If all goes well with the NBA’s Orlando relaunch – fingers crossed – it appears very likely the Pistons and seven other teams not part of the Disney bubble will get the OK to engage in some sort of team activity yet this summer.
Who, what, where and when remain unknown, but the why is one Dwane Casey can easily pinpoint.
“I don’t care who you are, you can only go through so many one-coach, one-player drills,” Casey said last month after the Pistons got the OK to reopen their Performance Center and begin individual workouts under the strict protocols issued by the NBA. “If we don’t have OTAs (organized team activities), so to speak, like they do in football, you can only do so much.”
ESPN.com reported last week that the NBA was in serious discussion about a second bubble in Chicago for the eight teams excluded from the Orlando relaunch. In that same story, Casey expressed his belief that there were better alternatives.
The story said Casey took an informal poll among the coaches not headed to Orlando and found a majority preferred holding their own minicamps.
“We’d rather do that that go to the bubble,” he said, “because unlike those teams in Orlando, we wouldn’t be playing for the same reason.”
In the course of a normal off-season, Casey’s staff would fan out across the country – and beyond for foreign-born players like Sekou Doumbouya and 2019 second-round pick Deividas Sirvydis – to conduct one-on-one workouts with their players. It’s an important time for player development. Staffs devise a list of skills for players to address over the course of the off-season and it’s usually concise to allow for the mastery of a limited number of skills rather than a smattering of repetitions among a smorgasbord of areas.
But this isn’t a normal off-season and Casey is wary of going eight months or more – the gap between the March 11 suspension of the season and a possible mid-November or later opening of training camp, depending on when the 2020-21 season opens – with nothing but individual skills work.
“The reason we want these minicamps is to get our team together, to have that camaraderie, to improve and enjoy some competition,” Casey said in Jackie MacMullan’s ESPN story. “We feel we can do that safely in our own environment. We can’t let these guys sit around from March 11 to December without something. It’s going to hurt their careers. It’s too long of a layoff.”
The Players Association will need to sign off on the terms of whatever the league office, in consultation with the eight affected front offices, agrees is practical. But expect something that’s more of a Summer League/NBA regular season hybrid roster than the full-blown Pistons roster. There are a few obvious veterans who would be unlikely to be full-scale participants.
“I would say if we do have competition, it’s not for guys like Derrick Rose or Blake Griffin,” Casey said last month.
Objectively, there are three groups of players, excluding Rose and Griffin, with the first made up of young players most likely to be included in team activity, the second of pending free agents highly unlikely to be included and a third group of veterans who might or might not be considered likely participants.
Group One – Nobody is more prominent on this list than Sekou Doumbouya. At 19 coming off some terrific highs and some extended lulls, he needs the work.
“This summer is a huge summer for Sekou,” Casey said. “He was injured most of last summer, so he really didn’t get a Summer League. He needs an entire summer to get work. He’s getting the one-on-one stuff, but he needs to go out and get the competition that young players need.”
Players going into their third seasons – Bruce Brown, Svi Mykhailiuk and Khyri Thomas – are other likely participants. One issue that must be addressed, though, is how the NBA treats players that had June or July team options in their contracts. Some adjustment to the option dates is certain and most expect it will be pushed past the October conclusion of the NBA Finals and before the mid-October start of free agency.
Jordan Bone, Louis King and Donta Hall would seem logical participants, though, again, there is clarification of status required. Bone and King, coming off of two-way contracts, would have been restricted free agents this summer in normal circumstances. Hall had been on an Exhibit 10 contract before signing two 10-day deals, the second of which was due to expire after the March 11 game at Philadelphia that ended the Pistons season.
Luke Kennard wouldn’t have been part of a Summer League roster but as a young veteran coming off of an extended absence – tendinitis in both knees sidelined him from late December through the March 11 finale – he’s a logical participant. Kennard, in fact, said last month that “we’re still not 100 percent sure what’s going to happen, but whatever that is I’ll be there for it. I’m ready to get back out there and just play basketball.”
The other player almost certain to be a participant is newly signed big man Justin Patton. The 16th pick in the 2017 draft, Patton’s career has been derailed by surgeries on both feet. He’s got enough potential that new Pistons general manager Troy Weaver has now been part of two front offices to sign Weaver over the past year, first in Oklahoma City. Weaver had a 45-point game in the G League last season.
Group Two – Christian Wood is a pending unrestricted free agent. It shouldn’t be expected that he and the four others who ended the season with the Pistons on expiring contracts – Langston Galloway, John Henson, Brandon Knight and Jordan McRae – would participate.
Yes, there are dozens of pending free agents who will compete in the Orlando bubble, though some – Washington’s Davis Bertans, for one – have opted out to protect against injury ahead of hitting the open market. But there’s a difference. The players competing in Orlando are still under contract for the 2019-20 season being completed there. The season is over for the Pistons and their players – and for the seven other teams not headed for Orlando.
Group Three – A small group. It consists of Tony Snell and Thon Maker and they’re each their own small subgroup.
Snell is a seven-year veteran who’ll be 29 when the 2020-21 season opens. If he expresses interest in participating, the Pistons aren’t likely to hold him back. Having him around would benefit the young players and give the Pistons another body. But it could be determined he’s got enough notches in his belt to win the right to opt out if he feels his off-season could be more productively spent focused on individual work.
Maker is going into his fifth season with the Pistons empowered to extend a qualifying offer to make him a restricted free agent or not to do so and make him an unrestricted free agent. If the NBA pushes that date past any potential September team activity, as seems likely, the odds of Maker being included rise; it that date comes before such a gathering, the odds fall.
In any case, it’s the first group of players that Casey most ardently hopes can benefit from a team gathering to break up a monotonous and most unusual off-season. He and his coaches will put as much into structuring and executing one-on-one workouts as they can, but he wants more than that for his young players before training camp opens much later this year.
“From a basketball standpoint, you can only do that so long before it gets stale or the players get stale and start to go the other way,” he said. “So hopefully the league and the Players Association will allow that to happen.”