Continuity a strength for Pistons, but Stefanski’s already remade a third of the roster
AUBURN HILLS – It was more by design than accident that Ed Stefanski inherited a roster with an unusually high percentage of players under contract. Stan Van Gundy, his predecessor in charge of basketball operations, bucked a recent trend of extending short-term contract offers in favor of betting on the benefits of roster continuity with longer-term deals.
So only Anthony Tolliver and James Ennis from the group that finished in the rotation last season were lost to free agency – and Ennis was a trade-deadline rental to balance a roster thrown out of whack by the cost to acquire Blake Griffin.
Still, in two months Stefanski is responsible for remaking the roster by one-third. He landed Glenn Robinson III, Jose Calderon and Zaza Pachulia in trade and picked up two promising second-rounders, Khyri Thomas and Bruce Brown, by shipping two future second-round picks to Philadelphia to pluck Thomas 38th to go with the pick at 42 the Pistons already held.
Add two-way player Keenan Evans, a player who caught Stefanski’s eye early in Texas Tech’s season before a painful turf toe injury hampered his play and likely cost him a spot in the draft, and that makes six of the 16 players under contract Stefanski’s doing.
And in restocking the wing positions with Robinson, Thomas and Brown, Stefanski relieved any pressure to swing trades before training camp to evenly distribute players across the depth chart.
“We have a versatile lineup,” he said. “You always want to get better, but I think our lineup from the standpoint of adding Bruce and Khyri, it really bolstered our wing spots.”
Stefanski will turn the roster over to Dwane Casey for any decisions beyond stocking it, but he came away from Summer League with the notion that one of the two rookies could make some noise and push for playing time.
“I really believe that. They like to play defense,” he said. “They’re from good programs, they’re unbelievable kids and they want to play defense. Everywhere I’ve been, (rookies) never got on the floor because they didn’t play defense. These two want to. I like both of them.”
The rookies, after a short break following Summer League play, are in town and working out at the Pistons practice facility. Stefanski said the Pistons have filled out Casey’s coaching staff – Sean Sweeney and Sidney Lowe were in place for the Summer League team and Micah Nori, who worked with Casey in Toronto, has been added from Denver’s staff and they’ll be on the first row with Casey – with three development coaches in addition to Tim Grgurich, an icon in coaching circles and especially renowned for his development ability.
Brown showed his versatility at Summer League, leading the team in rebounding while spending a good chunk of the last three games playing point guard. Thomas sat out the last few games with a mild hamstring strain, but displayed shooting potential and sound decision making when he played.
“They made plays. They didn’t look (overwhelmed) at any point,” Stefanski said. “Khyri plays with such great pace. He plays with an NBA pace already. The other guy is just an animal – he rebounds, he’ll guard. He got hit in the face once, but he doesn’t care. He’s as tough as nails, that kid. I think he could be a point guard down the line. With Ish (Smith) and Calderon on the last year of their contracts, that could be huge for us.”
Both rookies will spend hours in shooting drills over the two months between now and the opening of training camp. Brown flashed a strong nose for the basket in Summer League but had trouble finishing, so that will be a focus of his workouts. Thomas will work on making his left hand as strong as his right.
Thomas and Brown will attend Grgurich’s camp in Las Vegas next month, as will Henry Ellenson. It’s become a staple of the NBA’s summer calendar with teams across the league eager to ship their young players for a week of intense skills drilling. Stefanski will be there, too, monitoring their progress.