Pistons Mailbag - May 6, 2020
More chatter on Isiah Thomas and the Bad Boys-Bulls enmity, Christian Wood’s free agency and the draft lottery top the menu in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Philip (Negaunee, Mich.): Michael Jordan says in the most recent episodes of “The Last Dance” that he didn’t keep Isiah Thomas off of the Dream Team. What’s the real story?
Langlois: The fact that question needs to be asked underscores my major issue with the widely viewed 10-part documentary. I don’t hold the producers wholly accountable, either, because control of the project has always been in the hands of Michael Jordan. He was given veto power over the content all those years ago when NBA Entertainment was granted rare access to the Bulls during what everyone assumed at the time – correctly, as it turned out – would be the last season together for Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson and that iteration of the Bulls. By virtue of Jordan holding the power to greenlight or freeze the project, it comes with obvious inherent bias. Isiah Thomas’ exclusion from the Dream Team – a ludicrous omission based on the body of his work and the achievement of the franchise he led over the previous decade – was absolutely driven by Jordan’s hatred (Jordan’s word) for him and the Pistons. Did Jordan explicitly say he wanted Thomas kept off of the team? Well, according to Jack McCallum, Sports Illustrated’s longtime NBA reporter at a time SI was the pinnacle of sports media, yes. According to McCallum, Jordan told him in 2011 for his 2012 book “Dream Team,” “I told Rod I don’t want to play if Isiah Thomas is on the team.” Rod is Rod Thorn, then on the USA Basketball committee charged with selection but also the Bulls general manager at the time Jordan was drafted. The fact that Jordan was so openly hostile toward the Pistons and Isiah given the circumstances of the moment – by the summer of ’92 when the team was picked, Jordan was a two-time champion and unquestionably the most important and popular player in the NBA – meant Jordan was the one player Team USA absolutely could not be without for the Barcelona Olympics. The NBA and FIBA, basketball’s international governing body, desperately wanted the 1992 Olympics – the first in which professional basketball players were permitted – to spark worldwide interest and growth in basketball. (It did so beyond anyone’s wildest expectations.) Showing up without the most popular player in the world would have undercut the mission. So everyone knew how much Jordan meant and everyone knew how Jordan felt about being teammates with Thomas. Whether he said it explicitly or not – though, by McCallum’s account, he most certainly did – almost doesn’t matter. He made no secret of his preference. And it makes no sense that Thomas wouldn’t have been on the team but for the common knowledge of Jordan’s (a) feelings about Thomas and (b) initial indifference to being a member of the Dream Team, since Jordan’s first reaction to being asked was that he’d already won a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics.
Derrick Sant (@De_32cent): Do you think the Pistons will target Josh Jackson in free agency? Should they?
Langlois: Jackson is a solid candidate for a “buy low” contract in hopes that, at 23, he’s about to hit his stride. I would give Memphis the clear upper hand in his pursuit given the success he had with the Grizzlies as the 2019-20 season progressed and the roster fit on a team that will be built around Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant. Jackson, a Detroit native who played high school basketball there before transferring to California-based Prolific Prep and spending one year at Kansas in becoming the No. 4 pick of the 2017 draft, spent the first three-plus months of the season in the G League before logging 18 games with Memphis and finishing strong. Over his last five games, Jackson averaged 16.6 points while shooting efficiently (47.5 percent) and showing signs of turning the corner from the 3-point arc (38 percent on 6.8 attempts per game after a 30 percent career mark). Jackson was drafted for his potential as an athletic wing with playmaking and defensive instincts and a wide competitive streak. His skills were always the question. Every NBA team is forever on the lookout for skilled, athletic wings, so Jackson will stir interest. The Pistons are more likely to steer their resources to solving their long-term needs at point guard, but that doesn’t mean they won’t pursue bargains wherever they find them. In other words, I see the Pistons looking to acquire players they see as having the best NBA futures more than looking at their roster exclusively and trying to fill holes to field the most competitive team for next season. The priority will be talent acquisition. Ideally, they’d find someone who can be their point guard for the next decade – someone they feel can become a top-10 player at the position. But if that person doesn’t exist or isn’t available, then the priority is to get the best talent. If they see a young free agent they believe can blossom into a top-100 talent, it doesn’t matter what position he plays. Jackson – given his age, most recent production and very recent prospect status – could be ready to become that. But, again, Memphis knows him best, has home-court advantage and a roster need. By all appearances, he’s already in a good spot.
