As the draft and free agency near, there’s more chatter about Christian Wood’s future and which young players the Pistons should target on draft night in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Scary Gary (@garettmikael): Can we as a fan base get off the notion of Christian Wood being a savior?
Langlois: I don’t know that the fan base speaks with one mind on that (or any) subject, frankly. Wood had such a productive and intriguing run in an otherwise disappointing, injury-wracked Pistons season that fans got understandably excited by it, but at least based on my experience with fans they had it in perspective as just that – a promising young player showing very positive signs about growing into a player who could help the Pistons get back on solid footing. You know how a rebuilding team changes its status to contending team? By putting together a string of personnel wins like picking up a player of Wood’s caliber off of waivers. That doesn’t make him a savior, but at the right price in free agency he can be an important part of changing the status of the Pistons.
Tim Forkin (@TimForkinTV): Got to address the current state of Christian Wood. What’s the probability he remains in Detroit as we (hopefully) get closer to the draft and the transaction moratorium being lifted?
Langlois: If it’s the Pistons vs. the field, I’m taking the Pistons. That was roughly true back in March before the NBA suspended the season, but it’s more true today with the free-agent market chilled by the impact of the shutdown and the relaunch without fans. It’s not an overwhelming advantage for the Pistons, but given the set of known facts – Wood flourished under Dwane Casey, the Pistons can offer more than the mid-level exception in a year when that’s the best weapon three-fourths of the league can offer and teams will be especially leery of handing out contracts for more than that with the economic uncertainties in place – all signs point to a return by Wood.
Rick (Frederick, Md.): Two recent online reports – one from an insider at the four-letter network – have speculated that Christian Wood is not likely to draw more than a mid-level exception offer due to economic pressure from COVID-19. Your thoughts?
Langlois: There are only seven teams besides the Pistons that have cap space to allow them to offer a deal that starts above the mid-level exception figure and a few of them – Miami and Dallas, notably – might be keeping their powder dry for runs at elite players like Giannis Antetokounmpo. So the odds, as I touched on in the previous question, favor the Pistons. But, as always in free agency, it only takes one team to hold a player in higher regard than anticipated to shatter expectations. It’s logical to assume that some franchises are going to ratchet down their spending this off-season as the reality of the revenue drop comes into sharper focus and, thus, the free-agent market is going to be somewhat depressed. How that applies to any single player’s free-agent experience is less certain. It’s fair to say that the likelihood of Wood getting an offer from another team that the Pistons would be disinclined to pay him to stay put has decreased as a result of the pandemic. But that doesn’t rule out one team with money to spend and a fondness for Wood from topping the mid-level exception offer and changing the outcome. I would add that I don’t expect the Pistons to adopt a must-keep-at-all-costs approach with Wood. I would be surprised, in other words, if they blow all comers out of the water with an offer well above the MLE for Wood in the opening minutes of free agency. I think they would love to explore all of their options with their cap space. Ideally, they could sign Wood with the early Bird exception – that’s expected to be around $10 million, or more than the MLE of (probably) $9.3 million if the cap stays at 2019-20 levels ($109 million) – which allows them to count Wood’s cap hold of $1.7 million against the cap until they’ve exhausted their cap space, then sign him to go over.
Aaron (Staunton, Ill.): Can you please explain the difference between a restricted free agent and an unrestricted free agent?
Langlois: A great and timely question. The thing to remember mostly is that the power rests with players as unrestricted free agents but with teams for restricted free agents. Restricted free agency is just that – restricting. Players seldom switch teams as restricted free agents. Take Thon Maker as an example since he is in position to receive a qualifying offer as he’s coming off of the last (fourth) year of his rookie contract as a former first-round pick. If the Pistons extend to Maker a qualifying offer, which would commit to him a predetermined amount (in his case, $4.8 million) based on his draft position (10th pick), he becomes a restricted free agent. That means any other team in the NBA could negotiate with him, but could sign him only to an offer sheet, not to a contract. The Pistons, as Maker’s current team, would have the right to match the terms of the offer sheet and keep him or to decline to match and see Maker leave. If the Pistons don’t extend to Maker the qualifying offer, he becomes an unrestricted free agent and can sign with any other team. Few players ever accept the qualifying offer and play out the fifth year of their contract to then become an unrestricted free agent following that season. One notable exception: ex-Pistons big man Greg Monroe, who played out his deal with the Pistons in 2014-15 and then signed a multiyear deal with Milwaukee.
Darin Drew(@DarinDrew219): What’s the likelihood of us moving up to draft LaMelo Ball?
