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Evans “dismissed and disqualified” for violating league’s anti-drug program
Tyreke Evans has been suspended by the NBA for two years for violating the league’s anti-drug program, the league announced late Friday.
The league and players association are not allowed to comment or disclose information about testing or treatment of a player, the league noted in the release it sent out.
The Detroit Pistons likely had Evans on their short list this offseason as they searched for playmaking and wing depth.
That pales in comparison to Evans’ overall health and well-being, of course, but I know a lot of Pistons fans were interested in seeming him in red, white and blue even after his on-court struggles this past season.
Following a comeback season with the Memphis Grizzlies, Evans signed with the Indiana Pacers to play a key role off the bench. He struggled mightily all year. In his first and only season with the Pacers, Evans averaged a career low in in points, free-throw attempt rate, free-throw percentage, rebounds, assists and steals.
Evans’ surprise suspension brings to mind what happened to OJ Mayo three years ago. Mayo, never known for taking care of himself, was suspended by the NBA in 2016 for two years for violating the same clause in the CBA.
Mayo attempted a comeback prior to this past season, but he didn’t catch on with any roster. He ended up playing with clubs in Puerto Rico, Taiwan and China in the past year.
Evans faces similar odds to make it back onto an NBA court. While he’s better than Mayo, even accounting for his struggles this past season, he will be 32 years old by the time he is eligible to see an NBA court again.
The Pistons aren’t involved but the results could have a huge impact on both conferences
Zion Williamson is the consensus No. 1 pick of the upcoming NBA Draft, and tonight we will find out which lucky team will get to draft the Duke superstar (or trade the pick for Anthony Davis or an Anthony Davis-like player).
Date: Tuesday, May 14 Time: 8:30 p.m. EST Location: Chicago, Illinois Watch: ESPN or Watch ESPN
I want to have multiple draft analysts on the podcast in the coming weeks to talk about the draft, and I want to know specifically what you all (not just Duke and Scott, who have been going deep on this draft since November, feels like) want to know about the eligible draftees. This is a big draft for the Pistons, in that they need to get this pick right, so I want to exhaust every potential option for them.
As always, we appreciate your continued support of the podcast, and the best way to do that is to share, subscribe, and leave comments - please leave comments on this discussion post, it’s the best way for us to build the podcast according to what you all are talking about.
According to Leroux, waiving-and-stretching Leuer would free up $6,338,695 for the Pistons this offseason. This, combined with renouncing the rights to the expiring contracts of Ish Smith, Jose Calderon, Wayne Ellington, and Zaza Pachulia, and not exercising Glenn Robinson III’s team option, would enable Detroit to get under the salary cap. But that comes at a cost Pistons fans are familiar with: $3.1 million of dead money on the salary cap until the 2022 offseason.
Here’s what that looks like visually:
Is it worth it for the Pistons to waive-and-stretch Jon Leuer?
Why you waive-and-stretch Leuer:
The biggest reason you would want to do this, as Leroux correctly surmises, is to facilitate retaining Ish Smith AND full use of the Mid-Level Exception (MLE). The Pistons have full Bird Rights on Smith, so they can go over the salary cap to re-sign him. However, signing Ish to the same contract he had before ($6 million), using the full MLE (~$9.2 million) on one (or more) players, and signing the two draft selections (picks 15 and 45) to their rookie deals puts the Pistons over the projected luxury tax of $132 million - and that’s before the Pistons use the Bi-Annual Exception (BAE) or sign any veteran’s minimum deals.
Waiving-and-stretching Leuer changes that equation. The $6,338,695 in cap savings for 2019 essentially pays for Ish Smith, which enables the Pistons to use the MLE and BAE without reaching the luxury tax:
(Ignore the positional designations for the rookies - I’m PRETTY sure the Pistons will not use their first-round pick on a center. I hope.)
The biggest reason you wouldn’t do this is if you think you can turn Jon Leuer’s $9.5 million expiring into something useful long-term to the Pistons any time before the 2020 trade deadline. More useful than whoever you sign to the BAE, at least. The Pistons remain low on future second-round picks; could you extract one or more seconds and some “bad” money from a team trying to duck under the luxury tax at the trade deadline (think the Markieff Morris trade, on a slightly larger scale)? You can’t move Leuer’s money at all if he’s waived.
Another reason to not do this would be to avoid the three years of dead money on the cap. Pistons fans know all too well the limitations even a relatively tiny amount of dead money can place on a team. Leuer’s dead money would be less than that of Josh Smith’s, but the thought of the Detroit Pistons paying Jon Leuer from July of 2016 to July of 2022 does make me blanch.
Lastly, you’d still need to replace Jon Leuer’s roster spot after waiving him. It’d probably be another minimum guy who would rarely see play, but you’d still have to pay both Leuer and his “replacement” simultaneously for three seasons.
