An A+ draft is in the books and the Pistons are about to enter into free agency to fill out the roster and that fills the menu for this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.
@jerrydrover/IG: Should Detroit really go all in on Miles Bridges?
Langlois: The idea of Miles Bridges fits with the Pistons about as well as any free agent you could conjure in a laboratory. But he’s a restricted free agent and the rule of thumb is that they very rarely change teams if the home team has the desire to retain them. Charlotte has now made it explicitly clear it intends to keep Bridges, which always seemed the likely outcome. General manager Mitch Kupchak on Tuesday said, “We love Miles. We’re going to bring him back.” Doesn’t seem to leave much room for equivocation.
Langlois: Dwane Casey said the numbers – he didn’t get more specific than that, but you can bet it included both traditional and analytical statistics – favored Bey at power forward last season, which he played extensively during the 24 games Jerami Grant missed with a thumb injury and later when Grant sat with a calf injury. It’s conceivable the Pistons use lineups with two big men – any combination of Isaiah Stewart, Kelly Olynyk, Marvin Bagley III (if he returns via free agency) and Jalen Duren – for stretches of games, possibly even in the starting lineup. It’s also conceivable Cade Cunningham winds up at small forward with some combination of Killian Hayes, Jaden Ivey, Saben Lee or Cory Joseph in the backcourt, though Cunningham would surely retain his role as primary playmaker no matter who else is on the floor with him. But if I had to guess at a starter opposite Bey, I’d probably go with Hamidou Diallo. Isaiah Livers also is a possibility. I’d bet on the more conventional lineup to start and then play big or play small as the situation requires.
@adamoswald7: Do you think Dwane Casey envisions Isaiah Stewart as a possible option at the four? I really don’t like the thought of Stewart and Bagley as our fours. Any chance we see Bey play some four?
Langlois: Continuing with the theme of the previous question, my guess is that Stewart isn’t going to play much at power forward. How much he plays with another big man is another question. I don’t see the two bigs as a lineup staple, but situationally? Sure. If Boston is playing Al Horford and Robert Williams together, then the Pistons would probably counter with two of Stewart, Bagley (assuming he’s back), Kelly Olynyk or rookie Jalen Duren. If I had to make a bet now when the roster still isn’t set, I’d bet on Bey being the starting four and playing most of his minutes there.
@y3a_its_k3ith/IG: How do you think coach Casey will approach spacing and lineups?
Langlois: Have to wait to see what the roster looks like. I’m reminded of what Troy Weaver said at season’s end when asked at what stage he saw the restoration of the Pistons. To paraphrase, he said they were still in the phase of talent accumulation. They’re aware they need more 3-point shooting. Saddiq Bey and Cade Cunningham give them two 3-point shooters in the starting lineup. How they fill around them will require some mix of defense and 3-point shooting. Jaden Ivey shot it pretty well from three as a sophomore and the expectation is that he’ll eventually be a plus perimeter shooter but he faces the same transition to the greater 3-point NBA distance and speed of the game that all rookies endure.
@RuthlessRuss: Who are some acquirable wing replacements for Jerami Grant via trades since there’s not really a lot of good wing free agents this year?
Langlois: “Acquirable” carries broad implications. Virtually everyone can be acquired if you’re willing to meet – or, probably, exceed – fair market value. On the assumption that Grant isn’t on the roster next season (some trades made during or before the draft won’t be finalized until the July 6 end to the moratorium period), the Pistons clearest roster need would be fortifying on the wing. But with Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Livers, Hamidou Diallo and Cunningham and Braxton Key on a two-way deal, they’ve got arguably enough to get through a season. It’s conceivable that whatever moves Troy Weaver makes once free agency starts is dictated less by immediate roster need than by long-term benefit. A trade that yields a non-wing player, for instance, might be prioritized for other reasons, such as simply improving the talent base or if it also comes with additional draft capital, for instance.
@BadNewsBeau: Do you think the Pistons could be last year’s Cavaliers if it all works out better than expected? Maybe 45 wins?
Langlois: The Cavs went from 22 to 44 wins, though the 22 came in a 72-game season. Nobody saw that coming. The jump also came despite losing Collin Sexton, who led the Cavs in scoring at 24.3 points a game in 2020-21, after 11 games last season. Cleveland was in its fourth season since losing LeBron James and launching another rebuilding. The Pistons will be in their third rebuilding season. It’s really hard to go from 23 wins to 43, which in 2021-22 would have tied the Pistons with Charlotte for 10th and the final play-in berth. Adding two more lottery picks, two more exceptional talents but exceptionally young players, is going to make the Pistons younger at the core than the Cavs were. When you’re that young, winning is elusive.
