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Pistons Mailbag – WEDNESDAY, Jan. 26

Cade Cunningham’s Rookie of the Year drive, draft chatter and, of course, a look ahead to the February trade deadline get us going in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Phil (Auburn Hills, Mich.): What’s going on with our rookies? It looks like Jamorko Pickett has been called up from the G League last week but hasn’t played a single minute, Luka Garza hasn’t played in a single G League or NBA game for over a week and Isaiah Livers hasn’t seen any court since December. Is the plan to move on from these guys? If not, I would expect them to get some consistent minutes on either our team or the Cruise.

@fatimaelmoukahal/IG: What’s up with Isaiah Livers? Does he have another injury?

Langlois: We’ll take these two as an entry. The Pistons shuttle players back and forth as a matter of routine to take full use of their ability to do so now that moving their G League affiliate to Detroit – the Motor City Cruise – makes it possible and advantageous. Garza’s inactivity is because he was in NBA health and safety protocols, but he’s since exited and played on Monday for the Cruise, as did Pickett. Garza was back and in uniform with the Pistons on Tuesday. Livers is close to a return. The foot on which he had surgery last spring started causing him some pain and, Dwane Casey said this week, they’ve fitted him with orthotics. “He took some time off, had some soreness,” Casey said. “I don’t know exactly what happened, but I think he’s getting close to coming back.” That seems to indicate that the pain did not indicate a re-injury. General manager Troy Weaver also mentioned Livers nearing a return when he appeared on the Bally Sports Detroit telecast of Monday’s Cruise game.

Cade Cunningham Enthusiast (@PTP_99): Are there any teams that Jerami Grant seems more likely to land with than others or still up in the air?

Langlois: I think the team he’s likeliest to land with come Feb. 11 – the day after the trade deadline is … the Detroit Pistons. Far and away, that’s the single likeliest team that will be issuing his checks over what remains of the 2021-22 season past the trade deadline. I don’t know that it’s even 50-50 he’ll be traded, but even if it goes that high, that still means there’s a 50 percent likelihood he’ll be a Piston after the deadline and whichever team is in second place – your guess is as good as mine – wouldn’t come close to claiming the other 50 percent of outcomes. The list of teams that have been reported to have had some contact with the Pistons regarding Grant or hold interest in him is long and winding and includes Washington, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Boston, New York, the Los Angeles Lakers, Utah, Portland, Memphis and, I’m sure, a few I’m not mentioning. If Ben Simmons is the focal point of the trade deadline, Grant is at his shoulder. But I maintain that the Pistons do not nor should not feel compelled to trade him. If the Pistons feel like adding another high to mid-lottery pick on top of a year’s worth of maturity for Cade Cunningham, Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart, Killian Hayes, et al, plus what they project they can add with the cap space they’ll have this off-season – somewhere a bit north of $20 million, accounting for the cap hold for the No. 1 pick – puts them within reach of making some noise in the Eastern Conference, then they might wonder if a year from now at the 2023 trade deadline if they’ll be in the market for a player just like Jerami Grant. You can make a pretty strong case that keeping him and extending him puts the Pistons on a surer path to meaningful contention than dealing him for parts and pieces might. But I’m not Troy Weaver and I don’t know the substance of the offers that might be forthcoming over the next 15 days.

Adam (St. Petersburg, Fla.): If the Pistons get a top-three pick, which of the three big guys do you think is the best fit with Cade Cunningham and the rest of the young core?

Langlois: I will defer a definitive pronouncement on the fit of those three big guys – and I’ll presume you’re talking about Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero – with Cunningham and the remainder of the young core to the guys who devote the bulk of their days to studying such things. But it seems to me that all of those guys would work not only with Cunningham but with Isaiah Stewart. The caveat here is that I still don’t think “fit” is going to be very high on the list for Troy Weaver when he goes about exercising his first-round pick this June. It’s still about accumulating the most talent and making sure you spend a premium pick on the guy who’s going to turn out to be the best NBA player. Smith’s shooting ability would surely be great with Cunningham. Banchero’s scoring versatility, even if he’s not yet certain to be a consistent 3-point shooter, playmaking potential and all-around IQ would also fit like a glove with Cunningham. Holmgren might be a little more raw offensively, but a 7-footer with the ballhandling and projectable shooting range he flashes in combination with his elite defensive potential also would be a fit with pretty much any team. They all would work with Stewart. And Cunningham’s vision and court sense would draw out the best in those players. I don’t see a scenario where the Pistons would get a top-three pick and say, well, we’ll be OK if we get this guy but not those two or get those two but not the other one. They’d all work from my standpoint.