Take your medicine
Ultimately, were I part of the Pistons’ front office, I would be against waive-and-stretching Leuer. Not strongly against it, but against it.
Use of the BAE this season would be nice, but Leuer’s dead money for the next three years is about as much as ... the BAE. With a chance to implement dramatic changes to the roster in 2020-21, the Pistons need to leverage this season’s expiring contracts into value, not compound the dead cap damage that’s already been done.
While he doesn’t have the name recognition of his famous brother, he does have some of that 3-point shooting magic
Last season, the Detroit Pistons were stuck trying to fill plenty of holes and no money to work with. The team settled on a modest deal to Glenn Robinson III and vet minimum contracts for Jose Calderon and Zaza Pachulia. While you’re mileage may vary on Zaza, I’d say none of the deals worked out.
Pachulia started out decently, but his age was apparent in the second half, while Calderon looked like a player who should have retired last season and Robinson fell out of the rotation even with minimal competition on the wings.
None is expected back with Detroit next season, and the team is looking at a more robust financial cupboard with which to fill all the same holes over gain. The biggest need is likely at backup point guard. The team could lose Ish Smith in free agency, and would likely look to replace him with a more sure-fire perimeter threat.
Curry has never been on a team longer than one season in his brief five-year career, and Detroit loves a good underdog story. Shooting 45% on 3s on 6.5 attempts per 36 minutes, Curry has upped that to a 48% clip so far in nine playoff games. He’s a defensive liability and not much of a playmaker, but he’d address Detroit’s desperate need for more reliable 3-point shooting.
James L. Edwards of The Athletic examined Curry as a potential option for Detroit and believes that the 29-year-old Curry would be looking for PT and a payday, and Detroit would need to hand over roughly $5 million to $8 million. That’s in line with the $6 million Stan Van Gundy gave to Ish Smith.
The problem for Detroit, though, is if the Pistons ponied up that much to address their reserve point guard needs they wouldn’t have anything left to fill the sizable hole they have on the wings.
Detroit traded two small forwards at the deadline in Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson, and as previously mentioned is unlikely to bring back Robinson. Even signing Curry for $5 million per season means just two pots of $3 million that can’t be combined (remaining mid level exception and biannual exception — correct me if I’m wrong in the comments) available to sign a small forward or two. Also, the team is still on the hunt for a backup big man.
Trades are possible but unlikely unless Detroit is willing to trade one team’s trash for their own, or is willing to give up a future asset (like a pick or a young player) to plug a hole.
They gave him excuses about the contracts that they were saddled with from the Stan Van Gundy regime, a lopsided roster that was doomed to produce an inefficient offense, and no real vision for how this team could ever be a contender.
That’s enough of that.
Going into this offseason, this front office has everything it needs to create a roster that can be successful. And not the 47, 48-win kind of successful. Like, 55-plus wins where you can legitimately see a roster in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The team has $42 million in expiring contracts, a stable full of young players, all of their upcoming first-round draft picks, a bounce-back season from Andre Drummond, and a guy who was the second-best player in the Eastern Conference last season. If you can’t build a competitive roster with all of that, find a new job.
All it takes is fit
The Bucks had never been a big 3-point shooting team. Their best player is not a 3-point threat. By volume, they were last in the league in 2015-16, 24th in 2016-17, 25th in 2017-18. But this season, they jumped to second. How? They added Brook Lopez to the starting lineup and had him shooting 6.6 three-pointers per game. Then Giannis Antetokounmpo played at a MVP level and the team won 14 more games.
Lopez was the only new player among their top six players in minutes, but it’s not like Lopez is a +14 win player. The team identified a key stylistic change that would open things up for their best player and it led to great results for both. They considered how to optimize their key player and effectively implemented that vision. That’s how it’s done.
We know where the problem is
True shooting percentage is to the Pistons what 3-point shooting was to the Bucks. Of course. I’ve only written on it about a billion times, you know the spiel by now. They were bottom five in the league again this season, which makes for the sixth straight year they’ve been one of the least efficient shooting teams in the NBA.
The Pistons will never be a successful team until they are in the top half of the league in TS. The Magic, Pistons, and Thunder were the only playoff teams in the bottom half of the league in TS and they combined for a 1-12 record in the playoffs.
The standard solutions folks have been suggesting for the Pistons offseason has been relatively predictable. Try upgrading Reggie Jackson at point guard, improve on the wings. Sorry to break it to you, but that’s not going to turn take this team from the bottom five in true shooting percentage to above average.
Let’s take a best-case scenario for running the team back as-is, when they broke out of their two-month slump at the end of December to make a strong finish to the season. Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson were both playing very well, 3-point shots were falling, the schedule was favorable, they stayed healthy until Blake Griffin’s knee left him in and out of the lineup. Roster plagues Jose Calderon and Stanley Johnson weren’t on the court.
