A gauge on the Pistons rebuilding timeline and more on Cade Cunningham’s season ending with the decision to undergo surgery top the docket in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.
@PistonsNation_1: Can we get a clearer picture of how the Pistons intend to leapfrog their competition and become a relevant NBA franchise again? Patience is wearing thin while watching Utah, Cleveland, Indiana, Sacramento, etc.
Langlois: The Pistons fan base is many things, but it’s fair to say that a significant portion of that base clamored for the franchise to undertake a full-on rebuilding for several years. So I’m not sure where you were on that subject, but whether you were for the trade of Andre Drummond and the concurrent public admission by the Pistons that they were rebuilding or against it, the bottom line is that it was less than three years ago when that happened. And if you’re out of patience this soon into a rebuild, then you really had no concept of what a rebuilding requires. It’s why franchises make the decision to go that route with such deliberation. There is a guaranteed period of pain ahead. Cleveland launched its rebuilding two years earlier – well, LeBron James left in 2018 and the Cavaliers had no choice really – and won 22 games (in a 72-game season) in 2020-21 after exercising four high lottery picks and swinging the trade that netted them Jarrett Allen. The Pistons have had three forays into the lottery. I would suggest they have a chance to make the same type of leap from year three to four – so, the 2023-24 season – once they get Cade Cunningham back and get second seasons from Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren, a crack at free agency this summer when they should have ample cap space and add another likely lottery pick. We’ll see where Utah goes from here. It’s too early to tell and most expect Danny Ainge to trade more players. The Pistons didn’t have two trade assets like Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, though, when they began their rebuilding. Sacramento … is not an example I would use if I were to show a franchise that has successfully engineered an expedited rebuilding. Indiana, like Utah, is still at a crossroads and it’s to be determined which way management will choose to go. The Pacers have historically resisted rebuilding and, so far, they’ve held on to players like Myles Turner and Buddy Hield.
Langlois: While there’s no such thing as too many good players – hoard as many as you can and turn a surplus into even better players if it comes to that – it pays to be mindful of the pitfalls of having too many players at the same stage of development. I don’t think the Pistons are truly in danger of crossing that line, though. They have five players 21 or younger with less than three years of NBA experience, but all five – Cade Cunningham (out for the season, so no longer taking those minutes), Isaiah Stewart, Jalen Duren, Jaden Ivey and Killian Hayes – are already in prominent roles. The Pistons have their own first- and second-round picks this season. I don’t think the first-rounder is guaranteed rotation minutes out of the gate, necessarily, but it’s not like there wouldn’t be a path to a proper development route for that player. Houston and Oklahoma City come to mind as franchises that have a challenging quantity of young prospects after stockpiling fistfuls of first-round picks in recent drafts. I don’t think the Pistons are faced with quite that situation.
@sdnation11/IG: Approximately how long will Cade be out with a typical shin surgery?
Langlois: Troy Weaver said the recovery time is expected to be three or four months. The season ends in less than four months. Even if Cunningham was cleared to start working out again on the short end of that timeline, we’re still talking mid-March and the regular-season finale is April 9. Mid-March would be when Cunningham could start doing some weight-bearing activity, not playing NBA basketball. The goal is for him to be ready to go “full blast,” as Weaver said for a full off-season of activity.
@KC_Kramer: Hi, Keith. I canceled the scheduled Detroit Pistons recording on my DVR. Should I feel guilty?
Langlois: Guilt is your moral code telling you that you did something wrong. So, yes, you should feel guilty. Absolutely. Recommend you take immediate self-correcting conduct.
@sultanofschwing/IG: Who do you think should have more optimism for the future of their franchise – the Pistons or Magic?
Langlois: The Magic have had more bites at the apple, actually having gone through several rebuilding efforts and still holding some of the fruits of the version that preceded the current rebuild. They have three top-eight picks (Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero) from the rebuilding they undertook at the 2021 trade deadline when they dealt Nikola Vucevic to Chicago, Aaron Gordon to Denver and Evan Fournier to Boston. But they also have Jonathan Isaac (sixth pick in 2017) and Mo Bamba (sixth, 2018) from their previous rebuild plus two other top-seven picks (Wendell Carter, seventh in 2018; Markelle Fultz, first in 2017) picked up in trade. So that’s five of their own top-eight picks plus two other top-seven picks from the last six drafts. The Pistons have three lottery picks from the last three drafts (Killian Hayes, Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey) taken in the top seven plus three other first-rounders (Jalen Duren, Isaiah Stewart, Saddiq Bey) taken between 13 and 19. Banchero is the front-runner for Rookie of the Year, but I think it’s a pretty safe bet that most general managers would start a franchise with Cunningham if you took a poll. And primarily because of his value as a playmaker with elite size, I think most would take the Pistons. In the NBA.com survey of GMs that was published in September, the Pistons finished behind only Cleveland and Memphis for best young cores.
@ck2art/IG: Back to back years of Cade being down. Should we be concerned?
Langlois: You worry about back and knee injuries. For big guys, maybe you worry about foot injuries. But Cunningham hasn’t had anything that should cause even minor concern about his long-term health prospects. He played 64 games last season, missing four games for COVID-19, and the injury that sidelined him longest was a garden variety sprained ankle. Zero worries about that. I suppose the stress fracture of the shin warrants a little more concern than that, but the great majority of players who experience that condition and have it surgically repaired come back as good as new. That’s certainly the expectation for a 21-year-old. Troy Weaver and Dwane Casey didn’t give the appearance that they have any fears of long-term impact from Cunningham’s shin injury. “We expect him to come back and be even better. He’s been dealing with the issue a little bit off and on for a while. We want him to be healthy and be himself. He’s a young player. We don’t want this to linger two or three years. It’s early in his career. We want to get it settled. We expect him to recover well and be the best version of himself,” Weaver said.
@gilly622/IG: Besides Victor Wembanyama, who is the best fit in the top five? All seem like guards.
Langlois: There is no real consensus for a draft order outside of Wembanyama at one and Scoot Henderson at two. If there’s a strength to the draft outside of a 1-2 punch at the top that every team would take regardless of roster construction, it appears to be at the wing spot. There are several players in the 6-foot-6 to 6-foot-9 range, including twins Amen and Ausar Thompson of Overtime Elite, Cam Whitmore of Villanova, Brandon Miller of Alabama, Dariq Whitehead of Duke and Dillon Mitchell of Texas that could work their way to the top half of the lottery. My hunch is that Troy Weaver is still hellbent on taking the best player available but if it’s too close to call then grabbing a wing makes a lot of sense for the Pistons as the roster is currently constructed.