Detroit Pistons senior adviser Ed Stefanski doesn’t love his free agent budget, the depth of this year’s draft and doesn’t think he’ll get a starter out of either team-building avenue even as he acknowledges a big hole at the small forward position.
Although the enthusiasm might seem lacking, it’s just Stefanski’s straightforward style as he spoke to reporters leading up to this week’s NBA Draft. Stefanski, sitting relaxed with a Pistons vest, held court as he was peppered with questions ranging from Luke Kennard to Blake Griffin, to draft day trades and free agency plans.
Stefanski reiterated that while the Pistons aren’t quite as hard up for cash as last offseason, they don’t have the kind of financial flexibility to make major additions or major changes to the team. With so many franchises amassing huge war chests for superstars, players are going to get paid, and then they’re going to get overpaid.
“Do you want to be aggressive early with not a lot of money or do you have the patience to sit there and wait?” Sefanski said. “And I mean, you better have patience, because you’re waiting until probably the second week or so to see who falls through the cracks.”
After half a decade of Stan Van Gundy splurging on “his guys” early in the process, I think the fan base can stomach a little patience.
Stefanski said, though, he doesn’t anticipate that $9-plus million in mid level exception money netting a starter. Instead he wants depth.
“We need various positions and we need depth. I think depth really hurt us (last season),” he said.
That’s difficult for a team with no starting-caliber small forward on the roster, but it opens up opportunities for players like Svi Mykhailiuk to show what he can do.
“Svi has a chance to fight for playing time, especially being 6-8 and a wing, but he can flat out shoot,” Sefanski said. “You can’t get enough shooters, cant’ get enough playmakers.”
Similarly, Stefanski said he looks at the No. 15 pick in this year’s draft as a way to add a player and add depth, and not necessarily fill a particular hole on the roster.
It’s not just about talent, though.
“Early in my career, I just saw talent. ... Experience now tells me to build the team the right way you need the right person,” he said. “Good person that is coachable, work ethic and grit, they’re huge. For this team, and, frankly, for this city. Detroit (wants) that kind of person.”
This sounds to me like a franchise fully committed to selecting the best player available, which is the perspective a team needs to have. Especially as I scan this year’s draft class and think about who might be available at No. 15. It’s not exactly swimming in dynamic small forward types.
With another season of limited flexibility, you might think Stefanski is frustrated as he assesses a team that got not just bounced but trounced in the first round of the playoffs.
But he has faith in his coaching staff, his executive staff and his main three players — Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.
“Andre Drummond is getting better and better. I think he showed in the second half of last year what he could be,” he said.
Blake, meanwhile, reports he feels great as he recovers from lingering knee issues that kept him out of the first half of the playoff series against the Bucks. He’s already lifting weights and doing light work.
“We have ifs, just like a lot of teams. Blake has to play at an All-Star level, Reggie has to play (the whole season) and I think Drummond has a lot more in there.”
Stefanski also praised the team’s player development coaches while acknowledging this year’s draft is not as deep as last year’s, when he traded back into the second round to grab Khyri Thomas. He confirmed that Thomas, Bruce Brown Jr., Svi and the new draft picks would be on the Pistons’ summer league roster while Luke Kennard and Thon Maker would not.
He also praised Luke Kennard’s development, and pointed to it as a sign that both fan bases and coaching staffs need to be patient with young players and slowly build them up. He called Kennard the team’s best player in the playoffs.
He also singled out Brown for praise while suggesting that the focus this offseason will be on developing a jump shot, which will make the athletic wing a real player.
“Blake came up to me early in the season and said, ‘Jeez, I really like this kid. I don’t know if there is anybody that is a rookie in the NBA that can play the best guy on the other team.’ ”