Auburn Hills — The Pistons draft board isn't set, but it will be soon.
And once it is, the pressure's off, Stan Van Gundy insists.
"Draft night itself should be pretty easy," the Pistons president and coach said Monday at his final predraft news conference. "Hopefully my biggest decision on that night is, 'Do I have the chicken or the beef?' "
Well, here's hoping they don't go the chicken route, opting for a safe pick — not that there really is such a thing in the NBA draft these days — if there's a risk worth taking.
If Croatia's Mario Hezonja is still available at No. 8, with some teams frightened away either by his passport or his comport, the Pistons absolutely should jump at the chance.
But judging by Van Gundy's comments this spring, it's a safe bet they won't be risk averse, whichever way the top of the draft breaks. And that's an encouraging sign, because this franchise isn't a player away from anything other than relevance at the moment.
"It's a little bit simplistic, but we just want the guy that we think will be the highest-level player three years from now," Van Gundy said. "And there's a lot of ways to get there. He can be a defender, a rebounder, a shot blocker, a creator, a shooter. I mean, there's all kinds of ways to get there. … We're trying to pick the guy that we think at (No. 8) has the biggest upside three years from now."
That's probably not what frustrated fans want to hear after a sixth consecutive year missing the playoffs. But it's more than just the right thing to say, and the Pistons brass knows it.
The Pistons aren't trading out of this year's draft, not after Van Gundy and general manager Jeff Bower were forced to sit out last year's first round in their first year on the job in Detroit, atoning for the sins of the past.
They probably aren't trading up, either. ("Prices are high," Bower noted Monday.) And trading down seems "unlikely" as well, to use Van Gundy's own words.
Yet unlike a year ago, this year's draft appears to have enough depth that the Pistons should find a real talent at No. 8, even if it's a raw one.
"You can have as much anxiety as you want hoping that certain guys fall to you, but you've got no control over that," Van Gundy said. "I think we're at the point we're happy with whoever. I mean, we have our top eight, and we'd be happy with any of those eight."
Minnesota reportedly has settled on Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns as the No. 1 overall pick, and most analysts consider center Jahlil Okafor and guard D'Angelo Russell top-five locks as well. It's hard to imagine a point guard like Emmanuel Mudiay or a 7-footer with offensive skill of Latvia's Kristaps Porzingis falling out of the top half of the lottery, either.
Beyond that, though, it's a bit of "an open scenario," Bower agreed.
All the more reason the Pistons have to be open-minded about this pick. Chances are, the best player available when the Pistons are on the clock Thursday night will be a small forward.
But whether it is or it isn't really shouldn't matter, especially with Van Gundy ready to spend the bulk of his nearly $19 million in cap space this summer on a starter to fill that void. The rookie first-rounder he adds to the roster this week isn't expected to be a starter right away.
Perhaps it's Hezonja, though the 20-year old scorer should find a suitor sooner as a 6-8 wing with elite athleticism and sweet stroke.
Or maybe it'll be Duke's Justise Winslow, a natural-born leader whose tenacity at both ends of the floor made the difference for Mike Krzyzewski's national championship squad.
Either would be a no-brainer, if you ask me. But if both are gone, it'll be interesting to see where the Pistons go, because there's at least a half-dozen options that'd make some sense.
A couple stand out, obviously. Kentucky's Devin Booker is both the youngest player in this draft and arguably the best shooter, but opinions vary about how the rest of his game will grow. Arizona's Stanley Johnson is a polar opposite, in some respects, with an NBA-ready body and an uncommon versatility — particularly defensively — despite having turned 19 only a month ago.
That last part that may give him the nod, if that's the draft-night decision in Detroit. Because for all the talk about shooting and floor spacing in today's league, particularly in the wake of Golden State's title run, "there's also a defensive part," Van Gundy said.
"As the game spreads out, you need people who can defend in those kind of situations, too," he reminded. "You can do whatever you want to do offensively, but defensively you've got to have different options on your bench to be able to guard against what other people are doing."
Chicken or beef?
It's not as simple as that, of course, but the Pistons will have a choice to make Thursday. And if they do it right, it mightbe a while before we know whether they made the right one.