Pistons Mailbag - June 9, 2021
With the NBA draft lottery less than two weeks ago, this week’s Pistons Mailbag gets rolling with chatter about the possibilities and fits of some of the prospects expected to go at the top of the draft.
David (Roseville, Mich.): If the Pistons draft Evan Mobley and he proves to be a starter sometime during the year and Isaiah Stewart continues his progression, do you think that we could see a starting unit of Mobley at center, Stewart at power forward, Jerami Grant at small forward, Saddiq Bey at the two and Killian Hayes at the point? Seems intriguing.
Langlois: If Mobley hits his mark, he’s going to allow whoever lands him a lot of leeway on the defensive end to put together lineups that provide advantages at the offensive end. That particular grouping would give the Pistons a lot of size and potentially a lot of switchability defensively. Grant and Bey give them 3-point shooting, Hayes started to show he can be an effective perimeter shooter off the catch late in the season and Stewart displayed good shooting touch as his rookie season unfolded. Mobley has perimeter skills and a nice stroke, though he only took 40 shots – a little more than one a game – from three in his season at Southern Cal. I don’t know how inclined Dwane Casey would be to play that lineup. He prefers multiple ballhandlers and playmakers. He might see it as playing a bunch of guys one position out of their comfort zones and strong suits.
@therealmclean506/IG: Do the Pistons draft on need or just take the best available player?
Langlois: I would submit that those two things are one and the same at this point for the Pistons. Their need is to accumulate the most talent possible and then sort things out. Beyond that, I don’t see how any of the top four projected picks – Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, Jalen Green and Jalen Suggs – would present any sort of conundrum for them from a roster standpoint. Mobley and Isaiah Stewart are both big men but pretty obviously dissimilar and yet offer versatility across many aspects. Suggs and Killian Hayes are both point guards yet have the size and potential to play either backcourt spot as long as their 3-point shooting rises to the task – and I’d bet on that happening for both players. Cunningham’s appeal is based largely on his playmaking/scoring/size package that would fit on any team, any time. And Green’s potential as an elite wing scorer/playmaker is also something that is universally craved and surely would offer no duplicity with the current roster setup. So whoever Troy Weaver believes is destined for the best career, go for it. If there’s a tiebreaker involved, it would perhaps be whoever he thinks can have the greatest impact in years two, three and four.
If the Pistons pick falls to 6, who would they be looking at? Or would there be options to trade?
— Wayne-san (@Wayne_K_Smith) June 8, 2021
Langlois: There’s been a pretty clear consensus top five of Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, Jalen Green, Jalen Suggs and Jonathan Kuminga and within that quintet it seems like Cunningham is No. 1 to almost all – I’ve seen it argued that Mobley should be No. 1 occasionally – and then it’s flip a coin between Mobley, Green and Suggs and then Kuminga has settled in as the consensus No. 5. After that, opinions are all over the map on the next 10 to 15 players or so. And because of that, I wouldn’t expect much clamoring to trade up to No. 6. That said, it only takes one team/general manager who sees it differently and values one player above the pack after the top five. Maybe Troy Weaver is that guy. And he might have a clear idea in mind on July 29 if the Pistons wind up picking sixth.
@nyquan_king/IG: How do you feel about Blake Griffin dunking now?
Langlois: Good for him. I thought he carried himself with nothing but dignity and professionalism with the Pistons. It had to be disorienting for him to be traded a mere few months after signing an extension that his organization claimed made him a “Clipper for life” but Griffin dived into everything about being a Piston and a resident of Detroit and Michigan head first. He carried the 2018-19 team to the playoffs and wound up tearing knee cartilage in the process. It was a long road back for him, including a second surgery, and he gave back an unusually large sum in order to serve the interests of himself and the Pistons in his buyout. So good for him all around. Wish him nothing but the best. If the Pistons are going to establish a reputation of doing right by their players – and they’ve gone a long way down that path under Tom Gores, their sparkling Pistons Performance Center standing as one shining example – it would serve them ill by expressing a desire for any other outcome.
