Detroit Pistons admit the future may come a touch quicker with Kelly Olynyk acquisition

Detroit Free Press

Dwane Casey didn’t want to mention the word “playoffs” when asked about the Detroit Pistons’ goals for its upcoming season. The team’s head coach said he wanted to see “growth.”

That’s fair. Reasonable, too.

General manager Troy Weaver, however, wasn’t as reluctant, at least not in deed. By agreeing to sign free-agent center, Kelly Olynyk, to a three-year, $37 million contract, he gave us a peek into what he thinks his team is capable of next season.

Olynyk is obviously not a centerpiece to a title contender. But he is an upgrade over Mason Plumlee on the offensive end. He’s also one of the best shooting bigs in the league, though he isn’t only a shooter.

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Olynyk possesses sneaky ball skill for his size and can put the ball on the floor attacking closeouts. And while he isn’t a lob threat like Plumlee, he can finish with either hand and uses a nifty spin move while driving.

In the short term, his talent for stretching the floor should give Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes more room to attack the rim and a good pick-and-pop option on the perimeter. That shooting gives Casey flexibility up front, too, as Olynyk should fit next to Isaiah Stewart.

In the long term?

Well, he’s played plenty of playoff games and isn’t afraid to take shots in high leverage moments. This isn’t to say the Pistons are planning on a deep run next spring. But is a run at one of the play-in games that impossible?

No, it’s not.

Yes, I realize the team won 20 games last season. I also know they stayed in most games, competed until the end, and did this with their best player “resting” down the stretch and a half-dozen youngsters.

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Casey’s goal of “growth” is probably the best bet for Cunningham’s debut year, to keep the team competing and to figure out how use the increasing versatility of his roster. Other than Jerami Grant — and now Olynyk — the core of this roster is young.

And yet?

Saddiq Bey should get better in his second year, especially after playing against Team USA earlier this summer on the select squad. Stewart should be better, too.

Hayes, meanwhile, might take the biggest leap among the rookies from a year ago. He missed a couple months with injury and when he returned showed a budding confidence and swagger. A full offseason and summer league will help, too.

Grant, who played better than most expected after coming over from Denver last year, believes he has room to improve as well. So do his coaches.

This leaves the biggest change from a year ago: Cunningham.

Rookies don’t often lead their team from the high lottery to the playoffs. LeBron James didn’t. Luka Doncic didn’t.

But Cunningham isn’t being asked to do that just yet. What he will provide is versatile defense, more playmaking, more shooting, and someone who can get a bucket down the stretch.

At the least, the Pistons will be a better offensive team, and while Olynyk isn’t the rim protector Plumlee is, he isn’t afraid to bang under the basket and crash the boards.

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Weaver is trying to keep his team’s hustle and defense identity while adding more offense. Three of his four draft picks can shoot. Olynyk can shoot. The lack of shooting last season is, in part, why the Pistons lost so many close games.

Make a few more timely buckets and who knows, right?

By adding Olynyk, Weaver showed he is willing to take a swing. Not a big one, but a swing, nevertheless.

And if it doesn’t work?

Well, Russell Westbrook is playing for his fourth team in the last four years. Proof that even a contract that outsized doesn’t hamstring a franchise like it used to, because even the most hideous contracts get moved all the time.

In the meantime, if the Pistons improve ahead of schedule, that’s gravy. If they keep losing close games, that’s understandable and there is no pressure to make the playoffs anyway.

Besides, Weaver keeps most of the massive cap space he has coming in 2022 while freeing up room for his youngsters on the court. Call it a developmental sundae with a chance for whipped cream and a cherry.

Or maybe just the cherry.

Either way, Weaver continues to show progress and patience as he remakes this franchise and finds interesting ways to make it better. The newest Piston will almost certainly contribute to that.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

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