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Pistons mailbag: Who's most likely to be dealt at the deadline?

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

What was a running joke about the Pistons having too many centers on their roster is coming back as a dire situation, not even halfway through the season.

Injuries have decimated the roster at the position, with Jahlil Okafor out because of knee surgery and Thursday’s news that Mason Plumlee is dealing with bursitis in his right elbow and is at least day to day.

Pistons' Isaiah Stewart blocks the shot of Nets' Landry Shamet in the second quarter. The Pistons defeated the Nets, 122-111, on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021, at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan.

That put rookie Isaiah Stewart in the starting lineup for the first time and meant some minutes at backup center for Blake Griffin and Sekou Doumbouya to try to create a patchwork rotation. Doumbouya sustained a concussion in Thursday’s game against the Pacers, which is going to make the situation more interesting.

Griffin hasn’t played both games of a back-to-back this season, as the Pistons have looked to rest his knees. He may have to play significantly more, including Friday’s second game of a back-to-back at Boston, simply out of necessity.

The Pistons don’t have other options at center, and even Doumbouya, at 6-foot-9, was a move out of desperation.

“We definitely missed (Plumlee and Okafor),” Josh Jackson said. “They bring a lot to the team, including toughness and just having that presence down there. It’s intimidating when you see guys that big and playing guys like Myles Turner and Sabonis, those guys are really strong and very aggressive.”

This edition of the Pistons Mail Satchel looks at Stewart’s run of good play, the outlook for Dennis Smith Jr. and the trade deadline:

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Question: Has Isaiah Stewart’s latest run given any chance that he might unseat Mason Plumlee in the starting lineup sooner rather than later? — @Spizzly1

Answer: Since very early in the season, some Pistons fans have been clamoring for rookie Isaiah Stewart to jump right into the starting lineup. He’s been playing well of late, but what’s important to remember is that his ascent has been gradual. He’s had to master small doses of minutes first before he could handle even what he’s playing now. Giving young guys too many minutes too soon can cloud their minds and give them too much to process.

Look at what the Pacers’ Domantas Sabonis did against Stewart, who was forced into the start because Plumlee was injured. Sabonis is an All-Star and has a variety of moves in the post and can get to the rim, plus hit form the perimeter. That’s a little more than Stewart has had to deal with, along with the rest of the skill level of a starting lineup.

“Isaiah scrapped as much as he could but he’s a young kid and Sabonis is a veteran scorer inside, so you miss (Plumlee) in that aspect,” coach Dwane Casey said Thursday.

With Jahlil Okafor out for six to eight weeks, there will be plenty of opportunity for Stewart, but trying to push him too far too fast can stunt his growth. He’ll be fine.

Q. If Dennis Smith Jr. flourishes and plays well the rest of the way, what kind of contract do you feel comfortable offering him, especially with Killian and possibly a top 3 pick next year? — @nicosuave6

A. It’s all a wait-and-see approach, and it would depend on how well “plays well” gets. Smith will need some time to get acclimated and to get back to NBA shape. Remember that he wasn’t playing with the Knicks but was in the G League bubble so that he could get some playing time there. I wouldn’t have unreasonable expectations for Smith, but if he can come in and average, say, 10 points and five assists, that could be a head-turner.

Given that they have some faith in two-way players Saben Lee and Frank Jackson, there’s a lean for them to give those youngsters some playing time too. If nothing else, the younger players present a cheaper option than Smith, who is making $5.7 million this year. The Pistons believe that Lee can be really good, and Jackson has some experience that can help them.

The best way to look at Smith is that it’s a no-risk look at him for the remaining 47 games, and then they could move on if he doesn’t show what they want to see. It’s a tryout, and if he somehow plays well enough that they want to keep him, they can gauge the contract based on what that production is.

Q. Who is the player most likely to be traded at the deadline now that Rose is gone? — @RegicideGreg

A. The trade market will be dictated by how many teams will be buyers because they figure that they’re missing a piece that the Pistons have. Because the NBA extended the number of potential qualifiers to the ninth- and 10th-place teams, that just adds a couple of teams to the mix.

Wayne Ellington and Svi Mykhailiuk could be two names that the Pistons could deal to a team that is looking for 3-point shooting. I’m not sure that Mykhailiuk is on the hot seat, because he’s still young and still has some usefulness, though his playing time has been up and down.

Ellington, 33, seems like a traded candidate because he’s on a one-year, vet-minimum contract that could be easily moved and could bring back a future second-round pick — which, in turn, would open some playing time for Mykhailiuk.

rod.beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard