Summer homework: What the Pistons need to ace their offseason

Detroit News

That collective groan during last week’s NBA Draft Lottery was the Pistons’ fan base lamenting dropping two spots to the No. 5 pick. Entering the lottery, the Pistons had the third-worst record and were tied for the best odds (14%) to get the No. 1 pick.

After getting the first pick last season and selecting Cade Cunningham, the Pistons have their franchise foundational piece, but winning the draft lottery twice in a row is akin to expecting to hit back-to-back jackpots on a slot machine.

Even still, general manager Troy Weaver and his staff find themselves in a good spot to find talent that will help them with the rebuild. There are some wild cards ahead of them, with Orlando, Oklahoma City, Houston and Sacramento, respectively, owning the top four picks. Just assuming that the top prospects, Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero and Jaden Ivey will be selected ahead of them is anything but a given.

The Pistons could get lucky if one of those players falls, but more likely, they’ll be looking at a choice of players such as guards Shaedon Sharpe, Bennedict Mathurin and forward Keegan Murray being available at No. 5.

So, the obvious pick for the Pistons will be … impossible to know.

Anyone who has been around for the past two offseasons and has watched Weaver operate knows that it’s not that simple. The Pistons’ front office hasn’t done the easy, predictable moves to augment the roster. In 2020, Weaver gutted the roster and traded for two additional first-round picks and selected Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart.

No one expected the Pistons to trade Christian Wood, their best player toward the end of the previous season, and then add Jerami Grant on what some thought was a risky contract — yeah, the one that looks like a total bargain right now.

Drafting Cunningham with the No. 1 pick was an easy choice, but finding Isaiah Livers and Luka Garza in the second round and trading for Marvin Bagley III were also shrewd moves to bolster the roster.

With the other trades and maneuvers that Weaver has made to keep the roster flexible and their salary cap manageable, the Pistons are in good hands this summer. They have drafted well in the past two years, and this offseason will go a long way in determining their future trajectory.

Here are three big decisions the Pistons will have to make this summer.

Jerami Grant’s future

It’s no secret Grant is due for a contract extension this offseason, and although the Pistons have him signed through next season, the time to make a decision is now. If they extend him, it could be a deal for four years and $112 million, or about $28 per year. That’s not a ridiculous number, especially given his profile. He averages about 20 points and he’s a good presence for them on the floor and in the locker room.

Make no mistake — there is no pressing need to trade Grant. He fits what the Pistons are trying to do, and though Grant’s a little older than the core players, Weaver has made it known that he doesn’t want a roster full of young players who don’t have veteran guidance and leadership. Grant is a good perimeter defender, and he can continue to be the foundation of their offense as Cunningham and Bey take on more of that responsibility.

If the Pistons decide to trade Grant, it likely means that they have a very good return offer — such as Portland’s pick at No. 7, among other things. The Blazers would be an attractive trade partner because they have a trade exception from the C.J. McCollum deal with the Pelicans, and they can take Grant into that slot. The assumption is that there would be an extension for Grant as well.

If no trade materializes, the Pistons would be absolutely fine keeping Grant on the roster.

The draft pick

The Pistons aren’t going to make their selection at No. 5 in a vacuum. A lot depends on what they envision in free agency and with their decision on Grant. If they choose to trade Grant, they likely would look harder at Murray as their potential fill-in at forward. Bey has looked good in stints at power forward, and putting Murray alongside him wouldn’t be the worst thing. There’s also a world where Stewart and Bagley could be the Pistons’ two starting bigs.

One area where the Pistons could improve is in the backcourt, if they were to find the right complement to Cunningham — and that points to choosing between Ivey, Sharpe and Mathurin. There are question marks about each, especially Sharpe, who went to Kentucky, but sat out the season.

There is an inherent risk in using a top-five pick on unproven talent, but the appeal of Sharpe’s athleticism at 6-foot-5 is hard to ignore. The fact he hasn’t played against college talent makes it hard to gauge whether Sharpe can make the big step to NBA-caliber talent. That’s where Weaver and his staff will have to do their homework and figure out whether he’s worth it.

Ivey is athletic, but there are questions about his outside shooting and ability to play off the ball, and how that would mesh with Cunningham. He’s an exciting player, but that combination would have to work.

Mathurin is an exciting young player, and at 6-foot-6, has the size and athleticism to fit what the Pistons are looking for. He shot 45% from the field and 37% on 3-pointers and scored in double figures in 34 of 37 games for Arizona.

Murray doesn’t seem to have many weaknesses, and at 6-8, he could be another big body to bring in to augment the Pistons’ scoring. The pockmark on his resume seems to be that he’ll be 22 years old when the season starts. That’s in the same timeframe with Bey and Bagley, who are 23, and Stewart, Killian Hayes and Cunningham, who will be 21.

Free agency

The unknown is free agency — which begins July 1 — and how the Pistons could use the cap space they have now that Blake Griffin’s contract is off the books. They could have the most cap space, in the range of $30 million, but there aren’t a ton of impact free agents that could help turn the tide.

Most notably, guard Jalen Brunson, who is making a name for himself in the Mavericks’ playoff run, could be the answer in the backcourt. The other enticing choices are big men, with the Suns’ Deandre Ayton and the Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson as restricted free agents.

The Pistons could throw a big number at either, and see if they get a bite. Neither of the big men is a perimeter threat on offense, which seems to go against the direction that they’re going, but they could bolster their defense by adding either.

Brunson would give them an established scorer and ball-handler to help take some of the pressure off Cunningham, as he expands his game all over the court.

There’s a lot to consider, but all of them are connected, making it harder to guess which way the Pistons will go.

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