Pistons Mailbag – WEDNESDAY, March 1

@adamoswald7: Do you think the Pistons envision a lineup playing Wiseman and Duren together? Or is this merely, he’s a great asset, let’s gather as many as possible and see what we have?

Langlois: Of all the two-man combinations possible among the four young big men the Pistons now number – James Wiseman, Jalen Duren, Isaiah Stewart and Marvin Bagley III – the Wiseman-Duren pairing is probably the least likely and the farthest away. Dwane Casey said as much just on Tuesday. Duren is 19 and the Pistons won’t burden him with developing perimeter skills this soon. Wiseman is the biggest and longest among them, so even if he’s athletic enough and has a deft enough shooting touch to consider him as a power forward, they probably want him focused for the time being on making the most of being a center. Wiseman’s had so little playing time over the past few years, the best thing for him now is to stay in his comfort zone, bank some repetitions and let him start to spread his wings from there. Down the road, sure, if both Duren and Wiseman progress to the point that they demand more than the 24 minutes a game they’d get by splitting center, the Pistons can explore making it work. But to circle back to your question, I think Troy Weaver saw the opportunity to get a player that only was available due to unusual circumstances and one who made the Pistons bigger and upped their talent base while having vast room for growth.

@RBNesbitt: Last night for a brief second we got to see two bigs together with Wiseman being one of them. We have seen two bigs with everyone except him. I noticed Bagley was guarding the non-shooter (Smith) with Wiseman guarding the big. Do you think that will be the Pistons defensive strategy?

Langlois: Wiseman came off the bench his first two games but when he started in game three – Saturday when the Pistons hosted Toronto – he and Isaiah Stewart played together. Then Stewart went down early in the second half with a sore hip and the Pistons again were reduced to two big men, Wiseman and Marvin Bagley III. Dwane Casey said Tuesday that his concern defensively with playing two big men is all about transition defense. He said Bagley can stay in front of smaller players in a half-court defense but right now the big guys are accustomed to sprinting back to protect the paint in transition and 3-point shooters spotting up have hurt the Pistons when they’ve played two big men at a time. One thing to watch for if and when the Pistons get all four of their big men available and play two at a time for the bulk of the game: Will they start to mix in more zone defense? Casey said they really haven’t had the time to dedicate to it just yet. Again, his concern is transition defense.

Langlois: Old man answer here: The Bad Boys played a three-guard rotation, in part, because two of them (Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars) were Hall of Famers and the third (Vinnie Johnson) was one of the best sixth men of his generation. John Long was a worthy fourth guard who’d have played more for virtually any other team, but Chuck Daly, quite logically, chose to play Thomas, Dumars and Johnson and sometimes keep it at that. I can think of at least a few reasons why today’s rotations include more guards. One is that it generally includes more players. I don’t think many teams routinely played five or six bench players back in that era and now it’s not unusual to have 10 players in the scorebook before the first quarter is out. The other thing is that “load management” has cracked the door to playing time for more players and getting even a semi-steady role makes for players who are ready to contribute with a little more regularity than if they were playing only sporadically. But the biggest reason: Teams are willing to play three or even four guards at a time these days. If Cade Cunningham were healthy, I think the Pistons would have had plenty of three-guard lineups this season. And if you’re routinely playing three guards at a time – something Thomas, Dumars and Johnson rarely did, though they were all out there when it mattered at the end of Game 5 of the 1990 NBA Finals – then you need at least four or five in the rotation.

@christopher.hrbal/IG: With Noel cut, do the Pistons have a player in line to fill the roster spot?

Langlois: Nerlens Noel reportedly reached a buyout agreement with the Pistons to create an open roster spot. At this time of year, it’s typical for teams with open roster spots to sign a young player they like to a “multiyear” contract that in reality locks up a prospect for the summer and, probably, includes an invitation to training camp next season in return for a modest guarantee. The Pistons have a little more than five weeks to scour the market for a player they like to sign to such a deal. My guess is they’ll probably do so. But who that might be is anyone’s guess.

@patrickmayojr/IG: Who’s the odd man out if the Pistons draft Victor Wembanyama? Beef Stew?

Langlois: Troy Weaver and Dwane Casey love Isaiah Stewart. “He’s kind of the spirit, the fiber of our team,” Casey said last fall. “That toughness that you want to have, of what Detroit stands for – he’s that.” I’d be surprised if he’s the odd man out anytime soon no matter what roster maneuvering occurs this summer. Maybe Wembanyama plays small forward? That’s a dilemma the Pistons would happily embrace if it comes to that.

@DRoc008: With the modern game, small ball and 3-point shooting fest, it seems like the additions of Wiseman/Bagley/Stewart and Duren are giving me Bad Boys 2.5 vibes. Developing these guys can give us a defensive edge and boards dominance.

Langlois: Roster logjams always have a way of working themselves out. But if the Pistons start next season with all four of their young big men – and that would be the betting favorite – it will be incumbent on the coaching staff to devise schemes to maximize their use. We haven’t had the chance to see what that might entail yet just because injuries have meant all four have never been active for a single game together. It would give the Pistons certain advantages and present them with certain challenges and, as always, the key to whether it works is if the pluses outweigh the minuses. Some of that will be on the players to develop their skills so they’re versatile enough to accommodate the demands of playing in combination with any or all of the other big men. Some of it, as I said, will be on the coaches to devise the schemes that put players in position to succeed. It doesn’t mean – even if all of those things work – that the Pistons can cobble together lineups that give them consistent matchup advantages. But it's surely worth exploring at this point in their evolution. Maybe it’s the NBA’s equivalent of Moneyball. As big men have generally been devalued, there comes a point where they represent good value.

