With the clock ticking toward tonight’s NBA draft, this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag goes deep on what lies ahead for the Pistons off-season.
Philip (Negaunee, Mich.): There are reports that Charlotte is willing to give up one of its picks (13 or 15) to a team willing to absorb Gordon Hayward’s contract? Do you think the Pistons would be interested?
Langlois: Maybe. But it’s critical to understand why Charlotte is willing to make that move. The Hornets, by all accounts, are looking to avoid the possibility of finding themselves paying luxury taxes. And to ensure that, they hope to offload significant money to accommodate retaining restricted free agent Miles Bridges. If the Pistons have any intention of making a play for Bridges – something that’s been speculated – doing the deal with Charlotte to take on Hayward’s salary would be counterproductive. I’m not at all saying the Pistons are, indeed, angling to make a run at Bridges. But I’m skeptical of restricted free agents changing teams in general, the exception being this type of case where a team finds itself headed toward financial straits it has no desire to navigate. So I’m a little more open to the idea that Bridges might actually be changing teams this off-season. If the Pistons have any desire to be the landing spot, doing the deal for Hayward would seem to eliminate that opportunity. Which isn’t to say Troy Weaver wouldn’t judge that a more desirable outcome. It would be one way to use the cap space the Pistons have coming. But those aren’t the only two options, by any means, and the days between now and the opening of free agency are spent figuring out the most beneficial ways to do so.
Langlois: Sure. Other than those four, we posted draft profiles of Jeremy Sochan, Johnny Davis, A.J. Griffin and Dyson Daniels. It seems considerably more likely that the Pistons wind up with someone from the first group, but you never know. Daniels and Davis have been reported to have worked out for the Pistons. Griffin came into the college season projected as perhaps a top-five pick, he doesn’t turn 19 until August and he might have been held back at Duke by lingering knee and ankle issues and the fact he was one of three likely lottery picks and five top-40 picks on the team. Sochan has been gaining a lot of momentum through the pre-draft process and some think he could be in play at five or soon thereafter. When you’re looking at mock drafts, even the best of them are representative more of a consensus of NBA evaluations. Any one team’s board might – and probably would – look significantly different. Troy Weaver might like one of those guys from the second group of four – or someone else altogether – better than he does anyone from the first group of four.
@gus_weaver_from_313/IG: Which, if any, teams will the Pistons leapfrog from the East this season?
Langlois: Tough to gauge right now because most rosters haven’t changed much, if at all, since the season ended. The Pistons have more capacity than most to add players who can move the needle between having the No. 5 pick and likely more cap space than any team in the NBA by a significant margin. There’s also the fact that more than 50 percent of their rotation is occupied by players 23 or younger and those players, logically, have more room for season-over-season growth than older players. It’s tough to get any more specific than that at the moment. Let’s see where things stand in about a month when the bulk of free agency has transpired and most teams have filled all but a roster spot or two destined to go to minimum-contract guys.
@CamSlamSavage: Talk to me about the potential of Blake Wesley.
Langlois: Maybe there’s something in the water over in South Bend, Ind. If Jaden Ivey isn’t the most athletic player in the 2022 draft class, it might be Wesley. And both of them grew up in South Bend. Look, my pool of knowledge on these draft prospects is maybe 5 percent of that of an NBA scout. I know enough to know my opinion ultimately doesn’t matter. But I saw Notre Dame play a few times and Wesley’s athleticism really jumped out at me even if it didn’t always yield positive results. I wouldn’t have the guts to take him with the fifth pick, if that’s what you’re asking, but if I was picking later in the lottery where it seems everyone is a roll of the dice, I’d roll them on Wesley. It’s no longer stigmatizing for first-round picks to spend time in the G League and that would be the likely outcome for whatever team drafts him. But three years from now, I wouldn’t blink if we read about him being in line for a very nice second contract.
Glenn (Novi, Mich.): I know that Saddiq Bey has been working on diversifying his game. Given that, his shooting percentages from last year were below average for his position. Does he really bring enough or project to be a plus player on a good team?
Langlois: Saddiq Bey, like 98 percent of 23-year-olds with two years of NBA experience, is a work in progress. But there’s a lot to like. And when Troy Weaver was asked what upside meant to him earlier this week and responded with words to the effect that he doesn’t believe every 23-year-old has limited growth potential nor does every 18- or 19-year-old automatically have vast potential for improvement – he described a player’s mindset as critical to his capacity for growth – I couldn’t help but think of Bey. Bey is a gym rat’s gym rat, the type of player Pistons coaches and training staff have to force out of the building to allow for proper recovery time. Bey works on virtually every aspect of his game and wants desperately to be the best he can be across the board. I expect him to continue to evolve for years to come. Sometimes, that means individual areas of his game might plateau or even regress temporarily, I suppose. But from a broader perspective, he’s a player whose arrow is going to continue to trend upward for several seasons. So, to get to your question, yes. I expect him to emphatically prove he’ll be a plus player on a good team.
Darrell (Detroit): Lots of teams are looking for a decent starting or backup point guard. The Celtics were deprived of a championship because they had neither. The Warriors don’t have a backup point guard, either, but they have a pretty good starting one and a point forward in Draymond Green. As Lonzo Ball went, so went the Bulls. New Orleans, Toronto, Atlanta, Brooklyn, New York, Phoenix, both Los Angeles teams, San Antonio, Milwaukee, Miami and Charlotte all would have loved to have had the services of a true veteran point guard like Cory Joseph. He’s a much more valuable asset than most writers know. General managers know, however, so it’ll be interesting to see if Weaver can get a team to overpay if he picks up his option. Trade them while they’re hot. So, adios Grant, Joseph and probably Olynyk. Most playoff teams would have loved a stretch five, too, even the Warriors. We’ll miss you guys. See you in the playoffs soon.