You can look at those two months as an example of everything lining up for this roster about as well as you could hope for. They finished the season 20-13. That’s pretty good!
But still. If you project that out over the course of 82 games, that’s still only 49 wins. That would put them right in the 4-5 seed range in the Eastern Conference. If you take a segment of the season where you’re getting the absolute ceiling of what you could hope for out of a roster and it’s that underwhelming ... then what are you doing?
There’s room in the world of roster building for the incremental upgrade route. During the Stan Van Gundy/Jeff Bower years, there was some logic to it. Most of their core players were still younger than their prime so there was time to tinker. That’s not the case anymore.
Perhaps Blake has another Herculean career season in him, but the expectation would be that his best seasons are behind him.
Internal development ain’t going to do it. Andre Drummond had a great post-All Star break where he played some of the best basketball of his career. But to bank on significant growth from him would be contrary to statistical norms for career progression, which suggest that he’s already hit his peak. And how much better would guys like Bruce Brown, Thon Maker, and Luke Kennard have to get to take this team from a 49-win ceiling to a 55-plus-win ceiling?
True that they won’t have to play Calderon, Glenn Robinson III, and the now-traded Stanley Johnson, but even hoping for upgrades over them aren’t enough. There are always weak spots in a rotation. Chances are that all 15 roster spots won’t be filled with a guy that you feel great about getting out on the floor and there’s always the chance that injury forces them into the lineup. But still, Calderon and GRIII only played 600 minutes each. They were 12th and 13th on the Pistons in minutes played. If a guy playing 600 minutes makes your house fall down, the foundation is the real problem.
The draft ain’t going to do it. This is a weak draft and the Pistons pick at 15. The odds are extremely low that they land a player who will make an impact next season.
The little money the Pistons have in free agency ain’t going to do it. After all, it’s never done it for the Pistons. And the new front office doesn’t seem to have any magic touch, whiffing on their offseason free agent signings of Calderon, GRIII, and (sorry Zaza, I like you but ... ) Zaza Pachulia. Yeah, they had to shop the bargain bin but still.
The Bucks were successful because they made a transformational stylistic change. Swapping Jackson for Conley and signing DeMarre Carroll doesn’t quite qualify as a transformational stylistic change. It’s about on par with upgrading Ersan Ilyasova with Tobias Harris. Sure, Harris is much better than Ilyasova. But the lack of a transformational stylistic change kept the Pistons in the bottom five in TS.
It’s not rotisserie basketball
I sometimes wonder how much NBA2K influences fans’ views on roster building. When it comes to the NBA2K universe, if you replace a player with an 80 rating with a player with an 85 rating, your team will obviously be better. And if you have players with high ratings at all of your positions, that’s when you’ll win.
That’s not how it works in the real world. Brook Lopez’s NBA2K rating was unlikely to be in line with a 14-win improvement. And the 76ers would shred in the game, but in the real world, floor spacing is important and finishing 19th in 3-point attempts with a bunch of players who need to attack the rim leads to a sum that’s less than the whole of its parts.
For the Pistons, that line of thinking may lead to thinking that they’ve got a power forward and a center whose ratings are solid, so the job is to strengthen the other spots. On the video game, sure. But that’s not going to get you to the transformational stylistic change.
So what will?
Effective offenses start with actually putting pressure on defenses, attacking them. The Pistons have that in Blake Griffin, but it’s obviously not enough. It also takes players who can create from the perimeter. The Pistons don’t have that.
Passive offensive threats, guys who are dependent on others to create for them, still play a role, but only as long as you have an appropriate number of active offensive threats. The Pistons don’t.
The onus should be on putting all as many assets as possible toward acquiring the best active offensive threats that the Pistons can land. While these types of players aren’t easy to get, it’s possible. See: Griffin, Blake.
It’s clear as mud
We know what came to mind for the prior leadership in Stan Van Gundy and Jeff Bower. Building around Andre Drummond with a high pick and roll point guard, a stretch four, and the goal (though rarely realized) of shooters at the wings. But what is the current leadership’s vision?
A team hasn’t won a championship with a power forward and center as its two leaders in field goal attempts in 20 years, since the Spurs did it with Tim Duncan and David Robinson. Sure, there are teams that are still effective in the league today with ball dominant power forwards or centers. But look at the power forwards and centers next to those ball dominant power forwards and centers. Their frontcourt partner isn’t going to be among the top three in usage percentage or shot attempts.
Know why? Because it doesn’t work.
To have an effective offense in the league today, it requires balance. Blake can serve as the offense’s primary threat, but the next two primary threats need to come from the perimeter. It leads to more penetration, ball movement, and open looks for shooters.
But hey. Maybe you love the Twin Towers idea (even though it’s been outdated for a decade). OK. That’s fine. Maybe Andre Drummond is the center of your dreams to play next to Blake Griffin.
