Writing about basketball while the season has been unexpectedly shut down has been tough. The other day, I wrote around 2,000 words as a tongue-in-cheek post suggesting that the Pistons should rebuild on the fly but then decided that’s dumb and deleted it.
But making the case for an obviously bad route to rebuild brought to mind another thought about the current rebuild. The Pistons lack star potential or a real way to land a star.
After the Pistons pulled the plug on the 2019-20 season, the team lost enough games to put themselves in play for a top five-ish draft pick. That’s the perfect place to be in this year’s draft. It’s a weak number one slot, which will come with an overpriced pay slot. But there are some solid prospects in that upper lottery tier.
They don’t really come with star potential though. Which is the problem with the current group of young players already. There’s some nice contributors, but none with the upside of a star.
There are lots of different ways to build a team into a contender. But they all require the acquisition of at least some elite talent. In discussion for the Pistons rebuild, that’s an element that’s not being discussed quite enough.
Andre Drummond needed traded, to be sure. Build around the young guys, right on. Trade and draft scenarios are always fun to spitball, I get it.
But what about the star?
Perhaps the most common presumption is that it taken care of in the 2021 draft. And that may prove to be the best bet.
After all, the Pistons were the worst team in the league after the trade deadline. Rolling out that lineup with yet another youngster in the rotation could put the Pistons on the road to a top pick in the much more highly touted 2021 NBA Draft. The likes of Cade Cunningham, Jonathan Kuminga, or Jalen Johnson could have that star potential the Pistons are lacking.
But I’m not convinced. I think the problem with the Pistons next season is that they might not be bad enough. Keep in mind that the closing stretch was one of the toughest in the league and they likely would have limped to the finish line even if they were at full strength.
Plus, Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose are set to return next season. With those two holding down key roles, the young players offering solid and important qualities, and no Andre Drummond, my worry is that they’ll be right back to that fringe playoff spot that they spent a decade in already - and out of reach for elite talent.
Well, you can take care of that by simply trading Griffin and Rose, right? Maybe. But I’m not sure about that either.
Rose, sure, trade him for whatever. He’s a guy I’ll never cheer for due to the way he handled himself during his gang rape trial. But that’s just my personal feelings on the matter. Looking at it objectively, Rose is probably worth more for the Pistons than he’d return in a trade.
While he verifying his solid 2018-19 season was no fluke with another solid 2019-20 campaign, he also verified his status as a guy who’s always going to be injured. The most you’re going to get for him is a fringe prospect - while having your point guard situation (mostly) settled for just $7.6 million with no long term commitment is certainly a good use of resources.
And the problem with trading Blake is that you’re moving him at his absolute lowest value. His 2019-20 season was a disaster both in terms of performance and injury. Unless he’s just washed up, his trade value will be higher a year from now. I don’t think he’s washed up. He’s finally gotten the rest he’s needed since overdoing it in January 2019, looks in great shape, and I expect he’ll be back to normal whenever the sports world gets back to normal.
So what’s the solution?
That’s where that post about rebuilding on the fly that I mentioned comes in. I can talk myself into it.
Let’s say Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin emerge from quarantine healthy and in great shape. Let’s say that Luke Kennard’s knees haven’t actually exploded like Kyle’s did in that episode of South Park. Then you use that Andre Drummond cap space to sign Fred VanVleet to a reasonable salary along with a defensive oriented center like Jakob Poeltl or Nerlens Noel.
FVV isn’t going to get as big of a payday as he might have expected if the world hadn’t come to a standstill. Poeltl and Noel, I really like both of these guys. They’re both awesome defensively, don’t come with egos, and should be reasonable contracts. And if not, there are a ton of other really good centers on the market this year, some of whom will wind up underpaid. One of whom being the always underpaid Aron Baynes.
You’ve already got your star player. His name is Blake Griffin. Remember him? The guy who put up 24 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists per game in a Pistons uniform? Who rebuilt his game to excel in the modern NBA? Who carried his team to the playoffs despite a lousy supporting cast?
If you put a team around him who are most focused on wins rather than their own numbers, maybe. Maybe it could work.
If the Pistons can re-sign Christian Wood, they’d be returning four key contributors who finished last season with a three point percentage over 38 percent - and there’s reason to think both Blake and Sekou Doumbouya can be in that range too.
This team can’t be Milwaukee Bucks good. But could they be Miami Heat good? Maybe.
I know it’s a bad idea, I just can’t bring myself around to hate it like I know I should. Which is why I deleted that other post. It would have aged like bad milk in a broken fridge.
But also...it’s kinda my take. I think maybe they should go that route. The problem with landing a star through rebuilding where they’re at just seems too much of a dealbreaker for me that I’m not sure a rebuild on the fly is worse. It’s kicking the can down the road, but winning 95 games over the next two years beats winning 50 over that same time, especially if you aren’t rewarded with a star player.
Gross. I really don’t want to have my byline associated with a “Pistons should rebuild on the fly” take. I know, this is a bad idea.
So, let’s go back to that question - what’s the actual solution?
To be honest, there isn’t one. If someone tells you they have the answer, they’re full of it. If there were an easy answer, the Philadelphia 76ers would be better than the sixth best team in the Eastern Conference or the Daryl Morey led Houston Rockets would have won a title by now. There’s no perfect solution. But there are plenty of valid philosophies for roster building. That’s part of the fun of this sport.
And really, that’s the point of this post. Let’s talk roster building. Hang out in the comments and tell us how the Pistons go from where they’re at today to putting another banner in the rafters.
Or just feel free to talk life. How’s it going? I hope you’re all doing well and that you and your loved ones are healthy, both physically and mentally. Cheers.