Four weeks from the draft and that gets us off and running in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag – the cost of a first-round pick, the possibility of trading for more picks or out of the first round altogether and other trade possibilities for the Pistons, too.
@DheeWhirl: What is the salary slot for the No. 5 pick and how much will that pick use up in cap space? Also, if the Pistons trade Jerami Grant for another first-round pick, how much will both picks use up in cap space?
Langlois: The Pistons pick at No. 5 has a cap hold of nearly $6 million ($5.9626 million) so that’s what it takes up on the salary cap. When the player actually signs his contract, it likely will be for more than that given that the first-year salary can be 120 percent of the draft slot’s cap hold and it’s standard procedure for the player to get the full amount. But because the cap hold is lower, the contract won’t be officially executed until the Pistons have used their cap space so they get the most bang for their buck. The cap hold gets a little lower for every successive pick throughout the first round, from the $9 million for the No. 1 pick to $1.8 million for the No. 30 pick. The two picks in the top 10 that have been most speculated to be in play are Sacramento at No. 4 ($6.584 million cap hold) and Portland at No. 7 ($4.943 million).
Langlois: If the Suns and Pistons are interested in the idea of exchanging Ayton and Grant, then tweaking around the edges probably won’t be something that holds up a deal. The rumblings out of Phoenix certainly make it seem more likely today than anyone would have guessed a few weeks ago that the door is open for another team to pry Ayton loose. How the Pistons value Ayton in particular is unknown, but Troy Weaver is on record with his view on the value of big men in general. The buzz out of Phoenix is that the Suns are leery of not only spending big on Ayton but on any big man in this era. Maybe Weaver would balk at a maximum contract, too, but his comments from late 2020 still resonate: “I love bigs. I believe that’s the way you win, by controlling the backboards. It’s held true. I’ve never seen a team win a championship without controlling the backboard.” I wouldn’t make too much of speculation that links the Pistons and Suns – and, let’s be clear, that’s all it is at this point. Grant’s been the subject of speculation for months because he’s a good player that could help contending teams get that much closer to a championship; Ayton’s situation became something to monitor when he didn’t get the maximum extension on the eve of the 2021-22 season and it went from 0 to 60 when the Suns, after being the best team in the NBA all season, flamed out spectacularly in Game 7 of the second round. So two big names are floating around as speculative trade targets. It follows that their names would be linked – even if it’s not something either side has explored or plans to.
@mixswiss1/IG: Agree or disagree: Acquiring Mo Bamba would be better for the Pistons than getting Deandre Ayton.
Langlois: If you’re comparing Ayton and Bamba, you have to start with the fact that Ayton was the starting center on the best regular-season team in the NBA and averaged 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds in roughly 30 minutes a game; Bamba averaged 10.6 points and 8.1 rebounds in 26 minutes a game for a team that finished with the league’s second-worst record. So it’s pretty clear Ayton is a significantly better player. But if it’s a question of Ayton at $30 million a year or Bamba for a quarter or a third of that, then the equation also has to include whatever else a team could accomplish with the difference in the contracts. It seems as if there’s a decent chance either or both – each drafted in 2018, five spots apart, and within 2 months of an age difference – will be on the move this off-season. If the Pistons are intent on retaining Marvin Bagley III (picked second that year, one spot after Ayton), which has been their posture all along, I don’t know that they’re going to be in the market for another big man when they also have Isaiah Stewart and Kelly Olynyk, not to mention Luka Garza, whose contract is reportedly non-guaranteed for next season.
@PistonsDevices: Take the top five guys from last year with the top five consensus from this class. How would you rank them?
Langlois: That’s a great question and it’s tough to do in a vacuum because the evaluations of last year’s class have now been colored by their rookie performances. I’ll say in general that it seemed like before the 2021-22 college season started when rankings began to appear, the general consensus was that nobody in the 2022-23 draft class would have cracked the top three of Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley and Jalen Green from last year’s crop. My hunch is that’s an even more established consensus today given how well all three of those players finished their rookie seasons. So maybe Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith would be grouped with Scottie Barnes and Jalen Suggs. Suggs probably wouldn’t go in the top five of a redraft, but there’s no doubt he was a top-five prospect a year ago. (Remember, it was at least mildly surprising that Barnes went fourth ahead of him on draft night.) Then you’d slot in Paolo Banchero, Jaden Ivey and Keegan Murray or Shaedon Sharpe after that, though there are at least a few other names in the mix for the top five of this year’s draft.
Darrell (Detroit): I believe GM Troy Weaver is trying to establish an identity for the team built around defense. So I’m now leaning toward him signing Mitchell Robinson and Bruce Brown. I’m sure Weaver realizes he made a mistake trading Brown, but now has a chance to remedy that, especially if he drafts Shaedon Sharpe. The jump from high school to the pros with a year off in between likely means it may take Sharpe two to three years to learn the game. So having Brown while Sharpe learns is a good plan. I used to be high on Jalen Brunson, but Brown is a much better defender and a better 3-point shooter. Plus, Brown and Robinson might be obtained for around the same salary as Brunson. Brown, Robinson, Bey, Grant and Cunningham sounds like a very good defensive starting lineup with just enough scoring punch. The second unit should thrive as well with Stewart, Bagley, Diallo and Hayes.
