Pistons Mailbag - March 11, 2020

Christian Wood’s future and what the Pistons would do with the No. 1 pick are among the hot topics up for debate in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag

Jack Straayer (@JackStraayer): Can we sign Christian Wood long-term ASAP?

Langlois: As soon as possible would be June 30. I doubt Wood’s free agency will drag out. It’s a thin year for free agents and there aren’t more than a handful of teams with more than the mid-level exception as their best tool. The Pistons will be one of those teams with a projected $35 million in space at their disposal. To reiterate what I’ve written several times, the Pistons can’t extend Wood’s contract. Only contracts of at least three years in length are eligible for extension and Wood’s contract came with him from New Orleans when the Pistons claimed him on waivers last summer. Because the Pistons hold Wood’s early Bird rights, they can either sign him with their cap space or use their cap space on others – likely involving taking on contracts in trade in addition to signing free agents – and then exceed the cap to sign Wood via the early Bird exception. That enables the Pistons to sign Wood for 105 percent of the 2019-20 average NBA salary of $9.56 million – or a smidgen more than $10 million in first-year salary. The good news for the Pistons, as I wrote this week, is that is slightly more than the full MLE of $9.72 million that so many teams will have as their most lucrative weapon in free agency. It doesn’t mean the bidding will necessarily go that high, but it’s an advantage for the Pistons to have that as a tool. The Pistons will have approximately $35 million in cap space this summer. They are free to use as much of that as they deem necessary to sign Wood, within the parameters of what Wood can be offered given his service time, if it comes to that.

Bill Blaskey (@bill_blasky): Realistically, what type of contract should Christian Wood command this summer? Could you see some other team with cap space trying to outbid the Pistons?

Langlois: It’s anybody’s guess. A month ago, I would’ve said it’s unlikely that Wood would get a full mid-level exception offer or a contract for more than two seasons. But he’s been so good, averaging 22 points and 10 rebounds on efficient shooting since the trade deadline, that his market is gathering momentum. The real question for the Pistons is if one among the teams with cap space – Atlanta, New York, Miami, Charlotte, Phoenix, Dallas and New Orleans in addition to the Pistons can offer more than the mid-level – ups the bidding. It only takes one to push the market beyond expectations of the consensus. There are 17 games left. If Wood can maintain his current level of production over that stretch, he’ll have roughly a half-season shouldering starter’s minutes and producing at a high level. That’s going to be to his benefit. How high the bidding goes really depends on what any one team is willing to commit. And there’s no way to know that.

Joe Truck (@Joe_Truck): What position is Christian Wood going to play long-term? Hopefully, the four spot is filled next season and everyone talked big about how trading Andre Drummond opened things up for Wood and yet he’s played almost exclusively at the four since the trade.

Langlois: Wood claims it makes no difference to him, but my hunch is his future will be at the five. That’s just the way the NBA is trending. There might be a few centers whose strength will still be an issue for him – though the way he dipped a shoulder into Steven Adams last week and dunked over him was an eye-opener – but that’s an increasingly lesser concern. As nimble-footed as Wood is, there still are going to be more power forwards who’d give him trouble on the perimeter than centers who’d bully him in the paint, I suspect, plus Wood’s matchup advantage against centers at the other end would seem to be more pronounced in most cases. He’s got enough flexibility that it almost doesn’t matter for the Pistons as they shape their roster, but in the near term – next season, specifically – they’re going to have Blake Griffin and Sekou Doumbouya at power forward and there’s nobody on the current roster at center under contract for next season. I’d wager than Wood will spend 80 percent of his minutes, at least, at center next season.

Charles (Redford Twp., Mich.): The NBA is once again contemplating a change to the draft’s eligibility rules. What year would that start if implemented? That should make for a deep draft. What teams have multiple draft picks that could be trade partners that summer?

Langlois: There was growing consensus at this time last year that eligibility rules would change in time for the 2022 draft, but that’s cooled. It’s now uncertain when – or if – the NBA will rescind its requirement that American-born players be one year removed from high school to be eligible for the draft. Teams aren’t pushing the NBA to abolish the one-and-done stipulation and it’s not an issue the players association seems motivated to alter. It might still happen, but it might not be 2022 any longer.

