Auburn Hills The Pistons' slow march to the lottery should be met with a dose of optimism, and should the franchise handle its business this summer, it'll be their last visit to Secaucus, N.J., for quite some time.
They've hit on their draft picks in recent years, and now they've finally removed themselves from salary cap purgatory, ready to make a splash in the open market come July.
One player who will be — or at least should be — on their radar is Mavericks shooting guard O.J. Mayo, who has the option of entering free agency after the season.
Mayo, after overtures from the Bulls, Lakers and Suns, signed with the Mavericks because a starting spot was available and they were willing to give him an early termination option after one year.
He wasn't highly thought of after his last two seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies, the team that drafted him in 2008. After averaging 18 points a game in his first two seasons, he struggled as the team shifted to a more Marc Gasol-Zach Randolph-centric offense.
His scoring went down to around 12 per game, making people wonder if the talented two-guard was all flash and no substance — and in the NBA, a player can fall off the map in the blink of an eye in terms of public perception.
He's at career highs across the board this year (17.4 points, 46.2 percent shooting, 4.4 assists), having carried the struggling Mavericks while franchise mainstay Dirk Nowitzki recovered from knee surgery. That was a pleasant surprise, to be sure.
"Yeah, I just got the chance to open up my game," said Mayo, one game off a career-high 12 assists. "Make some plays for myself and my teammates."
It's not only that he's entered into a second tier of shooting guards behind Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and James Harden, but it's also the manner in which he's done it that will look attractive to the Pistons' brass.
While no one is in a rush to move Brandon Knight to the bench, the Pistons are in need of consistent perimeter scoring, and it'll be high on their to-do list (along with a tough, athletic small forward).
Mayo is sixth-best in terms of scoring via isolation (per synergy sports), an area in which the Pistons are sorely lacking.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said Mayo is handling being blitzed on screen-rolls much better than before, and Mayo would be a great fit on the offensive end with Greg Monroe's diverse game, as he's seventh in the NBA in scoring off cuts — along with being one of the best 3-point shooters the game has to offer (42.4 percent, 120 makes this season).
He had 22 points, including 5-of-9 from 3-point range, in Friday night's 102-99 victory over the Pistons.
"He's having a great year. He's a very good offensive player," Pistons acting head coach Brian Hill said. "He's great attacking the basket and taking you off the dribble. He's a dual threat in that way."
Check on price tag
Now, though, he's put himself in a position to cash in, having outplayed his $4 million salary, and the Pistons would be remiss if they didn't see what his price tag would be this summer, although it's clear they won't make the mistake of overpaying players in unrestricted free agency.
It won't just be Mayo. Oklahoma City's Kevin Martin will be an unrestricted free agent, and with other teams facing the high luxury tax, valued commodities will be available.
Mayo insists he isn't looking past the last few weeks of the season, but if you think he isn't looking forward to his future and re-establishing himself as one of the game's best young players, you've got another thing coming.
"Man, I haven't looked that far down the road," Mayo said. "I'm just looking at Detroit, to see if we can finish this season on a high note."