A look at the Pistons front-office picture, Christian Wood’s status and chatter about Luke Kennard’s future are among the items on the menu for this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Adam (St. Petersburg, Fla.): Since it was an Adrian Wojnarowski report, I assume it’s true that the Pistons are looking to hire a new general manager. Any insight as to why this is happening now?
Langlois: The Pistons haven’t confirmed the report, but you’re right that Wojnarowski’s track record is admirable. When Pistons owner Tom Gores named Stefanski his senior adviser in May 2018, Stefanski said at the time he was charged with hiring a coach and general manager. Stefanski prioritized hiring a coach, he said, because he wanted to get a staff in place early to maximize player development over the off-season. It was also reported at the time that Stefanski had signed a three-year contract and that the Pistons would be seeking to identify candidates who could learn under Stefanski and grow into more prominent leadership roles. With Gores and Stefanski leading the team that made the organizational decision in February to rebuild, it would seem a fitting time to accelerate that process with Stefanski still on board to oversee basketball operations. The fact the NBA slammed on the brakes and suspended its season in March has given teams a certain luxury of time they otherwise never get and that also makes it an opportune time to consider structural changes of such a magnitude. There has been time for vetting like never before during this down time. The story might be emerging now, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to discover that the process was begun with background intelligence gathering of candidates quite some time ago. And one more reason why it would make sense for the Pistons to be augmenting their basketball operations staff at this time: cap space. They haven’t had any since Stefanski arrived – and wouldn’t have had any again if not for the decisions made over the winter to rebuild and, as the first step in that process, to trade Andre Drummond and remove his $29 million salary from the 2020-21 cap sheet. While nothing has yet been determined yet regarding the league calendar, it’s a logical assumption that free agency and the draft are going to be significantly delayed from their standard late June-early July time frame. The Pistons figure to have lots of time to prepare for the major decisions awaiting them with free agency and a high lottery pick. Bringing another dynamic thinker into the mix can help the Pistons make the best-informed decisions and bringing them in ahead of those decisions enables Stefanski to guide a new leader through critical processes.
That Guy (@DtownDgen): Is Christian Wood OK? Have any other Pistons or staff been infected?
Langlois: Two cases involving the Pistons became public knowledge. Christian Wood, of course, was reported to have tested positive on March 14, three days after the suspension of the NBA season and one week after the Pistons played Utah and Rudy Gobert, whose positive test on March 11 was the impetus for commissioner Adam Silver to hit the brakes. By all accounts, Wood – who was experiencing some flu-like symptoms, prompting him to seek testing for COVID-19 – recovered fully and quickly. It was also reported that Pistons college scout Maury Hanks, based in Knoxville, Tenn., was hospitalized and on a ventilator in March. After several days of fear and uncertainty for his future, Hanks also recovered. No other members of the Pistons organization is known to have been infected.
Dan Symons (@danielsymons1): Do you think this corona break has affected the Pistons in a positive or negative way?
Langlois: While it’s true that the suspension of the season meant all 30 teams had the plug pulled at the same instant, not everybody will feel the same impact. That’s true even for players on the same team. The Pistons had fallen out of the playoff chase by the time things came to a halt on March 11, so their final 34 days and 16 games were more about laying a groundwork for the off-season and the future beyond that. Luke Kennard was due back and Sekou Doumbouya was certain to get another 250 minutes or so of NBA playing time and a few thousand more shots up in sessions administered by Pistons player development coaches. It would have given the Pistons another 16 games to gauge Christian Wood’s ability to maintain productivity over longer stretches while playing 30 minutes a night instead of the 20 he’d averaged for the first half of the season. It would have given them opportunities to give two-way players Louis King and Jordan Bone exposure in situations they hadn’t yet experienced. Svi Mykhailiuk had just put together an impressive run of six games in which he’d made strides as an all-around player and would have had 16 more games to build off of that and set himself up for a broader role in his third NBA season. The Pistons had recently claimed Jordan McRae on waivers and Dwane Casey would have had another month to get a feel for how he might fit into their future and whether the front office should push to retain him. Donta Hall’s second 10-day contract was about to run out and then the Pistons might have signed him for the rest of the season and gotten 16 more games to determine whether he was worthy of a roster spot for 2020-21. From the front office side, there were going to be opportunities to scout the college players who are lottery candidates and take scouting trips to Europe for the completion of their league seasons to look at the top draft prospects playing there. So how the suspension of the season affects the Pistons is to be determined. The players and organizations that are best able to maximize their unexpected down time will turn the time off to their advantage.
