Pistons Mailbag - May 8, 2019

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

With the NBA draft combine a week away and off-season planning shifting into high gear, the draft, free agency and the trade market get heavy play in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Bob (Albany, Oregon): I liked the Pistons’ approach in the draft last year in getting a couple of older players and the deadline deals to complement them. Do you see them following the same blueprint in the draft this year?

Langlois: They wound up with the 38th and 42nd picks after trading two future second-rounders to Philadelphia for the 38th pick they used on Khyri Thomas. I don’t think they targeted two “older” players – Bruce Brown was a sophomore and Thomas a junior, so everything’s relative, right? – so much as they took the best players and the nature of the draft is that players deemed to have the greatest potential, usually younger guys, tend to go in the top half of the first round. So with the 15th pick this June, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Pistons wound up with a one-and-done college player or international who’s first-time draft eligible. With the 45th pick, they’d be more apt to find someone with a resume like Brown’s or Thomas’.

S (@soitrivan): Who could the Pistons target this off-season?

Langlois: They need a wing with good size for the position – trading Stanley Johnson and Reggie Bullock left them short in that department – help at point guard with Ish Smith and Jose Calderon hitting free agency and a backup big man behind Andre Drummond. Getting the wing will be the most challenging quest – at least getting one that comes in as a clear candidate for heavy rotation minutes. Everybody’s looking for wing help these days with coaches willing to play several at a time to enable defenses equipped to switch against pick-and-roll offenses and also provide adequate coverage against spread offenses looking to pepper the 3-point line. Finding someone who’s an adequate defender and also adds something offensively – a 3-point shot or playmaking off the dribble – isn’t easy when everybody’s shopping in the same aisle.

Rick (Frederick, Md.): What are the Raptors and Marc Gasol doing differently than the Pistons to successfully defend Embiid? And what in the world happened – or didn’t happen – with Glenn Robinson III this season given the Pistons’ problems at small forward, especially after the trade deadline?

Langlois: I can’t give you any specifics as to how the Pistons played Embiid relative to how Toronto is playing him. I don’t think there’s any mysterious formula at play. Marc Gasol has been an elite defender for a long time, so that might have something to do with it, but the likelier explanation is that Embiid is dealing with tendinitis that forced him to miss five of the last seven games of the regular season and one playoff game. He’s been listed questionable or doubtful for others, then played. As for Robinson, he never really seemed to find his niche with the Pistons. He started 16 games in November and December before spraining his ankle but even then he rarely finished games or logged typical starter’s minutes. When he returned from injury, playing time was sporadic. Even after dealing away Stanley Johnson and Reggie Bullock, Robinson didn’t earn a lasting role despite a clear need for more size on the wing. He spent more time playing power forward. After shooting 40 percent from the 3-point arc the past two seasons, he slumped to below league average with the Pistons and wasn’t involved offensively in other areas. The Pistons hold the option on his contract for next season. Looking at it objectively, if Robinson didn’t win minutes after the trade deadline with the roster as it was, it would register as something of a surprise if the option is picked up. Maybe there’s an argument that after missing two-thirds of last season with torn ankle ligaments, Robinson will bounce back with the injury more than a year behind him. Those are the types of discussions going on in front offices across the league at this time of year.

Charles (Redford Twp., Mich.): The Pistons probably won’t get a starting-caliber player with the 15th pick in the draft. So use that to fill our need for a backup center by drafting Bol Bol, then use the mid-level exception on Marcus Morris and sign and trade either Patrick Beverly or Seth Curry for Ish Smith and a second-round pick. Do you think that it’s a realistic possibility?

Langlois: With plenty of teams with cap space and plenty of mid-level exceptions in play, there isn’t likely to be any need for teams who want to sign Ish Smith to jump through the hoop necessary to do a sign and trade. So that part isn’t very realistic. Morris hasn’t played much small forward since going to Boston and the way the NBA has drifted since he was last with the Pistons he probably has better matchups at power forward on most nights. That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be a good value for the mid-level exception, but the choice might come down to covering more needs with their money than Morris for all of the MLE could provide. As for the 15th pick, it’s probably more accurate to say the Pistons shouldn’t expect immediate rotation help with that pick but would hope that it eventually yields someone considered a starting-caliber player. Chances are the value at 15 is going to be in a one-and-done type who probably is going to present as a player with a wide disparity between ceiling and floor – and whoever it is figures to be closer to their floor than ceiling as a rookie.

