Plotting plausible path for Pistons to address roster needs
Chicago — One of Pistons coach Dwane Casey’s favorite analogies is trying to fix a leaky dam — and having to put a finger in one leak, only to find that another leak pops open.
There isn’t an ideal cure-all for the Pistons to follow in addressing all of their needs in the offseason. They have plenty of roster spots to fill and only a few resources to try to address those needs.
With the departures of free agents Ish Smith, Wayne Ellington and Zaza Pachulia, the Pistons will have some veteran spots to fill and only have a couple of avenues, with the NBA Draft on June 20 and then free agency, which begins on July 1.
They’ll likely need two point guards, a wing or two and a backup center but don't have the financial resources. They’re over the salary cap and could get about $11 million below the luxury-tax line. They also have the mid-level exception (about $9.2 million) and the bi-annual exception (about $3.6 million) at their disposal.
Unless they make a big trade, it’s unlikely the Pistons will be able to bring in an elite, starting-caliber star at any of the positions. Instead, they’ll look for budget-friendly options to try to fill the gaps.
With the NBA Combine finishing this weekend, the Pistons have their eyes on a couple of wing prospects, which seems to be the approach to filling that need instead of looking for wings in free agency.
Here’s how the Pistons could choose to address their roster needs given their constraints:
NBA Draft (June 20)
Beyond the first couple of point guards, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus pick for the Pistons at No. 15. Coby White (North Carolina) wouldn’t fall that far and the next tier of point guards don’t fit at their draft spot. More than likely, a point guard they pick there wouldn’t be ready to come in and contribute consistently with big minutes.
That makes drafting a wing or a backup center the most logical of the options — and at No. 15, there are plenty of wing choices, such as KZ Okpala (Stanford), PJ Washington (Kentucky), Kevin Porter Jr. (Southern California) and Keldon Johnson (Kentucky). There aren’t many suitable options at center at their slot, but the Pistons might be interested in Oregon’s Bol Bol if he’s available. Finding a reserve center is a lower priority and getting the best value in the draft isn’t going to be easy.
In the second round, the Pistons could look at just getting the best available player, regardless of position, and hope they have similar success to last season when they got both Bruce Brown and Khyri Thomas.
Free agency (July 1)
Assuming they get a wing in the draft, the Pistons will look hard at the choices among point guards. It’s not a superior crop of talent — and they won’t be shopping for expensive replacements such as Kyrie Irving or Kemba Walker — but they have other options to consider. That’ll be the key to free agency, in considering whether to get two point guards — a second and a third option — or maybe even replacing starter Reggie Jackson. They don’t have much wiggle room in trying to figure out a path forward, but they are very likely to shop around and see if there are any upgrades available.
As for backup centers, they can go back to the same route as last season, when they got Pachulia, a veteran, to come for $5 million. Eric Moreland and Aron Baynes had been the answers in previous years and it seems as if the Pistons will go in a similar direction to fill the void this summer.
Is one a higher priority than another? Probably not, because a second point guard is going to play about the same number of minutes and hopefully provide better production. Wing seems to be the biggest need but not necessarily the highest priority.
The rest (after July 1)
The Pistons likely will have to wait until the market clears up in free agency. The top players will land in various cities, but those new contracts will help determine how the second- and third-tier players are paid and where they go.
It might not be a quick process and they’ll have to be patient, making sure they don’t overpay for their targets. There will be some other free agents left over and they’ll be able to get something in the bargain bin that will suit their needs. Reggie Bullock could be an option at wing, as could Ellington, if the price is right.