Pistons Mailbag - November 11, 2020

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

With the draft a week away and free agency to follow two days after that, the off-season is about to hit its peak – with training camps opening in less than a month – and that provides plenty of fodder for this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Parker (@PDub358): Personally, the more I hear about him the more I fall in love with Patrick Williams. Plays hard, plays both ways and highly athletic. What do you think about his fit on the team? I know he’s raw, but his timeline would be nearly identical to Sekou’s and there’s big-time upside.

Wrote about him as part of our draft profile series. Physically, he’s the most similar to Doumbouya among the most likely Pistons picks. I’d put Williams in a group of five – Isaac Okoro, Killian Hayes, Tyrese Haliburton and Onyeka Okongwu the others – as the pool where the Pistons pick at No. 7 is likely to be taken. Not all five will be available, but there’s a chance that as many as four of them will be if Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman, LaMelo Ball, Deni Avdija and Obi Toppin are taken in the top six. It’s going to come down to Troy Weaver’s preference, in consultation with Ed Stefanski, Gregg Polinsky and the scouting staff as they arrange their draft board in the final days between now and next Wednesday’s draft. Doumbouya was the youngest player in last year’s draft and won’t turn 20 until Dec. 23. Williams is the youngest college player in this year’s draft, turning 19 only in August. While on the one hand players with the size and athleticism of Doumbouya and Williams are always a coveted commodity, the fact Doumbouya didn’t get a full rookie season or a conventional critical first off-season of development – and Williams will be in his first NBA training camp two weeks after being drafted, robbed of Summer League and a rigorous development regimen thereafter – might argue against taking another player whose outcome will require a similarly great development arc. You never know. Maybe the talent just stands out and wins the day. Maybe having two fairly raw 6-foot-8 or -9ish athletes who on the development continuum are both closer to the “pretty raw” end pushes the Pistons in another direction. I know when you watch highlight tape of Williams, he makes a lot of plays that jump off the screen. Weaver and the scouting staff have watched full games for greater context ad nauseum – and, no doubt, scouted plenty of Florida State games in person last season – so they’ll have a more complete perspective on Williams. I know this much: Weaver said last week he felt confident going into the draft, so while there is a huge degree of extrapolation necessary in every draft, Weaver feels he has a full perspective on Williams and the other top prospects.

Ken (Dharamsala, India): Here is a hard question since Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin are likable, valuable, respected pros. The Pistons are rebuilding. If both Rose and Griffin are healthy this coming season, what could the Pistons expect to get in trade in terms of draft picks or personnel?

That’s a great question and, like most great questions, there’s no easy answer. Let’s start with this: The Pistons – from owner Tom Gores to new general manager Troy Weaver to Dwane Casey – have maintained that they greatly value the presence, for everything it entails, of both Griffin and Rose. Weaver and Casey have also spoken of building a contender with staying power, meaning they’re not looking for short-term solutions despite their intent on fielding a competitive roster as soon as this season. One of the essential jobs of being a general manager is to have a firm grasp on the value of every asset under your control. If there are teams expressing interest in the availability of Griffin or Rose – or anyone else on the Pistons roster – you can bet that Weaver at least gets a sense of what that interest would be worth to the Pistons. Because you can’t separate a player from his contract, Griffin and Rose start from very different places even if their projected contributions might be in the same ballpark if both are healthy – which, by all accounts, both are as of now with training camps likely to open in three weeks. Griffin will earn nearly five times as much as Rose in 2020-21 ($36.8 million to $7.7 million) and he’s got another year on his deal at even more money ($39 million) for 2021-22 should he exercise his option. Those facts alone will greatly shape the field of prospective suitors for each player. Some teams might shy away from adding Griffin because of the extra year – perhaps because they want to have cap space for other pursuits, perhaps because it would push them deep into tax territory – while others might be attracted to the extra year of service and be willing to part with something of greater value to the Pistons because of it, though the sheer weight of Griffin’s deal will affect the compensation package to a significant degree. The relatively light impact on the salary cap of adding Rose, on the other hand, logically would widen the field of suitors for him, though only having him under team control for one season might lessen the return. It’s probably easier to guess at the return for Rose. Contenders – the logical suitors for Rose, given that his salary would be easier to fit into cap sheets with likely little flexibility – that expect to be picking outside the lottery would perhaps be willing to offer a protected first-round pick or multiple second-round picks or a combination of young talent and picks. Whether the Pistons could expect draft-pick compensation in any prospective Griffin trade would likely come down to what else the Pistons were taking back. They’re going to have to take on some combination of contracts that gets them close to Griffin’s total since not many teams have cap space and those that do probably are the least likely to be Griffin suitors. Finally, I wouldn’t expect the window of possibility on a deal to open until near the trade deadline.

