Rumor has it that the Pistons are no longer looking for Ayton. What will next season look like without him? People are already trying to picture the free agents that the Pistons are going to target in order to fill their cap space and provide veteran guidance. Before looking up stats for Bridges or Brunson, consider the following scenario for next year.
We got arguably the best sophomore in the game. Fresh off of universally lauded rookie year the team now adds the recently drafted first round picks: a dynamic new guard, and shot blocking center. For some reason the team gives too many minutes to the 29 year old veteran guard. Does this team sound like it is ready to finish above .500 without any big name free agent? If you think so, you're wrong. This team is going to get exactly 23 wins this season, which is also Durant's sophomore season, and Westbrook and the rookie DJ White. The team I'm talking about is the OKC Thunder in 08-09, and it's Troy Weaver's first year with the team. They lost 59 games that year, and won 50 the next.
The parallels between that season and the Pistons upcoming season are apparent. Player comps between Ivey and Westbrook or Cade and Durant could be made, but looking at how this season progressed could answer the biggest question about the Pistons upcoming season. Should we be trying to make the playoffs? Pushing for the playoffs would imply that we have our young core, and there are only so many minutes of someone's prime available, and if we aren't winning Cade and the gang will bolt for bigger markets. All of these questions and possibilities were floating around as the Thunder sat on their hands, and their cap space, for a year before breaking out in the next. What should the Pistons do? Should we lock in a max for a big free agent to guarantee more wins?
We need more to contend for players than what we have. Despite the very impressive group of young people that we have on the team, they all don't have the development yet to compete in an upgraded Eastern Conference. Cade, Jaden, and Jalen need to develop their bodies for the NBA game, as well as learn to play together. The Thunder gave Durant and Westbrook tons of reps that year. They got used to each other and got lots of recognition, but the team was awful for another season. They honestly wouldn't be ready for the bright lights of the playoffs anyways, so why give a vet lots of money and minutes to ensure they make it there? The kids can instead be left to their own devices and be forced to realize what it takes to actually do compete on their own. This isn't tanking, actively taking reps away from your best players. This is forcing the kids to stand on their own feet, letting them know that it's on them to guide the franchise out of this.
The Thunder started the year 1-13, after which a coaching change was made. PJ Carlesimo was a great old school coach, but maybe the new kids would be ready for a new offense. It's possible that the new look Pistons are going to need a offense and maybe a new voice. Casey will get to focus 100% on developing the young people, not giving a superstar their touches. For Weaver to decide about the coaching for this new young group, having a season where we see how the coach connects with the young star will help clarify whether a coaching decision is needed. Having a star in the midst midst could make it harder to tell what change is needed. In either case, a season where the kids are told produce on an NBA level without a max player can provide clearer evidence for who should coach.
Lastly, after this last awful season the Thunder got a last burst of young talent in James Harden and Serge Ibaka. At this point the KD Westbrook combination could have probably gotten to the playoffs the next year, but having that extra trip to the lottery ensured that they make it to the finals two years later. Had they tried to make their run for the playoffs a year earlier, that draft might have left them with Austin Daye instead. The 2023 NBA draft is full of talent. While Weaver can do a lot magic to get picks later in the draft, the top spots are going to go to teams with terrible records. Spending a year without a Max player is the best way to get draft position without cutting into the development time for the young players.
Weaver has said repeatedly in his interviews that we are still in the process, and we are still in middle, and we aren't going to skip any steps. If his work in OKC is the blueprint, we may have a year where we save the cap space and let the kids take the lead. Hopes for the playoffs should be on the players to step into their NBA potential, not for Weaver use up long-term cap space. If we are ready to go to the post season, let's let Cade decide that, not Deandre Ayton or Jalen Brunson.
Weaver: "The process is to build a sustainable winner, and that takes time. I'm sure everyone would like us to fast-track it. You only have one shot at this thing, and in our restoring process, we don't want to skip any steps. We don't want to shortcut anything."— Omari Sankofa II (@omarisankofa) February 13, 2022