Pistons Mailbag - November 4, 2020
Two weeks until the draft and that dominates the conversation in the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Henry (Royal Oak, Mich.): Being a diehard Pistons fan, I just hate seeing us so tied up in the middle for almost a decade. I really think we need someone like David Kahn, Daryl Morey or Danny Ainge to oversee our organization. Make some bold moves and keep it exciting. I feel like in the last decade we basically sat still and made one exciting move – getting Blake Griffin. When can we get someone in our front office that will actually take chances? High risk, high reward.
Langlois: David Kahn, the guy who drafted Jonny Flynn over Steph Curry – after he’d already drafted Ricky Rubio? That’s the flavor of risk-taker you want? The Pistons just hired a guy – new general manager Troy Weaver – who comes with a widely acclaimed eye for talent. There’s a lot that goes into overseeing an NBA team’s basketball operations, but nothing is more critical than appraising talent. The Pistons probably aren’t in a position to be making truly bold moves at this point after acknowledging in February that they were retrenching. The biggest objective for Weaver’s first year on the job will be to expand the talent base. Once they’ve done that, then you consider the possibilities of packaging assets for the bold move that can push the franchise forward.
Rick (Frederick, Md.): A number of media analysts have noted that Oklahoma City’s drafts focused on players’ athleticism over skills or shooting and speculated Weaver will do the same. Your thoughts?
Langlois: I don’t think he’s trying to assemble an Olympic track team, but there is a general thought that OKC’s front office believed that players who didn’t necessarily exhibit great shooting ability could be developed into shooters with greater success than players with athletic or size deficiencies could overcome. Some things aren’t fixable, but shooting and ballhandling, by and large, can be addressed and improved. If you’re trying to project what a player can become with two or three years of NBA coaching, training and nutrition, that’s a good place to start. You can’t bank on him growing 3 or 4 inches or becoming quicker, necessarily. You can safely assume – as long as you’re convinced the dedication to improvement is present, which falls in line with Weaver’s emphasis on finding the right person before worrying about the player – his skills will improve.
Niranjan Anantharaman (@niranjanmka): Could LaMelo Ball fall to the Pistons? Are they even interested in him after reportedly poor workouts?
Langlois: I’m skeptical despite the recent reports that indicate he’s not wowed front offices picking at the top of the draft. How the Pistons front office views Ball is unknown. Teams don’t broadcast that type of information. If it leaks, then you have to know if the leak was intentional to gauge the motivation. A lot of independent analysts are very high on Ball’s ceiling while acknowledging the variance between his possible outcomes is pretty wide. Where Troy Weaver falls on that continuum is the great unknown. I’d still make it a remote possibility it’s a decision he’ll have to make.
TheRealElda (@Elda0722): Have the Pistons narrowed down the type of player they are looking for?
Langlois: When Troy Weaver was hired in June, he made it pretty clear that he looks first at the character of the player before diving into what he brings once he steps between the lines. “We will work day and night, tirelessly, to put a team on the floor that the community can first identify with and be proud of. My number one goal is for people to come to the arena and feel great about the product. And when we’re on the road, old Pistons like Dave Bing and Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars and Ben Wallace, Rip Hamilton, those type of guys, turn on the TV and it just resonates. It looks and feels like a Pistons team. We’ll work to ensure we make that happen.” Weaver wants to look at a guy – be it a draft prospect, a potential free agent or a trade target – and know that winning is what matters most to him. That sounds simple but there’s a lot involved in getting to the answer. It’s not just watching game video, it’s doing background vetting and putting eyes on the subjects to see how they interact with teammates and respond to moments of adversity and meet the challenges of opponents. So more than “great shooters” or “versatile defenders” or any other descriptive for players, start with that when you’re trying to gauge whether Weaver would have interest in a player. Staying disciplined to that guidepost is what determines success for front offices.
Jeff (Shelby Twp., Mich.): Which draft prospects have the Pistons had in for in-person interviews? Whom do they have scheduled to interview?
Langlois: The Pistons haven’t disclosed which prospects they’ve interviewed or plan to interview and I haven’t seen any NBA team reveal such information this season. Under the Stan Van Gundy and Ed Stefanski-led front offices of the past six years, the Pistons did unveil which prospects they hosted for predraft workouts, so we’ll see if that practice resumes under Troy Weaver once the NBA reverts to standard practices for the predraft process, perhaps for the 2021 draft. A number of draft prospects who were made available by the NBA to media during the virtual combine said they’d met virtually with the Pistons – R.J. Hampton, Killian Hayes and Tyrese Haliburton among them – but that was before the NBA allowed 10 in-person meetings. It appears that teams – a few key members of an organization, at least – are traveling to meet players on their turf this year rather than prospects visiting NBA team headquarters.