Bill Blasky (@bill_blasky): It seems like the best thing for the Pistons is to try to turn their cap space into trades to either absorb a contract and get an extra pick as a thank you (a Tony Snell-type deal) or use the space to trade for a good player that another team just wants to move the contract on?

Troy Weaver talked about that as something on the spectrum of possibilities. I don’t think he was just saying that for the benefit of peers across the league or to prevent himself from being boxed in, either. Here’s what Weaver said last week when asked if the Pistons were intent on using their cap space to chase upper-end free agents or to acquire assets: “Both things are on the table. I don’t know who you consider big free agents, but we plan on talking to guys that we’re very interested in, for sure, and also leveraging cap space to get assets. It’s a juggling act, a balancing act, with being competitive on the forefront of that tied into not mortgaging the future.” And when you talk about a “Tony Snell-type deal,” it’s also possible that Snell is at the center of another one of those. Last year the Pistons took him on and got Milwaukee’s pick at No. 30 because of the extra year he had on his contract over Jon Leuer, who was subsequently waived and stretched by the Bucks. Perhaps this year the Pistons use Snell, entering the final year of his contract, to take on a player with more than one season left and are rewarded with a sweetener.

Jamara (Taylor, Mich.): Do you see the Pistons being aggressive in the free-agent and trade market?

Depends on how you describe aggressive. I don’t think they’ll rush to overpay and hand out long-term contracts just to ensure the roster is marginally better. I do think they’ll use all of their cap space in one way or another for 2020-21. That means they’ll pursue a free agent or two at the right point in his career, meaning someone they wouldn’t be paying past his prime, necessarily. It means looking for ways to add future draft capital by taking on contracts from another team, trading their cap space for future assets in one form or another. They want to field a competitive team this season but they aren’t going to go all out to try for a playoff spot in 2020-21 to the detriment of keeping the door open to improvement in 2021-22 and beyond.

Duke Billingslea (@neon3853): Under the agreed-upon CBA, do teams still need to spend up to 90 percent of their cap like in previous seasons? Can they hold on to their cap space and use it for next year?

I haven’t seen the agreement or heard specifically on that point, but I suspect it’s probably a moot point. There are only a handful of teams with cap space beyond the mid-level exception. The Pistons have more cap space, about $30 million, than all but two teams, Atlanta and New York, and it sure sounds like they are intent on using it. “Save it for next year” isn’t really a great use of your space. It’s not like if you don’t use $20 million in cap space this year, you can add $20 million on top of the cap next year. And it’s not like if you use all of your space this season, you’re locked in as a capped-out team the next season. The only salary of eight figures currently on the 2021-22 cap sheet is Blake Griffin’s nearly $39 million. Bruce Brown, Khyri Thomas and Svi Mykhailiuk – assuming all three contracts are either picked up or fully guaranteed by the Pistons for 2020-21 – will be due for new deals. Luke Kennard has a qualifying offer of $7.2 million. The Pistons should have plenty of cap space for 2021-22. If they don’t, it means they’ve either signed a significant free agent this off-season or traded for a player with multiple seasons left on his contract, presumably adding draft capital in the process. I suspect the Pistons, after making a few significant moves, will fill out the roster this year with a series of short-term deals that won’t have much impact on their cap sheet beyond this season.