Langlois: I like Cory Joseph and think he makes a lot of sense for the Pistons, who are young in the backcourt (Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes will play all of next season as 21-year-olds) and could get younger in Thursday’s draft. But you might be overestimating his market. The expectation is that Joseph will pick up his option (in fact, it’s been reported he has), which in itself would at least indicate his side doesn’t think there’s a multiyear offer or a better one-year contract likely. Olynyk? It’s hard to know what his market value is now coming off an injury-riddled season that resulted in numbers off his norms. If the Pistons retain Marvin Bagley III and wind up adding another big man in trade or free agency, maybe Olynyk would be a trade candidate. But his game is different enough than most big men – and every other big man currently on the Pistons roster – that I see room for all of them.
@davimcastro/IG: Getting a good pick like Jaden Ivey and a good free agent like Deandre Ayton makes the Pistons a solid playoff team.
Langlois: Ivey seems the betting favorite to be the fourth pick. It’s apparent he is resistant to going to Sacramento and the Kings – given the widely held belief that ownership is restless to end its league-worst 16-year playoff drought – have obvious motivation to put the pick up for grabs if veteran talent can be had for instant impact. So I would bet on Ivey being the pick at four but would be a little surprised if it’s Sacramento that makes the pick. But maybe not. Maybe Kings management is a big enough believer in Ivey that it can convince ownership it’s the right move for the long-term health of the franchise. Ayton, we’ll see. It sure seems more likely than not that he’ll play somewhere other than Phoenix next season. But it’s also unlikely Suns management will let Ayton get away for no return. If they can’t agree to a sign and trade, I suspect Phoenix will match any offer sheet and deal with the consequences next season once Ayton can be traded.
@JackTweetsHere: I don’t want to spend cap on Deandre Ayton. Would much rather trade Jerami Grant for a mid-range pick and get Jalen Duren, Mark Williams or another young player who can develop alongside this core. Is it reasonable to expect at least walking away from this draft with two round one impact players?
Langlois: Depends what you mean by “impact.” And however you define it, it’s unreasonable to think the Pistons can come away with two impact players from the draft’s first round when they go into the night with just one first-round pick. Picking up first-round picks is a pretty heavy lift and picking one up in an area where you have a legitimate chance to land an impact player as I would define it – a better than average starter – seems remote. You would hope the fifth pick yields a player who eventually becomes a better than average starter. The likelihood of that being the case in year one isn’t great, but the Pistons have a timeline that extends well beyond next year.
Bill (West Bloomfield, Mich.): If Troy Weaver feels it’s time to move Jerami Grant and his preferences, in order, are: (1) Sign and trade for Deandre Ayton or (2) Trade with Portland for the No. 7 pick, how does Weaver decide to accept or reject a Portland offer for the seventh pick when free agency hasn’t started and he does not know yet if Phoenix and Ayton would agree to a deal centered around Grant?
Langlois: Weaver said this week that he’d prefer the NBA adopt the NFL’s model of free agency coming before the draft. It’s been discussed but there doesn’t seem to be any serious momentum toward changing it anytime soon. But there’s nothing preventing Weaver from talking to James Jones, Suns general manager, to gauge his interest in finding a suitable package that works in a potential deal. Ayton’s agent is Bill Duffy. He’s as prominent as any agent and there is no doubt he and Weaver have a long history over Weaver’s nearly two decades in the NBA. While specific negotiations with free agents are not allowed until 6 p.m. June 30, it would be naïve to believe Duffy hasn’t done his homework to find out which teams are interested in making the commitment to his client that Phoenix wouldn’t make last fall when it had the chance to come to agreement on an extension with Ayton. That’s all a long way of saying Weaver won’t be going into the draft with no idea of what the action plan will be for free agency. He won’t know absolute outcomes, but he’ll have a firm idea of what it would require to make a sign-and-trade work.
@CadeAndFriends: Have you heard of any players that the Pistons might be interested in with the 46th pick? If not, do you have any players that you think would be a good selection at pick 46 (if we don’t end up trading it)?
Langlois: It’s tough enough figuring out which way the wind is blowing with the fifth pick when you only have to eliminate four names. When you’re trying to eliminate 45, or, to throw out a number, 35? Good luck. Troy Weaver has two drafts to form a track record. The three second-round picks he’s made that have suited up for the Pistons are all college players with three or four years of significant production – Saben Lee (Vanderbilt, three years), Isaiah Livers (Michigan, four years) and Luka Garza (Iowa, four years). Two years and three picks is pretty scant evidence to declare a pattern, but it’s all we’ve got. So I’d bet on a player who has spent at least two seasons at a high-major program and has a history of productivity. Some who might be available around there who would qualify: Gonzaga’s Andrew Nembhard, Arkansas’ Jaylin Williams, Arizona’s Christian Koloko, Southern Cal’s Isaiah Mobley, Colorado’s Jabari Walker, North Carolina State’s Dereon Seabron and Purdue’s Trevion Williams. Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pistons trade the pick. Roster spots will be at a premium in 2022-23 and if Weaver can get future draft assets (maybe two second-round picks) in exchange for the second-rounder, that seems a positive outcome.