More than a year after training camps for the 2019-20 NBA season opened and less than two weeks shy of a year since the regular season tipped off, the off-season has finally arrived. How long it lasts remains an open-ended question, dependent foremost on when the NBA believes it will be able to launch under conditions that most closely resemble business as usual – in other words, a date that allows for as many fans as is safe and prudent to be present for as many of the 82 games as possible.
In the meantime, teams proceed cautiously and try game planning for a future whose rules have yet to be written. What is certain is that the draft will come ahead of free agency, as usual. Whether trades will be OK’d prior to the draft remains to be determined, though it seems necessary to have trades allowed at least by the time the draft gets under way.
The Pistons – armed with significant cap space, the No. 7 pick in the draft, a new general manager and an organizational acknowledgment of a rebuilding effort – appear set to be transactional tone setters. Here’s a synopsis of what the coming weeks and months will entail before the 2020-21 – or, almost certainly, just the 2021 – NBA season launches.
Draft – Reports say the NBA, after barring face-to-face meetings or on-site workouts, will allow each team to conduct up to 10 in-person meetings with draft prospects. The draft seems now fairly certain to be held on Nov. 18, less than five weeks away.
Getting the OK to meet with prospects counts as a win for the Pistons since both new general manager Troy Weaver and coach Dwane Casey have stated the biggest missing piece in their evaluation was face-to-face meetings with lottery candidates.
“I just feel like my philosophy is we don’t draft players, we draft people,” Weaver said at his June introductory press conference. “We want to make sure we get the person right. More times than not, high picks that don’t pan out the way people see it, you miss on the person.”
“From a coaching standpoint, I like to meet a young man, look him eyeball to eyeball, sit down and talk to him and ask him about his family, get to know him as a person,” Casey said last month. “We can evaluate quite a bit off of video, but from a getting-to-know-you standpoint, I like to sit down and spend time, maybe watch some video and quiz him a little bit. That’s the thing we’ll be missing if we don’t have the opportunity to bring draft choices in to talk to them.”
I wouldn’t expect the Pistons or most teams to acknowledge which prospects they successfully arrange to meet, but that type of information often goes public. Teams probably always would want more than the NBA cap, but 10 interviews should give Weaver and Casey an ample comfort zone to get the players they feel are especially important to connect with personally.
Trades – One thing that needs to be resolved before trades can be executed, in all likelihood, is amending the collective bargaining agreement to reflect the impact on the finances of the NBA caused by the suspension of the season in March and the exclusion of fans from the Orlando bubble reboot.
In normal times, the Pistons would have been free to execute trades with other non-playoff teams as soon as their season ended and with all teams upon completion of the playoffs. Once the NBA and Players Association sign off on amendments to the CBA and establish the thresholds for the 2021 salary cap and luxury tax, the Pistons will have an amount of cap space greater than all other NBA franchises except Atlanta and New York. If the cap is held to its 2019-20 level of $109 million – a commonly held belief that would allow for adjustments in future caps as a more complete financial picture comes into focus - the Pistons would have approximately $30 million in cap space.
That almost certainly will make them a potential trade partner for teams needing to pare payroll, either to avoid luxury tax or create cap space for other acquisitions prioritized before the shutdown.
Free agency – There’s not much debate whether the current reality will depress the free-agent windfall players could have reasonably anticipated. The only question is to what degree it will be diminished.
With the mid-level exception – set at a first-year salary of $9.7 million when the cap was expected to be $115 million but now likely to be proportionally less than that – the most attractive bait in the arsenal for the majority of NBA teams, the Pistons will be well positioned to wheel and deal. Whether that means renting out their cap space in exchange for future draft capital or finding value buys in a depressed market or some combination of both, stay tuned.
Bottom line, it shapes up as a wildly unpredictable off-season on the heels of an unforeseeable and unprecedented regular season. Troy Weaver is going to have a gaping opportunity to remake the Pistons as he sees fit in his first off-season in the pilot’s chair.