LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 10: Ausar Thompson #9 of the Detroit Pistons looks on during the game on February 10, 2024 at Crypto.Com Arena in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2024 NBAE (Photo by Tyler Ross/NBAE via Getty Images)

A post All-Star checklist for the Pistons to get a jump on 2024-25

Troy Weaver said way back on Oct. 2 that his goal was for the Pistons, unlike in recent seasons, to play “meaningful basketball” after the All-Star break. It won’t be the way he intended, but there will be meaning aplenty for the Pistons over the season’s final 28 games starting with the resumption of play next week.

The Pistons played it very conservatively down the stretch the past two seasons, as most teams out of reach of the playoffs do, and prioritized making sure veterans with injury histories didn’t spend their off-seasons rehabilitating. This year – after executing five trades in a month and taking seven players who weren’t on the roster when 2023 ended into the post-break schedule – they’ll be more focused on setting the stage for next season.

Here's what that likely means:

  • Getting long looks at the two key newcomers etched in ink on the 2024-25 depth chart, Simone Fontecchio and Quentin Grimes. Fontecchio will be a restricted free agent this summer and Grimes, a Knicks first-round pick in 2021, will be eligible for an extension of his rookie-scale contract. The Pistons executed both trades with the conviction to make both players part of their foreseeable future, so getting an eyeful of them isn’t so much a tryout as a full vetting to best determine their roles and capacity for blossoming fully into them.

Each offers 3-point shooting and perimeter defense and those are both two of the most-needed ingredients to supplement the Pistons young core and two of the most coveted commodities across the current NBA. Fontecchio, 28, is squarely in his prime and Grimes, 23, was viewed by some observers as the best asset acquired by any team at last week’s trade deadline. One underrated element of those acquisitions is the Pistons acquiring two rotation staples while barely affecting the war chest they’ll take into the off-season when they are projected to have the most cap space of any NBA franchise, somewhere around $60 million.

  • Getting more concentrated time together for Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey. They played a total of 11 games together last season. This season started with a loose blueprint of Ivey coming off the bench to put the ball in his hands more often than he might otherwise have the opportunity to do at Cunningham’s side. But it’s now clear the Pistons are determined to fully explore the synergy of a Cunningham-Ivey marriage.

“This group just hasn’t been together,” Weaver said last week. “These last 30 games, we’d like to see this young core jell and work together and find themselves. You can’t take for granted how important the time together on the floor is and those minutes together to figure it out. You can say that Jaden has looked different without Cade on the floor, but I don’t know how many minutes they’ve played together. They’ll figure it out. Good players always do. We need time served and these last 30 games, hopefully we can build on that.”

  • Then there’s the dynamic of Jalen Duren learning to play off of Cunningham and Ivey as primary ballhandlers while continuing the recent trend of expanding his own playmaking role within the offense. It’s worth remembering that Duren will start next season as a 20-year-old still and put into context what he’s doing already as a predictor of the rungs still within his immense reach. It’s fair to say he’s in extremely rare company historically.

Duren’s touches per game have spiked by nearly 70 percent over a year ago and recently he’s doing more than executing dribble handoffs or passing back to the perimeter. His drives per game have increased more than tenfold over a year ago and his footwork around the rim is shockingly advanced given his experience. These last 28 games will give Cunningham, Ivey and Duren – the three most important pieces of their future as it stands today – a baseline of familiarity to give them a blueprint for how to attack their off-seasons.

  • What else? Well, with Monte Morris traded and Killian Hayes waived, there’s nothing standing in the way of Marcus Sasser getting steady minutes. He’s been a revelation, everything Weaver touted him to be when the Pistons traded two future second-round picks to move up six spots to make sure they’d come out of the 2023 draft with Sasser. He’s fearless and has a high basketball IQ, so stacking more repetitions up is what he needs most to hit the ground running in year two.

It's a similar story with Ausar Thompson. The work he has to do to improve as a shooter and, to a lesser extent, a ballhandler will get done over the off-season, but soaking up more minutes and figuring out how to convert awesome physical tools into high-impact defensive wallop on a consistent basis will put Thompson in line to be an indispensable part of the puzzle from day one next season.

The two guys who came from Minnesota, Troy Brown Jr. and Shake Milton, have modest and non-guaranteed deals for next season. Brown, in particular, would seem to have an opportunity to impress over the final two months to tilt the odds in favor of having his 2024-25 contract guaranteed given his size, age and skill set.

It’s fair to guess the Pistons won’t experience the amount of roster churn over the off-season that they have during this season. Of the 14 players on standard contracts who opened the season wearing their uniform, only seven remain – and that doesn’t include two other players acquired and then either traded (Kevin Knox) or waived (Danilo Gallinari) since then.

But the significance of the roster churn coming figures to be even greater than what’s taken place in-season. In many respects, the motivation for the trades undertaken in the past month was more about setting the table for changes to come, though the impact of landing two players at positions of need in Fontecchio and Grimes can’t be overstated. And when the Pistons get back from the All-Star break next week, they’ll have 28 games to integrate those two into the mix and check off all those other boxes to help them get a head start on a 2024-25 season they’re determined to have unfold much differently than its predecessor.