Four weeks out from the trade deadline, the addition of Bol Bol and the prospects of more Pistons deals are a launching point for this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Actual Jake (@ActualCorn): Are there any trades for Jerami Grant being talked about?
George Akroush (@KingGeorge091): What is the most realistic trade involving Jerami Grant that might actually have some legs?
@alex.bierlein/IG: If Jerami Grant is on the move, is Josh Jackson or Saben Lee going with him?
Langlois: Let’s get the Grant questions out of the way up front and en masse. The trade deadline is four weeks and a day away and Grant is easily on the top-five list for players who have generated or will generate the most buzz across the league. The list of teams that have been reportedly interested includes, but isn’t limited to, the Lakers, Hawks, Grizzlies, 76ers, Celtics, Wizards, Bulls and Trail Blazers. The likelihood is that general managers for more teams than that have talked to Troy Weaver about Grant because that’s what GMs do and when teams are clearly out of playoff contention, those battling for either a playoff spot or a higher seed are naturally drawn to non-contenders as potential trade partners for obvious reasons. The Pistons have moved Saddiq Bey to Grant’s power forward position and he’s flourished at that spot. Here’s what Rex Kalamian said before Monday’s game when he met with reporters while filling in that night for Dwane Casey: “Saddiq’s been tremendous. I don’t know the exact amount of games, but he’s really strung together a nice performance over a short period of time. Not only is he scoring, but he’s rebounding and defending and doing a lot of things that have helped our team since he’s moved over to the four. It’s helped him being in that position.” Bey flourishing in Grant’s position doesn’t make it inevitable or necessary for the Pistons to trade Grant, but it does give them some idea of what life without him would look like and how some of their younger players, Bey in particular, would adapt. I don’t think Weaver will feel he has to trade Grant and take the best offer no matter how he views it in a vacuum, but you can make the case that the Pistons have a little more of a comfort level in considering life without Grant now that they’ve done it for a month and seen Bey and Cade Cunningham, in particular, do well with added responsibility. What’s a “realistic” trade? The base line remains something on the order of a No. 1 pick and the equivalent of another one in young prospects. But the return always depends on the marketplace and what it will bear and that entails highly volatile conditions. As for whether Jackson, Lee or anyone else goes with Grant, there are often elements added to trades for a variety of reasons – to make the salaries match for cap purposes, to push the ball over the goal line, to make the economics palatable to one ownership group or another. So if it’s a deal that the Pistons like at its core and it requires sweetening the pot a little bit, then other players getting added becomes a possibility. But Weaver is going to be judicious about parting with players he sees as being part of the restoration process.
Langlois: The only players on the roster left who are older than 24 are Cory Joseph (30), Kelly Olynyk (30), Jerami Grant (27) and Trey Lyles (26). With the addition of Bol Bol, the Pistons have 13 players 24 (12 are 23 or younger) or younger among the 17 on standard or two-way contracts. Grant probably counts as the most likely trade candidate now given the interest he’ll generate, but I don’t think it’s likely that any of the other three are moved. Troy Weaver and Dwane Casey have said they’ll always want something of a veteran presence on the roster. It’s virtually impossible for the Pistons to get appreciably younger than they already are. Olynyk is unlikely to be moved at the trade deadline given the roster makeup of the Pistons with an already thin frontcourt. Joseph is a guy whose value to the Pistons is underrated given his demeanor, versatility – starts, comes off the bench, plays on or off the ball, defends – and character. I’d be surprised if he went anywhere at the deadline. Lyles, I suppose, could be a guy who generates some interest and might draw a strong enough offer to consider. But, again, the Pistons want to be able to field representative lineups and Lyles gives them size and frontcourt versatility to enable those aims. I’d put the over/under on Pistons players moved via deadline deals at 1.5.
@noahkule/IG: What role do you anticipate for Bol Bol within the first week?
