The Detroit Pistons (15-44) own the Eastern Conference’s worst winning percentage, and with 25 games remaining on the schedule, both fans and the organization are shifting focus toward the future.
The dog days of Detroit’s schedule will be used primarily to continue evaluating the young players on the roster, including trade deadline acquisition James Wiseman. Once the season is over, attention will turn to a potentially legacy-defining offseason for general manager Troy Weaver, who could have a top-five pick to go with around $40 million in cap space and assets in hopes of snapping the team’s 15-year playoff win drought next season.
This mailbag, of course, largely looks beyond this season and breaks down some of the big questions this team will eventually have to answer regarding the draft, free agency and a few of their own players. Big thanks to everyone who submitted a question.
LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE:Pistons rookies Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren best-case comparisons: A DPOY and an MVP
Do you expect Cade to be better next season having treated his injury, or is it an injury and a surgery that will slow his development down? — @DetroitVsEvbody
I expect Cade Cunningham to be healthier next season, at the very least. By all accounts, Cunningham is hitting all of the necessary benchmarks to make a full recovery after surgery to repair a left tibial stress fracture in December. He returned to Detroit’s bench for the first time during their home game against the New Orleans Pelicans on Jan. 13 and has resumed traveling on the road. He’s been in the locker room after games and took the floor for a pregame shooting drill in Toronto last Sunday.
Cunningham can’t take part in five-on-five basketball yet, but the team still expects he’ll be able to take part in full summer workouts by the time the offseason starts in April. In the meantime, he has resumed his teammate duties while rehabbing on the sidelines and out of the spotlight.
The extent that Cunningham will be a “better” player after his return is tough to say. We can only speculate the extent that his shin soreness — which he dealt with for several years and eventually became so painful that it prematurely ended his season in November — limited his game. Cunningham uncharacteristically struggled with his efficiency and command of the game through preseason and part of the regular season. Next year, a healthy Cunningham should be physically ready to handle the rigors of his workload.
However, there’s nothing that can make up for the fact that Cunningham will miss all but 12 games of his sophomore season. He’s only played 76 NBA games thus far. There are rookies this season who will play more games than Cunningham has. That doesn’t mean Cunningham won’t improve next season, but he’s already missed a lot of developmental time.
If the plan is to turn the corner next season and be aggressive this off-season, what are some bigger names the Pistons could go after this off-season, whether it’s via trade or free agency — @Jacob_Schu_24
The biggest name on the list of players the Pistons could potentially acquire this summer is a name fans are already familiar with — Jerami Grant.
He’s in the final year of the three-year, $60 million contract he inked with the Pistons in 2020. The franchise traded him to the Portland Trail Blazers last summer, and he’s in the midst of a strong season averaging 20.8 points on a career-best 61.1% true shooting, bolstered by a career-best 40.6% percentage from 3 while playing alongside Damian Lillard.
The Blazers reportedly offered Grant a four-year, $112 million extension that he will likely wait until after the season to make a decision on. The Pistons will be armed with cap space, and Grant has a strong relationship with Weaver, forged through their mutual Syracuse connection and time in Oklahoma City together. Grant also fills a need as a big-bodied wing who can shoot and be a difference-maker on defense. If he declines his extension and enters unrestricted free agency, he seems like a natural starting point for the Pistons’ free agency pursuit.
It’s not a deep free agency class, but the Pistons will have options. Boston Celtics forward Grant Williams will hit restricted free agency and is due for a raise. Michigan alumnus Caris LeVert and Memphis Grizzlies wing Dillon Brooks are unrestricted free agents and would give the Pistons needed depth on the perimeter. Flint native Kyle Kuzma is also due for a raise and will hit unrestricted free agency.
Does the front office ever mention Procida? I’ve seen some euro hype. Too early to tell if he will be over soon? — @gadclark
Weaver hasn’t been publicly weighed in on Gabriele Procida, the team’s 2022 second-round draft-and-stash selection. But attentive Pistons fans have noticed that the 20-year-old Italian wing, playing for Alba Berlin in the Euroleague, is in the midst of a promising season and was recently nominated for the Euroleague Rising Star award. The Pistons are certainly paying attention, too.
There’s a chance we could see the 6-foot-7 shooter at summer league, should the Pistons wish to get a closer look at him. He practiced with the team in Vegas last summer but wasn’t officially on their summer league roster, so getting actual game reps would be valuable as far as evaluating his NBA readiness. The Pistons will have the option to bring him onto their roster next season, but it’s too early to know if they will go that route.
Do you believe Troy sees Duren / Wiseman as a potential starting frontcourt, or is he just accumulating talent that he will sort out later? — @bradvillain
The answer is “yes.” Both of these things are true. In a vacuum, Weaver decided to gamble on Wiseman’s talent and upside rather than commit to Saddiq Bey, who could score in bunches but struggled with consistency and on defense. But even though Wiseman was No. 1 on the Pistons’ draft board in 2020, I don’t think the trade would’ve been as appealing if they had significant doubts Wiseman can play alongside Duren.
Whether or not the two big men can fit with each other is a big question mark, and will be a factor in whether this trade works out for Detroit. Duren has exceeded all expectations as a 19-year-old rookie and looks like the future starting center. Wiseman looks like a center, standing 7-feet tall with great athleticism. The Pistons believe there are parts of his game he hasn’t shown that will enable him to slot not only next to Isaiah Stewart, but Duren as well.
The swing factor will be the development of Wiseman’s jump shot. He hasn’t taken many 3-pointers in the NBA, and missed his lone attempt against the Boston Celtics last Wednesday. But he is a willing shooter and was comfortable playing on the perimeter in high school. His lack of time in college and in the pros makes it tough to evaluate that aspect of his game, but there is belief that Wiseman will be able to space the floor well enough to give Duren room to operate down low. He will also have to prove he can defend in space, which he did an adequate job of on Wednesday.
If pistons do not get top-2 in the lottery, who should they target at the draft? — @calendar1bot
This is a two-player draft, with French big man Victor Wembanyama and G League Ignite guard Scoot Henderson universally projected to be the first two names off of the board. Here are four names Pistons fans should be familiar with, in case the Pistons fall to third or lower.
Brandon Miller, F, Alabama: The 6-9 sharpshooter is separating himself from the non-Wembanyama and Henderson part of the lottery. He’s shooting 42.9% from 3 on more than seven attempts per game,
Amen Thompson, G/F, Overtime Elite: Thompson is an incredibly gifted athlete who sees the floor and handles the ball like a point guard at 6-foot-7. However, his lack of shooting touch caps his ceiling.
Ausar Thompson, G/F, Overtime Elite: Amen’s twin brother doesn’t handle the ball quite as well, but HE remains an elite athlete with good scoring feel. He’s a better shooter than his brother but will still have to make strides to space the floor in the NBA.
Jarace Walker, F, Houston: The most “Troy Weaver” player on this list, Walker is a big forward who competes hard on defense and has made significant strides as as scorer. He’s shooting 38.7% from 3, albeit not on high volume, and would give the Pistons some needed defensive versatility and intensity.
Catch our podcast “The Pistons Pulse” every Tuesday morning at 5 and on demand on freep.com or wherever you listen to podcasts. See all of our podcasts and daily voice briefings at freep.com/podcasts.
Contact Omari Sankofa II at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.
Next up: Magic
Matchup: Pistons (15-44) at Orlando (24-35).
Tipoff: 7 p.m. Thursday; Amway Center, Orlando, Florida.
TV/radio: Bally Sports Detroit; WXYT-FM (97.1).