@Chuckhealy180: What is the cap hold for all the Pistons 2020 draft class players and what kind of price is there to extend each of the players? And how much would the Pistons save in cap space to let any of them hit free agency?

Langlois: The players from the 2020 draft don’t really have cap holds, per se. Because the fourth-year options were picked up for Killian Hayes and Isaiah Stewart, they have guaranteed contracts for next season. Same for James Wiseman, whose option was picked up by Golden State. (Orlando declined R.J. Hampton’s fourth-year option, so when he was waived the only obligation remaining to Hampton was the remainder of his season’s contract. Hampton will be a free agent at the end of the season.) Wiseman, as the No. 2 pick, is under contract for $9.6 million next season; Hayes, as the No. 7 pick, is under contract for $5.8 million; and Stewart, as the No. 16 pick, is due $3.4 million. The Pistons could negotiate extensions with them to begin with the 2024-25 season, but the price depends entirely on what the two sides could agree upon. None of those players could hit free agency next season – unless the Pistons were to waive them. That wouldn’t make any sense, though, as they would still be on the hook for their salaries and they would still count against their salary cap. A cap hold applies to pending free agents. It’s the placeholder on a team’s cap sheet to prevent them from essentially getting around salary cap rules by spending all of their available space and then re-signing their own free agents and going over the cap using Bird rights. How much the cap hold is depends on the type of free agent a player is set to become. Hamidou Diallo will be a free agent for the Pistons this summer. He’s not coming off a rookie scale contract and his current contract pays him less than the NBA average salary. As such, Diallo’s cap hold will be 190 percent of his current salary of $5.2 million – or roughly $9.9 million. If the Pistons are interested in retaining Diallo but at a price point below $9.9 million, then their best course is to come to terms with him and replace the $9.9 million cap hold with the lesser amount of his actual 2023-24 salary.

@connor_waple/IG: What position will the Pistons be looking to add in the off-season?

Langlois: The clear answer is on the wing. Especially with the trade that sent Saddiq Bey and Kevin Knox out for James Wiseman, the Pistons need some reinforcement on the wings. I don’t think that will override the mission to add talent if, for instance, the Pistons got one of the top two picks in the draft. But it likely will drive free agency and the trade market. The Pistons have Bojan Bogdanovic and Isaiah Livers. Hamidou Diallo is a pending free agent. They’re going to need more players in that 6-foot-6 to 6-foot-8 range to match up.

@stretch_231b/IG: Why would we trade Saddiq Bey for another big man if we want to get Victor Wembanyama?

Langlois: They’ll have a 14 percent chance to get the No. 1 pick it will take to get Wembanyama. I don’t think any responsible general manager would pass on the chance to improve the talent base and, by extension, a franchise’s future based on an 86 percent chance of regret. Besides, if Wembanyama is anything close to the transformational talent he’s widely projected to be, he’s going to afford the team that lands him some pretty desirable roster and lineup flexibility with his rare blend of size and skill.

@ck2art/IG: What’s the plan for minutes for next year for our frontcourt?

Langlois: I don’t know that they’re thinking at that level of detail about next season given all the things that could happen between now and then to alter the equation. They’re focused on the final five-plus weeks of this season and maximizing the time to learn as much about James Wiseman as they can and to experiment with lineup combinations involving him and the other young big men now in the pipeline. Getting them all healthy and available would be the first step. When the season is over, they’ll take a deep breath, evaluate what they have, sit down with the players and map out a summer development plan and go from there. Once the roster comes into more of a focus, the coaching staff will, I’m sure, tinker with their schemes to take full advantage of their new-found size and frontcourt depth.

@chuckbrower: In the Pistons championship years, they had players (Dennis Rodman, Ben Wallace) whose defensive value was much higher than their offensive value and these players encouraged their teammates to play better defense. Does the current team need someone like that?

Langlois: If we rephrase the question to “the Pistons have had two multi-time Defensive Player of the Year winners who went on to the Hall of Fame and do you think the current Pistons would benefit from having such a player?” the answer becomes pretty self-evident. There hasn’t been an NBA team in any era that wouldn’t have been improved by adding a player the caliber of Dennis Rodman or Ben Wallace. They were two thoroughly unique players, though. Rodman was a second-round pick that only the wily Jack McCloskey could uncover – and speaking of Hall of Famers, how another Hall of Fame finalists class has come and gone with no mention of Trader Jack remains a crime against basketball – and Wallace went undrafted. Players like Rodman and Wallace barely existed in their day and they might be even more rare today. The closest parallel I could offer to either player today is P.J. Tucker, who spent five seasons in Europe between his first and second NBA seasons. Tucker isn’t going to make the Hall of Fame, but he’s become a valued player by teams chasing championships and he defies convention as Rodman and Wallace once did. I’m sure Troy Weaver looks for Rodman and Wallace-like qualities on every scouting mission he undertakes. But you’ve got to turn over a few million rocks to find one. As for Rodman and Wallace and your premise that they “encouraged” teammates to play better defense, I’d say their dominance was such that teammates were liberated to be more aggressive than would otherwise be prudent knowing their mistakes had a good chance of being erased.