Stan Van Gundy is optimistic the Pistons will draft a keeper with the 18th pick. He’s skeptical that player will help next season. And that’s the guiding force shaping the team’s free-agent blueprint.
The Pistons bring back their starting five and much of their second unit, including key reserves Aron Baynes and Stanley Johnson. The to-do list is relatively short, particularly compared to the first two seasons of the Van Gundy regime.
They need a backup point guard and a true power forward. And there’s a chance they draft at either position, though no better or worse than the chance they draft at any other position. But no matter whom they draft, that player will be virtually invisible to Van Gundy a few days later when free agency opens.
“It’s possible (the draft pick becomes part of the rotation), but we still wouldn’t view them that way at 18, quite honestly,” Van Gundy said Tuesday as the Pistons wrapped up draft workouts in preparation for Thursday’s main event. “Nothing that we do Thursday night will change the way we look at free agency. So if we draft a point guard Thursday night, we’ll still be looking at a point guard in free agency. If we draft a true power forward in the draft on Thursday night, we’re still going out looking for one.”
One area where the Pistons don’t need any immediate bolstering is on the wings where they return shooting guards Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jodie Meeks and Darrun Hilliard and small forwards Marcus Morris, Stanley Johnson and Reggie Bullock. But Thursday’s final draft workout was a solo act that featured Florida State freshman Malik Beasley, who has an invitation to the NBA draft green room – meaning there is legitimate cause to believe he’ll be drafted right around the 18th pick.
Unlike a season ago, when the Pistons picked eighth and took Johnson, position is not a concern for Van Gundy. Taking a player who can help – not so much as a rookie as in his second season and beyond – is the overriding objective.
“One of the things we said in framing what we wanted to do in the draft was that position wouldn’t have any bearing,” he said. “We’re simply looking for the guy that we think has got the chance to be the best player inside of that rookie contract. You hope a guy becomes your core and you go beyond that, but you have those guys for up to four years and possibly a fifth. You want a guy who’s going to contribute to your team in that time. That’s what we’re looking at. We think we have a pretty good young core. Our team is balanced, so we could really use help just about anywhere. So position will not be a factor in where we pick.”
Van Gundy said his scouting staff, spearheaded by assistant general manager Brian Wright under general manager Jeff Bower, gave him a list of seven names of players they consider certain to be taken ahead of the Pistons and another list of four very likely to be gone.
That still leaves a wide range of prospects for the Pistons to consider. And here’s a helpful hint Van Gundy had for fans devoted to scanning the voluminous media mock drafts available: ignore them. The Pistons, he said, might well surprise with the player they take.
“There’s a few wild cards in there. I’m not going to say a definite or even a probability, but there’s certainly a possibility that people could be surprised, I guess, by where we take a guy. We’re not worried about that. … The mock drafts are always amusing to me. I guarantee you, they’re not getting their information from teams.”
The Pistons have both their picks, 18 and 49, and Van Gundy said that they can afford to dedicate two roster spots to rookies next season, while also saying his best guess is that the Pistons will return “at least” 10 players from their 2015-16 roster. But he also said if they thought the best player to pick is someone under contract in Europe, they wouldn’t hesitate to go that route, either.
The other possibility, of course, is that the Pistons trade their first-round pick. They did so once, sending it to Houston in February before getting it back with their decision to rescind the trade for Donatas Motiejunas over concern for the status of his back injury. There are rumblings – as there are every year – that many teams picking in the first round are looking to deal their pick. Van Gundy says it’s been quiet on that front.
“We have had almost none so far, but that’s not unusual,” he said. “We didn’t really have any last year and then we got in draft night and the phone starts ringing. We’ll definitely have some interest and some calls. We’ve got an idea what would make us listen and what wouldn’t.”