Troy Weaver Stan Account (@thetroyreaper): Do you see the Pistons guaranteeing Cory Joseph’s contract after he played some of the best basketball of his career down the stretch?
Langlois: The answer seemed an obvious “no” when the trade was made at the March deadline to send out Delon Wright and the extra year he had on his deal for Cory Joseph, who stands to make $12.6 million to Wright’s $8.5 million next season if the Pistons were to pick up the fully guaranteed deal as opposed to paying the reported $2.4 million partial guarantee and waiving him. But Joseph fit so well, was such a strong leader and mentor to all the young players and particularly Killian Hayes and Saben Lee as point guards and there is such a mutual respect between him and Dwane Casey that … maybe? The Pistons value Joseph, for sure, and it will come down to what they learn or suspect about how the extra cap space otherwise could be used – what it would yield – in the days before they must decide on Joseph’s deal. One thing to consider: Contracts in Joseph’s range are often key to swinging trades. The Pistons might decide to bring Joseph back for everything he means to a young roster and then see what possibilities his expiring contract might create at the 2022 trade deadline. The Pistons simply don’t have another contract in that range and that, along with Joseph’s value to the Pistons at a crucial position and as a leader, might be incentive enough to keep him.
Joaquin (Jersey City, N.J.): Dennis Schroder to the Detroit Pistons? Does it make sense for the Pistons to sign him?
Langlois: Schroder reportedly turned down an extension from the Lakers for $20 million a year and the Pistons aren’t going to have that much to offer, in all likelihood, given the cap hold that a high lottery pick – if they’re fortunate enough to land in the top four – will have. I would expect the Pistons to bring in some veteran point guard this summer to complement the Killian Hayes-Saben Lee tandem – and I wouldn’t rule out that veteran being Cory Joseph, one way or another – but they won’t be shopping in a high-end aisle.
Darrell (Detroit): Of the Pistons’ 20 wins, 10 came against playoff teams. If the Pistons improve next season, which most people think they will, then they’ll start beating the teams they should beat and end up in the playoffs. Is it possible the “rebuild” only took one season?
Langlois: Troy Weaver says the traditional way of viewing rebuilding efforts – resign yourself to losing prolifically for two or three years, then see where you are – is outmoded. He views it as one-year rebuilding jobs every season with the caveat that you protect your future. The Pistons are not a finished product by any means, so in that sense, no, the rebuilding surely isn’t complete. But they put a lot of intriguing young players in the pipeline in the past seven months; there won’t be nearly that much personnel activity over the next four months leading to training camp. As for the playoffs next season, I expect improvement from the Pistons – but it’s tough to figure out which of the eight current playoff teams they’re going to displace. Those teams aren’t planning on being worse next season, either.
Aaron (Hamtramck, Mich.): Should the Pistons clear more cap space to add three superstars in 2022 NBA free agency?
Langlois: That sounds like an ambitious plan. Will there even be three superstars who hit free agency in 2022? You can bet that anyone who might then be viewed at that level from the 2018 draft class – the Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Jaren Jackson Jr., Deandre Ayton class – will sign extensions before hitting restricted free agency. There are others who might exercise opt-out clauses to become unrestricted free agents, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. The Pistons will have significant cap space in 2022 – potentially as much or more than any NBA team – and they will be hopeful of landing an impact player or two. But a superstar? Let alone three of them? That’s a heavy lift. The first step toward making themselves a viable contender for All-Star-caliber free agents is to make tangible progress on the court next season. If last year’s rookies emerge further and prove themselves as ascendant players, the outlook for attracting desirable free agents improves. There’s also the possibility that the Pistons use their cap space to acquire players via trade. In fact, that might be every bit or more likely than a straight free-agent acquisition of a star player.
