Pistons Mailbag - June 30, 2021

With the buzz still humming from last week’s lottery that saw the Pistons win the No. 1 pick to the July 29 draft, Pistons Mailbag remains abuzz with talk about how they’ll use that pick and what else will take place over the summer.

Rick Koloian (@rckoloian): What’s the likelihood the Pistons will have enough cap space to retain Hamidou Diallo, Frank Jackson and Cory Joseph if they keep the No. 1 pick?

Langlois: The cap hold for the No. 1 pick is a few bills north of $10 million, so the Pistons are likely to be operating as a team over the cap for practical purposes this summer. Hamidou Diallo and Frank Jackson (and Saben Lee and Dennis Smith Jr., for that matter) will be restricted free agents. In the case of Diallo (and Smith), the Pistons have full Bird rights. In the case of Jackson and Lee, they have non-Bird rights and that limits the amount the Pistons can offer to 120 percent of their last season’s salary or 120 percent of their applicable minimum salary. It’s conceivable another team will make Frank Jackson an offer the Pistons simply can’t match if they are operating as a team at or over the cap. What they decide to do with Cory Joseph – pay him the $2.4 million guaranteed in his contract and waive him or pick up the full $12.6 million – will have some bearing on how they proceed from that point forward.

Thomas (New York City): Is there any sense of a Jerami Grant for James Wiseman and the No. 7 pick? Would the Warriors go for it? Would the Pistons?

Langlois: Troy Weaver didn’t come out and say he wasn’t trading Jerami Grant, but he walked as close to that line as he could get without tripping over it a few months back at the trade deadline when there were reports some teams – Boston was specifically mentioned – were willing to part with two future No. 1 picks for Grant. Getting the 2020 No. 2 pick and another mid-lottery pick in next month’s draft would be a hefty return. Keep in mind the Warriors, operating well over the salary cap, would also have to include another significant contract to make that particular trade work. If the Warriors are packaging Wiseman and No. 7, they’re going to get some offers. Weaver will do whatever furthers the cause of restoring the Pistons to greatness, as he’s said in various ways many times over his first year as general manager. But part of that is continuing to foster an atmosphere in which star players would want to immerse themselves. Trading Grant less than a year after the two came to agreement and put their high degree of trust in each other on public display could, if handled less than sensitively, cast the Pistons in an unfavorable light with the types of players they’re striving to impress. That doesn’t mean there isn’t an offer that Weaver would find irresistible – no player is truly untouchable – but I suspect to trade him now it would have to be a deal that so clearly is a win for the Pistons that another team would find it too costly for them.

Langlois: The talent level is going to take a leap, for sure. Some of that will be the injection of the No. 1 pick in a draft with star potential and a lot of it will be the customary jumps anticipated for the many young players – 11 of them 24 or younger when the season ended – the Pistons have at various stages of development. I’d hesitate to put a wins total on their possibilities because the variance could be dramatic, but they’ll be a better team than they were last season, almost surely, though still a very young team. Experience matters nearly as much as talent when it comes to winning games in the last five minutes. What I said as the 2020-21 season was winding down still stands: With a few weeks to go in the 2021-22 season, I think we’re more likely to be talking about the likelihood of the Pistons challenging for a play-in berth than we are about their odds at landing a top-four pick.

@3radicates/IG: Who do you foresee the Pistons leaning to on draft night?

Langlois: The overwhelming consensus is on Cade Cunningham, but that’s based exclusively on the fact that virtually all of the media-based mock drafts – based to varying degrees on the intelligence they glean from discussions with NBA personnel evaluators – have Cunningham as the No. 1 prospect. What Troy Weaver thinks is something that only he and his very narrow inner circle know. He said last week, after the Pistons won the lottery, that there are five realistic options that bear evaluation so I take him at his word on that. The five consensus top prospects are Cunningham, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs and Jonathan Kuminga. That’s held steady for several months, though it seems Kuminga’s tepid finish to the G League season after a soaring start has dropped him to the bottom of that grouping and perhaps elevated others, Scottie Barnes foremost, into the discussion. We’re previewing the consensus top five as we count down to the July 29 draft on Pistons.com, but that doesn’t necessarily mean those were the five players Weaver had in mind.

