Last offseason was the longest in Detroit Pistons history, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. It could also be remembered as one of the franchises’ most consequential.
New general manager Troy Weaver remade the roster with a flurry of trades. Five rookies joined the team. More than $90 million was spent in free agency.
This offseason will be much shorter, and likely quieter. And that’s by design. Most of the core roster is either on a rookie contract or signed through the 2022-23 season. It gives the front office less incentive to approach the summer with a scorched-earth mindset.
The 2020 draft picks — Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart, Saddiq Bey and Saben Lee — all look like keepers. Sekou Doumbouya and Deividas Sirvydis could give the Motor City Cruise two talented players to build around in the G League next season. Jerami Grant, the big offseason addition, received All-Star attention and will receive votes for Most Improved Player.
Given the Pistons had little time to practice and do skill work before this season started, a goal this summer will be to make up for lost time and allow the team — and particularly the young players — to continue to develop.
The Pistons have some unfinished business to take care of, though. They will have a strong chance to select within the top 4 and add a player with superstar potential. They have a handful of players entering free agency. And with Weaver at the helm, don’t rule out more trades.
Here’s a checklist of what the Pistons will look to accomplish this offseason.
Nail the NBA draft, again
The Pistons entered the 2020 draft with one pick, seventh overall. By the end of the night, they selected four players. Weaver was creative: Christian Wood was signed-and-traded to the Houston Rockets in exchange for the pick that became Stewart. Luke Kennard and Bruce Brown were included in the deal that brought back Bey. Lee was acquired with cash considerations.
Weaver may not have to make as many phone calls, or move as many pieces, to accomplish his draft goals this year. The Pistons have four picks — their own lottery pick, which could fall anywhere between first and sixth overall, and three picks in the second round (37th, 42nd, 51st.)
There’s never a bad draft to potentially have a top-4 pick in, but this is a particularly good draft to have a high selection. Cade Cunningham, the near-consensus No. 1 pick, is a generational talent who could become the most talented rookie to play for the Pistons since Grant Hill in 1994. Evan Mobley, Jalen Green and Jalen Suggs are considered the next-best prospects, and all have star potential. Any of them would fit with the Pistons, and boost their young core.
It’s tough to see them using all three second-round picks to add players for the 2021-22 roster, considering they had five rookies this season and only so many available roster spots. Weaver acknowledged in March the team will look to use those picks in a variety of ways.
“You can use it to trade for future picks, you can use it to move up, use it to stash players, you can use it for two-way contracts,” Weaver said. “Just gives us the flexibility to be a little more aggressive, having those things in our tool chest.”
Make decisions on own free agents
The Pistons have four players — Hamidou Diallo, Dennis Smith Jr. and two-way guards Frank Jackson and Lee — who could enter restricted free agency this summer. Wayne Ellington, who signed a one-year deal last fall, will be an unrestricted free agent.
Diallo, who the Pistons traded Svi Mykhailiuk and a second-round pick to acquire from the Oklahoma City Thunder in March, has positioned himself nicely entering the offseason. During his previous five games entering Sunday, he averaged 18.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while shooting 53.7% overall and 36.8% from 3. He’s one of the best perimeter defenders on the roster and is someone Weaver coveted.
The two-way guards have impressed. Lee exceeded expectations as a rookie, starting seven games and proving himself as a capable slasher, playmaker and defender. Jackson has emerged as one of the best shooters on the roster, and averaged 9.9 points on 40.3% shooting on 3s.
Smith, who arrived in Detroit in February as part of the Derrick Rose trade, had some strong performances in the 20 games he played with the Pistons. But injuries and the NBA’s health and safety protocols cost him 28 games from March 13 through Sunday. It puts him on shakier ground. The Pistons already have two young point guards in Hayes and Lee. Does it make sense to commit to Smith or look elsewhere?
Who might the Pistons add in free agency?
Detroit won’t have the $30 million in cap space it entered last offseason with, but the team could clear significant room this summer by parting ways with Cory Joseph, who only has $2.4 of his $12.6 million for 2021-22 guaranteed, not picking up Smith Jr.’s $7.7 million qualifying offer and walking away from Rodney McGruder’s non-guaranteed $5 million.
The Pistons have a clear need for additional shooting. They’re interested in a reunion with Ellington, who shot 42.2% from 3 this season. Grant, Ellington, Jackson and Bey were all capable shooters this season, but the roster also has several players who could be a season or two away from being able to reliably knock them down. If they wish to look elsewhere, Kent Bazemore or Solomon Hill could make sense.