Athena (Dearborn, Mich.): How is the hiring of John Beilein going to help the Detroit Pistons?
Langlois: Beilein was widely admired by NBA personnel pros for two things over his college tenure – his offensive vision and his player development chops. They knew if they drafted or acquired a Michigan player, he’d come with a strong fundamental toolkit and deep understanding of how best to function at the offensive end. Beilein was known for devising drills that would sharpen a specific skill set as it applies to game action. As I wrote last week, Beilein is expected to work most closely with the half-dozen Pistons development coaches and having him to tie their efforts together will ensure a consistency of messaging for the many young players who’ll be working with those development coaches over the off-season. The Pistons are banking on individual improvement from the 11 players 24 or younger who finished the season on their roster as the biggest component of teamwide improvement for 2021-22. That’s why they made the significant investment necessary to bring in a coach with Beilein’s impeccable credentials as a senior advisor to their coaching and development staffs. It was an inspired choice all the way around.
Paul (Phoenix): I saw an article recently on this site where the Pistons – Dwane Casey – want Isaiah Stewart to shoot more 3-point shots. I noticed at the end of the season he was shooting more threes to the detriment of his offensive rebounding, steals and blocked shots. This makes no sense. It weakens the defense of the team. This is the one problem I have with Casey’s coaching – he tends to have a forced 3-point shooting regardless of what a player’s strength is. Stewart is an under-the-basket player who can create havoc. Both Chuck Daly (two-time champion) and Larry Brown (one championship) put players in a position of their strengths. As for the draft, I trust Troy Weaver – he has done nothing to say otherwise.
Langlois: I heard Casey speak often about Stewart and will take issue with your interpretation. Casey said early on that he thought Stewart had the ability to eventually develop into a reliable 3-point shooter when he was asked about it, but he often would temper expectations by emphasizing that it wasn’t something that could be rushed and also would frequently steer questioners back to the meat-and-potatoes aspects of Stewart’s value – his motor and the impact of his physical nature on opponents. It was reminiscent of how he would speak about Bruce Brown in his first two seasons here, when he said that Brown had the potential to develop into a point guard and capable 3-point shooter but he didn’t want Brown to “forget about his day job” as a premier perimeter defender. Stewart knows who he is and takes immense pride in his ability as a defender, rebounder, physical force and elite hustle player. But 3-point shooting is such an integral part of today’s game that any player who can contribute in that aspect has a bigger impact on winning than one who doesn’t represent a legitimate threat.
@trappmuntana/IG: When was the last time the Pistons drafted a player who played college basketball in Michigan?
Langlois: Mateen Cleaves was their first-round pick, No. 14 overall, in 2000 after leading Michigan State to the NCAA championship. He was traded after his rookie season to Sacramento for Jon Barry and a first-round pick that became Carlos Delfino. Cleaves played only 89 more games over the next five seasons before being out of the NBA altogether after the 2005-06 season. There was a clamoring among a segment of the fan base for them to draft Trey Burke with the eighth pick in 2013 when they chose Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Burke went ninth to Minnesota. While Burke has had a better NBA career than Cleaves, Caldwell-Pope was clearly the right choice in retrospect – though an even better pick would’ve been C.J. McCollum (10th) and the absolute best pick would’ve been Giannis Antetokounmpo (15th). I’m reminded of a story that ex-Pistons assistant and interim head coach Richie Adubato told me a long time ago at a time the Pistons had a ton of players who’d played college or high school basketball in Michigan – Phil Hubbard (Michigan), Eric Money (Detroit Kettering High), Greg Kelser (Detroit Henry Ford High/Michigan State), Terry Tyler (Detroit Northwestern High/University of Detroit), John Long (Romulus High/U of D) and Terry Duerod (Highland Park High, U of D) among them. “We’d have a hell of team,” he said to no one in particular, looking out at the lineup one night, “if we were playing in the Big Ten.”