@Agridome: The draft was good. However, the next two weeks might be more telling with our cap space. Improvements are needed. What does Troy Weaver do next? Is he gunning for the playoffs next year? I hope so.
Langlois: If the Pistons went into draft night with a grand wish to come out of it with both Jaden Ivey ad Jalen Duren, winding up with that result – for as much as it could mean for the future of the franchise – might require some recalibration of immediate expectations from fans. Troy Weaver and Dwane Casey aren’t going to hold this young core back, of course, but a commitment to developing that many young players at one time is going to come with more growing pains. When next season ends, Jalen Duren will be 19 and Jaden Ivey, Cade Cunningham, Killian Hayes and Isaiah Stewart will all be 21. The Kansas Jayhawks, who won the 2022 NCAA title, had an older starting lineup. Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Livers are 23. If Marvin Bagley III returns, he’s 23 until next March. In the grand scheme of things, the Pistons are two years into a rebuilding. Weaver has moved a ton of pieces around the board and you never get them all right, but look at the roster now and count up the assets vs. where they were in June 2020 when he arrived. It’s astounding to acquire as many players with value around the league in that period of time without doing anything to limit future possibilities. And the Pistons have arguably the most advantageous future cap sheet in the league. Making the playoffs next season would be nice, but Weaver and Dwane Casey have made clear the goal is sustained success. When they make the playoffs, they want to be on an undeniable upward trajectory.
@TrDetroit: Next year’s free agency will be more difficult for us. Acquiring a max contract player and some good role players can increase the ceiling of the team and we will have $30 million-plus in cap room again next year. What is the front office’s opinion on this? Do they prefer tanking or playoff push?
Langlois: The Pistons potentially could have tons of cap space next summer, significantly more than they would have had this off-season before dedicating a big chunk of their potential space to trades. I would guess Troy Weaver would push back on the “tanking or playoff push” framing of your question. There will be tremendous competition for playing time, but almost all of it will be waged by players in their career’s infancy. There really aren’t going to be enough roster spots available for the Pistons to add enough veteran free agents to significantly alter the equilibrium of the roster.
@Undrafted_uk: What are your thoughts on starting Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey on opening night?
Langlois: That really comes down to this: Does Ivey open the season in the starting lineup or not? Cunningham is a lock as long as he’s not dealing with an injury as happened last season. I think the chances of Ivey starting are pretty good. My expectation is that Killian Hayes will continue in the role that helped him start to flourish over the final few months of last season, coming off the bench where he was able to have the ball in his hands and use his increased confidence to gain some traction. I’d make it about 80-20 that Ivey is in the starting lineup on opening night based on the roster as we know it.
@BenChulick: Any chance of signing a big-name free agent to acquire talent with the thought he could be flipped for a better package? Thinking of how Golden State turned Russell into Wiggins and Kuminga.
Langlois: I wouldn’t make that the most likely course of action, but it’s possible. It would have to be the right guy, though. The Golden State situation was thoroughly unique. The Warriors had a salary slot they wanted to fill rather than lose for nothing as a team hopelessly over the cap – not the position the Pistons are in – and use it as a vehicle for future moves while their superstars were rehabilitating injuries. That’s not remotely a parallel for where the Pistons find themselves. But I could see something like what the Knicks did a few years ago – signing or trading for a few proven veterans on short-term deals that don’t hold back young players but can fill a variety of roles as best serve the long-term interests of the franchise with regard to development of the young core.
@therealandymcd: Talk about our “stashed” guys overseas. Who do we currently have rights to? How are they doing? Are we likely to see any coming over to play soon? Have no idea if we’ve got rights to two or 12 guys overseas, so an update on this would be interesting.
Langlois: They’ll have two for 2022-23, last year’s 57th overall pick, Balsa Koprivica, and this year’s 36th pick, Gabriele Procida. I talked to Pistons European scout Nik Koprivica – no relation – last week and he said Balsa Koprivica had a good season with Partizan in the Adriatic League. He played in 12 games and averaged 3.6 points and 3.9 rebounds in 13 minutes a game, shooting 55 percent without any 3-point attempts. Procida is expected to remain in Italy for next season and then they’ll sort it out. He’s 20, a good shooter and a very good athlete at 6-foot-8.