Jack Straayer (@straayerj): Why didn’t we put Dwane Casey in the front office and hire Chauncey Billups as coach?

Langlois: The Pistons and Casey announced a contract extension that keeps him as Pistons coach through the 2023-24 season. Troy Weaver and Casey are on the same page in how they value players and how they imagine building and developing a contending team. Billups is an iconic figure in Pistons history and he might prove the perfect fit for Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers as they pivot to a new phase, but for where the Pistons are – and with their need to develop the young talent Weaver has amassed over the past year – Casey, whose track record in player development in Toronto was sterling, is the right man for the job.

J Roze (@Det2UP): The Pistons are drafting Cade Cunningham and everything else is clickbait or a smokescreen, right?

Langlois: As I wrote in last week’s Mailbag, I think the likely outcome is that the Pistons retain the No. 1 pick and then use it to take Cunningham. But it’s not a slam dunk. Cunningham is the consensus favorite as the top player in the class, but most of those who proclaim him as such acknowledge that the gap between Cunningham and the field isn’t enormous. It’s not like 2012 with Anthony Davis or 2003 with LeBron James. It’s probably not even quite like 2019 with Zion Williamson, when it was widely assumed the lottery winner would take him but there was an acknowledgment that Ja Morant might draw consideration from a team or two among the possibilities to get the No. 1 pick. Even at that, New Orleans never publicly acknowledged it was taking Williamson No. 1 until Adam Silver stepped to the podium on draft night and announced the pick. You can bet David Griffin, head of basketball operations for the Pelicans, used the month-plus between lottery and draft to both learn everything he could about Williamson and hear out his NBA peers to see what they might be willing to offer to take the pick off his hands. Same thing going on here.

Peter (Jackson, Mich.): Do you have any concerns about Cade Cunningham’s turnover ratio, his low shooting percentage in the mid-range and his lack of explosiveness? The Pistons already have two players, Hayes and Josh Jackson, with turnover issues. Hayes struggled from mid-range and both he and Jackson have issues with shooting percentages. The last player we drafted who was an athlete but lacked explosiveness was Stanley Johnson. I’m not sold on Cade. Convince me.

Langlois: I think all of those things are worth examining but none of them are remotely close to disqualifying. Cunningham is going to have infinitely more room to operate in the NBA than he had in the Big 12. Cunningham and Johnson’s playing styles are so different that it renders moot any fears about a lack of explosiveness having a similar effect on Cunningham’s ability to have an impact. (One player to whom Cunningham is often compared is Luke Doncic, who is anything but explosive.) Dwane Casey’s offense is consistently one of the best in the NBA at producing the most desirable shots. Cunningham’s size, playmaking chops and shooting range operating within the scope of that offense – and projecting improved 3-point shooting around him as the talented young teammates Cunningham would have if he’s the pick at No. 1 further their development – should make for a pretty ideal framework to draw out his best.

Baby Shaq Baby Dunks (@JonathonO10): Do you expect the Pistons to go after any free agents? I would think they let the young guys play/grow this year and then go after someone next off-season. Thoughts?

Langlois: A lot of it depends on what they decide to do about Cory Joseph. Retain him and the Pistons would be shopping with the mid-level and biannual exceptions as their prime recruiting tools. I think point guard is the position likely to be the focus of free agency. Center (Mason Plumlee, Isaiah Stewart, Jahlil Okafor), forward (Jerami Grant, Saddiq Bey, Sekou Doumbouya) and wing (Hamidou Diallo, Josh Jackson, Frank Jackson, Deividas Sirvydis) are pretty adequately stocked already. Killian Hayes and Saben Lee are the point guards if Joseph isn’t retained unless the Pistons decide to extend a qualifying offer to Dennis Smith Jr. But, yeah, the 2022 off-season is the one where the Pistons are expected to have as much or more cap space than anyone else.