Coach E (@coach_bigframe): Are the Pistons stuck in rebuild mode and will they go after a big name this off-season like Chris Paul?
Langlois: They only determined they were in a rebuilding mode in early February, so “stuck” doesn’t really describe their situation. Acquiring a player of Paul’s stature – and, more to the point, his contract – doesn’t fit a rebuild unless the acquiring team is compensated with lavish draft compensation. Paul has two years, $85 million left on his deal. He played at a high level for Oklahoma City prior to the suspension of the season, making the Thunder – 40-24 and in the No. 5 playoff spot at the time the season was suspended – one of the NBA’s surprise teams. Given all the draft capital Oklahoma City amassed via the Paul George and Russell Westbrook trades last off-season, it’s possible the Thunder would be willing to part with some No. 1 picks to create cap space. But Oklahoma City is never going to be a free-agent destination, so it’s more likely the blueprint is to use the draft to try to recapture the success of 2007-09 when Seattle/OKC management drafted Kevin Durant second, Russell Westbrook fourth and James Harden third – three future MVPs – and then use whatever assets are left over to acquire veteran talent to fill in the holes. In any case, I doubt OKC is actively shopping Paul this off-season or that the Pistons, given their timeline, are looking to trade for a 35-year-old point guard making huge money.
O11APIDE (@O11APIDE): When is the draft lottery expected to take place?
Langlois: The lottery was originally scheduled to be held on May 19, but that won’t happen. It – along with the draft combine scheduled for later this month in Chicago – was postponed by the league office last week. No dates have been set for either event. Until the NBA determines a course of action for resumption of the season – or, in a worst-case scenario, perhaps, determining that it can’t resume – no makeup date for the lottery is expected to be determined. If the determination is made to resume but only for the playoffs, then the NBA will have to decide on a mechanism to determine draft order or how to proceed with the lottery. The Pistons were in the No. 5 lottery position with a 20-46 record at the time of the suspension of the season on March 11.
Bigfella195 (@brettyaw): Christian Wood looked like an All-Star once Andre Drummond was traded, shooting threes and slamming on everyone. Do you see him as an All-Star selection if he can continue the same form next season?
Langlois: Wood passed a lot of tests in his first season as an NBA rotation player with his fifth franchise, but you’re jumping ahead a few chapters in wondering about his All-Star viability. As recently as January, Wood was averaging fewer than 20 minutes a game. He was very good in February and March in extended minutes (33 per game) – 21.6 points and 9.1 rebounds on .559 shooting and .406 3-point shooting. If he carried that out over a full season – or over the first 40-plus games which determines All-Star voting and selection – then he’d have a case, assuming the Pistons had enough team success to validate his statistics. It was encouraging that Wood’s productivity didn’t dip on a per-minute basis as his playing time and role increased, but it was still only a 16-game sample size. He certainly showed enough that the Pistons figure to be invested in retaining him in free agency, where they’ll have the advantage of holding his early Bird rights. He stamped himself as a no-doubt NBA rotation player with the potential to be more than that. Let’s see how he handles 30-plus minutes over several months before we address his All-Star possibilities.
Jiuseppe (@soeyjos): Will the lottery go as planned? I want top three for Killian Hayes and the French Revolution.
Langlois: See above for the timing of the lottery. Hayes is generally considered a top 10 prospect, perhaps top five. If LaMelo Ball is considered the top point guard, Hayes is in the thick of it as the second-best prospect at the position. It stands to reason he’d be on a relative short list for the Pistons. We know they’ve scouted him because Ed Stefanski said the Pistons have had eyeballs on all the top international prospects and Hayes is undoubtedly in that category.