While the Cavaliers and Warriors have been dueling in the NBA Finals, the Pistons have been in full construction mode, looking at ways they can improve in their offseason, both in the draft and in potential trade scenarios.
Some reports have the Pistons still sniffing around to find a team to take Andre Drummond or Reggie Jackson, as they were at the trade deadline, but the more likely scenario is there will be some smaller moves, possibly including their No. 12 pick in the first round.
There have been several players linked to the Pistons in mock drafts — I have them taking Duke’s Luke Kennard with the selection — but the key will be finding a player who can contribute almost immediately off the bench, which is a tough call at that draft position.
With the offseason in focus, here’s a mailbag of fan questions gleaned from Twitter:
■ At this point, is it better to try and compete 4-5 years from now than to acquire a win-now vet? — @RickyLaBlue
■ Answer: This is becoming a familiar refrain for the “tanking” crowd, which is growing rapidly, especially considering the stranglehold the Cavs and Warriors seem to have on the Finals, getting there each of the past three years. The Sixers and Suns already are into their tanking plans, as are other teams who are trying to rebuild on the fly.
The Pistons have one of the largest payrolls in the league — and that’s not good for a team that finished 37-45. If nothing else, they’ll likely look to shed some of that salary in some way, while taking on a bit more in trying to keep Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who could get a maximum offer sheet from another team, in the neighborhood of $24 million, as a restricted free agent.
All said, the Pistons more likely will give it another go next season, hoping Reggie Jackson’s knee recovers and he gets back to the near-All-Star form of 2016. They could make a run to the playoffs, but anything after that is going to be an uphill climb.
■ What facet of Andre Drummond’s game could improve enough to forgive the free throw woes? — @shamshammgod
■ Answer: Actually, this is a pretty good question. For many fans, they can’t forgive his horrific free-throw percentage. Even the miniscule jump from 36 percent to 39 percent didn’t make him any new fans.
The easy answer for Drummond is on the defensive end. In his first five seasons, he hasn’t been the shot-blocking, rim-protecting center many think he should be. He doesn’t even need to be the next coming of Rudy Gobert or Joel Embiid. If he just was disciplined on the defensive end and deterred drives to the basket and got a fair share of blocks — he averaged a career-worst 1.1 blocks last season — then he would make huge strides.
Alternatively, if Drummond were more focused and locked in during games, he would make most fans happy. Drummond’s max contract brings higher expectations — and rightly so — but he’s going to have to do a lot more if he wants to reach those goals.
■ What do you view as Stanley Johnson’s ceiling after watching him two years now? — @sal_militello
■ Answer: In his second season, Johnson didn’t come close to the anticipated jump that many expected from him. He showed flashes as a rookie, but after gaining some extra weight and getting in coach Stan Van Gundy’s doghouse, he had a decent finish to the season.
Johnson most likely won’t play in summer league, but instead will work in the gym on individual drills to develop his skills. He has the ability to be an elite defender, because of his size and athleticism, but he needs an offensive game to go along with his defense, which is the hardest part for most rookies.
It likely will be another year of tinkering, but there should be some substantive gains shown if he has a good summer.
■ Do you think it’s better to draft a player at the 12 spot or trade it for a player who has league experience? — @The_Don347
■ Answer: It depends on where the Pistons view themselves: as contenders for the playoffs or as a rebuilding squad. There isn’t a surefire hit at No. 12, but players like Luke Kennard, Zach Collins and Donovan Mitchell could be bigger contributors a few years down the road.
If there’s no sense that anyone could help next season, then the most prudent move would be to trade the pick and try to get a veteran who could help. And before anyone else asks: I don’t know who that might be. The more likely scenario would be to package the pick with a current player and trying to “level up” on a more savvy vet.
If the trend continues and the Warriors (a 2-to-3 favorite to win the 2018 title, per Bovada) and Cavaliers (a 3-to-1 shot) continue to dominate, what’s the point of just spinning their wheels?