The Detroit Pistons began the NBA Draft with a bang, or maybe that was just a collective sigh of relief from every Pistons fan exhaling at once as the pick of Cade Cunningham was announced by Adam Silver.
Cunningham walked to the podium in a sharp black suit and then did and said all the right things in his interviews afterward. He’s a guy who wants to be great, believes he will be great if he puts the work in, and is eager to hold the mantle of leadership and put the fortunes of an entire franchise and city on his shoulders.
Depending on your confidence in Cunningham as the No. 1 pick, the Pistons aced the draft in the first 10 minutes. Detroit was in a position to take a franchise-altering player, and they did so. A player to lead the team on and off the floor, and the kind of talent that allows the organization to build around, and let those pieces fall into place in a quest toward the playoffs, contention and a championship.
Cunningham, provided he’s healthy, will certainly have a starting spot and is in line for a 2,000-minute season with plenty of offensive responsibility on his plate. That is a lot to add to your rotation and could serve as the one and only significant move of the offseason.
After that first move, though, there was a whole lot of waiting. After Troy Weaver decidedly owned the draft narrative last season by trading back into the second round twice with aggressive and surprising moves, he was decidedly quieter this time around.
In his first season at the helm, Weaver was the anti-Stan Van Gundy. He focused on adding youth, athleticism and length with big upside plays like Killian Hayes and Isaiah Stewart instead of the guys who dominated the headlines in college.
This year, the mission was much different, and his choices felt if not uninspiring very Van Gundy-esque in its focus on older players and guys who dominated the college ranks during long collegiate careers.
Everyone expected for Weaver to pull a Weaver. Get aggressive, empty the clip and get back into the first round to grab a player who had fallen too low. Grab a raw athlete high in the second round like last year with Saben Lee.
And with four draft picks already in hand from last season, and presumably an interest in all of them returning, the presumption was there was no way Detroit used three second-rounders.
And then they traded down in an effort to shed Mason Plumlee’s salary and ended up using three low second round picks anyway.
That’s not to say that they were bad picks. The agenda was simply different this year, and the upside just isn’t there. That is what happens when you pick in the 40s and 50s. Still, it doesn’t seem like the draft haul was chosen to be draft-and-stash options, a second rounder wasn’t traded for more seconds in future years and now there is a whole new crop of young (old) talent to find places for.
Grab Shooting and Experience
The guiding philosophy in the second round seemed to be to grab shooting at multiple positions and players who had enough experience in college to contribute on the floor if Detroit’s depth is tested.
Luka Garza is a big, bruising center who also happened to shoot better than 40% from 3. He’s also reportedly shed significant weight in an effort to be quick enough to play amidst NBA athletes.
Isaiah Livers is a second-round version of Saddiq Bey. He isn’t a dominating athlete, and he might find himself caught between positions a little bit, but he’s a smart player who fell in the draft because of injury, and he’s a guy who can be an instant catch-and-shoot option when needed.
And then there is Cade’s one-time teammate at Montverde, Balsa Koprivica who is the sort of developmental gamble you take in the 50s. He’s 7-foot-1 but can handle a bit, shoot a bit and he has some touch.
He played collegiately at Florida State for two season and has been living stateside since he was 16. Is he guaranteed to make the team? No. But he could if the plan this year is to roll with Isaiah Stewart and Jahlil Okafor this year and hope you can get by with Garza and Koprivica as emergency depth who spends most all their time with the Motor City Cruise.
Figuring Out the Numbers Game and Free Agency
I think it’s clear that the Pistons have big plans for free agency next year when Blake Griffin’s salary comes off the books. The question is what they want to do this year, and how they want to flesh out this roster.
The Pistons already have eight players under contract in Killian Hayes, Jerami Grant, Isaiah Stewart, Josh Jackson, Saddiq Bey, Jahlil Okafor, Sekou Doumbouya, and Deividas Sirvydis. They have already extended qualifying offers to Frank Jackson and Hamidou Diallo. That already brings the roster to 10. There is Saben Lee, who the organization always treated as important from a developmental perspective as the three first-round picks. That would be 11 players.
The Plumlee trade means the team could get $15-$18 million under the cap if they renounce Dennis Smith Jr, Tyler Cook and don’t exercise options on Rodney McGruder and Cory Joseph, and don’t retain Wayne Ellington.
So what are the plans for free agency? Do they pick up Cory Joseph’s option for point guard depth and call it an offseason? Do they let him go and hunt for a bigger free agency target at the guard position for some Killian and Cade insurance and mentorship? Did the make the Plumlee move with eyes toward capitalizing on that extra $8 million two offseason from now instead of this next one?
They’ve already committed to one two-way contract in UCLA’s Chris Smith, so that means they have one to offer. It could go to Garza or Koprivica or it could go to another undrafted player.
But guaranteed roster spots are few and far between at this point. Giving three spots to drafted players leaves one for a free agent. Is Lee’s future on the team in jeopardy because they will need another slot to fill a roster hole via free agency? Is there a chance Koprivica was drafted knowing he’d probably sign a deal overseas to make some money and develop?
If Weaver is using that money in free agency immediately, what kind of piece does it make sense to bring in on a multi-year deal. Weaver always seems to have an intentional plan in place, and it’ll be interesting to see that plan continue to unfold as he continues to shape the Pistons young roster this offseason