Pistons Mailbag - May 22, 2019

What should the Pistons do with their first-round pick – spend it or try to use it to get Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond some more immediate help? That’s where we start with this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Matthew (Portland): I have been a Pistons fan since 1986 and go every year when they come to Portland, wearing my Ben Wallace jersey. I get a lot of flak the whole game, but I love it. Anyway, I’ve wondered about a trade for Mike Conley from Memphis. I think Reggie Jackson, Jon Leuer and the No. 15 pick might get it done. We get a better win-now point guard to complement Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. Memphis then has two picks in the top 15. Both Jackson and Leuer come off the books after next season. The Pistons will have a ton of cap space in two years.

Memphis only keeps its first-round pick next season if it’s in the top six. Otherwise it goes to Boston. But if the Grizzlies don’t send it to Boston next season, it’s an unprotected pick in 2020-21. That puts Memphis in something of a tough spot. Do the Grizzlies tank next season to do their best to ensure they keep a top-six pick – a little tougher to do with the flattened lottery odds, as last week’s first under the new system demonstrated – on the belief that the following season, with Ja Morant in his second year and another high pick on the roster they’ll be good enough that it won’t be as valuable a pick to convey to Boston? Or do they try to win enough next season so Boston gets a pick that can’t be better than seventh? Memphis is a better team next season with Conley. If management wants to keep the pick next season, the decision might be to deal Conley to weaken the roster. It also makes sense that the return for Conley will be more attractive now than a year from now. In that case, your scenario is fairly realistic – though would the Grizzlies then want Reggie Jackson around impeding playing time for Morant? Reports at the trade deadline – take them for what they’re worth – said Memphis wanted both Luke Kennard and a No. 1 pick for Conley, who has two years remaining on his contract. That’s not a realistic deal. I suspect your package – Jackson, Leuer and the 15th pick – puts the Pistons in the discussion. I also suspect Memphis wants something more than the No. 1 pick. Maybe the ask is for one of Bruce Brown, Khyri Thomas or Svi Mykhailiuk – a very cheap player under team control for two more seasons at minimum, a low-risk, potentially high-reward chip. There will be other teams – Utah and Indiana were prominently mentioned at the trade deadline and presumably still are interested – putting similar offers together. Does a deal get done before the draft or does it wait until July? If the draft pick is Memphis’ most likely return of value, then it makes sense the Grizzlies would want to get the deal done before the draft.

Nemesis Jackson (@NemesisJackson): Why don’t the Pistons trade the 15th pick for a veteran player to try to help Blake Griffin now?

See above. Also see this. You can’t just predetermine that you’re going to trade the pick for help. What if there’s no help that comes close to the value of the 15th pick available from a prospective trade partner? But, yeah, in a vacuum, a team with Blake Griffin at 30 certainly is interested in doing everything reasonable to improve now.

Mark (Okemos, Mich.): Would the Pistons ever trade Blake Griffin this summer?

There are zero signs that would indicate such. Since trading for Griffin, the Pistons hired Dwane Casey – certainly not a move made by a team looking to rebuild – and every statement from owner Tom Gores and the management team he installed a year ago, led by Ed Stefanski in the front office, reinforces the notion that the Pistons are committed to exploring what a team with Griffin at its core can become. If a year from now they haven’t shown reasonable progress – or put themselves in a better position with asset acquisition at a time their cap possibilities broaden – then perhaps they’ll revisit their direction. But there is no likelihood that Griffin gets traded this summer.

Ian (Westland, Mich.): Do you think the Pistons could be in the running for Anthony Davis if they offered a package of Andre Drummond, Luke Kennard and a first-round pick? Would that be good for us? I think it would because Anthony Davis could replace Drummond and either Svi Mykhailuk or Khyri Thomas could replace Kennard. Then with our second-rounder we could draft Ignas Brazdeikis and I think the Pistons would be in good shape.

Somebody might quibble with the compatibility of Anthony Davis and Blake Griffin, but let’s set that aside for the purposes of this discussion. The question comes down to how much are you willing to gamble that Davis with a year on his contract wouldn’t have one foot out the door before he ever pulled on a Pistons uniform. The Toronto Raptors took a calculated gamble last summer when they cobbled together a trade package for one season of Kawhi Leonard. Maybe the Raptors already feel they’ve been vindicated by advancing to the conference finals for the first time since 2016 – and only the second time in franchise history – and most observers saw it as a worthwhile risk for the Raptors. But it was less of a risk for a team coming off of a regular season that earned it the No. 1 seed in the conference than it would be for a team coming off a .500 season and a first-round playoff sweep. The Pistons would have to know some likely unknowable things about Davis in order to feel comfortable sacrificing arguably their three most valuable assets after Griffin – Drummond, Kennard and a No. 1 pick – for one season of a free agent that would immediately be subjected to a season-long inquiry about his future, a situation that would be fraught for everyone in the organization.

Darrell (Detroit): I’m still not convinced that the Pistons will be vastly improved next season given the cap situation. I propose moving Blake Griffin while his value is still high. Griffin to the Lakers for Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, the fourth pick and cap space to fill other holes seems reasonable and the future will look brighter.

