The to-do list seems simple enough for Troy Weaver and the Detroit Pistons. 1. Draft your franchise player in 2021 2. Decide how to approach next season 3. Use your cap space wisely in 2022 4. Never miss an opportunity to add talent.
Weaver, it seems, will have plenty of avenues in which to empty his proverbial clip in the near future. After preparing the ground by reshaping the roster and bottoming out, it’s now time for him to start building a contender. Of course, having the first overall pick in a stacked draft doesn’t hurt matters. But drafting the right guy at No. 1 is not the only key questions facing him. Here are some of the biggest issues Weaver will face in the next days, weeks and months.
Does #FadeForCade mean Cade is the guy at No. 1?
Detroit has first overall selection in this year’s draft. And this year’s draft is supposed to be one of the best in recent memory. In other words, it’s as big a chance to get a franchise changing player as there could be for Motown. It’s almost a consensus sapientium (unanimity among draft-heads) that Cade Cunningham is such a prospect. I happen to agree. We can be wrong about this, but Troy can’t afford to mess this up. If there’s someone better suited to be a real franchise player, he needs to identify and take him. Whoever it’ll turn out to be, in this draft and with this pick Detroit must add a player that moves the franchise forward in a significant way. Which means we need to add a player at least as good as many think Cade Cunningham will be.
Should play-in be in play?
If the PIstons believe Cade is that kind of difference-maker, they must decide whether to view next season as a focus on youth and rebuild another year or make a run at playoffs next season. The dream scenario would be making the playoffs from ninth or tenth seed (assuming the play in exists) and also participate in the lottery to win it with least lottery odds like Orlando Magic did back in 1993.
Well, let’s look at the question a little closer. If the no. 1 pick will be who we think he should be, and Jerami Grant will be no less than he was this passing season, we have two legit cogs of successful modern offense and defense. We also have a good shooter (Saddiq Bey) developing other parts of his offensive arsenal and can stand his ground on defense. If young guards Killian Hayes and Saben Lee continue to struggle contributing at the level a playoff team needs its guards to contribute, Cory Joseph can be retained.
And then there are two capable bigs (Mason Plumlee and Isaiah Stewart) who can contribute to winning basketball. Then, there’s the bench consisting of last season’s revelational bench scorer Frank Jackson (who needs to be re-signed in that scenario), another potent bench scorer in Josh Jackson, Tyler Cook, Hamidou Diallo (if he stays), Sekou Doumbouya, Hayes, Lee and Deividas Sirvydis, set to make some progress in their sophomore or junior seasons, plus a free agent vet or two. It could be just enough to beat teams like Indiana Pacers or Charlotte Hornets for the play-in spots.
Yet, from those spots the odds for high pick are very low and the team might still need one more decent building block-type pick. Therefore, it might be tempting to sell high on a vet or two, develop the youth and lose more games. This is another dilemma Troy will need to weigh properly.
Is next season really about the season after, financially speaking?
After next season, the Pistons could have around $50 millions in cap space. Good enough to sign a max free agent and change. And among possible 2022 free agency class, we can find such players as: Stephen Curry (unrestricted), Bradley Beal (player option), Jimmy Butler (player option), Kawhi Leonard (unrestricted), Julius Randle (unrestricted), Aaron Gordon (unrestricted), Zach LaVine (unrestricted), Terry Rozier (unrestricted), T.J. Warren (unrestricted), Norman Powell (unrestricted), Montrezl Harrell (unrestricted), Thomas Bryant (unresricted), Jaren Jackson Jr. (restricted), Mo Bamba (restricted), Wendell Carter Jr. (restricted), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (restricted), Miles Bridges (restricted), Michael Porter Jr. (restricted), Mitchell Robinson (unrestricted). Adding one of those guys, especially stealing away someone on the younger end of the spectrum surely can push a young, well-structured and developed team over the hump.
The cap space scheduled for next offseason can also be used to trade for a star player, which significantly enlarge the scope of possibilities.
Speaking of trades, Motown will also need to decide what to do with Jerami: can he be a part of the core of young up and coming team or it’d be better to move him for some younger talent?
However, this offseason, in turn, Detroit will have some of its own intriguing players hitting free agency. Dennis Smith Jr., Frank, Hami and Saben’s contracts have ended. Handing them new ones would cut to the sum available for the next offseason.
So Troy will have to make a decision which pool of talent will better serve Pistons future and invest the money accordingly.
What seemingly minor move can make a difference?
These big-time decisions will need to go hand in hand with seemingly less spectacular ones. There will be some free agents, trades and draft picks accessible that would yield proper pieces to round out the squad.
Troy will have to keep an eye on all of them and be able to take advantage of an opportunity whenever it appears. The organization has been focused on flexibility for a few seasons now, and Weaver hasn’t been shy about using it and creating even more of it.
Weaver can’t be so focused on the big moves he has in mind that he loses sight of the little things that nudge a franchise forward. Maybe by drafting with this year’s second round picks Sandro Mamukelashvili or Isaiah Jackson or E. J. Onu (or all of them), maybe by bringing in someone like Bol Bol, maybe by signing Marvin Bagley as a reclamation project, maybe … I’m sure you have your ideas for what Troy can do with that.
So the future of the Detroit Pistons might look bright but a lot still needs to be done to actualize it. It was fun to watch Troy working to prepare the ground for it, may watching him building on that ground be no less fun.