Pistons Mailbag - June 5, 2019

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Jon Leuer’s ability to contribute next season and how it affects other potential moves, Ed Stefanski’s draft record and potential bold moves ahead dot the docket for the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Gilbert (Indianapolis): The Pistons are paying Jon Leuer $9.5 million and Josh Smith $5.3 million for the 2019-20 season. I know there is speculation the Pistons will use the veteran minimum to get a backup center. Is there any expectation that Leuer will step up and get significant minutes in the rotation this year?

Langlois: The only expectation that matters is that of Ed Stefanski and Dwane Casey. If they think Leuer is capable of shouldering minutes, then it helps shape their off-season decisions. The Pistons have four big men under contract for next season: Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin, Thon Maker and Leuer. Drummond and Griffin are going to play about 75 percent of the 96 minutes available at power forward and center as long as they’re both healthy. Maker and Leuer are capable of playing either spot, though if Drummond is out or in foul trouble the Pistons probably would want another more traditional big man to bang with starting centers. The knee injury Leuer suffered last August set him back and, coming on the heels of the ankle injury that cost him all but eight games of the 2017-18 season, robbed him of any chance to play to his capability. If he gets a full summer in 2019 – and he should, barring any further injury – I think Leuer could give the Pistons a nice boost off the bench next season. He’s a better player than he’s been able to show the past two years.

Joey (@Joey_Nolan_): Should we “Josh Smith” Jon Leuer’s contract?

Langlois: Stretching Leuer’s $9.5 million salary for 2019-20 would mean the Pistons would save about $6.3 million on next year’s salary cap. (Stretching takes a one-year contract to three years for cap purposes, so it would count $3.17 million for the next three years.) There’s a lot to consider there. What do the Pistons expect to get out of Leuer next season given that he’s had two straight seasons greatly affected by leg injuries? What do they expect that $6.3 million – considerably less than the $9.25 million mid-level exception but more than the $5.7 million taxpayer MLE – could get them in free agency? Basically, how the Pistons think Leuer will perform vs. what they expect $6.3 million could get them in free agency drives that decision. Secondarily, you’d have to consider what the impact of absorbing the $3.17 million on the cap the next two off-seasons would be on roster building in those years.

Bugsick25 (@bugsick25): Does Ed Stefanski historically draft based on immediate needs or best talent available?

Langlois: When Stefanski was general manager in Philadelphia, the only conclusion to draw is that he took the best player. In 2007, Philadelphia drafted two freshmen in the first round, Thaddeus Young at 12 and Daquean Cook at 21. In 2008, the 76ers took Florida sophomore Marreese Speights at 16. In 2009 – probably Stefanski’s best pick – the 76ers got Jrue Holiday with the 17th pick after his freshman season. And in 2010, Philadelphia drafted Evan Turner with the No. 2 pick after three years at Ohio State. In his only season with the Pistons – without a first-round pick – Stefanski took Bruce Brown after two years at Miami and Khyri Thomas after three years at Creighton. I think that’s more a reflection on the type of player available in the second round more than it is a statement that Stefanski values players with longer track records of college accomplishment. The one-and-dones usually go pretty quickly for obvious reasons. In general, most NBA front offices are going to take the best player with roster needs only a consideration in the event that two or more prospects are viewed as being roughly equal in overall ability and impact potential.

Devaire (Pontiac, Mich.): Would you consider trading Blake Griffin to the Knicks for the third pick, potentially drafting R.J. Barrett at three, Bol Bol at 15 and freeing up cap space to fill out a roster?

Langlois: Setting aside for the moment that the Pistons would be reversing course on everything we’ve heard from owner Tom Gores and the front office, I don’t think the timing fits. The Knicks are keeping their powder dry for a big strike in free agency with reported goals of landing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Unless they get back-channel information that those pursuits will come up empty, they’re not about to commit the cap space they worked so hard to create ahead of the draft and the July 1 start of free agency. Would I take four cheap years of R.J. Barrett for three pricey years of Blake Griffin? You’d have to be really, really high on Barrett. I would take a hard pass.

Ian (Westland, Mich.): What are your thoughts on Otto Porter Jr.? Do you think he could be traded for expiring contracts and a first-rounder? His contract is larger than what I’d want to pay him but there is a shortage of good small forwards.

Langlois: Very good player. Very big contract. Like a lot of players who had the good fortune to be a free agent in the summer of 2016 when all teams were flush with cash, Porter got overpaid. He’s due nearly $56 million over the next two seasons (assuming he picks up his $28.5 million option for 2020-21, which seems a fairly safe assumption). This goes to the argument against maximum contracts. Giving Porter a maximum contract elevated him to the same plane as other max players with similar service time like Anthony Davis or Damian Lillard. I think it’s safe to say that in a league without an artificial limit on individual salaries but a team salary cap, Porter wouldn’t be on that level. So even though he’s a very good player, having him on the roster reduces the margin for error in roster building around him. And if you’re adding him to a roster that already includes two other maximum salaries, there is zero margin for error. Beyond that, Porter played well after being traded to Chicago and the Bulls have a big role for him, so I’m not sure what’s in that deal for Chicago. This year’s first-rounder isn’t likely enough of an enticement for a team that has young big men in the pipeline and no pressing cap issues. I don’t see much likelihood for a match there.

