Detroit — In the past couple of weeks, the Pistons have demonstrated that they’re capable of playing well against playoff-caliber teams. Wins over the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets and Toronto Raptors gave them a needed boost to show some of their improvement.
The next step is figuring out how to move forward in the offseason, with a projected top-five draft pick and some room to operate under the salary cap. There will be roster tinkering. There likely will be some trades and other moves to shore up the roster and make a move upward next season.
Figuring out whether that’s trying to make the play-in game or the bottom half of the playoff seedings will be for another time. Assuming internal improvement of their current core players and some shrewd additions, the Pistons could be a team to watch next season.
This week’s Mail Satchel looks at some of the ways in which the Pistons could improve the roster, through the draft, free agency or trades.
► Question. Like the draft picks how would you rank the potential FAs they go after. Like who is the top priority and so on. — @bigdogpistons
► Answer. The Pistons are projected to have about $31.4 million in space available to pursue free agents. They will have several free agents, and they’ll have to figure out which they want to keep. Marvin Bagley III is a restricted free agent, and the early returns suggest that he’s a keeper. They’ll likely match any reasonable offer for him. Cory Joseph has a player option, and if he thinks there are better offers or situations, he could choose to forgo the $5 million he has on the table. Hamidou Diallo ($5.2 million), Frank Jackson ($3.2 million) and Luka Garza ($1.2 million) each is on a team option. Rodney McGruder is an unrestricted free agent and rookie Jamorko Pickett is restricted.
I would guess they put retaining Bagley and Diallo at the top of the list, and let the dust settle before they make decisions on the rest.
It’s not a robust group of free agents, and their biggest areas of need seem to be in the backcourt and at center. Would they go out and try to get Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton? That would be a big-time goal, but if the Suns make a deep playoff run, would they figure out a way to pay him and make it work? Likely.
There’s nobody else that really excites me as a free agent. Collin Sexton? Dennis Schroder? I don’t know if that really moves the needle enough to make the Pistons want to go out and pay more than market price for them.
The more likely scenario is that they make a trade and bring their coveted player into that cap space. That opens the pool of targets significantly, based on whom general manager Troy Weaver thinks would be the best fit.
► Q. Please tell me the Pistons are making getting a starting PG their top priority for next year. Please. — @RoachOppressor
► A. Given that Joseph is on a player option, they would have to figure out the depth chart, assuming he opts in. Who’s a point guard that anyone thinks would change things for the Pistons? That’s the big question.
Looking at the list of free agents, I would knock out John Wall, Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving immediately. The Pistons aren’t in a position to take any of those veterans on at this point. Patty Mills? Maybe. Sexton fits with the development window of this group, but who else?
Joseph has some pock marks in his game that fans don’t like, but he’s steady and affordable for where they are.
► Q. Do you see the team extending the club options on Garza, Lee, or will they look to add to cap space this offseason? — @MrBlackPlatinum
► A. I think they’ll look at the market on Garza and depending on what the draft looks like, they may add a center in the first round, which would squeeze the roster at that position. A lot depends on the draft lottery and where they end up on draft night.
There still some development to do for Garza, and from all accounts, they like what he’s doing, but if they’re shifting into high gear on the rebuild, they’ll have to make some big decisions on some of their young players.
Lee is under contract for next year and there’s a team option for 2023-24, so they won’t have to make a decision there. I don’t know if cap space is a big consideration for this summer, but if they make bigger moves, there could be some attrition to create more space.
► Q. Do you think Bagley could be a starting center for Detroit or more of a PF? How likely can the pistons sign a top FA this year? Johnny Davis or Ivey? (If a big isn’t drafted) — @GraceMaximus
► A. Bagley looks to be more of a power forward and backup center, depending on the lineup. He didn’t have one of his better games on Wednesday night in the starting lineup against the Bulls, which is a challenge with Nikola Vucevic in the middle. It’s a really small sample size to judge Bagley, but it’s all we have to go on now.
From what we’ve seen, Bagley can be a standout as a power forward or a center with the second group. He’s a little bouncier and more active against second-line players, where he’s had the most success.
I like the upside on Purdue’s Jaden Ivey if the Pistons draft outside the top three and the coveted bigs are already gone.
Pistons at Celtics
► Tipoff: 7:30 p.m. Friday, TD Garden, Boston
► TV/radio: BSD/97.1 FM
► Outlook: It’s the third meeting in the past few weeks, with the Pistons (18-48) getting a big win at Boston on Feb. 16. The surging Celtics (40-27) have won six of their last seven games.
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