That’s where an explanation is needed. How will that lead to the team going from a bottom-five team in TS to an above average TS? Why would a front court-dominated offense be the very best method of building around Blake Griffin?
Because even if you really, really, really think that it can work, that’s not enough. The case needs to be that this is the very best structure to optimize the team’s personnel. Look around the league. You can’t bullshit your way into being a top team with something that can work. You get there by building in a way that will work. The league is too good today.
You know what that means
So yes, Andre Drummond should be traded. Not because he sucks or doesn’t care, but because if you’re truly building around Blake Griffin, he’s not the guy who would maximize Griffin’s, and therefore the team’s, effectiveness.
I hear a lot of times that you can’t trade Drummond because of the trade market. I find that perplexing on a couple of levels. It usually comes from the same people who tout how valuable his numbers are. If they’re really valuable then other teams would find them valuable as well.
But the bigger issue is that it doesn’t matter. I’m a rock climber. Let’s say I wanted to go rock climbing, but what I had for shoes was a pair of high heels that were worth $250. But what I need are climbing shoes. Let’s say someone offers to trade me climbing shoes that are only worth $100 for the high heels. Do I say no and go climb in the high heels?
It’s not about making sure that your trade value balance sheet ends up in the positive, it’s about making your team work right.
When SVG let Greg Monroe walk with no return, there was plenty of hand-wringing. “It’s poor asset management!” Know what happened? The Pistons won 12 more games. Know why? Because the roster had the tools to do the tasks that SVG was trying to accomplish. Ersan Ilyasova and, later, Tobias Harris were far more equipped to play the style SVG wanted at power forward than Monroe was.
If Andre Drummond can be used to get the roster closer to one that has a coherent vision, that’s a win - even if the ratings on NBA2K don’t agree.
So who is it that we trade for?
It depends. I have my vision for what I think this team should look like: an aggressive point guard, a wing who can both get penetration and serve as a shooting threat, a three point specialist wing, and flexibility at the center with a platoon of one guy who is a shooter and another who can bang down low.
Looking around the NBA landscape, guys like Mike Conley and Gordon Hayward are a pair that fit that bill. I was also a big Brandon Clarke fan before it was cool and he’d be a dream next to Blake. He could play a small ball, rim protecting five or slide down as a de facto three with a floor spacing center on the court. And Luke Kennard already works as the other shooter on the wing. Between $40 million in expiring contracts, a number of young players, and Andre Drummond’s contract getting to the length that it’s not a barrier for a trade, there’s plenty of resources available to end the summer with those three names.
Conley has a true shooting percentage of 58 percent over the past three years. Even still recovering from injury, Hayward’s TS was 57.5 percent this season. Clarke’s was 70 percent, so I guess that’s not bad. With Griffin’s 58 percent TS and Luke Kennard’s 56 percent TS, that’s a starting five that shouldn’t finish in the bottom five in the league.
That’s just my vision. Yours is going to be different. Ed Stefanski’s is also going to be different.
But there has to actually be a vision. Something more than “Well, this is what we have so let’s see if we can make it work.” And hopefully it’s not a vision of some lineup from the 1990s.
There’s only two routes for next season
Personally, I think it’s possible for a team that fits well around Blake Griffin to win 55 or more games in the Eastern Conference. I think the East is much weaker than the West, making it so that having a top-tier talent with a quality supporting cast where each part compliments the other is enough to rise to the top.
Maybe you disagree. Maybe you think that the only realistic route is moving ahead with this roster as is. OK. That’s fine.
But if that’s the case, standing pat isn’t an option. This team was .500 in a mediocre conference despite having an awful lot go their way from players on an individual basis. They’ve shown pretty definitively that a 49-win pace is about as much as it can hope for. And Blake Griffin deserves better than that kind of mediocrity. If you can’t assemble a lineup that you can at least hope things click well for a 55-win season, then you don’t deserve Blake Griffin.
If you can’t do that, then it should be 20 or fewer wins. If your best player is on the wrong side of 30 and the absolute best your team can hope for is a 49-win season, then you’re on the mediocrity treadmill. Jump off.
I don’t love the idea of tanking for the Pistons. Earlier this year I wrote about why it’d be a bad idea for them and though a couple key issues were the quality of this draft and that it was too late in the season, many of the points still stand. The Pistons would need to figure out what institutional problems exist that have caused their issues with developing young talent and it’d also be a shame to fail to take advantage of an Eastern Conference that severely lacks top-tier talent.
But the goal of any team building strategy should be to win a championship. Even if it’s not exactly clear how you get there, that’s the destination. Even if it’s just being a top seed and hoping for some luck, that’s at least something.
Running it back with Griffin and Drummond as the core, there’s no way to claim the goal of that roster construction is to win a championship. It’d be hoping for a five seed, maybe below .500 if Griffin gets hurt. That is the absolute, worst way to build a roster. It’s insane. Just ... why?
