It’s almost time to get back in the swing of the NBA season, with training camp set to open in about two weeks. The Pistons don’t have many remaining questions, outside of how the roster will jell with No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham and free agent Kelly Olynyk added to the mix.
Most of the roster returns intact, and as the rebuild proceeds, there’s some fan optimism that this could be an improved season over last season’s 20-52 mark that yielded the top pick in the draft.
This week’s mailbag focuses on the decision to rebuild, along with how the final roster spot could shake out and position battles in training camp.
► Question. Can you finally admit that the whole anti-tank crowd you were trying to lead was all BS? Did they really need to fight for the 8 seed for a decade? — @DetroitSTANS
► Answer. Here’s a dirty little secret: I’m wrong sometimes. I freely admit it, so it’s not that anybody has to call me out about something I said — checking the calendar — several years ago.
If I recall correctly, some folks asked about whether I thought the Pistons should go into all-out tank mode or try to make the playoffs with the group they had, which was Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond, along with Luke Kennard and Stanley Johnson, I believe. At the time, I said I wasn’t a fan of tanking and that they still had a couple of chances in the playoffs with their somewhat-veteran core.
Time has shown that those Pistons teams didn’t make playoff runs, but injuries were the main culprit there. Jackson never was the same after his myriad of injuries. Would the Pistons have been higher than the eighth seed if Blake Griffin didn’t have his knee issues toward the end of the 2018-19 season? We’ll never know.
What we do know is that the rebuild has worked superbly so far under general manager Troy Weaver. That’s the other key piece of what’s been a success story — Weaver is the engineer. There’s no guarantee that things would have gone the same with anyone else leading the front office.
At the time, I also said that a slew of losses doesn’t guarantee anything. The Pistons were lucky to get the No. 1 pick this year, so it’s easy to say that it worked. Having one of the worst records gives a team the chance, but they still have to make the most of that opportunity. But to the point, it all looks good now.
► Q. With the open roster spot and looking at our depth chart, it seems painfully obvious that we need a legit center. Any thoughts about whether the Pistons go that route? — @KornKat2020
► A. The only two remaining centers on the roster are Isaiah Stewart and Olynyk. I would think the Pistons look to add a third at some point, especially after sending Jahlil Okafor to the Nets in the trade a couple weeks ago.
The early thought was that Luka Garza, who is on a two-way contract, would be the choice, but it would seem prudent for the Pistons to enter camp with their one roster spot open and then make a decision at the end of camp. There could be some other situations around the league where a veteran center is squeezed out at the end, and they retain the flexibility to make that addition.
If there’s no other veteran option, they then could convert Garza to a standard contract and then sign someone else — maybe even Jamorko Pickett — to the two-way spot.
► Q. Any idea how many Pistons players are already in town working out ahead of the start of training camp? — @robearl2x
► A. I’ve heard that they all were going to be based in Detroit for the summer so that they could continue with their group and individual workouts at the practice facility. There’s no reason to think that wasn’t the case.
There have been posts on social media with some of the young players together, so the assumption is that they’ve been around. The summer is the one time that they’ve had to visit their hometowns and take some vacation time away from basketball, so I imagine that’s happened as well.
► Q. What are some of the position battles during training camp, that we should have our eyes glued to? — @MIKoenig44
► A. It seems that most of the positions are set, but there could be some jockeying between the likes of Frank Jackson and Hamidou Diallo for minutes. I would think that coach Dwane Casey has a general idea of how the rotations are going to work and how the playing time will be divided, so in the sense that there are traditional position battles, I don’t think there will be much of that.
If Sekou Doumbouya had remained on the roster, I think that would have been something to watch with him and Trey Lyles, but the recent trade with the Nets removed that question.
► Q. How will the NBA handle playing in Toronto with unvaccinated players who won’t be allowed across the border? At the same time, what will be the policy at Little Caesars Arena for attending Pistons games? Right now, Canadian fans can’t cross the border by land. — @Agridome
► A. From what I’ve read, the league isn’t mandating that players be vaccinated, though some local areas, such as San Francisco and New York, have requirements in place. It seems to all be very fluid right now, as the league hasn’t even rolled out much about what restrictions there might be for fans.
Factoring in the Canadian border gets a bit more tricky, as there are some folks crossing the border to Canada, though they have to test up to 72 hours before making the trip. I haven’t heard anything new from LCA, and last year I think they required negative tests for fans before they entered.
There should be something more definitive in the next couple of weeks, as training camps and preseason games are set to start.