Hamidou Diallo returns to Detroit Pistons roster, so who is odd man out?

Detroit Free Press

General manager Troy Weaver didn’t expect to make many roster changes entering this summer. The Detroit Pistons did the vast majority of their roster shaping a year ago by drafting four rookies and signing one marquee free agent in Jerami Grant.

This enabled the Pistons to shorten their 2021 offseason priority list.

That list is complete after the signing of Hamidou Diallo on Thursday to a two-year, $10.4 million contract.

“I don’t anticipate much turnover at all,” Weaver said during his end-of-season news conference in May. “I would say maybe one or two additions from the outside. The answers for the Pistons moving forward are all in-house. This is about internal development and growth, and that will be our focus this summer.”

The Pistons stuck with that plan. Armed with roughly $17 million in cap space when free agency opened, they divided most of the money across two players — Kelly Olynyk and Trey Lyles. Along with their three draft selections who have been signed to NBA contracts  — No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham, and second-rounders Isaiah Livers and Luka Garza (two-way contract) — and undrafted free agent Chris Smith (two-way), Detroit will likely have six new faces on this season’s roster.

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Cory Joseph, Rodney McGruder and last year’s two-way players, Frank Jackson and Saben Lee, were all re-signed.

With Diallo returning, the Pistons’ roster is currently above the regular season limit with 16 players, and both two-way spots filled. With training camp roughly five weeks away, here’s where the depth chart stands, with one player still to be moved:

Point guard: Killian Hayes, Cory Joseph, Saben Lee

Shooting guard: Cade Cunningham, Hamidou Diallo, Frank Jackson, Rodney McGruder

Small forward: Saddiq Bey, Josh Jackson, Isaiah Livers

Power forward: Jerami Grant, Trey Lyles, Sekou Doumbouya

Center: Isaiah Stewart, Kelly Olynyk, Jahlil Okafor

Two-way players: Luka Garza, Chris Smith

Here are the remaining unanswered questions before the season begins.

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How will Diallo impact wing rotation?

By sending Svi Mykhailiuk and a second-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Diallo at the trade deadline, the Pistons signaled Diallo is their long-term plans. After a promising stint, Diallo, 23, cemented himself as a player the team wanted to bring back. Detroit offered him his $2.1 qualifying offer at the end of July, making him a restricted free agent and opening the door for his return.

In 20 games with the Pistons, he averaged 11.2 points and 5.4 rebounds while shooting 46.8% overall and 39% from 3, and was one of Detroit’s better wing defenders and athletes, and his 3-point clip was significantly better than his career average.

“Hopefully we can get him, talk to him and continue him with the group,” Weaver said in May. “It’s a young group that he fits and we need his talents. If he can continue to buy into coach Casey’s system, which he did, I thought he got pretty comfortable toward the end, unfortunately had to miss a few games. He got comfortable and I think he can have a very bright future here in Detroit.”

The Pistons are fairly stacked at the wing positions. Cunningham, Hayes and Lee will spend significant time on and off the ball this season, and Cunningham and Hayes both could be starters. Joseph also spent time at both backcourt positions, while Frank Jackson is an off-guard player. Grant, Bey and Josh Jackson are all options at small forward.

Coach Dwane Casey said the Pistons are moving closer to playing positionless basketball, and there are overlapping responsibilities between the shooting guard and small forward designations. So don’t put too much stock into positions. Diallo projects best as a 3-and-D wing who can attack off the dribble, and will likely play most of his minutes next to Cunningham, Hayes and Joseph, all primary ball-handlers. There will be plenty of competition for the remaining minutes.

Diallo could be the most athletic player on the roster, and can give the backcourt rotation an element it lacks outside of Lee, who’s a candidate to spend significant time with the Motor City Cruise in the G League. That, along with his developing outside shot, could be enough to separate him from the pack. But he needs to prove that his 39% outside clip can be sustained.

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With Diallo back, who will go?

The Pistons have 15 guaranteed contracts, the maximum allowed during the regular season. After re-signing Diallo, they will have to part ways with one of their guaranteed players before the season tips in October.

If we assume the franchise is unwilling to part with Grant, any of their draft selections under Weaver or any of their recently signed players, that leaves Okafor, Jackson and Doumbouya as players who could be moved. Okafor is owed $2.1 million this season, and he’s on an expiring contract. Jackson is also entering the final year of a two-year contract, and will make $5 million.

Doumbouya, 20, was selected 15th overall in 2019, but hasn’t been a consistent rotation player during his first two seasons. He wasn’t a Weaver pick, and will become eligible for his rookie extension next summer. The Pistons have time before they have to make a decision on Doumbouya, and the arrival of the Motor City Cruise could aid his development.

What about Koprivica?

The fourth player the Pistons selected in the 2021 draft, Florida State big man Balsa Koprivica, has yet to sign a contract, and with a full roster, he likely won’t be on the Pistons this season.

There are two outcomes that make sense: Signing the Serbian to the Motor City Cruise, or allowing him to sign a contract overseas. In either scenario, the Pistons would maintain his rights and the ability to sign him to a standard NBA contract in the future.

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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