Al (Wolverine Lake, Mich.): How do you handicap Cade Cunningham’s Rookie of the Year odds now?

Langlois: They’re certainly on the rise. Evan Mobley and Scottie Barnes got a head start on him and Franz Wagner has been really good. Mobley probably remains the betting favorite at this point because not only has he been terrific but it’s contributed to unexpected team success. But Cunningham is stringing together some head-turning games and that’s the sort of thing that travels around the league and breaks through even against the record the Pistons own. Here’s what Nuggets coach Mike Malone said after Tuesday’s game in which Cunningham posted 34 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, four blocked shots and two steals: “Cade Cunningham, what a helluva player. Had a game tonight. Showed you why he was such a high pick – scoring, rebounding, playmaking. That kid’s future is very, very bright. They got a special one here in Detroit.” Cunningham has 35 games remaining to close the gap between him and Mobley, who I think is the front-runner now and is the only one who can stand between Cunningham and ROY when it’s all said and done.

Langlois: Most players who get ejected are tossed for picking up their second technical foul – that was the case with Cade Cunningham when he was ejected in the Jan. 16 game with Phoenix – or because they were assessed a flagrant-two. Both are automatic ejections. There is almost zero chance a coach can intercede to prevent either one, though sometimes what you’re suggesting almost certainly prevents a second technical from being assessed due to a vehement reaction to being assessed the first technical. In the specific case of Cunningham on Jan. 16, there is nothing Dwane Casey or anyone could have done short of jumping on Cunningham’s back as he hit the ground after dunking – and before he pointed in the general direction of the defender he’d just dunked on but also in a direct line with the Pistons bench, to which Cunningham says he was pointing in appreciation of his friends and family behind the bench. Baseball ejections happen like a boiling teapot – there is almost always time to turn the temperature down before it blows. Not so in basketball. A player does something and is immediately assessed a technical foul. One doesn’t get you ejected, but a second one does – and there’s almost never a chance to steer a player away from that in time. Players sometimes can intercede. That, in fact, happened in Tuesday night’s second quarter when Cunningham jumped in front of Josh Jackson – not in time to prevent a first technical, but perhaps saving him from a second and ejection. Alas, a few minutes later, with Jackson on the bench, he said something that earned him the second technical and ejection. Unless Casey could have teleported himself from his seat at one end of the bench to Jackson on the other as Jackson was forming the words that earned him the second technical, there’s nothing he could have done to prevent what unfolded.

Lou (Indio, Calif.): I read online that Jerami Grant, Saddiq Bey and Kelly Olynyk were all offered for Ben Simmons. Plus, we threw in a first-round pick. What an awful move for the Pistons.

Langlois: And if you read it online, it must be true! Seriously, take all such reports not with a grain but with a Pacific Ocean full of salt. Think about which party benefits from the reports of such rumors. Surely not the Pistons. But the 76ers keep the prevailing sentiment alive that they’re holding out for an absolute haul when it’s asserted that they were the party to turn down what seems a generous offer. Be extraordinarily skeptical of that report. The Pistons don’t even have a first-round pick to offer at the moment because of the protections on the pick they sent to Houston in the deal for the 16th pick of 2020 they used on Isaiah Stewart, a pick now in the hands of Oklahoma City. The Pistons would have to amend the protections on that pick more favorably in order to have one to deal before 2027. The Pistons are not in a position at this point to be lifting protections on draft picks that would have them handing over a lottery pick, potentially.