Pistons Mailbag - October 28, 2020

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

As the draft and free agency near, Pistons fans put their best foot forward with ideas to remake the roster in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Mike (@Mikevp100): Is next year the perfect year to tank? No fans, loaded 2021 class, no real shot at contending this coming year, anyway. What are the odds we trade our current valuable assets for future capital?

I suspect your assertion hits the ears of Troy Weaver and Dwane Casey as if you were asking if today was the perfect day to have a heart attack. I get your point, but it’s clear the Pistons aren’t going to go out of their way to lose games intentionally. Their philosophy is to build for sustained success, so they’re also not going to make any short-term moves that hinder long-term success, which might get you to where your plan suggests. I’ve seen the Zach Lowe report that says he now believes there is a market for Blake Griffin, tempering it by saying it’s not necessarily robust but it exists. I still maintain he’s the safest bet of anyone on the roster to be in a Pistons uniform on opening night and it’s equally clear Weaver and Casey value him equally for his productivity and his leadership and professionalism. There is no desperation to trade Griffin. He has two years remaining on his contract, hardly a millstone around a franchise that already has plenty of cap space and projects to have plenty in the future. Rose, logically, would have a number of interested suitors who could offer some future draft capital. Again, the Pistons value him for how he can help the franchise get from here to their vision for the future. There’s a tipping point, I’m sure, as to when his value becomes greater in trade than in presence. But my guess is the first serious possibility of a Rose trade will come at the 2021 trade deadline, whenever that might be as the NBA determines the league calendar.

Deviaire (Pontiac, Mich.): Would you take a shot at trading for Jrue Holiday, signing DeMar DeRozan or Montrezl Harrell to a 1-plus-1 in hopes to restructure everyone’s contract in 2021-22 to potentially add another big name in free agency alongside Rose, Griffin, Holiday, DeRozan or Harrell and the young core?

Rose’s contract is up at the end of 2021 and Griffin’s, assuming he picks up his player option for 2021-22, at the end of the following season. Rose will be 34 then and Griffin will turn 34 in February of the 2022-23 season. It’s impossible at this point to guess what their value in free agency will be at that stage. Much depends on how they weather the next two seasons physically. But if you’re Troy Weaver, I don’t know if that would be the cornerstone of your long-term plan for building to sustained success. DeRozan will be 33 and Holiday 32 heading into that season, as well. While it’s true that athletes, in general, can remain productive – given the access to expertise, nutrition and state-of-the-art facilities and conditioning equipment – later into their 30s than ever before, it’s still probably not advisable to build a roster so heavily reliant on aging players. Also, if you’re able to sign all of those players and still stay under the tax line, then it’s probably a pretty good indication their market value – and, thus, their durability and productivity – has dipped. (Won’t even get into the improbability of orchestrating a plan based on convincing players to sign for one year with a team option for the second so all the contracts can be restructured.) Griffin and Rose are valued greatly by Dwane Casey and Weaver for their examples of professionalism and if they are still productive and reasonably durable players once their contracts are completed, I would expect the Pistons to be interested in extending their relationships if it makes sense for the makeup of the team and their stage of development at the time. But for where the Pistons are on their timeline today, the long-range planning for two years down the road is more about managing the cap, developing the young players already here and securing more young players to stick in the pipeline. A team farther along in its timeline could think about a scenario as you lay out.

PistonsMan04 (@Man04Pistons): What would a good and realistic package for Derrick Rose look like?

Depends which team is the trade partner to some degree. The common perception is that the Pistons would want a first-round pick for Rose. That’s a big ask on the face of it for a player with Rose’s injury history entering the final year of his contract. But because the financial commitment is so low – Rose is due to make $7.7 million in the coming season, or less than a full mid-level exception contract by $1.6 million – and the production so high, a team that envisions itself one dynamic scorer shy of vaulting itself into the next tier, whether that’s solidifying playoff status or elevating to legitimate title contender, would naturally be interested in adding Rose. So for the Pistons, if they make the decision that Rose’s value in trade is greater than his impact on spurring their growth, it comes down to how valuable a first-round pick they can secure. If they can get a team that isn’t a playoff slam-dunk to offer a first-round pick with less-than-ironclad lottery protection, that would be intriguing, one would imagine.

Shminom (shmimomcarlson): Christian Wood. That’s it. That’s the question.