Langlois: Slim. Extremely slim. One, it assumes the Pistons see Ball as markedly better than the player they expect available at seven, which is not at all clear. Two, it assumes the Pistons would have the ammunition to trade up from seven to, presumably, at least the top three and perhaps the No. 1 pick. And that is most unlikely unless they were to offer a future No. 1 pick. That seems like the longest of long shots.
Christian Brown (@c_cbrown): I’ve seen a range of articles suggesting the Pistons need to take myriad approaches in order to build toward being a title contender again. My question is what do you think the Pistons need to do not to build sustained and long-term success?
Langlois: The short answer is be right more often than wrong in personnel evaluations. Simple as that. Draft well, trade shrewdly and make wise free-agent decisions and you’ll be surprised how quickly fortunes can be reversed. Easier said than done. Player evaluation and the ability to envision how players will mesh is more art than science and it’s an elusive quality. In less abstract terms, I think it’s clear from everything Troy Weaver has said since becoming general manager that his approach will be very unlike a Philadelphia 76ers-style leveling of the roster and purposely trying to accumulate losses to increase lottery odds. He wants to field a competitive team this season and sees a healthy Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose giving the Pistons that chance. Then he’ll rely on his ability to win in player evaluation and Dwane Casey and his staff’s ability to develop players and build a system that maximizes their mix of talent to get incrementally better with every transaction and every passing game, month and season.
Nelson (Detroit): The Pistons should draft Killian Hayes or Tyrese Haliburton, add Fred VanVleet and Skal Labissiere in free agency and consider a trade of Derrick Rose and Tony Snell to the Lakers for Danny Green, Quinn Cook, Talen Horton-Tucker and draft picks. Stay young, slightly improve for 2020-21 and use money for the 2021 free-agent class. Blake Griffin’s contract will be up in 2022 and the Pistons should be able to sign two or three above-average players. This should get the organization back on the right track, sooner rather than later. Another trade option is Griffin and Rose to Denver for Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant and let Millsap to go free agency.
Langlois: The last part of your grand plan can’t happen. Millsap and Grant can’t be traded as pending free agents. Grant, in fact, has a player option but he’s indicated he’s unlikely to exercise it and instead plans to become an unrestricted free agent. I think there’s a decent chance, though no guarantee, that one of Hayes or Haliburton will be available for the Pistons. There’s also a chance both will be gone – or both will be available. It’s that kind of draft. We’ve debated the possibility of VanVleet being a realistic target. If he’s going to cost $20 million annually – the best guess as to what it would take to make Toronto balk at staying in the bidding – then that would preclude most other moves the Pistons would be able to make, including taking on significant contracts from other teams in exchange for draft capital. While some might wonder about the logic of drafting a point guard and then signing one for big money, I don’t think you’re on the wrong trail there. I don’t know about going after VanVleet specifically, but I would expect the Pistons to sign a point guard in free agency even if they draft one with the seventh pick.
JG77 (@JGRIFFY2020): What’s the prediction for Sekou’s role heading into next season?
Langlois: Backing up Blake Griffin at power forward and getting minutes at small forward. I don’t think it’s written in stone that he’ll be in the rotation unless he earns it. Dwane Casey wouldn’t have lauded Doumbouya’s off-season progress in conditioning and skills if he didn’t see it in evidence during team camp, so that’s a positive sign for what to expect from him in his second season. But Casey is going to field lineups that give the Pistons the best chance to win first and prioritize playing time for young players only after that.
Neon39 (@neon39_): What would you think of a Killian Hayes-Sekou Doumbouya duo? I’m super excited about that possibility.
Langlois: If the Pistons draft Killian Hayes, like Doumbouya a French teen, it won’t be because they’re looking to give last year’s No. 1 pick a familiar sidekick. It will be because they’re convinced he’s the player on the board with the best chance to have an impact on advancing the assets base of the franchise. If you concede that a few players – LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman and Obi Toppin, primarily – are unlikely to be available when the Pistons pick at seven, then Hayes, logically, is on a list of players who figure to be appealing and possibly available. But it’s not a particularly short list this year. Troy Weaver said the draft was fairly wide open from three to 13 or 14, so make of that what you will. To me, it sounds like he thinks there are about 10 players of roughly equal value and he’ll choose the one among the five or six still standing that he thinks will provide the most bang for the buck. Hayes? Maybe.
Rhys Lett (@rhyslett): Any chance we can get decent Pistons merchandise here in Australia? My Billups jersey is looking a bit tired.
