Detroit Pistons post-NBA draft lottery mailbag: Breaking down Cade Cunningham debate

Detroit Free Press

It’s been three days since the Detroit Pistons won the 2021 NBA draft lottery. Does it feel real yet?

For the first time in a long time, the Pistons are at the forefront of the national conversation. They’re in the driver’s seat to draft the top prospect, Oklahoma State star Cade Cunningham, and add a potential superstar to their talented young core.

There’s still about five weeks to go until the July 29 draft, giving the front office time to do its diligence, and the fanbase more than a month to stress about it. In this week’s mailbag, we looked ahead to the draft, free agency, summer league and next year’s roster. Let’s get to it.

THE PICK: Draft Cade Cunningham or trade? Why Detroit Pistons won’t rule anything out with No. 1 pick

SHAWN WINDSOR: Cade Cunningham is the NBA’s future. Finally, the Detroit Pistons are headed there, too

ROUND 2: Here are 3 Pistons targets to watch during this week’s NBA draft combine

This isn’t fun, but I try to avoid doing odds. I could say the chances of Weaver keeping the pick are 99-to-1, 75-to-25 or 50-50. In the end, the odds wouldn’t mean much. It’s tough to quantify whether the Pistons are willing to part with the pick, or the likelihood they receive an offer worth considering.

More seriously, I’ll say this — we can’t rule anything out. When asked Tuesday about the chances that they trade the pick, Weaver had this to say:

“We’ll continue to have an aggressive mindset. Might not yield as much as it did last year, maybe it will, but we’ll have an aggressive mindset in this restoration, for sure. We won 20 games last year. We have to look at everything, we have to be aggressive and we have to have the mindset to improve the team by all means necessary.”

I thinkthe Pistons keep it. To trade it, they would need equal value back. To receive equal value to Cunningham (or Evan Mobley or Jalen Green), you would need the equivalent of a potential franchise player. The Oklahoma City Thunder could offer a king’s ransom of future draft picks, but none of them are guaranteed to be No. 1 picks. The Houston Rockets or Cleveland Cavaliers, who own the No. 2 and No. 3 picks, respectively, could look to move up. The Pistons like Mobley and Green. Maybe a conversation could be had there. Ultimately, the Pistons don’t have to do anything from now until it’s time to make the pick. And there’s no reason to assume they will do anything other than keep the pick.

The odds are pretty high that Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart, Saddiq Bey, Saben Lee and their No. 1 pick will play in Las Vegas. Player development is a big focus for the Pistons this offseason, and both Dwane Casey and Troy Weaver mentioned during their end-of-season news conferences that preparing the young players for summer league will be a priority.

Keep in mind, there was no summer league in 2020, meaning this will be the first one for the last season’s rookie class. Casey lamented often last season how unfortunate it was that the rookies had to play their first season without a summer league and a full offseason of workouts. It would be surprising to see any of them miss this one, barring any injuries.

The fit for Frank Jackson and Hamidou Diallo is straightforward. The Pistons are weak at the wing position, and they played well enough last season to warrant being brought back on long-term deals. Both are set to enter restricted free agency. Jackson was one of Detroit’s better offensive players, shooting 40.7% from 3-point range and finding his rhythm as an off-the-bench spark plug after the All-Star break. Diallo finished the season strong after arriving from the Thunder at the trade deadline, shooting 39% from 3 during 20 games with Detroit and scoring a career-high 35 points on May 4. He might’ve been their best perimeter defender.

Deividas Sirvydis is a candidate to spend significant time with the Motor City Cruise in the G League. The initial plan this past season was for him to play for the Grand Rapids Drive, but that was axed after the NBA decided on a bubble format for the G League, and the Drive opted out of it. Sirvydis spent most of last season on the bench but began to look like a rotation-level shooter once he received playing time. The Cruise will be able to provide him ample minutes.

Of the four, Dennis Smith Jr. is the most awkward fit. The Pistons used a lottery pick and second-round pick on point guards last year, and both are considered core players. They have a veteran point guard on a partially guaranteed contract in Cory Joseph, who played well after arriving at the trade deadline. Cunningham is a lead ballhandler, too. Smith also appeared in just four games after March, missing the final 18 games of the season due to injury. He showed flashes during the 20 games he did play, logging a triple-double and making an impact on defense. But he doesn’t address a roster need.

Weaver believes in having good veterans on the roster. With two young point guards in Hayes and Lee, it’s reasonable to expect the Pistons to want some veteran guidance at the position as well. Joseph has three things going in his favor — he’s already on the roster (though his contract isn’t fully guaranteed), he has a good relationship with Casey and he excelled for the Pistons last season, averaging 12 points and 5.5 assists in 26.4 minutes per game while shooting 50.6% and 36.8% from 3. He’s on the books for $12.6 million, of which $2.4 million is guaranteed. It could be tough to find a better option on the market.

The Pistons will certainly look to address their lack of shooting in free agency, and Wayne Ellington is an option. He was Detroit’s best shooter last season, knocking down 42.2% of his attempts. As for Diallo and Josh Jackson, they have overlapping skill sets. The Pistons will look to re-sign Diallo and then figure things out from there. I’m not sure if addressing their similar skill sets needs to be prioritized, particularly since Diallo shot well with the Pistons, and Jackson is on an inexpensive contract.

Dinwiddie is probably too expensive for the Pistons. In 2019-20, he averaged 20.6 points and 6.8 assists per game. He’s a good defender. And according to New York Daily News reporter Kristian Winfield, he “wants the bag” in free agency. The Pistons likely won’t have any cap space to play with. They should have the full $9.5 million midlevel exception, but even with Dinwiddie coming off of a torn ACL, he’ll cost more than that. The Pistons will likely look elsewhere.

I think it’s just the natural evolution of the draft conversation. Almost every draft has debate on who the first overall pick should be. Even before the lottery on Tuesday, Mobley was regarded by some as a dark horse candidate to go first. And for good reason — bigs who protect the rim and can defend along the perimeter as well as Mobley are extremely hard to find. That he has soft touch and good vision is just icing on top. He’s a great prospect.

The Pistons also like Green, but my sense is that Cunningham vs. Mobley is the real debate. To the extent that there’s a debate, at least.

Anyway, only a few outlier voices in media think the Pistons should seriously consider passing on Cunningham. He’s still the favorite. There will always be differing opinions, and that’s completely fine. Pistons fans are noticing the chatter more now, because the chatter involves the Pistons. It’s annoying, but also a great problem to have.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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