Peter (Jackson, Mich.): Stan Van Gundy was a good coach, but he destroyed the Pistons as a general manager. We could have had Devin Booker and Donovan Mitchell as our backcourt of the future instead of drafting Stanley Johnson and Luke Kennard. If Troy Weaver blows this year’s pick and we don’t sign Christian Wood in free agency, the Pistons will be stuck in mediocrity for another decade. Your thoughts?

Van Gundy openly admitted in the days following the 2015 draft that the decision to take Johnson over Booker was an agonizing one that sparked spirited debate inside the draft room. It wasn’t quite as clear that Mitchell would have been the pick if Kennard hadn’t been taken 12th in 2017. In fact, the Pistons were captivated by Bam Adebayo, who went 14th after Mitchell. The tiebreaker for the front office was that they felt Adebayo wouldn’t have much opportunity to help anytime soon with Andre Drummond, 23 at the time of the 2017 draft, one year into a five-year deal and seen as a franchise cornerstone. It’s a graphic reminder of how critical those decisions are on the fates of a franchise – and on the people charged with making them. Van Gundy has to own them, of course, but there was very little consensus after either the 2015 or ’17 drafts that the Pistons had erred. Yes, Mitchell had his backers among Pistons fans, but the broad consensus of opinion going into that draft didn’t have Mitchell pegged ahead of Kennard. Kennard was generally considered ahead of Mitchell by a slight margin. Johnson was widely considered ahead of Booker. If the Pistons had taken Booker over Johnson (and Justise Winslow, who was the more popular pick), there would have been howls that night.

Troy (Troy, Mich.): Rumors are going around that Gordon Hayward wants out of Boston. We should be able to pick him up for cheap. He can bring veteran leadership and can produce at a very good level. I think the injuries should be behind him. What do you think?

Hayward – assuming he exercises his player option for $34 million for 2020-21, and there doesn’t seem to be any logical reason he wouldn’t given the circumstances – might be available but he certainly won’t come “cheap.” The Celtics view themselves as a championship contender and Hayward is valuable to them. Even if he isn’t likely to justify a $34 million contract, the Celtics are a better team with him than without him and they aren’t going to dump him just to get off of the contract. If Boston trades him – again, that assumes Hayward opts in and doesn’t become a free agent – the Celtics want someone who can help them compete for a title this season. I really don’t see the Pistons, given their timeline, as a realistic trade partner for Boston where Hayward is concerned.

Mario (Charlotte, N.C.): I noticed in the past, including this year, that as soon as the NBA Finals end, Las Vegas oddsmakers seem to provide odds of a team winning a championship the year after. How do they determine such odds when the season has not yet started?

It’s called “gambling” for a reason. They’ll set odds based on their best guesses at what moves franchises might make in the off-season. The Lakers missed the playoffs in 2019 yet opened as 9:2 favorites to win the 2020 title on the assumption that they were going to trade for Anthony Davis. Lo and behold, that’s what happened.

Paul (Phoenix): From everything said, the Pistons want to be a competitive team this season. Therefore, I see no reason to not sign Christian Wood or trade Derrick Rose. Wood’s exit would leave a void in the rotation and Rose is still a stud point guard. All the rumors on Rose trades, including for Kyle Kuzma, I feel are mediocre. I say take the best player for the team in the draft and look at free agents for strategic pickups. I actually believe the Pistons can be competitive and maybe even make the playoffs.

Milwaukee, Toronto, Boston, Indiana, Miami, Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Orlando were the eight Eastern Conference playoff teams in 2020. I’d guess the first seven will be heavily favored to get back to the playoffs in 2021 unless major injuries derail one or more of them. Orlando will be without Jonathan Isaac for the season, in all likelihood, and as a 33-40 team the Magic don’t have much margin for error. So the No. 8 spot wouldn’t be out of reach, perhaps, for teams within a handful of games of .500. If Rose and Blake Griffin stay healthy, the Pistons see growth from the handful of young players who saw significant playing time last season, they get some help from the draft and free agency/trades, sure, they can realistically challenge for a back-end playoff spot. I think the major takeaway from everything Troy Weaver has said is that they won’t chase a playoff spot to the detriment of future contention, but neither will they go out of their way to inflict harm on the present in pursuit of lottery odds.

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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