Langlois: Brown did see his 3-point shooting go from .288 to .404 season over season, but I’d tap the brakes on expectations. He took 1.3 threes per game and less than 20 percent of his shots are triples, just 94 triples for the season. The sample size there is pretty small and given the track record, I would be more inclined to bet on him falling below league average next season than sniffing 40 percent again. A guy who shoots as few threes as Brown does, even if he makes them at a 40 percent clip, isn’t going to bend defenses the way a volume 3-point shooter who hits at league average would. As for how the Pistons use their cap space, my guess is that it’s just as likely – maybe more likely – that they use the space by trading for players rather than free agency. I’m sure they’ll make a few overtures and there’s always a chance it moves as quickly as it did last year when they came to a quick agreement with Kelly Olynyk. But don’t be surprised if their cap space is used in trade – and maybe even before they get to free agency. You’re right that Weaver and Dwane Casey have prioritized defense, but you can build good defensive teams without targeting players specifically for their defense. And Weaver and Casey are both aware of the need to add more players who can improve the Pistons offensively. They’d specifically like to improve their 3-point shooting and ideally do it while adding players who can create their own shot. If the Pistons retain Marvin Bagley III, as they’ve given every indication they intend, then I’m not sure another big man like Robinson would be prioritized. With Bagley, Stewart and Olynyk and at least some uncertainty how many minutes you can play with two of them simultaneously, would it be wise to allocate significantly more resources to that position?
Phil (Auburn Hills, Mich.): The lottery didn’t necessarily turn out as I would have liked, but I’ve heard rumors about the Pistons possibly trading the pick. Is this possible? From my limited understanding of the Stepien Rule, wouldn’t trading our pick create a possibility of us trading back-to-back firsts and thus violating the Stepien Rule?
Langlois: It’s complicated. But, yes, to trade a future first-round pick would require the Pistons to lift the protections on the pick that’s owed to Oklahoma City (Houston had it originally from a draft night 2020 trade). The Pistons cannot trade any future first-round pick at present because the pick that’s owed to OKC carries protections all the way through 2027. So because it’s possible the Pistons won’t have their first-round pick in any one of those seasons, they can’t trade any future first-round pick because it’s then possible they wouldn’t have first-rounders in consecutive seasons – which is what the Stepien Rule prohibits. There’s little likelihood the Pistons would lift those protections because that could mean they’d have to give up a premium pick. But if the Pistons saw an opportunity to trade the No. 5 pick, they could work around it by having a trade in place on draft night, executing the pick and then officially consummating the trade a week later once the new league year starts. They wouldn’t be trading a first-round pick; at that point, they’d be trading a player they drafted with a first-round pick.
That’s not uncommon. But it’s also pretty unlikely. The buzz on the Pistons is more that they’ll possibly add another first-round pick – though, to be clear, that’s simply based on speculation surrounding Jerami Grant’s desirability and the fact he was widely reported to be a frequent target of other teams at the February trade deadline.
@garydjeweler: Do you think Troy will get input from Cade about which draft pick he would prefer to play with? Cade has mentioned Paolo in the past, but that now seems unlikely.
Langlois: You can bet that he’ll ask him his impressions of any player he might have crossed paths with on the AAU or camp circuits because information is the currency of the trade when you’re a personnel evaluator and information from trusted sources – and Cunningham seems like a pretty shrewd student of the game – is invaluable. I doubt anything Cunningham could tell him would substantively change Weaver’s perspective, but every bit of fabric to weave into the tapestry of information that makes up a scouting report helps. It wouldn’t be so much to get Cunningham’s input of a player’s ability so much as what he knows of his work ethic, character and personality fits.
@3ennyboom: What’s stopping us from getting the fourth or seventh picks for Jerami Grant and offering either 4/5 or 5/7 for Bradley Beal?
Langlois: Washington has steadfastly maintained it wouldn’t trade Beal all last season and there is nothing to indicate that wasn’t true then and isn’t still the case. There were teams widely acknowledged to be sniffing around and waiting for Washington to change course or for Beal to press the issue and it never happened. The proof is kind of in the pudding, more or less. They said they wouldn’t trade him, Beal insisted he didn’t want to go anywhere, the trade deadline came and went and Beal’s still there. Hard to be skeptical about all of that at this point. Beal just recently said he was inclined to sign an extension with the Wizards this off-season. There’s a debate to be had about whether a team that’s two years into a rebuilding and loaded with young players should invest two premium lottery picks in a 10-year veteran – though Beal, to be fair, will play all of next season as a 29-year-old who figures to play all or most of his next contract while still in his prime – but it’s all moot at the moment because there is zero to indicate Washington would be inclined to sign off on such a deal.