It’s trade deadline time in the NBA and speculation about what the Pistons might do gets us off and running in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.
@schnur_/IG: Is Bojan staying in Detroit?
Langlois: It’s all guesswork dependent on the unknowable at this point. How high a bar is Troy Weaver setting on Bogdanovic and is there any team willing to clear it? By all accounts, the Pistons didn’t trade for Bogdanovic with the intent to flip him at the trade deadline and that’s buttressed by the fact they extended his contract a month after trading for him. While it’s likely true that some teams would find Bogdanovic more attractive now that he has more team control, it’s also undeniably true that the field of potential trade partners is limited by the fact his contract extends beyond this season. The extension was not the act of an organization that considered Bogdanovic a trade chip. Losing Cade Cunningham 12 games into the season dampened the possibilities for this Pistons season, but the Pistons expect him back at full health next season, they’ll have another lottery pick in the fold and they’ll have something like $40 million, potentially, to spend in free agency. The goals for next season will be a little more tangible than they’ve been the past few years and having veterans like Bogdanovic and Alec Burks around are going to put them more in reach. Trading them for more draft capital only moves the needle so much. I’d bet on the trade deadline coming and going without a major move by the Pistons this year, but – again – the determining factor comes down to how hot the market gets.
Langlois: It’s never been more of a challenge to defend in the NBA than it is today, a product mostly of the explosion of 3-point shooting that demands coverage of more square feet of the floor than ever before but also of the rules changes over the years that favor offense. Young teams inevitably struggle to field cohesive defensive units and to execute offensively in the final five minutes. Those two things have, predictably, been the biggest Achilles heels of the Pistons over the course of the season – one thrown off track by losing the central figure of their rebuilding blueprint, Cade Cunningham. Dwane Casey’s roots are on the defensive end. Have been since his playing days at Kentucky and through his time as an assistant coach. He was the architect of Rick Carlisle’s defenses when Dallas won the 2011 NBA championship and his Toronto teams were known as among the NBA’s most physical. The Pistons got even younger at last June’s draft and they’ve fast tracked Jalen Duren’s development by elevating him to the starting lineup. That’s good news for their future but it’s unrealistic to ask the NBA’s youngest player to man arguably the most critical defensive position and expect to field a formidable defense anytime soon.
@chi11imac: Have the Pistons ever played a lineup of Hayes, Ivey, Cade, Bojan/Bey and Stewart/Duren? If so, how effective was it? When did retool become rebuild but in reality Sam Hinkie’s “Process?” We seem to be aiming for the bottom every year.
Langlois: Cunningham, Hayes and Ivey played together in one game – for less than three minutes – along with Bogdanovic and Stewart. The three guards overlapped with Bey and Duren for a little more than a minute in another juncture. That’s way short of a meaningful sample size. Dwane Casey considered the possibilities of a lineup with all three guards as soon as draft night last June. It has some real possibilities because of the size of Cunningham and Hayes and the athleticism of Ivey. Right now, they’re all below average 3-point shooters but not by much and I fully expect they’ll get to average or better within the next two years. As for your second question, the Pistons – from Troy Weaver to Dwane Casey – never put a timetable on anything. But this is year three of a complete rebuilding effort and I’m not sure what anyone reasonably expected, especially considering the Pistons did not have a James Harden or a Paul George to trade to build up an assets drawer. And, again, whatever your expectations were for this season, it’s impossible to ignore the impact of losing Cunningham 12 games in. I mean, it’s impossible to talk about the Pistons season without putting Cunningham’s absence for 85 percent of it in the first paragraph.
@Hummingsquid: Bojan, Burks, Diallo. No one goes unless they overpay. Best teams have stacked benches. We might not have the wins but we play hard. Just need to be healthy and hit for a fourth year in a row on draft night. A little FA bump. Go get Zeke Nnaji from Denver. He would fit.
Langlois: I’d put the over/under on Pistons deals at 0.5. I’m not expecting anything that stops the presses, but that’s all subject to change based on what a team that sees a player like Bojan Bogdanovic as critical to a legitimate title run puts in an offer.
@hemi_7881/IG: How are we going to fix our bench and scoring overall?
Langlois: I wouldn’t put either of those things on the list of major needs. Getting Marvin Bagley III back will help the bench, but since Alec Burks returned after missing nearly the first month of the season the Pistons have had one of the best benches in the league. Burks going to the starting lineup has altered the mix, but Saddiq Bey has picked up the baton as the scoring anchor for that unit of late. The Pistons are averaging 112.3 points a game, which is exactly 2.0 points below the league average of 114.3. They’re giving up 119.7 or 5.4 points more than the league average. How to fix that? It’s not the answer anybody wants to hear, but the thing that would help the Pistons most is experience.
@adamoswald7: Most pleasant surprise of the season so far? Most disappointing development (other than Cade’s injury) of the season?
Langlois: I’d put the strides Killian Hayes has made and the impact that rookies Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren have been able to have as rookies asked to shoulder more than the blueprint called for as the most positive developments. Losing Cunningham put the onus of quarterbacking on Hayes and Ivey. While Hayes had a taste of that before, it’s new territory for Ivey and I’ve been impressed at his progress as a playmaker. Duren is manning arguably the most important defensive position and doing it at 19. He’s still largely unfamiliar with NBA personnel. It’s a big, big ask. Cracking the rotation out of training camp as a rookie big man, then 18, was one thing. Getting elevated to the starting lineup – the gap between starting center and backup is pretty wide on most rosters – was another. Duren handling his business without being completely overwhelmed is something else. Cunningham’s injury is easily the biggest disappointment of the season, but if I can’t use that, I’ll go with Bagley’s injury. Not solely for the fact it’s going to cost him roughly a third of the season but it came at a time when the Pistons had leaned in to playing Duren and Isaiah Stewart together and not having Bagley limits their ability to do so.