Paul (Phoenix): As I review players who might be available at No. 7, I have no doubt the Pistons will have a chance at a very good player. If it’s a guard, three in particular stand out. The obvious one is Killian Hayes, who is raw but has real upside. Kira Lewis is the most impressive at finishing. Then Devin Vassell, with his height, 3-point and mid-range shots and defense. As far as who can contribute soonest, I believe Lewis and Vassell could be on the court by mid-season off the bench.
Langlois: There’s a likelihood that Lewis and Vassell would be available at seven. Hayes might be closer to 50-50. There is rumored interest in him from Chicago and perhaps another team or two picking ahead of them. He’d make sense for Cleveland – despite drafting two (smallish) guards in the past two drafts, both more score-first types – and a lot of sense for Atlanta. I like Lewis a great deal, though taking him at seven would certainly be an upset if it means he’d go before both Hayes and Tyrese Haliburton. After that, he’s one among a group of thee or four guards who could go off the board in any order.
Xegesis (@xegesis): I hear a lot of opinions on trading Derrick Rose, but what are the chances of actually extending him for two or three years?
Langlois: Zero. Rose signed a two-year contract with the Pistons in July 2019. Only contracts of three years or longer are eligible for extensions.
Muntaka (Dearborn, Mich.): If the 1990s NBA champion Detroit Pistons played against the 2004 NBA champion Pistons, which team would win a seven-game series? I would pick the 2004 Pistons to win in seven games.
Langlois: I once put the question to Joe Dumars, the common link to the three championship teams in Pistons history as a player on the first two and the architect of the third. He picked the Bad Boys to win in seven. I wouldn’t argue with that. But they were different eras. The Bad Boys won before the effects of the salary cap were fully felt, so I’m not sure their incredible depth would have been possible by the 2000s. The Bad Boys had a little more offensive diversity with three guards – Dumars, Isiah Thomas and Vinnie Johnson – who could all create their own shots and carry the offense for long stretches. Each team had arguably the dominant defender of his generation. Dennis Rodman was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and a seven-time All-Defense first team honoree; Ben Wallace was a four-time DPOY.
Todd (Grand Rapids, Mich.): Bruce Brown has improved over each off-season so far and dominated Summer League last year as a point guard. What are the chances the Pistons start Brown at point guard this season?
Langlois: It’s not the plan. Dwane Casey, after maintaining that Brown’s future was at point guard, reversed course after giving Brown a run at the position out of necessity last season. Casey felt the burden of running the offense was detrimental to Brown’s ability to be the lockdown perimeter defender he sees him as. He came to that conclusion in February before the 2019-20 season shut down and hasn’t budged off of that over the course of the off-season. But the experience Brown picked up while playing mostly point guard last season surely will be of value to him and the Pistons going forward. Having a few secondary ballhandlers next to the point guard is a big part of Casey’s offensive vision.
Luka (@LukaKneevi4): When will we know Khyri Thomas’ status for next season? Is his option exercised and can or should a team in a rebuilding phase give up on his talent so easily?
Langlois: The dates embedded in contracts as deadlines for either players or teams to pick up or decline options have all been rendered moot by the March suspension and summer resumption of the NBA season. The league and Players Association are currently negotiating changes to the collective bargaining agreement and determining a calendar for the 2020-21 season that presumably will address all matters, including the new option dates. It likely will be shortly after the Nov. 18 draft. The fact Thomas appears to have had a strong team camp surely helps his odds of having his option picked up.
Charles (Redford Twp., Mich.): It’s trade rumor time of the year. Does that mean teams are actually talking trade or is that still tampering? Also, there’s always trades on draft night, but do all trades on draft night have to involve a player or pick from the draft?
Langlois: When isn’t it trade rumor time? That’s a 365-days-a-year exercise, it seems. Teams are free to talk trade right now but transactions are frozen until the NBA gives the green light. Teams can lay the groundwork for trades but the reality is that most trades wouldn’t be executed until front offices have a firm grasp of what changes are in store for the salary cap and where the luxury tax line is set. If the tax line drops significantly from the winter projection the NBA provided teams, there are fears the trade market will be paralyzed. The salary cap is almost certainly coming down from the $115 million projection with speculation that it will remain at last season’s level of $109 million even though it would certainly be lower than that if it was determined by conventional methods. ESPN.com has reported that teams are pushing for the luxury tax to remain at its winter projection, though, of $139 million to avoid multiple teams being confronted by massive tax bills that they have no real opportunity to address given contractual commitments locked in that predate the pandemic and its impact.