Free-agent basketball player. That’s it. That’s the answer. Look, we’ve gone around on this one a hundred times since March and not much has changed. The Pistons have the early Bird exception which seems like a pretty big deal in a year when there are very few teams that can do better than the anticipated $10 million in first-year salary the Pistons could offer (based on the average 2019-20 NBA salary) as the exception. ESPN, in fact, projects only three franchises – Charlotte, New York and Atlanta – with more cap space than the mid-level exception (anticipated to be $9.3 million) – in addition to the Pistons. So if smart money was always on the Pistons as Wood’s likeliest landing spot, then that seems even more true given the impact of the pandemic on NBA reality.

Craig K (jcraig24): Who is this year’s Christian Wood in free agency?

I doubt there’s anyone quite like that because how often does a player go from hiding in plain sight – Wood had stints with four franchises over the previous three NBA seasons and put up big numbers in the G League – to the type of production Wood gave the Pistons last season? That certainly isn’t a once-a-season phenomenon. Once every three seasons? Maybe? Five? If there’s a player who has a chance to rise from relative obscurity to a valuable rotation piece this season, I’d put a dollar on Sacramento’s Harry Giles. He’s been beset by knee injuries – ACL tears in both knees before arriving at Duke, where his one and only season was interrupted by arthroscopic knee surgery – but has been relatively healthy since coming to the NBA. Lots of lost development time, though, for a player who was seen as the No. 1 recruit at one time in the high school class of 2016. He’s averaged 7.0 points and 3.9 rebounds in 14 minutes a game over 104 games of his two-year NBA career. At 22, he could be ready for bigger things – if his knee issues are manageable.

JB (@BeastnruleJ): Are we looking to sign players like Josh Jackson? Low risk, high reward if we can develop them.

I don’t know about Josh Jackson specifically, but, yeah, I’m sure one of the components of Troy Weaver’s off-season game planning along with his key personnel aides has been to pore over the rosters of every NBA team to determine where the hidden bargains are to be found. Jackson, Harry Giles as discussed in the previous question … if you can find one or two players like that who go from minimum (or similar) contracts to contributors every off-season, that’s a big part of the “sustained success” path that Dwane Casey and Weaver have discussed.

Paul Harris (@PaulHar10218411): Just tell me the Pistons have no intention of trading Luke Kennard. He’s a beast.

From another team’s perspective, Kennard would be one of the first you would ask about, it stands to reason. He’s entering the last year of his rookie contract and other teams know that means the Pistons are soon facing a decision on his future. The front office that drafted him is no longer in place. He’s an elite shooter who experienced a breakout before knee tendinitis – by all accounts, favorably resolved – ended his season. How Troy Weaver, the new general manager, views Kennard can’t be known, but you can bet Weaver’s peers around the NBA will press to see if Kennard can be had. In general, I’d say a team on the Pistons timeline would be reluctant to give up on young talent over which it holds a degree of control. Kennard could become a restricted free agent after the 2021 season, but the Pistons would still have the right to match an offer sheet and retain a valuable asset. So I doubt they have the intention as of today of trading Kennard, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t evaluate all reasonable offers and weigh them against their future with him.

Xegesis (@xegesis): Who do you hope the Pistons get to draft?

The guy who turns out to be the best player from the 2020 draft. Who that might be is anyone’s guess. There are a few point guards who are intriguing if they make it to the seventh pick. I’ve become a big fan of Killian Hayes and also think Tyrese Haliburton is going to figure it out and be a very valuable NBA player. Playmakers, shot makers, shot creators – the 3-point shot has become of such outsized importance that guys who can do great things with the ball in their hands are extraordinarily precious in today’s game. So one of those would be most welcome. That said, you can’t force it and draft a guard in hopes that he becomes something he’s not. That’s why the Pistons pursued Troy Weaver and put him in charge of such decisions. A talent evaluator who can project what teenagers can become in a different world – the NBA game is very much different than college or international basketball – two or three years down the road is invaluable. I’m glad it’s his decision and not mine.

Charles (Redford Twp., Mich.): I can see a future where the NBA Finals are played in a bubble every season. Have a mid-season tournament (All-Star game) to determine the location. Going back to East vs. West, maybe have the Finals in New York if the East wins and Los Angeles if it’s the team from the West.

