Pistons Mailbag - June 24, 2020
Lots of Troy Weaver chatter and what the new general manager will mean for the off-season and the future direction of the franchise in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Peter (Jackson, Mich.): The Pistons made a great hire in Troy Weaver, who has always demonstrated a keen eye for talent. Will he be given final authority over draft selections and trades so that the Pistons do not make any more bonehead moves like drafting Kevin Porter Jr. and foolishly trading him to Cleveland?
Langlois: Logic would say that Weaver – who has passed on other opportunities to become the lead decision-maker in NBA front offices to remain Sam Presti’s No. 2 in Oklahoma City – wouldn’t leave OKC unless there was an understanding that he’d have the latitude to shape basketball operations and the roster as he saw fit. Ownership, of course, always sets the course, so practically nobody in the NBA below ownership level has complete autonomy. But it seems unlikely Weaver was leaving OKC, where he was comfortable and respected and had significant input, for a lateral move. As for the Porter trade, it’s a little more complex than that and the book is a long way from closed. The Pistons would have likely pushed themselves into tax territory by keeping the 30th pick and the guaranteed salary of $1.6 million, limiting their ability to make other moves. They picked up four second-round picks, using two of them to trade up for Deividas Sirvydis. Let’s see what Sirvydis contributes in a few years – and what Porter becomes – before categorizing the trade as foolish.
Lachlan Everett (@LachieEverett): Do you think the draft is most important for the Pistons? Or free agency and player development as with Brooklyn in 2016-19?
Langlois: All of the above. In order to successfully navigate the transition the Pistons are attempting, you can’t afford missteps in any area – the draft, free agency, player development or trades. You won’t win every decision – nobody does – but you have to exhibit a strong track record in every phase to move the organization forward and keep it moving that way. Unless you’re in a glamour market, it’s probably safe to assume that the draft is a necessary first step to build a foundation that makes your franchise an attractive place for desirable free agents. (And being in a glamour market assures nothing, the Knicks a shining example.) But don’t underestimate the value of shrewd trades, especially for a franchise that will take more cap room into the off-season than all but two other NBA franchises. The Pistons made a big leap from 2015 to ’16 thanks in large part to using their cap space – and helping others create space – to add players like Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris and Tobias Harris without parting with a No. 1 pick or other critical assets. Troy Weaver comes in as general manager with a reputation for having a keen eye for talent. The natural reaction is that it will benefit the Pistons in the draft, but it also will factor into their trade and free agency decisions. Assessing players isn’t something that stops once they get to the NBA – or it shouldn’t be, at least. Good executives see players on other teams who for whatever reason aren’t performing to their potential, often for lack of opportunity or being asked to fill roles for which they are ill-suited. Weaver certainly brings that catalog of player evaluation with him and will apply it to his considerations of trade proposals and free-agent assessments.
Steve (Sterling Heights, Mich.): Am I crazy for thinking Brandon Knight can help this team moving forward? What are the chances of him re-signing with the Pistons? Can he still be a starting point guard in the NBA? I thought he was playing well before the season ended.
Langlois: Knight gave the Pistons solid minutes at a time their backcourt was in dire need of the stability he offered around injuries to Derrick Rose and Bruce Brown. There’s not a more diligent player in the NBA. He’s a fit for a franchise in any stage of development because of his professionalism. Whatever a team needs Knight to be, he can be that guy. Dwane Casey expressed his appreciation for Knight several times in his short time with the team between the February trade and the March 11 suspension of the season. Whether he’s back with the Pistons will really depend on what they’re able to do with their other moves. If after the draft and the first wave of free agency the Pistons need someone with Knight’s skill set – someone who can play either guard spot, comfortable in any role from pinch-hit starter to the fringe of the rotation – then, sure, he’d be in consideration. Knight isn’t seen as a full-time point guard, though, and Casey alluded to the fact he’s probably better off of the ball. I would expect the Pistons to prioritize point guard this off-season. Knight might find a home in free agency before the Pistons can adequately fill their other needs and determine if there’s a spot for Knight. But the door isn’t closed on his return.
BLake (@B_Lake007): Who is your choice for the best point guard for the Pistons in the upcoming draft?
Langlois: I am in no way qualified to make that call based on the fact that the majority of the point guards at the top (LaMelo Ball, Killian Hayes, R.J. Hampton among them) of this draft have only been seen in video clips by most. The Pistons had scouts in Europe and Australia/New Zealand to put eyeballs on Hayes, Ball and Hampton before injuries or the COVID-19 pandemic rendered such things moot. So they’ll have an infinitely greater amount of intelligence upon which to base their decisions. The point guard I’ve seen most of is Iowa State sophomore Tyrese Halliburton. For what it’s worth, I like him a great deal – smart player, looks like he’ll be the kind of versatile player who can fill different roles and facilitates winning. What I’ve seen of Hayes is intriguing. Good size and the vision jumps out. Ball is reputed to have the highest ceiling. I wouldn’t argue, though, again, it’s hard to put much stock into video clips. Another guy I’ve seen some of and like is Alabama sophomore Kira Lewis. I saw Cole Anthony have about 10 brilliant minutes in one game in which he looked every bit a top-five pick, then didn’t see much from him in other sporadic viewings. I’m sure as the draft nears and I focus more on likely lottery prospects, I’ll develop more fully formed opinions. At this point, I have less of a feel for this draft than in past years.
Lee Caver (@wataman66): Why is everyone on the LaMelo train for him to be picked? He plays flashy and rogue at times. My thing is he doesn’t play defense. It’s all about the show for him. I want more than just a show, I want passion, intensity, defense and competitiveness – not a one-trick pony.
