Detroit — The Pistons are 13-33 and the rebuilding season keeps slogging on. There are questions about where the team is going, but for the first time in a long time, there’s a very clear path forward, and several young players to be excited about.
Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart and Saben Lee all look to be keepers, and the only remaining question about last year’s draft was the No. 7 pick, Killian Hayes. While there have been plenty of questions about the rest of the roster, the most interesting position has been point guard, because Delon Wright had been the starter for most of the season and he was traded to the Sacramento Kings last week.
It begs the question about what the Pistons’ future will be with a draft that many experts consider to be deep on talent, especially in the top five, where the Pistons appear to be headed. What does that mean for the core that they’ve already established?
This week’s Mail Satchel addresses some of the questions around the future, specifically at point guard, and what the outlook is for coach Dwane Casey.
Question: How do you see the PG rotation playing out once Killian Hayes returns? – @GVLaker68
Answer: That’s one of the big questions lingering over the rest of the season. With the improvement that Saben Lee has shown, there’s some validation that he could be a big piece of the long-term rebuild. It’s a very reasonable expectation that Lee will go from a two-way contract this year to a standard contract in the offseason; he’s earned that with his play this year.
I’ve seen tons of fan chatter that Hayes is a bust and that he won’t live up to expectations of a No. 7 pick. Trying to judge that from a seven-game sample size is foolhardy at best, so what he does in the remainder of the season is will be a main focal point. Hayes is expected to be cleared to return to play in the next week or two and from all indications, he’ll likely work with the second group — at least early on. He could then progress to playing with the starters when he’s in playing shape.
Dennis Smith Jr. has been dealing with back issues, so when he returns, he’ll also be interesting to watch. With Hayes and Lee, the Pistons have their point guards of the future, and they likely would want to have a veteran third point guard. That doesn’t mean he’d sit on the bench, because coach Dwane Casey likes to utilize multiple ballhandlers on the court at the same time.
Cory Joseph could be the odd man out, unless he takes a smaller contract, but with their top pieces settled, figuring out the rest won’t be a top priority.
A: It’s way too early to tell any of that, because we don’t know where the Pistons will be picking in the draft and even then, it’s hard to figure out who will be available. I’ll play the hypothetical with you, though, and suppose that the Pistons were in position to draft either of the three you mentioned. Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham appears to be the consensus No. 1 pick, but he’s not only a point guard. With his size and skill set, I could see the Pistons taking him and just putting him on the floor. He fits. Wherever.
Same with Suggs. Assuming that Hayes comes back, he’s healthy, and he’s playing better than he was at the beginning of the season, he’ll be around. Troy Weaver picked Hayes — and he’s not going to bail on him after one season, whether either of the top point guards is in play or not.
As for Mobley, that could be another issue. It doesn’t mean anything for Isaiah Stewart. Remember, we’ve seen Stewart play a little power forward already, maybe a litmus test to see if he can handle that move. Stewart struggled a bit playing alongside Mason Plumlee, so maybe that’s a sign too. Let’s say the Pistons are picking second or third — would they pass on any of the top prospects because they position doesn’t fit? Likely not. They’ll go for best available, and you can trust that Weaver and his staff will have done their homework on each one of them.
Q: Given Weaver’s eagerness to turn over every aspect of the roster… how long do you see Casey holding onto his job? I know his seat isn’t hot right now, but when we pivot from development to playoff push should we assume weaver will handpick a new coach?
A: I can’t see Casey’s seat getting hot. He’s done well to help develop all the core young players and the team is playing hard on an almost nightly basis. The Pistons have wins over the Nets, Lakers, Sixers and Suns — four of the top teams in the league. It’s not a coaching deficit that the Pistons that has the Pistons at 13-33 this season; it’s a talent deficit, which will improve in the next two years, and Casey has two years after this year left on his contract.
I wouldn’t worry about Casey. I think he’s got the backing of Weaver and team owner Tom Gores. There haven’t been any indications at all that there’s any concern about Casey’s performance. In the midst of a rebuild, it would be tough to chance coaching philosophy and playing schemes also.
Pistons vs. Trail Blazers
►Tipoff: 7 Wednesday, Little Caesars Arena
►Outlook: The Blazers (28-18) have won six of their last eight games, including the last three on their eastern road trip. The Pistons (13-33) have wins against two of the top four teams in the Western Conference this season.