MIAMI, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 06: Bojan Bogdanovic #44 of the Detroit Pistons reacts after making a three point basket against the Miami Heat during the fourth quarter of the game at FTX Arena on December 06, 2022 in Miami, Florida. 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. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

Pistons Mailbag - THURSDAY, January 5

Darrell (Detroit): If the Pistons were to win the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes, do you think he would play a stretch four since Jalen Duren appears to be the center of the future for a very long time? And given where the Pistons are record wise, what percentage would you give both Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks to be traded before the deadline? Surely, with so many teams vying to be in the top 10 in each conference, some desperate teams are bound to overpay for one or both players.

Langlois: Let’s take the second part of your question first since that’s the one that arrives sooner with the trade deadline just a little more than a month away. I’d go perhaps as high as 50-50 that one or the other could be traded. There just aren’t a ton of players as proficient as those two at creating offense. How many of those guys are going to be available? We’re only in year three of the play-in tournament and I don’t think we’ve grasped the full impact just yet of what it means to have moved the balance between playoff and non-playoff teams from 16/14 to 20/10. In theory, there should be more buyers and fewer sellers, which would create a more enticing environment for teams willing to move desirable players. Will it play out that way? There is absolutely a line that, if crossed, would make it unreasonable to not consider trading one or both of Bogdanovic and Burks. I don’t believe Troy Weaver traded for either player with the primary intent of shipping them out. And the extension the Pistons and Bogdanovic agreed to in October supports that notion. The likelihood is that the extension will limit the pool of potential suitors for Bogdanovic but could very well make him more desirable to the teams that wouldn’t be put in a cap bind by having his contract on the books for 2023-24. Having Bogdanovic under team control for two more seasons might be the thing that entices a trade partner to include the asset Weaver desires to push the trade to the finish line. The team option for 2023-24 on Burks’ deal could work similarly. All of that said, I think with six first-round picks plus other young players like Isaiah Livers already in place from Weaver’s first three drafts, plus another likely top-10 pick coming, the Pistons are quite possibly less intrigued by acquiring more draft capital than by the prospect of a meaningful playoff chase next season. And, in that case, Bogdanovic and Burks would be valuable assets. They’re both on very reasonable contracts relative to their production; if either one were a free agent this off-season, given the way the market has trended on anticipation of the salary cap rising, I would bet heavily that they’d beat the numbers on their current deals. The Pistons would still retain the ability to trade them down the road, either in the off-season or up to next season’s trade deadline, if the situation dictates as much. As for Wembanyama and where he’d slot in, I think you’d let his talent and natural progression chart that course. On paper, it would seem likely that Duren would spend all of his minutes at center, Isaiah Stewart would spend all of his at power forward and Wembanyama (and Marvin Bagley III) would float between those positions as matchups required. You can file that one under “desirable outcomes.”

@thomaskesto/IG: Can there be a Cade return late this season?

Langlois: That’s highly unlikely. Is it possible that Cunningham’s recovery from the surgery to address his stress fracture of the shin would have him available to play a game by late March or early April? Maybe, if the recovery went optimally. But Troy Weaver was pretty clear that the plan is for Cunningham to be ready to hit the off-season in the peak of health so as to facilitate a productive off-season and be ready to go full blast by training camp. On the risk-reward spectrum, there just isn’t enough in it for the Pistons or for Cunningham to rush his return for the final week or two.

Langlois: He’s been nothing but outwardly supportive of Troy Weaver and reports last week indicated Weaver already has agreed to a contract extension, though the Pistons have neither confirmed nor denied that account. I’m sure Gores, like Weaver and Dwane Casey, would have liked a few more wins this season but nothing that’s happened should be characterized as a failure of the blueprint. To the contrary, the Pistons have by any credible analysis stocked the roster with more young talent than could have reasonably been anticipated in year three of a bottom-up rebuilding given the value of assets on hand at the time Weaver took over. Of the six first-round picks Weaver has made, Saddiq Bey is the oldest at 23 and the other five are 21 or younger. None of them are anywhere near topping out, yet – now that Killian Hayes has pretty assertively turned a corner – it’s pretty certain that all six have long careers ahead of them. And that, in itself, is a major win for Weaver and the Pistons given the hit rate on first-round picks, keeping in mind that only Cade Cunningham was a top-four pick and that Jalen Duren, Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey were all taken outside of the top 12. The Pistons didn’t have an in-his-prime star – a la Donovan Mitchell, Anthony Davis or Mike Conley, to name three players whose trades kick started other rebuilding projects – when Weaver took over. To have a roster as populated with young talent as Detroit’s in year three of a rebuilding – remember, only Cleveland and Memphis were voted to have better young cores in the NBA.com general managers survey released in September – is a remarkable feat.

@tmrmcco/IG: What can the current roster do to improve their defense before the end of the season?

Langlois: Keep playing. The best way to improve at basketball is to play basketball. The best way to gain cohesion with teammates at similar stages of experience is to go through repetitions with them. I’m of the opinion that it takes more time for young teams to become proficient defensively than offensively. Center is quite arguably the position most integral to effective team defense and the Pistons starting center is barely 19, the youngest player in the NBA. Four starters are 21 or younger. They’re a young team by the standards of the Big Ten, never mind the NBA. Experience is the primary ingredient required for the Pistons to become a better team – defense, offense, in sum.

@Bryan_10s: Will Dwane Casey ever win a playoff game with this team? Casey was brought in to coach veterans (Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose, et al) and Troy Weaver didn’t hire Casey. Will Troy eventually want to hire his guy?

Langlois: Fourteen of the 29 other NBA franchises have changed coaches since the Pistons hired Troy Weaver as general manager in June 2020, several more than once. NBA coaches know that there’s an expiration date on all of them. It’s an extraordinarily demanding job and Dwane Casey has been doing it a long time, including almost 30 years in the NBA. That said, Casey has attacked the challenge of a rebuilding job – as you pointed out, not the job he was originally hired to do in Detroit – with vigor and he and Weaver are about as closely aligned on player evaluation as a coach and general manager could be.