A long off-season challenges Pistons front office, coaches as NBA takes first back-to-business steps

Dwane Casey
Dwane Casey and the Pistons face a long off-season and a challenging set of circumstances as they plot development courses for their young players
Rocky Widner (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

The answer: 265 days. The question: How long will the Pistons go between games if the 2020-21 NBA season doesn’t start until Dec. 1, the reported target date?

And the likelihood, since a lottery team that hasn’t signed LeBron James isn’t generally put on the opening-night marquee, is that the Pistons won’t play until the next day. So 266 days. Bump that up even more if the season is pushed back to a Christmas Day start, another possibility.

Even at Dec. 1, that’s 76 days more of a layoff than what would have been if they’d ended on April 14, as scheduled, and begun next season on Oct. 21, their likely opener on a conventional NBA calendar. It’s a nice, round 100 extra days if the tipoff is pushed to Christmas.

On the other end of the spectrum, there will be a mere 50 days between Oct. 12, the reported latest possible date for the resumed season’s Finals Game 7, and a Dec. 1 opener. That’s 10-plus weeks less of a break than the 122 days there would have been between a June 21 Game 7 – that was the last possible date for the originally scheduled season – and a projected Oct. 21 start.

The two teams that lose in the conference finals will have about a 65-day break and the four eliminated in the second round roughly 80 days between seasons. Twenty-two teams are going to Orlando to play out the season in a “bubble” environment and all of them will play eight regular-season games. So six teams will be finished, presumably, by August 20 and have roughly 70 days until training camp opens and 100 days before the regular season tips off.

Bottom line: Most teams are going to have a shorter off-season than usual and the Pistons are one of just eight that will face an extraordinarily long break. Like every front office and coaching staff, you can bet Ed Stefanski and Dwane Casey will digest the news coming out of NBA headquarters and begin huddling with their staffs to map out a blueprint for the long off-season in front of them.

The greatest risk to the organization, it would seem, is how the complete disruption of the calendar affects individual players. For veterans, it becomes a question of how to alter their off-season regimen. For younger players – by far the larger cohort among Pistons players and the biggest organizational challenge – it becomes a question of how to adjust to take full advantage of a most abnormal off-season.

Details on how the eight teams will be accommodated are sketchy at best at this point after Thursday’s Board of Governors vote approved commissioner Adam Silver’s plan to relaunch the 2019-20 season in Orlando under austere conditions – limited travel parties, no fans, restrictions on the comings and goings of players and other team personnel in an attempt to limit the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

There has been vague talk of allowing those eight excluded franchises some sort of summer camp. But since the draft and free agency won’t come until after the October conclusion of the season, you’re talking about a limited number of players once those whose contracts have expired – count Langston Galloway, Christian Wood, John Henson, Brandon Knight and Jordan McRae among them – are considered.

The draft lottery is slated for August 25, according to multiple reports, and the draft for Oct. 15 with free agency to follow on Oct. 18.

Since the eight teams at the bottom of the standings won’t play any more games, the Pistons are locked in to the No. 5 lottery slot which gives them a 42.1 percent shot at landing a top-four pick and a 10.5 percent chance of the No. 1 pick.

The details of the NBA’s return to business will be important, among them any possible adjustments to dates for picking up options or extending qualifying offers. For a few relevant examples: There’s currently a June 29 deadline for both picking up the third-year option on Svi Mykhailiuk’s contract and extending a qualifying offer to Thon Maker and early-July deadlines for picking up the third-year options on both Bruce Brown and Khyri Thomas.

With free agency pushed into October, are those dates adjusted accordingly? With the Pistons’ season over, are they free to engage in trades with the seven other teams who aren’t part of the Orlando bubble? When will the NBA have determinations on what the salary cap and tax level will be – numbers that typically are determined just as free agency opens?

As the NBA takes the first steps in getting back to business, attention is understandably focused on the 22 teams headed to Orlando. The eight excluded franchises face a different set of challenges. Those lightest on their feet are already planning to make the best use of a prolonged off-season.

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