Whenever draft and free agency roll around, Pistons will ‘no doubt be prepared’ - Stefanski
The Pistons have acquired a number of young players – nine still under 25 – since Ed Stefanski took over the front office a little less than two years ago. Some or most of them will be instrumental in taking the next steps as they launch a rebuilding phase.
Stefanski picked up Christian Wood off waivers. He’s drafted Sekou Doumbouya, Bruce Brown, Khyri Thomas, Jordan Bone and Deividas Sirvydis, the latter still ripening in Europe as a 19-year-old. He’s traded for Svi Mykhailiuk and Thon Maker. And he signed Donta Hall as an undrafted free agent and stashed him in Grand Rapids before giving him two 10-day contracts just before the NBA season was suspended March 11.
Stefanski also inherited Luke Kennard, a 10th Piston in the under-25 club.
But you could argue that the fate of the Pistons will be determined more by players not currently on the roster than those who are. Stefanski knows how critical every move – every draft pick, every trade, every free-agent deal, every waiver claim – is to keep the rebuilding on track and prevent it from becoming a prolonged ordeal.
So like millions of others, Stefanski has spent an inordinate amount of time on streaming devices in the nearly six weeks since the NBA pulled the plug amid the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike those millions, he’s not bingeing Netflix but scouring draft and free-agent prospects.
No one knows quite yet how the NBA calendar will be affected – commissioner Adam Silver has said that no clarity will come before May 1 at the earliest, though Stefanski said “that’s not a magic date” – but if the draft and free agency go off in late June as planned, the Pistons will be armed and ready.
“Yeah, I think if June 25 (the date of the draft) rolled around, there’s no doubt we’d be prepared,” Stefanski said. “Maybe in a different manner. Obviously, we wouldn’t have live workouts. We would have to do more virtual – virtual interviews with players – and we’d get the medical done, I’d think, in all different cities. But we’re ready to adapt. We’ve talked about many different scenarios that could happen. I feel comfortable with whatever.”
There’s the possibility – and perhaps the likelihood – that the draft will be pushed back, depending on how the NBA proceeds with the completion of its regular season and the implementation of the playoffs, whether in standard or revised format. The Pistons had played 66 of 82 scheduled regular-season games when the season was suspended. If the season resumes, the expectation is that the draft – and certainly free agency – would coincide with the end of the playoffs.
Free agency would require less adaptation for NBA front offices than a draft that might have to proceed without a combine – it was set for late May – or individual workouts at team sites.
“We have plenty on that,” Stefanski said of free agency.
Pretty much all the hay was already in the barn with respect to the college basketball season and the scouting of its players. Stefanski said it might have been helpful to see a few late movers play in their conference tournaments and the NCAA tournament beyond that, but most players had put in an ample body of work already. The Pistons scouting staff – four assigned to scout colleges under the direction of personnel director Gregg Polinsky – had all put eyes on most draftable prospects multiple times. Video of their games have been scoured over the past month-plus.
Polinsky was pulled off the road ahead of a planned European scouting trip as the coronavirus spread was escalating but before the NBA suspended its season.
“That’s the only thing that’s been compromised is myself and Gregg getting over to Europe,” Stefanski said. “We were over there early in the season, but had planned an additional trip. Gregg’s trip was happening before this began and there was a lot of talk about it so we took him off that trip and thank God we did. We took all our scouts off the (conference) tournaments right away, hoping we could help them, but Maury Hanks, our scout, got it anyway. He’s made a very nice recovery, thankfully. But we have enough.”
The Pistons have three international scouts, as well. Of the current ESPN top 10 prospects, two played in Europe (Deni Avdija of Israel and Killian Hayes of France) and two Americans (LaMelo Ball, R.J. Hampton) played in Australia and New Zealand. Both Ball and Hampton’s seasons ended prematurely, but Stefanski said the Pistons had scouts in to see both.
“We were fortunate that a scout was over there early in the season,” he said. “We’ve had someone’s eyes on all the players, even the ones that were in New Zealand, Australia and over in Europe.”
Preparation for the 2021 draft might be affected more negatively by the restrictions in place and event cancellations than the 2020 draft, in fact. If summer evaluation camps and international competitions are eliminated, a key link in the information chain will go missing.
“It would. That’s a good question,” Stefanski said. “They’re not going to probably see the summer stuff you would see going forward, but I guess I look at it like the whole league is in the same boat. You have to adapt and have to figure ways out. It’s just the way it is. I don’t get concerned over it if it’s out of your control.”
As for what’s in their control, Stefanski and his staff adjusted quickly.
“We’re doing a ton,” he said. “Like everyone in the league, we’re doing a ton of video. We don’t know exactly where we’re going to draft, but we’re going to be in the top end. We have a lot of film studies where we get on conference calls and Zoom and work out our thoughts as a group. This is done on the draft and free agency. Honestly, I can say all of us living in different areas and not going in the office, we’re getting a lot of work done, maybe as much or more done. I feel very comfortable on that.”