If I were roster building for the Lakers, I’m not sure LeBron James and Blake Griffin would be the pairing that makes the most sense. The way Griffin played – and thrived – this season would hardly be possible playing alongside the ball-dominant James. Look, they’re great players and I’m sure they’re smart enough to figure out a way to make it work on some level. But if the Lakers are going to pool their best assets for a star to play alongside James, it’s going to be someone who wouldn’t require major adjustments on the parts of both stars to maximize the equation. And, no, as discussed above, the Pistons as an organization are not at a point where trading Blake Griffin is part of their thinking by all indications.

The Spartan Wanderer (@WandererSpartan): Will Kevin Porter Jr. or Nassir Little be on the board for the Pistons to possibly select at 15? If not, is K.Z. Okpala a serious consideration?

It seemed like Little helped himself some at the NBA draft combine in Chicago last week. If I had to guess, he’s less likely than Porter to be around at 15. I’d make it about 70-30 no on Little and maybe 55-45 no on Porter. Okpala is going to have to open some eyes in individual workouts to move up that high.

Jason (@jaxel45): After making the playoffs this year and seeing glimpses of great play, how does the organization and team build on this year toward the future? Without making a big-name splash due to cap space, how can the team add better role players without breaking the bank?

There are four ways to get better over an off-season and, as I’ve maintained, the likeliest ways for the Pistons this off-season will be internal improvement from their young players (primarily Luke Kennard, Bruce Brown, Khyri Thomas and Svi Mykhailiuk) and hitting on their free-agent signings with the mid-level exception ($9.25 million in first-year salary) and the biannual exception ($3.6 million). Trades are another avenue for improvement, though it remains to be seen how many of the limited appealing trade assets the Pistons are willing to put into a deal and what the quality of the return would be. Then there’s the draft. There’s a reasonable expectation for help coming from the 15th pick – eventually, but next season? Not so likely. Everyone will benefit from a year together and the greater familiarity the returning core players have with Dwane Casey’s system and their fit inside of it. So, yeah, with the normal caveat of good health, next season by all logical measures should reflect improvement over 2018-19.

Hokie Nation Nate (@slomo450): Odds the Pistons go all Hokies in the draft – NWA at 15 and Justin Robinson at 45?

Going to say not great because that seems like a pretty fine needle to thread. But individually I think highly of both Nikeil Alexander-Walker and Justin Robinson – Robinson came across as an extremely impressive and mature when he met with media after Monday’s workout – and you could certainly envision a worse outcome on draft night if you’re a Pistons fan.

The Inc (Rochester, Mich.): So far the players that have been reported as having workouts with the Pistons are second round and G League prospects. Are they concentrating on their new G-League team and when are they planning on looking at players for the 15th pick?

No. The Pistons have had four six-man workouts so far – six is the maximum an NBA team can host in a single workout session – and the fact that not one has been considered a first-round prospect is a reflection of the calendar. This early in the process, players projected as top-20 picks simply aren’t going to be working out for teams. They can afford to be a little more selective with how many workouts they agree to have and so don’t need to start their tour five or six weeks before the draft. When we get into June, that’s when you should see some of the more familiar names. Keep in mind, too, that it’s often tough to get players projected to go a pick or two above yours in and that’s why you often see a team wind up selecting a player in the first round who didn’t agree to come for a workout. Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight didn’t work out for the Pistons. Andre Drummond invited the front office to New York 48 hours before the draft to meet with him. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had a late and clandestine meeting with the Pistons. In both of the latter cases, the meetings were only arranged when it became clear to the agents that their clients might not go as high as they’d initially expected. Teams generally like to bring in a lot of players, often knowing it’s unlikely they’ll draft particular ones. For example, I’m sure the front office has brought in players already this season among the 24 whom they already know they wouldn’t take with the 15th pick and whom they fully expect to be drafted before their pick at 45. So then why work them out? Well, if they can get someone projected late in the first or early in the second to work out, why not? It’s possible a trade pops up that gives you a late first-rounder. It’s possible some series of events unfolds that unexpectedly makes that player available at 45. And it’s always useful to gather information on a prospect. Maybe somebody blows you away in the workout and the interview and next February, when you’re making a trade and you’ve got a little bit of leverage you ask for that impressive young player to be thrown into a package to push it across the finish line. I’d guess the Pistons will host several more six-man workout groups over the next four weeks. You’ll see the more familiar names come in early to mid-June.

Lisa (Mount Pleasant, Mich.): Do you think Ish Smith will try to stay with the Pistons? I really like Ish’s game. When the Pistons didn’t have him, it showed.

He made it clear after the season ended that he would be most receptive to a Pistons offer. But Smith simply must take the best offer available to him. He’ll be 31 when next season starts and he’s largely dependent on his speed and quickness, qualities that can diminish very quickly on the other side of 30. If he can get multiple years with someone or a higher annual average than the Pistons can reasonably afford, he’s got to look out for himself.

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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