Pistons mailbag: Trading down in draft, mining for gems in free agency
Now that the season is officially over, teams can start looking ahead to the NBA draft and free agency and getting ready for the next season, which begins — well, we don’t know that yet. With the Finals over, the league can focus more on the details for the draft, which has been a huge mystery throughout the summer.
The Pistons have particular interest because they have the seventh pick in the Nov. 18 draft and for the first time in eons, have some available cap space to try to improve their roster.
After a 20-46 season, they have plenty of work to do and plenty of spots to fill in the roster, with more than half of the roster as potential free agents. It’s the beginning of a reshaping for general manager Troy Weaver and coach Dwane Casey, who enters his third season.
This edition of the Pistons Mail Satchel looks at the draft and free agency and how the Pistons could look to move forward.
►Question: The LA teams represent two organizations whose star player was orchestrated major player acquisitions, one that led to a championship (dynasty?) and one that led to future oblivion. What impact will these diametrically opposite outcomes have on the league going forward? – @SteveM_OD
►Answer: This is an intriguing question about the future of the league. It has to be disheartening for small-market teams and those who don’t have a franchise superstar already, knowing that the rich continue to get richer, in terms of cities like Los Angeles, Miami and Brooklyn being able to attract superstars.
The bigger picture is that there’s a huge premium on drafting your own young stars and developing them — which the Pistons haven’t been able to do consistently. Luke Kennard and Sekou Doumbouya are the only two first-round picks on the roster that they drafted. The Miami Heat, for example, got huge production from two of their picks, in Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro, plus developed undrafted prospects Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn.
That’s going to be the path forward — internal development and drafting well — before adding a final veteran piece like Jimmy Butler when they’re ready to make a run in the playoffs.
The Clippers will be fine. Their early exit was a disappointment, but after parting with coach Doc Rivers, they can bring back most of the same squad for another run at the title.
►Q: Given the financial impact of COVID on the rest of the league, how do you see the Pistons using the majority of their cap space? Re-signing their own free agents, targeting other free agents, or taking on contracts from other teams trying to shed salary? – @MatthewCrowe313
►A: The early projections of the salary cap have the Pistons with about $30 million of space available. That doesn’t mean they’ll go out and blow it on an NBA Prime Day deal to get a big name like Fred VanVleet. They could, but I don’t see it happening.
First, they aren’t ready to contend next year. They have a few holes on the roster — just one point guard (Derrick Rose) and one center (Justin Patton) and plenty of other question marks. Even if they want to bring back Christian Wood, the number could be $12 million to $15 million. They could use his early-Bird rights to have some savings if they do that deal last, but that takes some maneuvering.
What seems more likely is taking a few gambles on one-year deals — and maybe overpaying a tad — to try to make a run with Rose and Blake Griffin still healthy. Aron Baynes and D.J. Augustin may not be big-name options, but they could fit what the Pistons are trying to do in the short term.
►Q: I’m trusting Troy Weaver is looking for a starting point guard. I cannot see a starting guard coming from the #7 pick, although I hope they draft a guard. In fact, I hope they can trade down to get another late 1st or 2nd pick. Do you think this adds up? – @Agridome
►A: There’s potential at the No. 7 pick. I’ve been a fan of Tyrese Haliburton and Killian Hayes could be a good option as well. Most mock drafts I’ve seen have one of those two available, and if they come out with either, they’d be happy with the pick, because they’d have filled a big roster gap.
I don’t know that they have the trade capital to garner another first-round pick, unless they got it as a sweetener in taking on a big salary with their available space. That would be a big win. I said previously on the podcast that if they were able to get Haliburton/Hayes and Onyeka Okongwu, that would be a home run in this draft, with solid building blocks for the future.
There could be some additional steals in the later part of the first round and early in the second, so teams might be trading all over the place to try to get in position to get some of the value picks.