| The Detroit News
In the first few hours of NBA free agency, one of the teams most active in getting deals done was the Pistons, making agreements with Mason Plumlee, Jahlil Okafor and Josh Jackson in short order.
The big deal of the night was made not much later, with the Pistons getting their top free agent so far, agreeing to a deal with forward Jerami Grant to become another key piece of their plan moving forward. There have been other moves made in the past couple of days, but as dizzying as free agency has been, it’s not the focal point of the offseason so far.
That work was done on draft night, when general manager Troy Weaver took point guard Killian Hayes with the No. 7 pick and traded to get the 16th and 19th picks to add center Isaiah Stewart and forward Saddiq Bey. The fact that the three picks are at different critical positions is no coincidence; that’s the core of this team moving forward.
Along with last year’s first-round pick, Sekou Doumbouya, and maybe Svi Mykhailiuk, that’s where the focus should be. There’s a clear timeline for developing this roster and it’s centered on the rookies first, putting some strong veterans around them and then augmenting the roster with pieces that fit with them.
Having the core of the roster on rookie deals provides some cost certainty and allows Weaver and the front office to go out and build with additional players that fit their skill sets. Putting the four young players into one grouping, that’s more than a quarter of the roster where they won’t have to renegotiate deals or worry about rookie extensions for the next few years.
That three-year window also coincides with the end of Blake Griffin’s contract, when the Pistons will regain a max-level salary slot for what will be another good group of free agents. If they aren’t a playoff team by then, they’ll be back in the lottery, where they could be in position to grab more young talent, such as Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Chet Holmgren and Emoni Bates.
Already, there’s been some handwringing about the contract for Plumlee, at three years and $25 million, plus the three years and $60 million for Grant. In Grant’s case, it was the same offer he got from the Nuggets, according to reports. The Plumlee deal may be above of the projected number, but that’s the cost of doing business sometimes.
If Weaver identified those as key components he wanted to grab in the opening hours of free agency, so be it. The book on Weaver is that he’s one of the best talent evaluators in the league. When he identifies those are the players he wants, trust it.
At least for now.
To gauge a roster before it’s even been completed — not to mention before they’ve even played a game — seems to be a bit premature.
More than that, it’s necessary to put reasonable expectations on this roster.
They’re not in line to win the championship this season. They may squeak into the playoffs only by the grace of the new play-in structure adopted for this year, with the teams in ninth and 10th place being able to play for a spot in the postseason.
Like the Pistons did during the Stan Van Gundy era, they’re having to remake the roster to try to get back to respectability, following a dismal 20-46 season. Unlike the Van Gundy era, Weaver has been able to flip the roster — with only four players remaining from last season — in the matter of a week. He’s been aggressive and creative in some of the ways that he’s using their cap space to add more assets, and then flip those into players that can fill out a seemingly competitive roster.
The Pistons start training camp next week, with the preseason the following week and the regular season in less than a month. That’s a ridiculously quick turnaround to identify talent and to get trades done that put a competitive team on the floor, while also not mortgaging the future to stay on the treadmill of mediocrity.
If nothing else, Weaver has established a style of player that he wants on the roster, which has been reflected in the draft, in free agency and the players he’s traded for — Hayes, Bey, Grant and Jackson stick out most — and has traded others that weren’t going to be long-term fits. Both Luke Kennard and Bruce Brown are good players, but Weaver decided to move on rather than waiting until they were due bigger salary increases and lost most of their value.
Getting a first-round pick for Kennard was a good play, and even if they had to throw in a couple of second-rounders to get Bey, it could still be very much worth it.
What’s clear is that Weaver is making these deals. There is no interference from team owner Tom Gores nor from senior adviser Ed Stefanski, who drafted Brown and Khyri Thomas, who was also traded.
Judge the roster for what it does in the next three seasons, not for what it looks like in the early stages. There will be plenty of time for that.
Give the credit — or the blame — to Weaver.