Langlois: All of my influence in such a matter won’t help much, but I’ll pass along your sentiments. In the meantime, launder Mr. Big Shot with care.
Jordan (@JordanKnowsBall): Who are the Pistons targets in free agency? I’ve been seeing links to Jerami Grant and Derrick Jones Jr. recently.
Langlois: Take them with a grain of salt, though the profile of those players – rangy, versatile defensively, athletic, relatively young, good from three (in Grant’s case, at least, with Jones still young enough to develop that skill) – fits with what the Pistons are likely seeking. I think the Pistons are looking at any move to upgrade the talent base and seeking players with high character and a defensive disposition with 3-point shooting and playmaking ability. The more of those boxes you check off, the wider the appeal – to the Pistons and pretty much everybody else.
Datz z (@DatZ44): Does Sekou Doumbouya want an extension?
Langlois: Can’t execute extensions for first-round picks on rookie contracts until after their third seasons for deals that would then take effect after their fourth seasons.
Pat (@oooooooweeeee): Chances of a Derrick Rose-for-Kyle Kuzma trade?
Langlois: Probably very low, same as for any other random player-for-player concoction. My sense is the Pistons aren’t eager to trade Rose at this point unless the offer was simply too good to pass up – and, by that, I mean a first-round pick with limited protections. If it gets to next year’s trade deadline and there’s a clear market for Rose and the Pistons feel they’ve got the ability to field lineups with adequate playmaking, then maybe the goal posts move. I expect Rose to start the season in a Pistons uniform.
CoSvid-19 (@RedAlternates): Recently Immanuel Quickley from Kentucky said the Pistons met with him. We’re really only heard from prospects themselves if they’ve interviewed with the Pistons. Do you have any info on other names they may have met with?
Langlois: Quickley’s trainer was reported last week to have said the Pistons were one of three teams that he’s met with (virtually) twice. The Pistons only have their first-round pick, the seventh pick in the draft, which is well higher than any evaluation of Quickley, who is widely projected to be a second-round pick and, by most evaluations, not a high second-rounder. But Quickley was a very highly rated recruit in the class of 2018 as a point guard who played off of the ball in his two years at Kentucky. So what to make of the fact he met with the Pistons twice? I make of it that the Pistons are doing extraordinary due diligence – at the virtual combine, the Pistons were the organization more than any other that was mentioned as having met with prospects – and they have obvious interest in Quickley. It doesn’t mean they see a way to obtain him now, but interactions are useful for considering transactions down the road. With nearly a third of the league turning over every season, front offices want as much knowledge of every player with NBA talent as they can possibly accumulate and file away for future use. As for other players, other than the several who said they met with the Pistons during the virtual combine – including Tyrese Haliburton, Killian Hayes, R.J. Hampton and Precious Achuiwa – no, the Pistons likely won’t be sharing that information with the media or public.
Ahmed (San Antonio): Should players who retire before winning a championship be mentioned in comparison to all-time greats who won championship rings? Does winning a championship ring matter to be known as an all-time great?
Langlois: It does. It probably matters a little too much. Despite the fact that one player can have an outsized impact on a basketball game compared to most team sports, a great player burdened by slipshod management that results in poor coaching and a misfit lineup around him shouldn’t be misjudged by history. Charles Barkley never won an NBA title but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a player who shouln’t be remembered as an all-time great. He just happened to spend the bulk of his career playing in an era when some of the NBA’s greatest teams were assembled – early on, the Celtics and Lakers, then the Pistons and Bulls. You can argue about where he ranks when measured against Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan. But I maintain he belongs in their company.
Sharon (Oak Park, Mich.): I see the Pistons needing a starting-caliber center next season. Both Christian Wood and Blake Griffin are power forwards and I don’t know if we can count on Justin Patton as a starter. What free agent center do you think the Pistons should inquire about and why?
Langlois: If the Pistons re-sign Christian Wood, it tells me he’s likely playing the bulk of his minutes at center for as long as Blake Griffin is his teammate and stays healthy. Yes, Wood’s impressive run after the Andre Drummond trade came with him playing mostly power forward, but that was more because he simply was playing more minutes, not about position. The bigger question with Wood playing center as opposed to power forward would be if he’s up to it defensively – more so as the quarterback of a defense and decisive in pick-and-roll coverages than holding his own against physical centers in the post. My best guess is the Pistons sign a low-cost veteran center in free agency or perhaps acquire one in a minor trade, but that Wood – should he be re-signed – is the starter there next to Griffin.