Langlois: Your guess is as good as mine. Coaches are only going to promise so much opportunity for players with something to prove. So Bol’s first task will be to impress Dwane Casey in practices with his motor and intensity level. If he passes that test and is a willing participant in workouts before and after practices – shows his desire to improve and win a place in the team’s future, in other words – he’ll get plenty of opportunity at playing time in games. The Pistons have a need for his size and skill and they’ve dedicated their season to individual player development. While both Kelly Olynyk and Jerami Grant are out, the opportunity will be clearly there for Bol to force the issue. His strengths are his unusual skill level relative to his size (7-foot-2 with a 7-foot-7 wingspan). A fully realized Bol is someone who can knock down 3-pointers at better than league average and be among the best shot-blockers in the league. If he can hold his own on defense – able to hang with stretch fours on the perimeter and able to avoid being overpowered in the paint – his offensive potential gives him a chance at finding his footing with the Pistons.
@aimforhead/IG: When is Bol Bol playing his first game?
Langlois: Dwane Casey said Tuesday night that Bol is expected to work out on Wednesday at the Pistons Performance Center and what happens after that will be determined by Bol’s conditioning level. He last played on Jan. 5 but for less than four minutes. He played 20 minutes on Jan. 1. Asked if Bol would play on Friday vs. Toronto, Casey said, ‘We’ll see where he is. We’ll see where his conditioning is. He’s been out for a little bit, so we’ll find out what his conditioning situation is like.”
@savannah_combs_/IG: Do you think we can win consistently after beating the Jazz?
Langlois: Consistency is the enemy of the inexperienced. Progress is never a straight line for young basketball teams. The way to gauge progress over the second half of the season on a team-wide level will be to see if the number of games where it all comes together come with greater frequency and if the number of clunkers start getting spaced out a little wider. By that measure, the Pistons are clearly making progress. Even without two key players – Jerami Grant and Kelly Olynyk, the leading men of the first and second units – the Pistons have won consecutive games twice since the calendar turned to 2022, something they didn’t manage over the first two-plus months of the season. So if by “win consistently” you’re asking if the Pistons are going to be a better-than-.500 team over the second half, I’d guess no. But I think they’ll win more often and, even more importantly for a young team at their stage of development, I think they’ll put themselves in position to win more often than they did in the first 30-some games.
Darrell (Detroit): Anfernee Simons has been balling for Portland. Should the Pistons try to outbid the Trail Blazers in the off-season? The Blazers can match, but since they owe Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Norm Powell a lot of money, I can’t envision them adding $80 million over four years for another guard. Granted, it would all but mean moving on from Killian Hayes, but it is what it is. I’m sure the Pistons would have no problem moving on from Hayes if they were able to get Kyrie Irving in the off-season. By the way, if Irving opted out next season, is there any chance of landing him given the Pistons have the most cap space?
Langlois: Simons is 22 and playing very well while both Lillard and McCollum have missed time due to injury. Portland, as you referenced, faces an imminent cap crunch. How it gets resolved is a mystery given all of the front-office upheaval that’s transpired in Portland since the start of the season. What ownership dictates is another great unknown. Damian Lillard has so far been pretty clear that he’d like to stay in Portland, but there seems a reasonable chance that the search for a new management team results in someone taking over who convinces ownership that the way to go is to start over and clear up the looming cap mess by dealing at least one of Lillard and McCollum. If I were a betting man, my bet would be on Portland taking care of that before free agency starts in July and identifying Simons as one of the young players around whom to build. But if we get to free agency and Portland hasn’t yet addressed its cap issues, then some team will swoop in and put an offer on the table for Simons that will make it painful for Portland to match without having resolution on the Lillard/McCollum front. For the Pistons, the core issue would be investing that much in a ball-dominant guard to play alongside Cade Cunningham. They need to determine what type of player makes the most sense to put around Cunningham. His versatility gives them a wealth of options. I’m not suggesting a player like Simons wouldn’t be a fit, only that you get just so many chances to get it right and spending $20 million on any single player comes with an opportunity cost; it means you don’t have roughly one-sixth of the salary cap to spend on other players who might be better complementary fits.
@mihirbeeating/IG: What’s your favorite Cade Cunningham moment so far?