Marcos Gurgel (@eme_ge_): Assuming the Pistons draft Cade Cunningham, what do you think is the most likely scenario for the other guards on the roster?

Langlois: I’m not sure much changes. Hamidou Diallo and Frank Jackson are restricted free agents so I suppose the presence of Cunningham could affect the decision-making in regard to retaining both of them. But they’re all different enough that there’s no real duplication issues. Cunningham is such a versatile player that he fits with any roster, so other than the fact his presence takes up one spot I don’t see any significant ripple effects up and down the roster should he be the pick at No. 1.

Levi and Alim time (@b_the_myth): Wouldn’t you agree that Jerami Grant will become even more dangerous “if” Cade Cunningham is the pick? I feel Grant won’t have to iso and feel he has to be our savior offensively. I see better ball movement with hopefully Cade and Grant in the mix together. Your thoughts?

Langlois: If Cade Cunningham is the pick and he is what the consensus of scouting reports sees him to be, then not only Grant but everyone in the lineup with him becomes a more effective player in the same way all dynamic playmakers benefit their teammates. Defenses tilted toward Grant increasingly after the first few weeks of the 2020-21 season showed how effectively he had morphed into his team’s primary scoring option, so in that sense he should stand to benefit most by having another playmaker that commands attention.

Hitman Danny (@HitmanDanny3): Will the Pistons trade or keep Jerami Grant and what do you think we could get for him?

Langlois: I fully expect to see Grant in the opening night lineup when the 2021-22 season tips off. As I wrote in my response to Thomas’ question above, there is always a tipping point where a trade offer is too good to pass up – but when you consider the trust that Weaver and Grant publicly expressed in each other, that tipping point is probably far enough along the continuum as to make it practically impossible for an interested team to tempt Weaver into a deal on Grant at this point.

Eric Terwilliger (@erictwigs): Who are late first-round prospects it might make sense to trade back for? Also, would Alperen Sengun be a good fit?

Langlois: Good question. Don’t have a good answer for you. Based on Troy Weaver’s personnel moves so far, he likes athleticism, length, high motors and defensive aptitude in players. So start with that. I don’t know if this is a draft where he’ll feel compelled to combine assets to pick up another first-round pick, though. The Pistons have a deficit of future second-round picks and a crunch for roster spots in 2021-22. It’s logical to expect them to try moving one or more of the three second-round picks they hold in the July draft (picks 37, 42 and 52) for future second-rounders. That said, if there’s a player still available in the late 20s that Weaver has graded in his top 12 or 15 players and a trade partner willing to get out of the first round – perhaps to avoid the cap hold for a team looking to create all the space it can for free agency – then it’s possible something comes together. I think it’s more likely Sengun goes in the top 10 than he makes it to the late first. An 18-year-old who was MVP of the very tough Turkish league would seem to have a very bright future.

Stefon (Albion, Mich.): Any chance the Pistons draft Isaiah Livers in the second round if he falls that far?

Langlois: Sure, though – again – the fact the Pistons aren’t going to have many roster openings would argue against them using their pick at 52 (the last of their three picks and about the spot where Livers is most likely looking at being picked) for someone who would be on the roster next season. If they don’t trade away those picks for future seconds, another likely outcome is drafting European players who’ll stay in their international domestic leagues for another season. I think Livers has an NBA future given his 3-point shot and size, but I don’t know that the fit is there with the Pistons given their current roster crunch.

@harisahmad1/IG: What would have to happen in Detroit for an All-Star weekend to be hosted here?

Langlois: It starts with ownership making its desire to host known. The Palace never hosted an All-Star game in large measure because ownership/management at the time was hesitant to risk alienating season ticketholders who were unlikely to get the chance to obtain All-Star game tickets because such a large percentage of those tickets are dedicated to NBA corporate partners to the exclusion of the local audience. Pistons owner Tom Gores talked in general terms about his desire to bring the All-Star game to Detroit when the Pistons relocated to Little Caesars Arena, so I would expect the Pistons to be in the mix to contend for a game over the next five years or so.