Detroit — As the Pistons’ season winds down, my time as the Pistons beat writer also is winding down. For those who haven’t heard, I’ll become an assistant sports editor at The Detroit News after the season.
Seven years on the Pistons beat have taught me a lot about basketball and a lot about how we’ve covered it. I hope to take that knowledge with me to the next phase of my career and help to enhance our coverage and to make things more interesting for the readers.
This isn’t the time to say goodbye yet — I’ll have a column at some point about that — but it does have me a bit nostalgic about some of the adventures on the beat and some memories that will stick with me.
This week’s mailbag allowed me to reflect on some of those and on the linchpin for the Pistons’ rebuild: Jerami Grant.
► Question: Any untold stories from your time on the beat that you can share with us now? — @AndrewJErdman
► Answer: If they’re “untold” up to this point, there’s probably a reason for that — and not just that my memory has faded through the years. There’s nothing really salacious at all on the beat; more of the stories probably have to do with the travel from city to city and the nights hanging out with the other beat writers on the road.
One Pistons memory does come to mind, though. A few years ago, after a game night in Orlando, a colleague and I were in downtown Orlando and we saw one of the Magic players walking down the street toward a club, so we decided to go in after him.
It seemed to be just a normal club, and we didn’t see where the player went after we paid the cover charge and got in. After a while, a couple of Pistons players came into the club, and then a couple more. Apparently, this was the hangout spot for home and visiting teams. It’s very rare to see players out anywhere; they typically are at more exclusive spots or aren’t really hanging out in public.
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Some of the players noticed us and came over and we talked for a bit and they went on their way. Contrary to popular belief, it’s pretty rare for beat writers and players to hang out, and in most cases, they see us as more the enemy who is out to get them. In this case, it was good to be in neutral territory and to interact off the clock.
► Q: If you had to pick ONE, JUST ONE, story from your time as a beat writer….what is your most memorable? (can be a story you wrote OR just an experience from the job) – @MotorCityHoops
► A: It’s always hard to mentally go back through the years and think of a story that sticks out more than the rest. I’ll go with an experience from the job, which is a bit easier.
It was this year at Summer League in Las Vegas, which was really the first time that we had been around the players that we had been covering all of last season. Prior to that, we had only met the rookies, Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart and Killian Hayes, via Zoom, but we hadn’t really seen them face-to-face.
In one of the first interactions with Saddiq Bey, we talked about whether Cade Cunningham was 6-foot-8 or 6-7. In that conversation, he called me by name. That doesn’t seem like much, but one big thing about the pandemic is that we missed out on that interaction with the players, which is more of the lifeblood of our jobs. Our feature stories are much richer and more nuanced when we know more about the players and they feel comfortable talking to us.
Second to that would be the draft last year. I hadn’t attended one in person, but given that the Pistons had the first pick, I went to Brooklyn. There was no guarantee that Cunningham would be the selection, and meeting him in person for the first time, it was good to have that up-close seat to the future of the franchise. The draft was before Summer League, so oddly enough, I met Cunningham before I actually met the rookies from last season.
► Q: What’s more likely this off-season: dumping Grant for draft capital or keeping Grant and adding another ‘piece’ through FA? – @HoelottaBilotta
► A: This is a complex question that I may have to hold over for another mailbag. In short, I would say that the Grant question will dictate their entire path forward. If they keep him, they could add another free agent and the draft pick and be right in line for a much-improved season.
If they trade Grant for a pick and other assets, they could open up cap space for two veterans, but where are those players now? That’s the big offseason task for general manager Troy Weaver and his staff. It’s such a huge summer for their future trajectory that they have to get this right if they’re going to move forward either next season or in 2023-24.
If I had to guess, I would say that keeping Grant is more likely, but it depends on what teams are willing to offer for the veteran. Moreover, it depends on which veteran they could get in free agency or pry from another team in a trade.
Bucks at Pistons
► Tipoff: 7 p.m. Friday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
► TV/radio: BSD/97.1
► Outlook: The Pistons (23-57) have their home finale against the defending champions. The Bucks (49-30) are in the hunt for the No. 2 seed in the East, but they could fall to No. 4, with the Celtics and Sixers also in the mix.