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, J.J. Barea, Kristaps Porzingis, Wesley Matthews Jr.” Is it possible that Durant’s calf injury didn’t precipitate his Achilles tear? I suppose it is, but it seems like an incredible coincidence that in the first half of his return from a monthlong absence with the calf injury he was felled by an injury inches away, doesn’t it? And yet we can presume that multiple MRI tests and exhaustive reviews of every conceivable data point gave no indication that there was imminent threat of a ruptured Achilles. It seems like that should have been known given the degree of scrutiny Durant’s lower right leg surely received in the preceding month that there was a structural weakness in the dominant tendon in that part of his body.