Langlois: The variance in outcomes for LaMelo Ball is probably greater than for almost any other top prospect in this draft, it appears. Could be an All-Star, could bust. His brother, Lonzo, has become a pretty good player, though not No. 2-pick good, and LaMelo is billed as having more creativity of movement and a higher ceiling. His size and playmaking potential – the flash you reference – are a rare combination. That gives him a chance to be a special player. And scouts get excited when they come across that type of talent. If you believe in your organization’s fitness for player development and don’t get any bad vibes from the player as far as the essentials – desire to win and become the best he can be – then the fact his defense comes and goes isn’t going to scare you away. One thing new GM Troy Weaver said that struck me the other day was that when you’re drafting as high as the Pistons will be, you draft the person and not the player. The basketball, he said, will take care of itself if you get the person right. If Weaver and his team are convinced of Ball’s competitive fiber, then it will be an easy call to draft him if the opportunity presents itself. If not – if their assessment of him fits yours – they’ll surely pass.
Karthik Kumar (@chi11imac): If Blake Griffin’s health is good and Derrick Rose can play 28 minutes, would it make sense to find one or two solid pieces at small forward and center and we could be back in the playoffs? Unless our younger players either aren’t ready or are not the right pieces yet.
Langlois: New general manager Troy Weaver made it pretty clear he wasn’t coming in to engineer a roster designed to lose as many games as possible and better the lottery odds for the 2021 draft. He dismissed the notion of a two- to three-year rebuild, saying that was a relic of the past and instead saying every year is a rebuilding opportunity. He wants to put a competitive team on the floor – what Tom Gores has stipulated since buying the Pistons in 2011 and what Dwane Casey desires to coach. There are a lot of ifs – Griffin and Rose staying healthy, Luke Kennard picking up where he left off with no ill effects from his double bout of knee tendinitis, a good draft, successful forays into free agency – but, yeah, the Pistons can be competitive next season. A healthy Griffin pretty much assures that much and a healthy Griffin and Rose give the Pistons a shot to win by themselves most nights. You can pretty much bet right now that the Pistons won’t go into next season expecting a win total in the 20s.
Ken (Dharamsala, India): I don’t want to go full Pollyanna here, but this rebuild could get interesting fast. Big “ifs” follow: Griffin and Wood play well together, possibly swapping center/power forward roles depending on nightly matchup; Doumbouya and Maker back up for now; this year’s draft pick plays point for some minutes, yielding to Rose at key moments and the fourth quarter; Svi, Kennard, Brown and Snell routinely hold down the perimeter spots with Doumbouya also playing some small forward; add a free agent and a pretty good draft pick in 2021. It’s going to be very interesting to see how this plays out.
Langlois: The addition of Troy Weaver, from an aggressive and creative front office in Oklahoma City, adds to the intrigue. Again, Weaver doesn’t sound like a guy coming in to oversee a 20-win roster that gives the Pistons the best chance for a top-four pick for multiple seasons. It’s going to be a fascinating next few off-seasons with the Pistons armed with cap space and a high lottery pick for 2020 and still with all of their future first-rounders to spend. They’re also fully intent on putting a competitive team on the court – anchored by Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose – for the immediate future. Weaver has enough resources on hand, in other words, that a reasonable number of good moves can dramatically alter the outlook of the franchise.
Bill Blasky (@bill_blasky): Many Pistons Twitter regulars have jumped to the conclusion that Troy Weaver didn’t seem interested in Christian Wood by the way he answered questions about him. Did you get that impression? I think Wood is exactly the type of dynamic athlete this team needs.
Langlois: He answered the way he did because – and only because – Wood is an unrestricted free agent. Ed Stefanski has answered questions about Wood in the exact same way. They’re being mindful of NBA stipulations about the discussion of free agents to avoid any possibility of penalty. Asked directly about Wood, Weaver said, “Christian will be a free agent. I don’t want to comment on him at the moment.” Prior to that, though, when asked about the roster in general, Weaver – after mentioning Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose – talked about the young players on the roster and mentioned Sekou Doumbouya, Luke Kennard, Bruce Brown, Svi Mykhailiuk and Wood. “We feel like we have a good mixture of young guys with those two staples,” he concluded. So, no, there was nothing about his press conference that led me to think the Pistons won’t do all within reason to retain Wood in free agency.
Bob Najduk (@BobNajduk): If Troy Weaver uses his cap space to acquire draft assets, what teams/players could be candidates for a trade?
Langlois: I don’t know that Weaver has any clear sense of that yet, never mind outsiders. But I would bet that over the course of the next three months, one of the many projects on Weaver’s plate will be running various projections based on a range of potential scenarios with regard to where the salary cap will be set. Teams generally know within a narrow band – maybe $1 million – where the cap will land, but with the enormous uncertainty created by the suspension of the NBA season and the resumption without fans it’s anyone’s guess what the cap will be. So agile front offices will have a blueprint for how to proceed with X amount of cap space and another for X-minus-Y and another for X-minus-Z. They’ll also try to guess how their 29 competitors around the league will respond to the same set of parameters. And in that there will be opportunities – once the cap is set – to be proactive with the franchises that are determined to be most in need of creating additional cap space to accomplish perceived objectives. In more concrete terms, if Weaver suspects Team A needs to create X amount of cap space, he’ll be looking for moves to help Team A meet its objectives – while extracting a healthy price in return for his cooperation. Oklahoma City was an active front office and Weaver was in a position of great responsibility for 12 years. It’s fair to assume that Weaver has comfortable working relationships with most, if not all, NBA front offices. He brings to Detroit with him encyclopedic knowledge of how other front offices operate and a clear idea of the ones with which he’s most likely to be able to strike deals.