Colton (Warren, Mich.): James Harden seems the clear favorite to win NBA MVP this season with the stats he’s put up, so how could everyone say Giannis Antetokounmpo or LeBron James will win the award? I’m confused. Please explain.

Langlois: Take a look at the NBA standings. That should dissipate your confusion. The Bucks and Lakers’ winning percentages are hovering around .800 – the Bucks over it, the Lakers a little below – and winning is a big deal. Harden’s scoring is phenomenal. In a season where there weren’t teams with runaway best records – the Bucks and Lakers are virtually assured of being No. 1 seeds with more than a month of regular-season games remaining – then Harden’s scoring possibly would be enough to separate him from the pack. I don’t think anyone should be confused or conflicted about the MVP front-runner status of Antetokounmpo and James.

Philip (Fort Myers Beach, Fla.): If the Pistons were to get the No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA draft, what do you think they will do with it? Would it be wise to trade down since the general consensus is there’s no superstar at the top?

Langlois: You’re right about the general consensus, which makes the value of trading down questionable. There are three names that seem to be in the thick of it for going No. 1: Anthony Edwards of Georgia, James Wiseman of Memphis and LaMelo Ball, who cut short his season in Australia’s professional league after sustaining a foot injury. I firmly believe you should always take the player you believe will have the greatest NBA impact regardless of position or roster construction. That said, given both the current roster construction and the premium on players who can create offense, if Ball makes a positive impression in the predraft process, he’s the one among the three who fits the bill.

Parker (@PDub358): Obviously, this is all speculation but if the Pistons get a top-three pick, whom do you think they are most likely to take? Whom do you think would best fit? Whom do you think they would take at one, two and three?

Langlois: You’re right that this is pure speculation – and to a greater degree than most years simply because of the scant resumes that most players at the top of the draft have. LaMelo Ball played in 12 games in Australia which, you can assume, were lightly scouted. All those games will be available on video and they’ll be pored over with a high degree of scrutiny, but it’s 12 games on the other side of the world in a middling league. James Wiseman played a total of 69 minutes – and only one game against a major college opponent – at Memphis. Given the diminishing value of NBA big men, teams might be reluctant to spend a high lottery pick on him. Then again, when no one else is a sure thing, a nimble 7-footer might represent the best value. Anthony Edwards has played a full season at Georgia, but the Bulldogs – even under the direction of a highly respected coach, Tom Crean – go into today’s SEC tournament with a 15-16 record. Poor team results didn’t hurt the draft status of Ben Simmons or Markelle Fultz when their freshman seasons ended without an NCAA tournament bid, but it could be a tiebreaker as teams stack up Edwards against the competition. I think the Pistons would cast a wider net than those three if they drew a top-three pick, but I’d lean to them preferring someone who shows playmaking flair – if they think there’s anyone who truly fits that bill at the top of the draft.

Debbie (@mammafouts): What’s the target date for Luke Kennard’s return?

Langlois: There isn’t a specific date targeted. Kennard told me last week it would be soon. He’s optimistic they’ve figured out a way to prevent the tendinitis in his knees from returning and they’re being cautious with his return now to ensure that’s the case.

Wyso (@detroit_wyso): Signing Donta Hall to a second 10-day contract and sending him back to the G League was a move I didn’t really understand. To your knowledge, is everything all right with him? What are the odds he’ll earn another 10-day contract?

Langlois: Zero odds he’ll get a third 10-day contract only because it’s not allowed. One team can only sign the same player to two 10-day deals in a given season. When Hall’s second 10-day deal expires this week, the Pistons could choose to sign him for the remainder of the regular season – and it’s typical, in that case, to sign him for multiple seasons, or at least for 2020-21, with a number of guarantee dates – or have him return to the G League. Hard to say which way this will go, but the Pistons like Hall. I think they’d be reluctant to send him back to Grand Rapids outright and risk having him sign with another team. These decisions often come down to how much trust there is between the organization and the player – the player’s agent, prominently – and the Pistons will have an idea of where they stand with Hall and they, in return, will be honest with regard to their intentions for Hall going forward.