Off-season? What off-season? Pistons start NBA clock ticking on 2021-22 with No. 1 pick in Thursday’s draft

Saddiq Bey
Saddiq Bey is expected to be one of the many Pistons young players who’ll be part of their Summer League roster that will play in Las Vegas August 8-17
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

The NBA off-season is basically the time between the end of the NBA Finals and the draft. This year, that amounts to nine days. The 2020-21 season ended with the Milwaukee Bucks basking in the limelight. The 2021-22 season opens with the Pistons standing squarely in the spotlight.

Things will happen fast with what remains of this summer, too, the off-season condensed by a month due to the delayed start to last season amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the desire by the NBA to get back to its traditional schedule for 2021-22 – meaning training camps will open in late September and the regular season starts Oct. 19.

But before that comes this week’s draft and on its heels free agency and the opening of a Summer League where the Pistons will be front and center on the marquee.

Here are the key dates and the things to look for with the Pistons over the next nine weeks leading to the start of training camp:

NBA DRAFT – The NBA draft will start at 8 p.m. Thursday with the first round airing on ABC and the second moving to ESPN. The draft itself will be held at Barclays Center in Brooklyn and the 20 players invited to the green room – almost certainly including whichever player the Pistons take at No. 1 – will be there, but the Pistons will conduct business from their team headquarters, the Pistons Performance Center.

There are four players widely considered possibilities for the No. 1 pick: college freshmen Cade Cunningham of Oklahoma State, Evan Mobley of Southern Cal and Jalen
of Gonzaga in addition to Jalen Green, who bypassed college to play for the G League Ignite. Cunningham is widely considered the top prospect but most concede the gap is narrow enough that anything is possible. And Pistons general manager Troy Weaver, predictably, hasn’t tipped his hand.

In addition to holding the No. 1 pick – a result of winning the lottery on June 22, the first time in 14 tries they’ve moved up in the lottery and the first time they’ve drafted first since 1970 when Hall of Famer Bob Lanier was the pick – the Pistons have three second-round picks at 37, 42 and 52. Don’t be surprised if they trade one or two of those picks, however. Roster space is at a premium and the Pistons, one year after carrying five rookies on their roster, are unlikely to add three or four more rookies this time around.

FREE AGENCY – Four days after the draft, free agency opens with teams allowed to negotiate with players at 6 p.m. August 2 and signings allowed at noon August 6 with the expiration of the moratorium period.

The Pistons are probably narrowly focused on a few needs in free agency. They won’t have significant cap space and, in fact, in part because of the cap hold of $10.05 million that comes with having the top overall pick, are likely to operate as a team over the cap. That means their best tools likely will be the mid-level exception, where the first-year salary for a new contract is estimated to start at $9.5 million, and the biannual exception with an estimated starting value of $3.7 million. Those numbers get firmed up during the moratorium period when exact figures for the salary cap, luxury tax and various cap exceptions are cemented.

Point guard, where last year’s rookies Killian Hayes and Saben Lee comprise the depth chart, looks to be the primary area to buttress by some means with free agency the most likely. A big man who offers inside-out versatility with the threat of a 3-point shot to complement Mason Plumlee and Isaiah Stewart would likely be the secondary pursuit. Opportunity might dictate those priorities get flipped based on the receptiveness of prospective free agents.

SUMMER LEAGUE – Again this season, all 30 NBA teams will participate in the Las Vegas event which runs August 8-17. This year, for the first time, the Pistons will train at their Pistons Performance Center – where virtually all of the young players from last season’s roster are spending their off-seasons – before embarking en masse for Las Vegas as opposed to past years where the far-flung Summer League roster members travels separately to Las Vegas for four or five days of practices prior to games.

The Pistons will have an unusually large number of players from their anticipated 2021-22 roster participating in Summer League due to the fact that they had five rookies plus 20-year-old Sekou Doumbouya, their No. 1 pick in 2019, on their roster last season. That means whoever becomes their No. 1 pick will be playing in Summer League alongside many of the players he’ll share the floor with during his rookie NBA season – a great way to hasten the familiarity learning curve.

And because the Pistons will have not only the No. 1 pick in their lineup but also the three first-round rookies who’ve already established name recognition – Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey – you can expect them to be playing in prime TV slots when the Summer League schedule is released.

After Summer League, players will squeeze in a few weeks of rest and relaxation and then gather in Detroit for voluntary team workouts after Labor Day. The season will be right around the corner at that point.


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