| The Detroit News
When the NCAA Tournament was canceled in March because of the sharp increase of positive cases in the pandemic, Michigan State’s Cassius Winston’s final season vanished as well. There was no fond farewell, just an abrupt ending to a decorated career.
Winston isn’t projected to be one of the top point guards selected in the NBA Draft on Nov. 18, but he’s been moving up some draft boards and could be a first-round pick. Given his accomplishments at Michigan State with coach Tom Izzo, and his success and skill level in the pick-and-roll, Winston could find himself as a hot commodity for teams looking to bolster their roster.
The Pistons have the seventh pick in the first round, and though that appears to be above where Winston would be selected, there are scenarios where the Pistons could trade down and have later picks in the teens or 20s, more in the range where he is projected.
Pistons general manager Troy Weaver has followed Winston’s career and was optimistic about Winston’s prospects of making it in the NBA.
“Tremendous young man. I’m hopeful he gets his name called, but if he doesn’t, I think he has the spirit and mentality to find his way, but I’m definitely rooting for him,” Weaver said Thursday. “I’ve watched him throughout his career and I’ve been a big fan and hoping for the best. I think he has the spirit, that he’ll fight his way in, whether he gets drafted or not. I think he will give himself a great chance.”
Winston, a 6-foot-1 point guard, has a 6-5 reach and in a draft pool that is stocked with point guards, he’ll need to differentiate himself from the others.
“Cassius has every tangible and intangible. He’s got a Ph.D. in ball-screen offense. He makes enough shots to keep people honest. He’s fiercely competitive. He’s as good as any point guard in the country, and he wins,” ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg said last month. “The last time I checked, it’s about winning, and Cassius Winston is a winning player and best at winning times. So, to me, I think he’s a no-brainer.”
‘Strong interest’ in Wood
Along with the Pistons’ interest in improving through the draft, one primary focus is retaining some of their free agents, including Christian Wood, who is an unrestricted free agent. Wood had a breakout season with the Pistons, finishing with three career-high scoring totals in the final week of the season.
The prevailing notion is that Wood will be one of the top free agents on the market and will be coveted by several teams once free agency begins, likely around Dec. 1. Wood, 25, played for a minimum contract last season and in free agency, the starting offers could be around the midlevel exception of about $9.3 million per season.
Weaver said the Pistons want to keep in touch with Wood and his agents and are trying to find a salary number that works for both sides, while also keeping the Pistons’ available space in the salary cap — projected to be about $30 million — as flexible as possible. It could be a difficult balance, especially if the other teams with cap space start to elevate the price.
“We look forward to continuing to have talks with Christian and his representatives. He’s definitely someone we have strong interest in, absolutely,” Weaver said. “We’re definitely looking forward to continuing talks with them. Do I have a (salary) number in my head? Yeah, I’ve always got a number in my head, but we’ll see how that works out.”
What the Pistons decide to do with Wood in free agency and using the remainder of their space could impact what they do in the draft and with the rest of their targets in free agency.
Wood, though, seems to be the linchpin for their roster construction.
Weaver on ball
LaMelo Ball is projected by many experts to be the No. 1 pick or presumably to be gone before the Pistons’ pick at No. 7. Ball has been working out in Detroit all summer with his manager, Jermaine Jackson, preparing for the draft.
Weaver said that he’s taken notice of Ball’s time in Detroit and that familiarity helps in the matriculation of a rookie to his new team and new surroundings.
“I’m always happy to hear players embrace our organization, our city. That never goes unnoticed,” Weaver said. “That’s always a positive with prospects speaking highly of the city and organization. So that’s always positive and we do plan on trying to visit with them before the draft.”
Weaver had mentioned potentially trading up in the first round as an option, but it’s unclear whether they would add the No. 7 pick and the additional assets needed to take a shot at getting Ball.