Pistons Mailbag - September 16, 2020
Can the Pistons find an impact point guard with the No. 7 pick? What’s the best use of their cap space this off-season? That gets us off and running in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Ken (Dharamsala, India): The point guards projected for the lottery where the Pistons will be picking all seem to be seriously flawed. Some can’t shoot, can’t use their off hand, are too small-framed, have knee or foot injuries. Can the Pistons acquire what seems to be a necessary ingredient to a championship team, an All-Star or greater point guard, given the “chips” they possess?
Langlois: Everybody is in agreement, it seems, that it’s not a particularly deep draft nor one with an identifiable no-doubt star at the top of it. But history says there’s going to be an impact player available after six players are off the board and the Pistons go on the clock with the seventh pick. Who that might be is anyone’s guess, but the ability to identify him is a huge part of the reason Troy Weaver was a coveted executive and became the current Pistons general manager. A commonly held view of this draft is that it is deepest in point guards among the top 15 to 20 prospects. In that regard, it’s similar to the 2009 draft when four point guards went in the top 10 and eight in the top 20. The seventh pick that year – after point guards Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn went fifth and sixth, both to Minnesota – was some guy named Steph Curry. I don’t know that there’ll be a future two-time MVP available with the seventh pick for Weaver this year, but I’ll guarantee you that there were some of the same “flaws” you referenced being listed on Curry’s scouting reports across NBA front offices back then. One of the traits that separates great personnel evaluators from average or worse ones is the ability to see what a prospect does well that will translate to the NBA rather than dwelling on all the areas where he might fall short of standards. If one among the crop that includes Killian Hayes, Kira Lewis, Cole Anthony, Tyrese Maxey, Tyrese Haliburton and Theo Maledon strikes Weaver as a player with an outstanding attribute or two, then I’ll put my faith in the guy with a proven track record of spotting talent.
Ian (Westland, Mich.): I think you did an and I hope it leaves us with such good options. Also, if Deni Avdija or Obi Toppin fall I hope we stay away from them.
Langlois: There should be little confidence that anyone’s draft projections are going to prove very accurate in a year where there appears to be so little separation between those considered as lottery candidates. I tried to apply some logic as it relates to roster construction when considering the players Chicago, Cleveland and Atlanta might take at 4-5-6, but the reality is that those front offices – like the Pistons – are less concerned about roster fit and more focused on taking the player they think will provide the most value. So while I contend that it would be tough for a Cleveland front office to draft another point guard after taking two smallish guards, Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, in the past two lotteries, it probably shouldn’t surprise anyone if the Cavs go with another point guard if they truly believe that player – whether it be Killian Hayes or Tyrese Haliburton or Cole Anthony or someone else – is destined to be better than anyone else available to them. Ditto for the Bulls at four and Obi Toppin despite the fact they’ve drafted power forward Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter in recent lotteries. In most years, I think it would be highly improbable that a general manager picking seventh, as Troy Weaver will be, would get a player he considers the third- or fourth-best prospect. But this year? Maybe not all that improbable.
Off-White Clone (@APistonsfan): If the chance to bring Andre Drummond back happened, would you take it?
Langlois: At what price? There’s still a place in the NBA for big men who do the things Drummond can do. He’s the dominant rebounder of his generation and can be an effective defender given his strength and lateral mobility. That’s no longer a recipe for the $29 million Drummond is due to make on the last year of the contract he signed with the Pistons following the 2015-16 season, but at the right price is he still a guy you can win with when surrounded by the right mix of players? I don’t see any reason why not.
Pickup Rodman (@Becky_WTGD): Who are we likely to spend all of this cap space on? Is this even the off-season to spend?
Langlois: I thought it was likely that the Pistons would devote a chunk of their cap space to taking on contracts from other teams even before the suspension of the season and the financial hit that resulted from it. Now it’s even more likely given the anticipated lowering of the salary cap (and tax line) from the targets teams had been using for planning purposes. There will be a number of teams looking to get off of substantial contracts either to avoid taxes or to create cap space to make moves they conceptualized but now can’t accommodate without additional cap space. It’s possible the Pistons commit cap space to signing long-term pieces as part of their rebuilding, but it’s likelier that the free agents they sign are short-term pieces to help field a competitive roster on their way to something closer to a playoff core.