I don’t trust this franchise to develop young players. I don’t trust this fanbase to support a teardown. And I think it’s unnecessary. But it should absolutely happen before going through another season with a Griffin-Drummond core.
A test for the front office and ownership
Ed Stefanski was brought in as the de facto general manager with no competitive interview process. The Pistons brought in some of the brightest GM candidates in the league, but the job offer turned out to basically be his assistant. Despite a lackluster resume from Stefanski.
This offseason is where he proves he deserves his job. It’s where he proves that he was brought in to be more than just Mr. Smithers next to Tom Gores as Mr. Burns. Where he proves that he deserved to be handed the job.
For years, Pistons fans have gone around in circles about the team’s problem. Is it the players or the coach? It’s been a trick question all along. It’s been higher up. The problem has been the team building, the front office. Sometimes it was just bad ideas, sometimes it was reasonable ideas that just didn’t work out.
That’s still been the problem. The Pistons need to be an organization that is actually with its times. In this modern era, rosters aren’t built based on what might could maybe possibly work. They’re based on evaluating their personnel objectively and doing their goddamn best to optimize it.
If the Pistons can do that, they’ll win. One way or another, now or later. They’ll take a step back from the situation, analyze what they have, properly assess where they’re likely to end up, and implement an appropriate strategy. If they can’t, they’ll lose. Maybe they’ll finish above .500, sure. But a five or six seed next season would be a failure for the franchise.
Grand Rapids Drive owners not interested in relocating
As first reported by Rod Beard of the Detroit News, the Detroit Pistons and Wayne State University have partnered on a new $25 million athletic facility that will be the home of the Pistons’ G League affiliate.
The Pistons confirmed the partnership and planned Detroit-based G League team in a release later Wednesday. The arena is less than two miles from Little Caesars Arena, and construction on the Wayne State facility could be completed in time for the 2021-22 basketball season.
That short trip would be convenient for the franchise and coaching staff as they look to coach up young players and have them available as convenient, while also sending down rookies to get playing time. Currently, the Pistons’ G League franchise the Grand Rapids Drive is a 2.5-hour trek to the DeltaPlex Arena in Walker, Michigan.
The Drive are independently owned apart from the Pistons, but the two groups have an affiliate agreement in place through the 2020-21 season. Drive team ownership released a statement indicating they were not interested in relocating out of Grand Rapids.
The Pistons’ statement says discussions with G League officials about a possible expansion franchise and the state of current affiliate the Drive are ongoing.
The agreement between the Pistons and Wayne State promises to bring around 20 G League games to the new arena per year as well as serve as a place to host Pistons summer camps and clinics, possible high school tournament games, AAU games and other basketball tournaments.
Partnering with a university also opens up the doors to education and internship programs in sports marketing, community relations, physical therapy, rehabilitation and sports and entertainment business operations, per the Pistons release.
Future of the Drive
If the Pistons start a new expansion team what does that mean for the Drive? There are two NBA teams who currently have no G League affiliate — the Denver Nuggets and the Portland Trailblazers. Neither, obviously, is located anywhere near Grand Rapids, but there could be interest in taking advantage of the infrastructure and fan base already in place instead of starting from scratch.
While the Pistons brass and coaches didn’t particularly like the distance between Grand Rapids and Detroit, not all teams seem as hung up on those logistics — at least for now.
The Atlanta Hawks have an affiliate in Erie, Pennsylvania, which is about 800 miles away. That’s nothing compared to the 1,800 miles between Sioux Falls, South Dakota and the beaches of Miami where the Skyforce and Heat have an affiliate agreement.
On a smaller scale, the Timberwolves are 250 miles away from their franchise in Des Moines, Iowa. The Fort Wayne Mad Ants play 126 miles away from Indianapolis and the home of the Pacers. The Celtics’ franchise is more than 100 miles away in Portland, Maine. Santa Cruz, California is 75 miles away from the Warriors’ home in San Francisco.
Perhaps the Drive could convince one of the franchises without a G League affiliate to partner up, or an existing team could find the Drive a more attractive opportunity.
Detroit needs a starting-caliber small forward. Let’s narrow down some possibilities.
Everyone on Detroit Bad Boys has talked about the team’s need to add another shot creator on the wing being a big priority this offseason. The criteria for what the Pistons need seem simple: A guy who gets to the paint, draws fouls, and hits some (SOME) threes.
That doesn’t seem like much to ask for - that’s not even THINKING about a quality defender to cut the music to the conga line - but surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly, given that the Pistons have been searching for this guy on the wing since...Corey Magette’s corpse?) it’s hard to find that player, given that the biggest carrot the Detroit Pistons have to offer is the full mid-level exception (~$9 million and change).