Zach (@ltzzz_Deckerrr): Are we looking at Carsen Edwards?

Langlois: He played three years on a pretty big stage in the Big Ten. There shouldn’t be any secrets about Edwards. So “looking at?” Yeah, I’m sure they’ve looked at Edwards plenty and feel they have a really good handle on what he brings. Whether they believe he’s worth the 15th pick is another matter. Most draft projections have Edwards going from the mid 20s or later. But in this type of draft, where there seems to be very little air between the early teens through the mid 30s or so, we could have some eyebrow-raising picks starting with the back half of the lottery. And while those picks that seem to go against the grain will likely draw criticism, we’ll see how this draft is evaluated in three years. Some of those picks that look out of left field might turn out to be better than those that hew more closely to draft projections.

Daniel (@DRJenkins08): Any chance we’re looking to trade down in the first round? Andre Drummond mentioned they wanted a tall wing but it looks like the guys with real size (K.Z. Okpala, Darius Bazley, Cameron Johnson) are projected more in the late first/early second. Does a trade with Philadelphia of 15 for 24 and 33 have legs?

Langlois: In the same vein as was discussed in my response to the previous question, the fact that there seems to be a lot of players of similar NBA value from the late lottery to the start or middle of the second round clouds the issue. For that reason, I suspect that even some of the mock drafts considered more credible than others aren’t going to hold up very well once you get past the top 10 or 12 this year. If you like a guy enough, you’d better take him where you sit rather than risking a trade down thinking he’ll be available later. I think this could turn out to be one of the most unpredictable drafts we’ve seen in a generation or so. As for trading down to get an extra pick, the Pistons have 10 players under contract for next season, 11 if they pick up Glenn Robinson III’s option. They are going to sign at least two and maybe three free agents to fill needs at point guard, center and on the wing. That doesn’t leave a lot of roster spots. Maybe they have a two-way contract in mind for their pick at 45, which wouldn’t be unreasonable, I suppose. But committing roster spots to three rookies – after having three roster spots occupied by 2018 second-round rookies (Khyri Thomas, Bruce Brown, Svi Mykhailiuk) last season – might squeeze the roster elsewhere a little too much. Bottom line, I’d be surprised if the Pistons traded down to pick up an extra pick this season. Perhaps they’d be more interested in picking up future second-round picks, given that they don’t have their own in each of the next four drafts, though they picked up a Lakers 2021 second-rounder in the Mykhailiuk trade for Reggie Bullock.

Joseph (Manila, Philippines): Looking at the pool of young players coming into the NBA each year, I wonder if Pistons management dreamed of copying what Boston did – rebuilding by trading their veterans for future picks. I’m sure several teams like Philadelphia, Denver, Brooklyn and Sacramento did the same thing and improved while spending less on payroll. If there are takers for Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin, I say the Pistons should go for it.

Langlois: There’s a reason they still talk about the Herschel Walker trade in the NFL and the Boston-Brooklyn deal for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in the NBA. It’s because those deals were historically bad. It’s clear the Pistons are intent on seeing what a team with Blake Griffin at its core can accomplish, but I think they’d listen and give long consideration to it if somebody came to them with a deal with the potential to deliver a bunch of premium lottery picks. That’s very unlikely, though. Very unlikely.

David (Detroit): The Pistons should consider Ignas Brazdeikis from Michigan. He’s a freshman and probably has as much ability as anyone past the No. 3 pick.

Langlois: That’s probably a little strong, but it goes to the general conclusion about this draft that all bets are off once you get past Zion Williamson. For what it’s worth, it appears that Brazdeikis’ stock has taken something of a hit since the NBA draft combine, though the smoke signals are always tough to read with any real clarity at this stage of the draft process.

Jacob (@Jacob_Schumacher): Matt McQuaid worked out for the Pistons this week? Should they give him a look as an undrafted free agent?

Langlois: McQuaid’s a guy who’ll surely be signed by someone for their Summer League roster. Given his four-year career at Michigan State, you can bet he’ll make the most of it. He showed enough in his senior year at Michigan State – as a competitor, as a shooter unafraid to take big shots and as a defender – to warrant a shot as a 3-and-D guy who, at minimum, will bring a competitive spirit to practices and be ready when called upon. He’s a guy that teams are going to want to stash in the G League and see what other steps he can take because the strengths are pretty clear and really valued attributes. McQuaid said he’s focused on adding strength and improving his ballhandling, which would broaden his versatility at both ends and further his appeal.

O_Jigga (@Official_TJohn): We need a scoring guard out of the draft, preferably Kevin Porter Jr., Cam Reddish or a point guard.

Langlois: There is very little likelihood that Reddish is going to be available to the Pistons with the 15th pick. Porter might be. It appears his draft status is going to be determined by how much faith a particular front office has in the likelihood that some of his behavioral red flags are merely the product of immaturity and not ingrained character flaws. There is a school of thought that Porter might wind up the best pure scorer in the draft. He could be anything from a star to a role player to out of the league in two years and not many would be surprised by any of those outcomes.

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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