Can Pistons be better than just average?

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Orlando — Free agency opened last week with a flurry of movement, including big names switching teams for big contracts. A couple more superstars, including Paul George and Chris Paul, were involved in trades, furthering a seismic shift to the Western Conference, as teams look to unseat the Golden State Warriors.

The Pistons were limited because they were over the salary cap and couldn’t go after any of the bigger names, but made a move for depth in agreeing to terms with combo guard Langston Galloway. They also selected shooting guard Luke Kennard in the NBA draft and are getting an extended look at Henry Ellenson, last year’s first-rounder, in the Orlando Summer League this week.

The bigger issue is working to bring back Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who still is lingering as a restricted free agent. Assuming the Pistons are able to get Caldwell-Pope to return, they’d still be in a tough financial position — over the cap and likely flirting with the luxury tax — unless they can make some other moves to tidy up their budget.

Barring a bigger trade, they’ll return with much the same roster that finished last season at 37-45 and missed the playoffs. Here’s a look at five reasons for optimism and five for pessimism if they stand pat.

Five reasons for optimism

Reggie Jackson

1. Reggie Jackson will be better

After their trip to the playoffs in 2016, the Pistons appeared to be headed for a return last season before Jackson’s tendinitis issues derailed the season. Jackson missed 30 games total and the offense suffered in his absence. The Pistons’ offense thrives in the pick-and-roll and Jackson excels at it. With his return, things will get back to normal, opening opportunities for Andre Drummond and more clean looks for the perimeter shooters.

2. The East is weaker

With George going to the Thunder, Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves and the Hawks dismantling their roster, some of the Eastern Conference’s top talent is gone to the West. That leaves a void in the East hierarchy and if the Pistons can return to their form of 2016, they can find themselves back in the postseason.

Henry Ellenson

3. Encouraging summer signs

The early signs in summer league are encouraging, with Luke Kennard shooting well from 3-point range and creating shots off the dribble. The game doesn’t seem too fast for him and his defense might be better than originally thought by Stan Van Gundy and Co. Ellenson looks to be more versatile and confident on offense and can possibly work his way into a bigger role in the rotation.

4. Youth movement

With all of the Pistons’ starters under the age of 30, there’s a shot that they can start to turn things around. But the clock is ticking. With an inflated payroll, they can’t continue along the path of mediocrity and not produce.

5. The big move

They’ll open the season in downtown Detroit at Little Caesars Arena, playing in front of sellout crowds and an energized fan base. In a brand-new arena, they’ll have a different home-court advantage, with a vibe they’ll have to get used to. At least for this season, the luster and shine will be a positive.

Five reasons for pessimism

1. Last season sticks with them

After making the playoffs two years ago, they’re back in NBA purgatory after missing the postseason last year. Which year was the fluke? Even with the East getting weaker, if Jackson’s knee doesn’t hold out, the Pistons could find themselves back in the same spot if the injury bug bites again.

Andre Drummond

2. It’s a star league

While many teams are gearing up with multiple superstars, the Pistons are building around only one past All-Star: Drummond. They’ll depend on some of their maturing players to make big steps forward, but whether they can compete on the higher level with even some of the middling teams, such as the Sixers and Bucks, remains to be seen.

3. Payroll vs. production

The Pistons had one of the top five payrolls in the league last year and didn’t perform to that level. Without some moves, they’ll be in a similar spot, trying to squeeze the most out of a mediocre group that has only been to the playoffs once. It’s hard to justify having several players for huge salaries and not getting a reasonable return on it.

Tobias Harris

4. Perhaps they’ve hit their ceiling

Stan Van Gundy took some gambles on some players who may not be the best fit together – players such as Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris and Jon Leuer. There was room for growth and maybe the mix just isn’t right without a superstar around them. All that awaits is a making the moves to blow up the roster and start over, and waiting out the domination of the Cavaliers and Warriors.

5. No path to getting better

If the Pistons only have middling players, it might be difficult to make trades to get better players. They’d have to either tank or take bigger risks on unproven players to make a significant improvement. That’s a longer-term outlook than they’d like and would mean a teardown of the roster, almost to the studs.

NBA championship odds

Here are odds to win the 2018 NBA championship, according to

Golden State Warriors 10-17

Cleveland Cavaliers 9-2

Boston Celtics 10-1

Houston Rockets 10-1

San Antonio Spurs 10-1

Minnesota Timberwolves 33-1

Oklahoma City Thunder 40-1

Utah Jazz 40-1

Washington Wizards 40-1

Milwaukee Bucks 50-1

Toronto Raptors 50-1

New Orleans Pelicans 66-1

Philadelphia 76ers 80-1

Denver Nuggets 100-1

Los Angeles Clippers 100-1

Los Angeles Lakers 100-1

Memphis Grizzlies 100-1

Miami Heat 100-1

Orlando Magic 100-1

Charlotte Hornets 125-1

Portland Trail Blazers 125-1

Detroit Pistons 150-1

Dallas Mavericks 150-1

New York Knicks 150-1

Atlanta Hawks 200-1

Indiana Pacers 200-1

Chicago Bulls 250-1

Phoenix Suns 500-1

Sacramento Kings 500-1

Brooklyn Nets 750-1