Niyo: Double-dip at draft adds fuel to Pistons' game plan

John Niyo
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — A day after their owner said they didn’t need any more players, the Pistons went ahead and drafted one Thursday night.

And then they drafted another.

So maybe Tom Gores was getting ahead of himself when he said the Pistons were content to stand pat with the roster Dwane Casey inherited as head coach. Or maybe it’s just best that he delegates the basketball operations to guys with a better handle on things.

Either way, the Pistons did manage to help themselves in Thursday’s NBA Draft, and even the new guy in charge of the front office, veteran executive Ed Stefanski, wasn’t sure that’d be the case going in.

“You never know how the draft’s gonna go and it didn’t look like we were gonna be able to move like we did,” Stefanski said just after midnight, talking about the Pistons’ two new additions.

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Stefanski traded a pair of future second-round picks for the rights to Creighton guard Khyri Thomas, who was selected 38th overall by the Philadelphia 76ers. Then he added another wing player, Miami’s Bruce Brown Jr., with the Pistons’ own pick at No. 42.

“We were trying all night (to move up),” Stefanski admitted. “But the deals were really hard. They were very expensive yesterday, they were very expensive early in the night. But as the night went on, it got better and better.”

And in the end, that was a good thing for a team that admittedly doesn’t have much room to maneuver. As Stefanski noted the other day, the offseason roster changes he’ll be able to make this summer will be mostly on “the fringes.”

Blake effect

The Pistons didn’t have a first-round pick Thursday, having traded theirs away in the Blake Griffin blockbuster back in January. (Of the six teams that entered this draft without a first-round choice, five were playoff teams last season — the Pistons being the lone exception.)

They’re also over the salary cap, unable to make significant free-agent additions without some subtractions. Even a full mid-level exception might be out of the question for the Pistons this summer, thanks to all the contracts they’ve agreed to take on the past few years, from the big deals for Griffin and Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson to those overpaid role players. And good luck finding a taker for Jon Leuer or Langston Galloway.

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“I’ve canvassed the league,” Stefanski said. “There’s some players people want more than others.”

And for now, it’s safe to say those players — most notably last year’s first-round pick, Luke Kennard — aren’t on the trading block in Detroit.

“So you’d have to dismantle one of your top three for cap flexibility,” Stefanski says, “and I don’t see that making sense.”

Nor are the Pistons ready to pay the luxury tax just to add a complementary piece to a roster that won 39 games a year ago, albeit without a healthy Jackson or Griffin. 

“That’s not the way you should go,” Stefanski said. “If we’re knocking the ball out of the park late in the season and there’s something, Tom will go into the luxury tax.”

In the meantime, the owner can say what he wants about how much he likes his team.

“Whatever player we get, that will be great,” Gores said Wednesday, a bit defiantly, when asked about the draft. “But we really don’t need another one. We’re good. I mean, that’s why Dwane’s here. We like this team.”

Casey probably likes it a bit better today, though.

Casey's kind

Both these players fit the Casey mold as lockdown perimeter defenders coming out of college.

Thomas, who left Creighton after his junior season, was a two-time Big East defensive player of the year. He stands 6-foot-4 and a solid 200 pounds — he and Brown tested as two of the strongest players at the NBA draft combine this spring — and with a nearly 6-11 wingspan, Thomas, a 41 percent 3-point shooter in college, has better length than Miles Bridges.

Brown, a 6-5, 195-pound guard with a 6-9 wingspan, likely would’ve been a first-round pick if he’d left Miami after his freshman season. Instead, his shooting percentages took a hit and then he was sidelined by a broken foot, which hurt his draft stock. Still, he’s an explosive athlete who can defend multiple positions — and rebound — which may allow him to carve out a role as a reserve in the NBA. Maybe even as a rookie, along with Thomas.

“Tough as nails, both of them,” Stefanski said. “And they can make plays. They’re two wings, and that’s what we needed. We needed some young guys, especially to play that position. …

“You don’t want to give up assets, but we feel where we are … we did a good job tonight.”

They did what they could, at least. And that sure beats doing nothing.