With plenty of needs, Pistons likely to go with 'best talent' at No. 15 in NBA draft
When the Pistons pick 15th in the first round of the NBA draft, they’ll ideally be looking to address one of the many needs on their roster.
Between the draft and free agency, they might need to get two wings, along with two point guards, along with a backup center to balance the positions.
Trading Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson, along with Ish Smith, Wayne Ellington, Zaza Pachulia and Jose Calderon becoming unrestricted free agents, created the open positions. The Pistons won’t be able to fill them all Thursday night.
They can get a good start, though.
Pistons special adviser Ed Stefanski is the de facto general manager and will run the draft. Stefanski said this week the bigger concern is building the talent base overall and that they might not look at position solely when trying to determine whom to draft.
“I’d like to have a wing. We need numerous positions for depth; we need to keep getting the talent better,” Stefanski said. “If a wing was there with the best upside, we’d take that. There are numerous guys still in our mix in various positions.
“We’ll go with the best talent, pretty much. I don’t want to mislead anyone, but that’s what we usually do.”
By the time the 15th pick rolls around, the Pistons likely won’t have any suitable point guards who warrant that high a pick, but an intriguing center such as Jaxson Hayes, Bol Bol or Goga Bitadze could slide that far.
The Pistons could go in any of several directions with the 15th and 45th picks, but with wing being the deepest position in the draft, they could get one — or two — in the draft. The Pistons aren’t committed to No. 15, though.
Stefanski said they’ve looked at moving in the draft to get to a better spot to find the player they want.
“We’ve been investigating moving up and investigating moving back, doing our homework. There could be volatility in this draft,” he said. “I can see teams moving up and moving back because I don’t think anyone has a grasp of it.
“Getting assets, that may be a plan too.”
One thought is that the Pistons could trade down from 15 to maybe 18 or 20 and get an extra draft pick, either this year or in the future, as an added bonus. Even at a few picks lower in the first round, they might be able to find a player they like.
In the big picture, the Pistons likely are only going to get one or two pieces to the puzzle. They still have much more to do in free agency even to fill out the roster, not even considering whether they improved the roster overall.
Finishing at 41-41 and a first-round exit in the playoffs doesn’t bring much optimism and as Stefanski admitted, they only have about $9 million in available cap space, plus about $9.2 million in the mid-level exception and about $3.4 million for the biannual exception.
That’s not a lot of wiggle room to try to upgrade at some key positions, especially given how free agency is expected to go, with many of the elite-level free agents going early. That could leave the Pistons waiting around and scraping through the bargain big of free agents.
“Free agency you look to more than that than the draft. We don’t know if we’re going to be able to sign Ish, so we have one point guard,” Stefanski said. “We don’t’ have a starting wing right now. We have a lot of guys at that 6-4 to 6-6 range.
“Today’s NBA is about shooters and playmakers, so you can’t have enough. If we do draft a shooter-playmaker and we have more than we have now, we have to make adjustments.”
There’s a small possibility the Pistons could start adjusting their roster ahead of the draft, moving some expiring contracts to prepare for free agency in draft-day trades. If not before the draft, it could also be around the time that free agency starts on June 30.
The contracts for Reggie Jackson, Jon Leuer and Langston Galloway will be expiring, plus the $5.3 million from Josh Smith’s stretched buyout will end. The biggest ripple effect could be that Andre Drummond’s deal ends, with Drummond having a player option for 2020-21 for $28.8 million.
If the Pistons have an inkling that Drummond would consider opting out, they could consider trading him before that, to ensure that he doesn’t leave with the Pistons getting nothing, as was the case with Greg Monroe.
It makes the job of drafting a little more complex, in deciphering whether to get the best player available or to try to fill positional needs.
“We need various positions and we need depth. Depth has really hurt us. that’s why the 15th pick is so helpful to us,” Stefanski said. “In free agency, we don’t have much money, so we have to be very wise with that money to add depth.
“With the money we have, I don’t see that guy being a starter on our team. Someone is going to have to start at (small forward) and I don’t know who that’s going to be.”