Diallo’s return all but wraps up a Pistons off-season begun by adding No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham

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Hamidou Diallo, acquired by the Pistons at the March 2021 trade deadline, will return to them after being re-signed as a restricted free agent.
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

There’s still a little trimming around the edges left, but Troy Weaver essentially put a bow on his 2021-22 Pistons roster construction project by re-signing Hamidou Diallo. Compared to his first off-season as general manager – a full-on Olympic sprint – this time was more like a stroll through the park.

The big addition of the summer, of course, was using the No. 1 pick in July’s NBA draft to take Cade Cunningham. Weaver followed up by adding newcomers Kelly Olynyk and Trey Lyles as free agents, bringing back veterans Cory Joseph and Rodney McGruder after waiving them and agreeing to more favorable deals and then waiting out the restricted free agencies of Frank Jackson and Diallo.

With money tight leaguewide as teams adjusted to the reality of a salary cap that came in significantly lower than pre-pandemic planning assumed, it was an especially tough market for restricted free agents, who face challenges even in more normal off-seasons. And that meant that the Pistons were able to retain both Jackson and Diallo for less than many assumed Diallo alone would command, retaining two emerging young players on contracts that preserve the majority of the cap-space bounty the Pistons will carry into free agency 2022.

Both players wound up signing reported two-year deals, each with team options for year two, Diallo for $5.2 million per season and Jackson for $3.1 million per season by multiple reports. When Weaver obtained Diallo from Oklahoma City at the March trade deadline, sending back Svi Mykhailiuk and a 2027 second-round pick, speculation was that Diallo would be in line for a contract around the mid-level exception of $9.5 million.

A few things about the totality of the Pistons roster moves over the off-season:

  • The need to add 3-point shooting and spacing was a common thread. The premier free-agent signing, Olynyk, gives Dwane Casey the ammunition to field lineups with five 3-point threats, especially if second-year center Isaiah Stewart continues on the path he began as a rookie when he flashed surprising touch from the perimeter. Cunningham hit 40 percent of his threes at Oklahoma State under duress and 50 percent in Summer League. Second-round picks Isaiah Livers and Luka Garza both are above-average and frequent 3-point shooters at their positions.

  • The Pistons are in a far different place from a size and length standpoint on the wing than they were before Weaver’s arrival. Consider that when the Pistons played Milwaukee in the 2019 playoffs the three primary wings were Wayne Ellington, Luke Kennard and Bruce Brown, none taller than 6-foot-5 and only Brown with a wingspan of greater than 6-foot-7. Now their primary wings figure to be Cunningham (6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan), Saddiq Bey (6-foot-8, 6-foot-10), Diallo (6-foot-5, 6-foot-11) and Josh Jackson (6-foot-8, 6-foot-10). They can easily put Jerami Grant on a bigger wing if they want to play big with Stewart and Olynyk and use Grant’s 7-foot-3 wingspan to smother passing lanes. Killian Hayes (6-foot-5, 6-foot-8) and Cunningham figure to be one of the primary backcourt pairs, making the Pistons suddenly one of the NBA’s longest teams.

  • The Motor City Cruise, the Pistons G League affiliate that debuts this fall in a new arena on Wayne State’s campus, will be the beneficiary of Weaver’s “restoration” of the Pistons by frequently fielding lineups with several NBA players, in all likelihood. Livers and Garza, two four-year Big Ten players with enormous name recognition in the area, figure to be lineup staples as Livers builds his way back from spring foot surgery that should see him cleared in time for the start of the G League season. Saben Lee and Sekou Doumbouya are also candidates for G League time. And Chris Smith, another willowy 6-foot-9 wing with a wingspan of greater than 7 feet from UCLA signed to a two-way contract like Garza, will join the club once he’s cleared to return from a January ACL tear and surgery.

  • With 16 players on guaranteed contracts, the Pistons will need to trim one player by some means but not until the eve of the NBA regular season, which opens Oct. 19. They can go to training camp with 20 players. In addition to the 16 standard contracts they currently hold plus the two-way deals of Garza and Smith and the reported Exhibit 10 deal signed by Georgetown’s Jamorko Pickett, a Summer League surprise, the Pistons would have one remaining spot for their training camp roster if they don’t make any other moves between now and the Sept. 27 opening of camp.

  • Here’s a look at the roster, broken down by position:

    Point Guard – Killian Hayes, Cory Joseph, Saben Lee
    Shooting Guard – *Cade Cunningham, Hamidou Diallo, Frank Jackson, Rodney McGruder
    Small Forward – Saddiq Bey, Josh Jackson, *Isaiah Livers, *Chris Smith (2W)
    Power Forward – Jerami Grant, *Trey Lyles, Sekou Doumbouya, *Jamorko Pickett (E10)
    Center – Isaiah Stewart, *Kelly Olynyk, Jahlil Okafor, *Luka Garza (2W)

Key - * indicates newcomer to the roster; 2W indicates a two-way contract; E10 indicates an Exhibit 10 contract

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