Ken (Dharamsala, India): Milwaukee shows the huge gap between the Pistons and the elite. Is Tom Gores content with a bunch of nice guys who play mediocre basketball and sing “Kumbaya” together after a game or is he willing to make trades of even our two most affable, talented bigs? Is it time to tear it down and retool? Where are Gores and Ed Stefanski on this, do you think?

Langlois: Based on everything Gores has said, they’re full-speed ahead on building around Griffin and Drummond. Does that mean Gores would veto a deal Stefanski took to him involving one or the other that clearly opened a path to title contention? Of course not. Gores has said since buying the Pistons eight years ago that his goal is a title contender, not a title contender built around anyone in particular. Trading for Griffin was seen as an obvious step toward that end so that’s the course they’re on at present. Nothing lasts forever in the NBA, though. The roster construction, including the status of contracts, strongly argues for giving the Griffin-Drummond core a second full season together, better complemented, to see what the possibilities are. And then things take care of themselves to a large degree. Drummond can opt out of his contract after next season – if he stays healthy, I’d expect the motivation to be a free agent at age 26 would be strong – and that could mean only Griffin and a few of the players on rookie contracts are still on the roster in 2020-21. I would expect that at least for the next two seasons, the organization will be focused on building the best roster possible in the present without endangering future competitiveness. In practical terms, that means a willingness to trade a No. 1 pick but not recklessly, as in for a half-season of a player unlikely to consider re-signing as a free agent.

Dakoda (Hudsonville, Mich.): The Grand Rapids Drive will either have to become affiliated with the Denver Nuggets or Portland Trail Blazers or become an independent G League team since the Pistons announced they want their affiliate in Detroit and the Drive don’t want to move. What do you envision the future of the Drive to be? Is it realistic at this point that they will be in West Michigan beyond two seasons? Please don’t let the Pistons take them away from me!

Langlois: You’ve described the situation pretty well, as far as the information that’s been made known since last week’s announcement of Wayne State’s plans for a $25 million arena and the Pistons’ concurrently announced plans to have their G League affiliate play home games there. With Drive ownership intent on staying put, that means the Pistons likely will have to establish their own G League expansion franchise. So the Pistons won’t be taking the Drive away from Grand Rapids. Whether the Drive can establish a working relationship with another NBA franchise is the great unknown at this time. If the answer is no, then can the Drive survive as an independent G League team – and will the G League’s structure allow such an arrangement in the future with the near certainty that every NBA team will soon have a one-to-one working agreement with a G League affiliate? To be determined. But if Grand Rapids rallies around the Drive, I would expect G League officials to find it difficult to excise a healthy franchise.

Kumar (Troy, Mich.): What is the likelihood that the Philadelphia 76ers will sign Tobias Harris? Is there a chance we could trade for him before next season starts and will he fit well in our current system as a small forward? Our offer would include Langston Galloway and Jon Leuer.

Langlois: If the 76ers sign Harris as a free agent, then they couldn’t trade him before the season started. Free agents who sign in the off-season can’t be traded until Dec. 15 at the earliest. A sign and trade in July is possible, but not realistic. The type of trade you’re proposing – the Pistons dealing away contracts (accompanied by significant future draft assets) with a year left for a coveted player – is what Philadelphia was looking for in the thick of “The Process.” That’s not a deal Philadelphia in its current state would have any motivation to entertain. And Harris, for all of his offensive versatility, struggled to guard small forwards during his stay with the Pistons. It’s why after initially playing that position, Harris very quickly flip-flopped with Marcus Morris when the Pistons acquired him at the 2016 trade deadline.

Horace (Las Vegas): Who would you draft in the first and second round if you were drafting for the Pistons?

Langlois: If your draft strategy is anything other than “take the best player” – which means the guy with the best chance to make the most lasting impact, not be the best rookie, necessarily – you’re not going to last long in this league. That was always pretty much true, but it’s even more so today when coaches are much less concerned about labels and apt to play his best five together regardless of positional pigeon-holing. The only players other than the five on rookie contracts (Luke Kennard, Thon Maker, Bruce Brown, Khyri Thomas and Svi Myhailiuk) who have more than a year remaining on their deals with the Pistons are Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond – and Drummond can opt out (and should be expected to) after next season. So take the best player in round one. And always in round two because at 45, where the Pistons are picking, there might be only a few guys left who ever have a meaningful role in the NBA.

Grant (@g_kanfield): Can we expect a trade soon?

Langlois: Yes. In fact, if I were you I’d keep Pistons.com open and just keep hitting F5 until the news breaks. Good luck.

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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