Langlois: He’s had a lot for a rookie who’s played all of 31 games. In general, what’s impressed me most is he plays his best basketball in fourth quarters of tight games. When the Pistons lost to Brooklyn in Cunningham’s fourth game in November, he was swapping clutch baskets with Kevin Durant. I was impressed when he went in to Houston – on a night that was billed as a Cunningham-Jalen Green battle and Green, on his home turf, wanted to show the Pistons erred by passing on him – in his fifth game and made two huge baskets in the last few minutes to lead a win. It’s hard to beat what he did Monday, though, when he started 0 for 5 and finished 10 of 17 while scoring a career-high 29 points to go with eight assists to star as the Pistons rallied back from 22 down to soundly beat a very good Utah team.
Doc Joe (Parts Unknown, Mich.): How should we spend the upcoming cap space? Do any upcoming free agents catch your eye/stand out?
Langlois: The sweet spot for the Pistons in free agency probably will be the 2023 off-season, before second contracts kick in for the 2020 draft class and while Cade Cunningham is still on his rookie deal. They’re going to likely have around $20 million this off-season when you account for the cap hold on a relatively high lottery pick. I’d guess they’ll wind up with a veteran addition of the Kelly Olynyk caliber – someone who immediately makes them better and figures in their top five or six players. Whether that happens via trade – where the Pistons absorb salary and maybe get some draft compensation as a sweetener – or free agency is anyone’s guess. Teams can draw up their master plans but the market has a way of turning those grand designs on their ear when the starting gun is fired.
Luka (@LukaKneevi4): How close is Saben Lee to supplanting Killian Hayes on the point guard depth chart? Seems that he makes more of his opportunities compared to Hayes. If not for the first-round label, I think it would’ve happened already.
Langlois: I see no indication the Pistons aren’t fully committed to giving Killian Hayes the rest of this season to gain traction. Dwane Casey said something a few weeks ago after a game along the lines of being accepting of youthful mistakes this season but the same players might not get as much rope next season. I think it’s fair to file Hayes under that category. The Pistons are all in on player development as the backbone of the 2021-22 season because they are still in the very early stages of their rebuilding, or restoration, as Troy Weaver tabbed it. How much they move off of that for next season will depend in part on what moves they find available for them in the off-season, but it’s likely they’ll take some steps toward balancing the priorities list between individual player development and team outcomes next season. It still won’t be a playoffs-or-bust type mentality, but it’s going to start moving more toward that side of the equation as time passes and they feel they’ve stocked the roster with enough quality NBA players to shift gears a bit.
Dave Brunett (@davebrunett): Do you think coach Rex uncovered an effective and successful rotation and game plan in the win against Utah? Or did it just come down to the Pistons shots finally dropping?
Langlois: As I wrote to an earlier question, young teams don’t progress in uninterrupted intervals. The Pistons followed up their best game of the season – last Monday’s win at Milwaukee – with two clunkers in losses at Charlotte and Memphis, then came back with a narrow win over Orlando and the stirring win over Utah. I think the blowout loss at Chicago to follow on Tuesday wasn’t quite like those Charlotte and Memphis games. The Pistons trailed by one point after a quarter and nine at halftime. The back to back, after expending a lot of energy to recover from a 22-point deficit and win against Utah, clearly took a lot out of the Pistons and they didn’t have enough in reserve to punch back when Chicago blitzed them to start the third quarter. I’d venture to guess that over the second half of the season, the Pistons point differential will come down significantly from where it is right now at minus 10.1.
@klupton2403/IG: What prospect in this year’s draft do you most want the Pistons to get?
Langlois: I’ve seen precious little college basketball to date, so I would defer to the draft analysts among the media, folks like Jonathan Givony, Mike Schmitz, Sam Vecenie and Kevin O’Connor. It seems there’s a pretty strong consensus top four of Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero, Jabari Smith and Jaden Ivey. If the Pistons land a top-four pick, the three big men strike me all as being easy fits with the Pistons young core as all of them have a pretty diverse skill set and all are comfortable facing the basket and playing away from the paint. Ivey’s size and athleticism, likewise, would make him pretty easy to slot in with most teams. That’s about as much as I’ve put into draft thoughts when we’re still more than five months out from draft night.