You’ve just frozen Adam Silver and every NBA owner and every sales agent trying to peddle season tickets with fear. Ticket-buying fans would riot if they spent years invested in their team’s pursuit of a championship only to see them get to the Finals and not have the opportunity to sit in their seat and watch them try to win it in the arena they’ve patronized faithfully. No, I can’t see a future where the NBA Finals are played at a predetermined and neutral site. The NFL does it with the Super Bowl, granted, but they’ve done it that way for more than 50 years and there are enough tickets available in a football stadium that, presumably, at least a representative sample of each competing team’s fans can have access to tickets, though NFL corporate partners gobble up a huge number of available tickets. The NBA, in effect, does that with its All-Star game.

Monti (Hamtramck, Mich.): If we have another NBA bubble next season, is it possible Detroit, Philadelphia, New York or San Antonio would be bubble sites? What are you hearing in terms of whether or not the NBA would have a bubble next season?

Talk of the NBA starting next season in a bubble – or regional pods – has quieted of late. It was on a long list of possibilities when the NBA was keeping as many options open as it could possibly conjure and, I suppose, it remains available should science deem it the best way to bridge the gap until business as usual can resume. But it seems like a more remote possibility at present. By all indications, the NBA will be playing in-market games – likely in largely or completely devoid of fans – for the start of the 2020-21 season, at least.

Lonny (Harper Woods, Mich.): If the Pistons were to sign Brandon Ingram to a max contract to go along with their pick at seven, would that speed up their rebuild or set them back? Also, can Sekou Doumbouya take a step up this year?

Moot point. Ingram, a restricted free agent, is almost certain to get a max deal from New Orleans. If the Pelicans are banking on the fact that with so few teams holding cap space in a year where every team has taken a financial hit and decide not to extend a max deal on their own, then surely they would match an offer sheet if Ingram gets a max offer from another team. Yes, Doumbouya can and should take a step up this year. How big is the looming question. He had a productive summer, based on the comments from Dwane Casey and his teammates coming out of the recent team camp, but it wasn’t the ideal summer development program given the pandemic-related restrictions in place.

Jay (Taylor, Mich.): With rumors of DeMar DeRozan wanting out in San Antonio and Fred VanVleet being a free agent, how good could the Pistons be if they were to come here or would this be a step back in their rebuilding?

There’s not much doubt that adding DeRozan and VanVleet would make the Pistons a more formidable team immediately, but at what opportunity cost? VanVleet is going to command a lot of money – though who knows what’s going to happen given the climate? – and DeRozan has a $28 million player option that makes it unlikely, given the climate, he’ll become a free agent. And, in that case, it seems just as unlikely he’d be a trade candidate for the Pistons unless the Spurs would attach some other asset or two.

Barron (Taylor, Mich.): What have you seen from Killian Hayes or Tyrese Haliburton that would make them excellent fits for the Pistons at seven?

As I wrote above, there is a premium on playmakers and those two project as two of the best if they hit their marks in the NBA. They also both seem like high-character players, which both Troy Weaver and Dwane Casey have emphasized over the off-season as being critical in their evaluations. If there was a betting market on which player the Pistons would draft and you could do a Hayes-Haliburton parlay, that might be the most popular choice.

Ken (Dharamsala, India): There are some intriguing, athletic NBA physiques at forward that may be available at the seventh pick. If the Pistons draft a forward, then do they have enough point guard talent on the roster now to get through a rebuilding year upcoming? Can Kennard, Brown, Bone or somebody play the point until the Pistons cash in Griffin or find a legitimate point guard in 2021? Fred VanVleet is going to be expensive, most likely.

Isaac Okoro and Patrick Williams seems like the two players who best fit your description. Whether the Pistons draft a point guard or not, though, I fully expect them to go after one in free agency capable of giving them 20-plus minutes every night. Fred VanVleet might not be the one they add, given the asking price, but there are solid veterans with starting experience, players like D.J. Augustin or Jeff Teague, who could fit the bill.

Hooper Fan (@hooperFan1): Will the Pistons re-sign Thon Maker or let him walk?

That’s a 50-50 call at this point. I think it’s pretty fair to guess that the Pistons will not extend a qualifying offer to Maker – the difference between Maker being guaranteed $4.8 million and becoming a restricted free agent or Maker being guaranteed nothing and becoming an unrestricted free agent – and he hits the open market. Perhaps the Pistons would circle back to him, depending on what else they accomplish with their cap space and how they choose to commit to roster spots, but I suspect it would be on a minimum contract.

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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