I went to sleep early on Day 1 of NBA Free Agency. Rookie mistake, I apologize. I had a good reason, one you’ll never know.
But when I went to sleep, the Pistons had just finished bringing Josh Jackson home. They hadn’t handed out a stack to Jerami Grant yet, hadn’t brought in Delon Wright to shore up the backcourt yet, hadn’t triggered every Detroit Pistons fan with Josh Smith flashbacks by utilizing the Stretch Provision yet.
However, falling asleep when I did, weirdly, helps me put the totality of the roster in context this morning. Although the individual moves themselves span the gamut of gut reaction, the whole is not as bad as some of the reactions I was reading this morning led me to believe.
This team looks much different than we all thought they would. On the whole, though, these important roster construction points are still pretty true:
This Roster Isn’t Playoff-Quality
This is the most important thing. This roster is not good enough to make the playoffs, even in the Eastern Conference (which, spoiler alert, is going to be tougher this year), even if we get fully healthy, All-NBA caliber Blake Griffin back.
Blake Griffin could be just as good as he was in 2018-19, but he will be supported by Mason Plumlee instead of Andre Drummond, Delon Wright instead of Reggie Jackson, and a collection of unproven wings (Josh Jackson? Sekou Doumbouya? Saddiq Bey?) instead of Reggie Bullock. Sure, this roster is deeper than the 2018-19 one - Derrick Rose instead of Ish Smith, Jerami Grant instead of Stanley Johnson / Thon Maker, a platoon of backup centers instead of Zaza Pachulia) - but the depth is young and not particularly proven. Like, Dzanan Musa is the backup shooting guard now. And the STARTING shooting guard is Svi Mykhailiuk, who was good last year but would not be the starting shooting guard on a playoff-level team.
If this isn’t a playoff team - and it isn’t - then it’s a lottery team. And the lottery is more forgiving of “winners” than it has ever been. I will remind you all (again) that the top two selections in the 2019 NBA draft were New Orleans (coming off a 33-win season) and Memphis (coming off a 33-win season). The Charlotte Hornets were on roughly a 35-win pace this past season and was rewarded with a top-3 pick in the lottery (And with that top-3 pick, they got the player most people said was the best talent in the draft).
Teams have much less incentive to build a roster designed to win 19 games, so the Pistons didn’t. Troy Weaver said he wouldn’t preside over a rebuild, and even though I think he could’ve gotten away with it from a fan appetite perspective, he didn’t.
This Roster Is Full of Tradeable Assets
The roster is full of a variety of asset types, most of which are moveable as individual pieces.
Trying to trade a lot of salary? The Pistons have Blake Griffin and Jerami Grant. (My big Jerami Grant Take is that if the Western Conference Finalist Denver Nuggets were willing to offer him the same deal as Detroit - which was reported by Denver media members - then maybe he’s not as overpaid as everyone thinks.)
Trying to trade a midsize deal? What about Delon Wright? What about Mason Plumlee? What about Derrick Rose? What about any of those guys plus a Dzanan Musa to get into the $12 million dollar range? All of those players are making similar money for a varying amount of years, I’m sure Detroit has something you’ll like.
Just want some low-cost filler? The Pistons have Josh Jackson and Jahlil Okafor on veteran minimums. Tony Bradley makes less than $4 million and was/is a very serviceable backup center.
Previously, it was tough for the Pistons to make deals because they were paying guys like Reggie Jackson more than anyone else was willing to. Teams couldn’t take a low-cost flier on Reggie Jackson because in order to get him you needed to put something worth roughly $15 million into the trade. Now, if you want to make a deal with Detroit, they have the flexibility to offer you good contract values to do so.
This Roster Is Nicely Built For Life After Blake
Some true statements: Blake Griffin is due $74 million dollars over the course of the next two years. He plays the same position as the Pistons’ latest big free agent signing and their 2019 first-round pick. Last time we saw Blake Griffin after an extended injury recovery period, he was an All-Star and All-NBA level player.
These statements lead a lot of us, myself included, to believe that Blake Griffin is not going to be a Piston forever. And if you wave a magic wand and turn Blake Griffin into an unusable pile of contracts and draft picks, the rotation without him makes a TON more sense:
(You trade Derrick Rose and things get even clearer, but I think that’s less likely right now.)
Blake Griffin is the most talented player on the Detroit Pistons roster. His presence is the only thing keeping people thinking that this team is anything remotely approaching competitive. Finding a place for Blake (which could just be “waiting until teams see him healthy”) is the last piece of this roster puzzle. Replace him with ancillary salary and a first-round pick, and the image most fans had in their head of a rebuilding Pistons team snaps into place.
This team should defend, play hard, and run in transition (when the kids play) but get out-talented most nights. They have precious few sources of consistent shooting, even if you think Saddiq Bey is going to step into the league a 38% three point shooter. They added more shot creation, but the bulk of that addition comes from a rookie point guard.
Ultimately, Troy Weaver said he’d build a team that would compete every night, and so far he has. That’s not the same thing as building a team that’s going to WIN every night, which the Pistons decidedly are not.