So, let’s cast the widest possible net, and narrow it down from there. Here is every single wing free agent available this offseason:
I understand if you think using FTR as a shortcut for shot creation isn’t quite right, but it makes sense to me - NBA players (mostly) don’t foul on jump shots, they foul when guys are being aggressive and dictating actions to a defense. Free throw rate issomething I’ve harped on in the past - Steve Hinson’s thing has always been this team has a bad True Shooting percentage, and my thing has always been this team has a bad free throw rate.
Also, a 20 percent FTR is not that high. For comparison, Reggie Jackson had a free throw rate of 22.5 percent this year and averaged “only” 2.9 FTA/g. Another Reggie Jackson-level shot creator on the wing would be great for the Pistons, given that that guy doesn’t hold the ball like a wing version of Reggie Jackson.
So, that criteria narrows it down a bunch. Now, we’ve got the following free agents:
Now, I want to point out a couple guys, not on this list, who we at DBB have targeted that perhaps we shouldn’t: Terrence Ross, Kelly Oubre Jr., Rudy Gay, and Reggie Bullock. Ross, Gay, and Bullock all had sub-20 percent free throw rates, and Oubre Jr. isn’t 25 years old (he’s 23). Oubre Jr. qualifies by the numerical criteria, so you can add him in if you’d like, but he’s getting eliminated later.
Ross and Bullock are more three-point/midrange shooters than rim attackers, and that’s reflected in their free throw rate. We’ve seen what Reggie Bullock can do in Detroit, and he’d be a fine addition, but just like when he was here, the team would still need more shot creation if he were to return. Ross is maybe a more versatile shot-taker than Bullock, but he’s never hit 20 percent FTR in his career, so he’s not on the list. And Rudy Gay posted the first sub-20 percent FTR of his career, which is not a great sign for his long-term prospects. Maybe he could make an impact in Detroit for a year, but I wouldn’t count on him to fix the current hole at small forward beyond that.
So now, with our much smaller list of targets, we go deeper. Eliminate everyone who is a restricted free agent (no guarantee their team won’t match the full MLE), everyone with a player option greater than the MLE (probably not opting out of more money to sign in Detroit), and everyone who we all can agree is going to get more than the full MLE (hi, Kevin Durant. Bye, Kevin Durant).
Ok, now, I’m gonna flip your Guess-Who card face-down if you’re listed at 6’5 or shorter. Not because you’re bad, but because the Pistons have enough 6’5 guys already - Detroit needs size from their shot creator.
Let’s add in the shooting element: I’m flipping your card down if you shot worse than 35 percent from three this past season.
Marcus Morris (37.5 three-point percent)
Tyreke Evans (35.6)
James Ennis (35.3)
Rodney Hood (35.6)
Alec Burks (36.3)
Ok, five guys is enough to where we can quit narrowing down the list. These are not the five names I expected to be left with - I’m a little stunned that Garrett Temple didn’t shoot 35 percent from three this season and that Alec Burks is still here, somehow. Of the five guys that are left, I would say Morris and Evans are the clear top picks, Hood would be an interesting consolation prize, and Burks and Ennis would be unspectacular additions.
Two things stand out to me during this exercise: The list of wing options is pretty slim pickings this offseason, and I’m now genuinely compelled to contemplate “Jeff Green, Detroit Piston” for more than picoseconds.
Is my free throw rate criteria the correct place to start on the wing? Which guy isn’t listed here that you thought would be? Which one of the final five should the Pistons spend some (or all) of their MLE on? Let me know in the comments.
Without much of a fight, even with a hobbled Blake Griffin for the final two games, the Detroit Pistons were handily ushered out of the playoffs by the Milwaukee Bucks, who won as they tied second largest point differential (+95) in a playoff sweep in modern NBA history.
If you don’t abide by ties well, the Pistons are now the sole owners of the longest losing streak in NBA playoff history with 14 straight. Yes!! Oh wait that’s not...good.
But, hey we made the playoffs, so we must have gotten something out of that? And and and I mean the season was a success right? Even if you are an optimist on those two there’s the question of “what now?” that is just sitting there, big and elephant-in-room like.
If any or all of those three questions are vexing you well you’re in luck, because we’re about to give you our thoughts on all three.
1. What did we learn this playoffs?
Ben Gulker: The matchup against the Bucks highlighted the shortcomings on the perimeter, defensively and offensively. This is a years-long trend at this point, but the roster needs to upgrade talent on the wings and at least one of the point guard positions.
Steve Hinson: Getting the sense as to what this team is was always tough to gauge this season. Were they the 13-7 team they started out as, the 4-16 team they followed it up with, or any of the other swings that followed? In the end, the playoffs showed that they were just what they finished up as - a .500 team who snuck into the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference.
Ryan Pravato: The Pistons are not close to being a top 4 or 5 team in the East.
