Pistons mailbag: Stefanski off to good start molding roster

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
The Pistons could look to make another move this offseason and trade Ish Smith, who is due $6 million next season.

Las Vegas — When Ed Stefanski took over as Pistons senior adviser, there was plenty of uncertainty about what that meant.

Was he just going to hire the new coach and general manager and then hang around in the wings? Was he getting his big break as the new GM or team president? Why wasn’t he given a different title?

It all seems moot now.

Stefanski is firmly in control of things — and judging from the offseason he’s had so far, it’s been something of a success. He started with getting the best coaching candidate in Dwane Casey, then added Malik Rose — a bright, highly regarded rising star among front-office types — and tacked on a pair of unheralded rookies in Khyri Thomas and Bruce Brown in the second round of the draft.

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He’s rounded things out by some shrewd moves in free agency, bringing in wing Glenn Robinson III and veteran point guard Jose Calderon. Operating on a shoestring budget, Stefanski has improved the depth of the roster without falling off the financial tightrope and into the luxury tax.

Stefanski might not be done maneuvering, either. He’s reportedly looking at some other trade options to clear some cap space. This week’s Pistons mailbag looks at some of the moves in the offseason and where the Pistons stand with all the moves in free agency.

■ Question: If we clear cap space this season, who do you see the Pistons going for this offseason, if anyone at all? — @AustinP14

■ Answer: It all depends on how much space they might be able to clear and which players they can deal. Some fans have suggested that Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond or Reggie Jackson — the three biggest salaries — should be broken up. Not likely.

It would take a serious upgrade for the Pistons to consider breaking up what they consider their Big Three. Of course, there are concerns about health — which Stefanski, Casey and Pistons owner Tom Gores have acknowledged — but from a skills standpoint, they like the mix that those three bring.

More likely, they would be looking to offload the contracts of Jon Leuer or Langston Galloway. A source mentioned that Ish Smith is another possibility. With the addition of Calderon and two-way point guard Keenan Evans, Smith’s salary of $6 million could be some wiggle room to bring in another veteran wing.

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■ Q: Do you think Luke Kennard starts at shooting guard this upcoming season? — @seahawks0309

■ A: Kennard suffered a left knee strain on Monday and will miss all of Summer League. It’s a small setback, considering that the new coaching staff wanted to look at Kennard’s potential as a playmaker and shooter in assessing his role for next season. Judging by what Reggie Bullock did in a starting role last season, there’s no rush to push Kennard into that spot until he’s ready.

I would guess that Bullock, who is more solid defensively, holds on to that position for the time being. There could be a change at some point this season, but Kennard looked comfortable with the second group as the featured scorer.

■ Q: Is Drummond actually going to take threes and use his dribbling skills this season? That’s all I ever see him doing on social media. — @dylan_goetz

■ A: Drummond showed flashes of the new jumper at the end of last season, with some success. It’s still a work in progress, but the first signs are encouraging.

Anyone who follows Drummond on Instagram has seen his summer work to develop his jumper, even out to the 3-point line. It’s nothing new — Drummond has hoisted up shots after practices and during warm-ups. He seems more committed to it and it could be a similar transition to what Jonas Valanciunas was doing when Casey was coaching the Raptors.

■ Q: Given the current state of the East, are the Pistons good enough as currently constituted to make the playoffs and win a series? — @RickyLaBlue

■ A: On the surface, the Pistons absolutely can be a playoff team in the East, simply given that they finished in ninth last season and the Cavaliers will dip without LeBron James. How far they can climb depends on how healthy the roster can be — and for how long. The early projection is 44 wins and maybe a No. 7 seed in the East, but that’s just being conservative.