Kels #MagicNumber2 (@kels_lfc4three): What’s it going to take to keep Luke Kennard on the roster?
Langlois: I’d suggest the better question would be, “What’s it going to take for the Pistons to consider trading Luke Kennard?” Keeping Kennard is the easy call. He’s 23 and was on his way to a breakout season when tendinitis in both knees struck last December. Kennard was set to make his return on March 14 – the next game on the Pistons schedule – according to Dwane Casey when the season was suspended after their loss at Philadelphia on March 11. As I wrote in early March when Kennard, nearing his return, accompanied the team on a Western road trip, his successful reintegration was as important as anything else for the Pistons over the final quarter of the season. Kennard is heading into the final season of his rookie deal and when a team acknowledges that it’s entering a rebuilding phase – as the Pistons did in February – then all bets are off on roster moves. So, yeah, it’s possible that a team looking for the certainty of Kennard’s elite shooting could offer something of intrigue to a rebuilding team. But he’s also exactly the type of player a rebuilding team would want – young and still improving and with the skill set, specifically shooting, that today’s NBA seeks more than ever as the 3-point shot and playmaking skills are valued above all else. The argument for moving Kennard would be to get something for him now before he becomes a free agent and requires a larger percentage of the salary cap to keep. That’s fair. But guys who can shoot 40 percent from three on high volume and also can put the ball on the floor and make plays don’t grow on trees, either. The Pistons have one in Kennard and still have the advantage of his Bird rights to keep him around. As long as his knee issues are resolved – and Kennard was convincingly optimistic that a remedy to manage the situation had been found when we talked in early March – then there is always going to be a market for a player of that profile. In other words, there’s no real urgency to trade him ahead of the last year of his rookie contract.
Evan (@SekouGotNext): Will Jordan Bone have an expanded role next season?
Langlois: Bone is still on his two-way contract as his rookie season plays out, one way or another. While there is no official count of how many of the 45-day cap for two-way players to spend with the parent NBA team Bone has remaining, he likely had no more than two weeks left. But the cap only counts while the G League season is ongoing and since its season has been canceled, then it stands to reason that if and when the NBA season is continued that Bone and other two-way players would be free to spend every day of what remains with the parent NBA teams. So how Bone responds to that opportunity, if it comes to pass, probably will have a bearing on what his 2020-21 destiny is. The first order of business for him will be to convince the Pistons that he’s deserving of a roster spot. That probably won’t be determined until after the draft and free agency. The Pistons have Derrick Rose under contract for next season and you can bet they’ll be on the lookout for a solid veteran capable of playing 20 or more minutes a night to complement Rose at point guard, whether that’s in free agency or in trade. There’s also a decent chance they draft a point guard with their high lottery pick – mostly because there are a preponderance of point guards among lottery prospects and because players who genuinely project to have NBA point guard skills are in demand. So how Bone fits into the puzzle is yet to be determined until we know what all the puzzle pieces are. He proved in the G League, where he averaged 19.9 points per 36 minutes and shot 38 percent from the 3-point arc, that he had the type of scoring potential he wasn’t showcased to exhibit as a college player at Tennessee. He also averaged 6.9 assists per 36, a solid number. Becoming more of a set-up guy is the next step for Bone to secure his NBA future.