The Pistons have lost seven of their last eight games and within a couple weeks, they’ve gone from first-quarter surprise to an also-ran in the NBA hierarchy. Things change quickly in the league and the upshift in their schedule difficulty has the Pistons doing early soul searching.
This week’s mailbag looks at the long-term outlook for the Pistons, using a column from this week as background reading.
Question: How can the Pistons reconcile that the timeline for Blake’s last prime years and the roster do not match? They’re in cap hell with no assets and have an MVP candidate. Can they get better while Blake is still good? — @TheBukShow
Answer: There’s a lot to unpack here, but it’s very good picture of where the Pistons are. I’m going to guess that Pistons owner Tom Gores thought that Griffin still had some good years left, but maybe not that he’d be this good this soon. Injuries were a concern, but — knock on wood — Griffin has avoided any major issues.
Griffin’s contract runs through 2022 with some huge salary numbers. The implicit task is to get better complementary players. It will be very tough to do, but Andre Drummond looks like he’s going to be the first big piece. That, in itself, locks up a significant portion of the salary cap. They’ll have to be smart in getting other wings and guards whose production outpaces their salary. That’s a hard get in today’s NBA. Marcus Morris, at $5 million, would have fit very well. Tobias Harris, at $16 million, was another cap-friendly deal for his production level.
The task will be going out and finding others. They have Ish Smith and Reggie Bullock — two critical rotation pieces — coming off the books after this year and if they’re not pushing toward the playoffs, they’ll likely trade them to get some assets.
After next season, Langston Galloway, Reggie Jackson and Jon Leuer will have expiring deals. That still leaves two more years of Griffin — but with some significant wiggle room to make moves to upgrade the roster around him.
Q: Better chance of happening, Pistons stand pat for the rest of the year, or make a significant trade before the deadline? I am leaning towards standing pat until the summer. — @Nadeem__B
A: The answer might be neither. I can’t see them standing pat with this roster, given all the flaws that have become evident in recent weeks. Of course, they have financial constraints, being so close to the luxury-tax line. They can make some minor moves (such as trading Bullock and Smith early) and it won’t be a “significant” deal.
They’ll try to improve the roster as well as they can, but they won’t give up a first-round pick to try to get better right now. That’s a tough pill to swallow, but I’m guessing they see 2020 as a pivotal year to get the cap situation straightened out and rightsize their contracts.
Until then, they’ll have to stick with much of the talent they have now and just ride it out. If something good comes along on the trade market, they’ll weigh it, but they won’t make any huge moves that take them over the tax line.
Q: Hey Rod, do you possibly see Calderon in the starting lineup in the near future? The offense runs smoother with him in it. — @CerebralCortech
A: I don’t see Calderon starting anytime soon. Reggie Jackson’s minutes have been limited in the second halves — specifically in fourth quarters — lately, but that doesn’t mean he won’t start either. The same thing happened with Glenn Robinson III when he was starting.
Dwane Casey has said he wants to play the best five players in the final stretch of the game and that can fluctuate from game to game. Jackson didn’t have a good finish to the Hornets game last week and as a result, Calderon has stepped in and finished the last two. It’s been mixed results, but it’s just a feel thing for Casey to find the better matchups.
Stanley Johnson is finishing games, but he’s not starting, either. Defensive matchups, as well as offensive production. might be the two biggest factors in deciding who finishes.
Q: Blake as point fwd has its place, but teams have figured out how to stifle his post ups & turn him over with double teams/pressure. Will Blake be open to an offense that flows with him moving off ball (he's a ballstopper) and getting him more open looks vs back downs?
A: Teams have begun to mix the coverages against Griffin and he had a deceptively bad game against the Bucks on Monday. I’d expect more triple-doubles from Griffin, but the 10 turnovers were ill-timed and careless, which he admitted. If not Griffin as the primary ballhandler, what’s the other option? They’re already minimizing Jackson’s touches, so it’s either Calderon or … what?
The Pistons are getting their open looks because teams are doubling Griffin and he’s finding the open men. He’ll just have to reduce the turnovers — and hope the shots start to fall.
Q: Do you see the Pistons going after Jabari Parker? — @HilalEK
A: Anything is possible, but I just don’t see it. He doesn’t solve any of their issues (29 percent on 3-pointers) and he is a defensive nightmare. Parker only has a team option for next season, so it would solve some of the cap issues, but what would it take to get him, even for the remainder of this season?
If he can’t help the woeful Bulls, why would he be an asset for the Pistons?
Pistons at Timberwolves
Tip-off: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Target Center, Minneapolis
Outlook: The Timberwolves (14-16) ended their four-game losing streak with a win over the Kings on Monday. The Pistons (14-14) have lost seven of the last eight games but have been below .500 for just one game this season (Nov. 5).