Cara Mia (@italianchic 101): Which Morris twin will win the ring?
Langlois: Well, it won’t be Marcus. We found that out late Tuesday night when the Denver Nuggets became the first team in NBA history to come back from 3-1 deficits twice in one postseason. As remarkable as Denver’s story is, I suspect the lasting impact of the series will be felt most by the Clippers. When you push your chips to the center of the table as Clippers ownership and management did last summer – trading five first-round picks plus Shae Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari – and get bounced in the second round, that’s a failure. And now the Clippers have to decide if it was a blip or if they need to do something other than cosmetic surgery on a roster that was designed to win now – not in two or three years. Kawhi Leonard can become a free agent after the 2020-21 season, if he chooses, and as hard as his intentions are to read can the Clippers be really sure he’s not already mulling a future elsewhere? The Lakers become the heavy betting favorites with the Clippers’ exit, though I wouldn’t write off Denver – or either East team that emerges, Boston or Miami.
@EmoniBuckets: How likely would a sign-and-trade with Christian Wood be? Going into a full rebuild, I really don’t see them keeping him on a big contract.
Langlois: If it’s not the likeliest option, neither is it the most remote possibility. Again, there simply aren’t going to be a lot of teams with the latitude to commit to eight-figure salaries this off-season unless they can strike on creative solutions. A sign-and-trade deal would be one such possibility. The Pistons, as we’ve cited, can offer Wood the early Bird exception that means he would get a first-year salary equal to the average NBA salary for 2019-20, or roughly $10 million. There weren’t going to be many teams who were a logical fit to come after Wood with more than that even before the shutdown and there are fewer now. But I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that the Pistons wouldn’t be interested in Wood on a relatively long-term deal just because they traded Andre Drummond and acknowledged they were hitting the reset button. Wood is still a young player who’d be in his prime for the life of even a five-year deal – the longest term possible under the current collective bargaining agreement. If they can retain him at a price that they think adequately reflects his value, there would be no reason to seek a sign-and-trade partner unless they felt the return was of even greater benefit to the franchise’s future.
Mark B. (@mbmiotto): Is the front office and ownership happy with Dwane Casey as coach or do you see them reaching out to Mike D’Antoni to see if he has any interest?
Langlois: Tom Gores made a pretty compelling pitch to Dwane Casey just over two years ago at a time Casey wasn’t initially inclined to jump right back into coaching. Gores has been emphatic in his praise of Casey ever since. Casey is fairly unique in that while some coaches are clearly more suited to coaching veteran teams and others a better fit for younger teams in development, Casey’s had a foot in each world. One of the major reasons Toronto was in position to win the NBA title in 2019 – full acknowledgment that another compelling reason was its trade for Kawhi Leonard – was the way Casey’s coaching spurred the development of a bunch of late-first (Pascal Siakam, Delon Wright, O.G. Anunoby) and second-round (Normal Powell) picks plus undrafted free agents (Fred VanVleet) and entrusted them with major roles. Getting undervalued players into the system is now the charge of Troy Weaver, who was known for his eye for talent while serving as assistant general manager in Oklahoma City. That seems like a pretty good recipe. Weaver and Casey seem ideally suited to form a hand-in-glove partnership and have been enthusiastically supportive of each other since Weaver was hired in June. The Pistons, simply put, are not in the market for a head coach and it has very little to do with the fact Casey has three years remaining on his contract and very much to do with the sense that he’s done what Gores hoped he would do in establishing a culture that starts with the dedication to the level of commitment winning basketball at the NBA level requires. And Weaver and Casey are in lockstep on those values. D’Antoni will likely land with a playoff-ready team looking for more postseason success.
Barry (Detroit): Dwight Howard will reportedly be released by the Los Angeles Lakers after this season. Does he make sense for the Pistons to sign to a one-year deal for next season?
Langlois: Howard will be a free agent. The Lakers signed him to a one-year, veteran’s minimum deal last off-season. Does he make sense for the Pistons? Seems unlikely. If Howard continues to play – he’ll be 35 by the time 2020-21 tips off with a history of back and other injuries – it’s likely he’ll be looking for a similar situation to what he found this season with the Lakers: a veteran team looking for one more spare bench piece to increase depth and versatility. It would seem a long shot, given Howard’s temperament and history, that he would land with a franchise that’s embarking on a rebuilding effort.