Christopher Daniels: We learned that this team as constructed wasn’t ready for prime time. The loss of Griffin for the first two games was a blessing in disguise in that it laid bare the dearth of talent behind him, especially in the shot making department, but basically in every area top to bottom, offense to defense.
Brady Fredericksen: The Pistons are not “one player away” from contending for anything. It’s no surprise that the Bucks swept the Pistons; that should have been the expectation coming in after Milwaukee took all four regular season games with relative ease. But the lack of competitiveness they showed without Blake Griffin was not great.
I think the Bucks are going to win it all this year. They are the total package: built for success in today’s NBA with long athletes that can create and shoot from outside, and they’re the deepest team in the league. The Pistons are the opposite. They’re big where they need to be, but unathletic everywhere. They can’t consistently shoot, they can’t consistently create non-Blake offense and those are issues. This series illustrated the glaring lack of athleticism/shot creation/shooting on this roster. It gives the front office a road map as to what they need to fix, but that process is not going to be a particularly easy one.
David Fernandez: We learned that the Pistons have a lot of holes that need to be filled if they’re going to be a serious contender in the East, or even a fake contender like the Sixers. They’re not an upgrade from Reggie Jackson away from being a 50 win team who’s favored in the first round - they have to address point guard of the future, back up point guard, starting three, back-up three (maybe Svi?), back-up four and back-up five.
All of these areas, expect for a couple good games from Reggie, were frankly a disaster in the playoffs, and unless they’re able to plug the majority of these holes with replacement level talent, then it’s going to be difficult to win a round or two in the playoffs - no matter if Blake is healthy and Andre is productive, or not. With that being said, it will take Detroit another season before they’re able to address most of those areas.
Justin Lambregtse: We learned that this team is still a long ways away from being a contender.
2. Was the season a success?
Ben Gulker: Overall, yes, especially when you consider the health challenges that plagued the Pistons all season. Reggie Bullock and Luke Kennard were in and out of the lineup early in the season, Reggie Jackson clearly wasn’t right until late in the season, and Blake Griffin’s late-season injury couldn’t have come at a worse time. In spite of that, the Pistons finished with 41 wins - and had Griffin stayed healthy, would have pushed 43-44. The Playoff sweep is especially unfortunate in that context, as the Bucks were definitely the most-difficult matchup the Pistons could have faced.
Steve Hinson: Absolutely not. A season where all of your key players are in their prime, you finish .500, in the eighth seed, and get swept in the first round with four straight blowouts can never be called a success. The fact that they did it with a guy who will finish the season as either a first or second team All NBA Team and was the second best player in the conference qualifies it as a shitshow. Ok, so Ed Stefanski was dealt a 13 in blackjack. Not an ideal deal, true. But his response? “I’ll hold.”
Ryan Pravato: Getting swept in a first round playoff series, and getting swept resoundingly at that...I’m going to have to go with a no on if this season has been a success. However, this past series was good experience for a few players -- Luke Kennard, Thon Maker and Bruce Brown. They are young players with skills. They all can be rotational pieces on a good team. While I’m not sure if any are starting caliber guys down the road, they represent some kind of hope if you squint hard enough.
Christopher Daniels: The season was a success in that we saw that Blake Griffin is a player to build around, not a washed up husk of Hollywood pretty boy. It was also a success getting to the playoffs more to show, as I said in the first answer, that this team has a long way to go in terms of roster construction before it can actually do anything in the post season. If we had just missed there may have not been as clear a mandate to move on from this “big three” nonsense.
Brady Fredericksen: I think so. They went into it hoping to make the playoffs and, even after “selling” at the trade deadline, they came out of the scrum as a playoff team. I’d argue that they would have won a game or two against Philadelphia or Toronto with a healthy Griffin. But that’s not the way it worked out. They were never going to tank their way into the Zion Williamson race. The alternative to making the playoffs was just missing it and picking 15th (literally the worst-case scenario) or settling in to their traditional draft position at No. 8, which is a record we’ve listened to way too many times.
David Fernandez: Detroit held serve this season, they were broken the previous two years, so that in it of itself, is a success. While it’s not the greatest end to the season as one would have hoped, if you would have told me late January, when Detroit was seven games under .500 and looked the worse I’ve seen them since DaJuan Summers was bricking elbow mid-rangers, that they’d make the playoffs - I would have thought you were lying. They made for the most exciting stretch of Detroit Basketball we’ve seen in a long time when they went 12-2 around the All-Star break, and had Blake not been injured for the final two-three weeks of the season, then it’s likely they wouldn’t have ran face-first into the buzzsaw that is the Milwaukee Bucks.
Justin Lambregtse: I think it was. You have to start somewhere and making the playoffs and getting a little bit of experience for a roster with little playoff experience is useful despite most people thinking it was a waste.
