Pistons (and non-bubble teams) at least not at risk of injuries that carry over to 2020-21

Sekou Doumbouya
Sekou Doumbouya is foremost among the young Pistons at the heart of Dwane Casey’s concerns over a potential 9-month layoff
Jesse D. Garrabrant (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

The Pistons – both Dwane Casey in June and Troy Weaver more recently – made it clear that their wish was for the NBA to allow the Pistons something in the way of organized basketball before training camp for the 2020-21 season.

“Whatever they put in front of us, we’ll be ready,” Weaver said just last week. “We can definitely benefit from any type of team activity enhancing what we’re doing now, which is one-on-zero workouts. It can definitely be a benefit to the eight teams outside of the bubble. We’ll stay diligent and prepared for whatever the league puts in front of us.”

A few days later, there was news out of the Orlando bubble that reminded each of the eight teams excluded from the resumption of the NBA’s 2019-20 season that inclusion came with its own set of risks.

Orlando has been rebuilding for much of the past decade, ever since Dwight Howard forced his way out of town following the 2011-12 season. Only recently, that rebuilding seemed to gain traction. There was no bigger part of it – no player with a brighter future – than Jonathan Isaac. At 23, the No. 6 pick in the 2017 draft was starting to fulfill the potential that led Orlando to take the spindly Isaac after one season at Florida State.

But now it’s a solid bet that Isaac will miss all of the 2020-21 season after suffering a torn ACL in his left knee on Sunday in his second game in the bubble – his second game since returning from a different January injury to the same knee.

That’s a devastating blow to the Magic. I talked to one member of Orlando’s coaching staff before the Pistons and Magic squared off in a game with huge playoff implications on March 28, 2019 about what had turned around Orlando’s season – a 15-6 run that had the Magic in the thick of it with the Pistons, Brooklyn, Charlotte and Miami for the final three playoff spots. The player he mentioned most prominently was Isaac, raving about his improvement and his future.

Sure, there is always risk for injury whenever NBA players are engaged in five-on-five, competitive basketball. But if Isaac’s injury had happened in late March, close to the end of a normal regular season, next season wouldn’t have been a total wipeout, in all likelihood. Now? Even with a delayed start to the 2020-21 season – speculation is that it might start in early December – it’s unlikely Orlando would risk Isaac playing a single game, even if his rehabilitation goes smoothly, given his youth and future value.

Casey, logically, worries how going nine months between games – the duration between the March 11 suspension and the targeted early-December tipoff to 2020-21 – will affect young Pistons players who become even more essential to their future with last winter’s organizational decision to rebuild.

Even if they’re taking full advantage of those one-on-zero workouts – they are, players working with assistant coaches on shooting, ballhandling and the limited menu of things you can accomplish on your own– there’s only so much juice you can squeeze from that orange.

“From a basketball standpoint, you can only do that so long before it gets stale,” Casey said earlier this summer. “Players get stale and start to go the other way.”

It doesn’t appear there will be a second bubble as had been discussed earlier this summer with speculation that teams would gather – likely in Chicago – to scrimmage against each other or, perhaps, play some sort of round-robin schedule. Whether the Pistons and the seven other non-Orlando teams are allowed at least a team camp of some sort at their home bases remains uncertain.

Casey isn’t concerned about the layoff for Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, for certain. Free agents like Langston Galloway and Christian Wood probably wouldn’t be part of any camp, for obvious reasons, but there’s a considerable roster of players who would be central to Casey’s concerns. Sekou Doumbouya, as a 19-year-old for whom development is essential, tops the list that would include Mykhailiuk, Khyri Thomas, Bruce Brown, Luke Kennard, Justin Patton, Jordan Bone and Louis King.

Holding a team camp at the Pistons Performance Center might not be all Casey or Weaver had hoped to get out of the summer, but it probably is enough to unlock dormant competitive genes, at least, and make December seem not quite so out of reach.

And a team camp, whatever its deficiencies relative to competition against other teams, at least minimizes the risk of the sort of catastrophe that befell the Orlando Magic this week.

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