3. Where do we go from here?
Ben Gulker: Given the salary profile, expiring contracts, and injury histories, his is a very hard question to answer. By my count, backup PG and backup C have to be addressed due to expiring contracts, and backup SG, starting and/or backup SF, and backup PF could all use an upgrade. Do you use your limited assets to supplement Jackson, Kennard, Drummond, and Griffin and push for 45 wins? Or, do you pursue and on-the-fly rebuild where everyone is on the table?
Steve Hinson: When Stan Van Gundy took over for the Pistons, his direction for a lineup was clear. Next to Andre Drummond as the franchise player, he wanted point guards who excelled in the high pick and roll and for his four to be able to shoot. Like it or not, at least it made sense and was a clear vision. What is Ed Stefanski’s vision? Just trotting out the roster that Stan Van Gundy and Jeff Bower put together and got fired for? What roster construction will facilitate this team leaving the bottom five in the league in true shooting percentage or even actually being above average in the metric? What’s the right type of roster to put around Blake Griffin?
Let’s be clear: you cannot be successful in the NBA today with a ball dominant power forward and a center that is second or third on the team in usage percentage. The complacency and lethargy of the mentality of continuing to just trot out Griffin and Drummond because that’s what we have is ridiculous and unacceptable. Blake Griffin busted his ass this season for the Pistons. He deserves a front office that is willing to optimize his talent and efforts. That’s where we go from here.
Ryan Pravato: Sign young, cheap players who have some semblance of potential to break out -- and hope one or two actually break out and are able to help Blake. I know this is a very brief and simplistic answer, but as everyone knows this team is talent poor.
Drummond’s non-performance in the playoffs obviously hurts his trade stock, but there’s got to be a team out there (who doesn’t know about the Bucks-Pistons series) willing to bring him on and give Detroit a first round draft pick and starting caliber player in return, at least.
Christopher Daniels: The front office has now been in place for a full year and has seen what it has to work with on the roster. It’s now time to make some tough choices and move pieces any way possible to get a better set up for Blake to succeed. That includes moving on from everyone but Blake. In my opinion moving on from Blake is a nonstarter in that he’s the best player we’ve had pound for pound since Grant Hill and on top of that has Detroit Pistons basketball character in his DNA. That’s not a player you find every day or even every decade.
Brady Fredericksen: Address the issues as best you can. If there’s an opportunity to move Andre Drummond for the kind of athletic wing scorer they need, do it. If you can move Reggie Jackson for a guy that fits that bill, do it. They need to address their backup point guard spot (is Ish Smith worth bringing back after his limitations were exposed in a playoff series?) and on the wing (will Wayne Ellington come back at an affordable price after turning into a pumpkin over the final weeks of the year?) as well as revamping their frontcourt depth (the Zaza Pachulia era is over, so they need to find a traditional backup center and potentially a tweener forward that can play some small forward and some small-ball power forward with Thon Maker at center). There are a lot of moves to make with little money to spend. Trades are their best bet to improve the roster this summer.
David Fernandez: In the sense that we kind of have an idea of what Stefanski is trying to accomplish, we should stick to that route. He’s had two opportunities to make a mark on this team, last off-season - when he signed Zaza and Jose to a one year deal, and GRIII to a prove-it two year deal (second year team option that likely won’t be picked up this off-season). And at the trade deadline - when he didn’t leverage Detroit’s future for Mike Conley, held onto Luke Kennard and parted ways with Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson knowing that the team was not going to re-sign them this off-season.
Patience is key. Research the hell out of the draft, and make smart signings that deliver Detroit back to the post-season without showing your hand too early in a desperate attempt to be seriously competitive before you’re ready.
Justin Lambregtse: The Pistons need to upgrade their wing players, particularly some wing players with more size that can create their own shots. It is easier to defend against one-dimensional wings in the playoffs, and they Pistons have a lot of those. It’s going to be tough to accomplish this in one offseason, but they need to start trying.
So, there you have our thoughts. I am quite sure you have a lot rolling around your collective brains...let it out in the comments.
Ben and Laz discuss the end of the Pistons’ season - and the beginnings of the offseason
Hey everyone. This is Laz Jackson of Detroit Bad Boys, and the Detroit Pistons’ season is over. But Ben Gulker and I are still here to give you our thoughts - our thoughts on whether or not the season was successful, on which young guys the Pistons desperately need improvement from this offseason, and our confidence level in the front office to address this team’s needs.
I had always planned to have a podcast in the wake of Game 4, but travel and life stuff caught up to me - apologies, y’all. We’ll be around during the offseason, too, asking questions of y’all and analyzing the moves the Pistons make the in the draft and free agency. I hope we can give y’all some interesting things while there’s no Pistons basketball to be played.
As always, we appreciate your continued support of the podcast, and the best way to do that is to share, subscribe, and leave comments - please leave comments on this discussion post, it’s the best way for us to build the podcast according to what you all are talking about.