Detroit Pistons mailbag: If they don’t win NBA draft lottery, would they entertain trade?

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Pistons — thankfully — are at the finish line.

Their disappointing season ends Sunday vs. the Bulls in Chicago.

A lot went wrong this season. Friday’s 122-115 road win over the Indiana Pacers allowed them to avoid tying a franchise-worst 16 wins. They’ll have plenty of time this offseason to get better.

Predictably, the final Pistons mailbag of the season is almost entirely offseason focused. We’ll touch on the 2023 draft, their pending coaching situation, free agency and more. Thanks to everyone who sent a question.

I know it’s more common in the NFL for example, but what’s the likelihood (if they land #1 in the lottery) to trade back, get future picks, established player(s)? Wemby could be a gen talent, but they could start growing draft capital and still draft a stud depending on the trade — @HgMinii

If the Pistons win the lottery for the second time in three seasons, it’s hard to imagine them being offered a trade package that will come anywhere close to the upside of drafting Victor Wembanyama. I’ll put the odds of dealing that pick somewhere between 0% and 1%. (The last No. 1 pick traded came in the 2017 draft, when Boston sent it to Philadelphia for No. 3 and a future first.)

The 7-foot-5 Frenchman is widely considered to be one of the greatest prospects in NBA history, in the same conversation as LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. There’s no combination of draft picks or established superstars that would make a Wembanyama trade worthwhile, unless the Pistons were to pry Giannis Antetokounmpo from Milwaukee (which isn’t happening).

There’s the fact Wembanyama will be one of the tallest players in league history the moment he steps on the floor. But it’s not just his height that makes him such an enticing prospect — it’s what he’s able to do in spite of his height. He handles the ball like a skilled wing. He can knock down 3-pointers, and his jumper is unblockable. Defensively, he has the tools to be as impactful as Rudy Gobert. He recently missed a step-back 3-pointer, and then got a one-handed putback dunk off of his own miss. He’s a real-life Monstar from Space Jam.

Wembanyama is in his own tier in this draft. The Pistons, with a league-worst 17 wins, are not in a position to gamble. Getting Wembanyama on a rookie deal and under team control for at least four years — plus restricted free agency — is an incredible bargain. Teams stack draft picks to have a chance at drafting players like him. He’s a once-in-a-generation prospect. Trading that pick would instantly be one of the most derided trades in recent memory.

In 2018, the Atlanta Hawks thought they were getting a good deal when they moved down two spots and drafted Trae Young fifth overall instead of Luka Doncic third overall, and received a future first-rounder that became Cam Reddish. Five years later, Doncic is arguably a top-five player; Young is a two-time All-Star but not a top-10 player, and Reddish is on his third team after the Hawks traded him midway through last season. Talent wins.

How low in the draft lottery would they need to fall to seriously consider trading the pick for an established player? Three? Four? Not happening? — @sean_corp

I think the conversation would start after the first overall pick. Scoot Henderson and Brandon Miller are great prospects — and the latter would fit the Pistons like a glove with his size and outside shooting. If the Pistons secured the second or third pick, I doubt they would prioritize trading it. They would need a strong incentive to move their timeline up and pass on adding Henderson or Miller to their young core.

With that said, the Pistons would certainly listen to offers. As general manager Troy Weaver acknowledged in his open letter last week, the franchise needs to improve next season. Thanks to the play-in tournament, there are a lot of teams not quite contending, and not quite rebuilding. A few could look to move from the middle to the bottom this offseason. If the right player becomes available, the front office will consider the upside of bringing in an established talent.

How has a season watching Ivey play and develop changed your assessment of his long-term potential? — @GoddTill

Coming into his rookie season, Ivey’s outside shooting and playmaking were question marks. He was an electric athlete at Purdue who got downhill at will. But he didn’t see the floor like a point guard and often missed easy reads. He dished more assists than turnovers, but not by much. His 3-pointer was flaky — in Big Ten play, he shot 21.6% as a freshman and 30.9% as a sophomore.

He has done enough this season to show his playmaking and shooting may eventually become strengths. His long-term potential might be the highest on the roster. Consider his past 10 games: 21.8 points, 7.6 assists (4.4 turnovers), 4.1 rebounds, 44.3% shooting, 39.1% from 3 (6.9 attempts), 87.8% at the foul line (4.9 attempts). He has become a confident shooter, stepping into pull-up 3-pointers early in the shot clock. He’s consistently keeping his head up and finding open teammates, either underneath when the low man helps off of his big man, or outside when he draws in the perimeter defense.

Ivey, 21, has grown significantly compared to the first week of the season. He’s still turnover prone, with spells of poor decision-making. But since Jan. 1, he has knocked down 36.5% of his 3-pointers on 5.2 attempts per game. That’s an incredible improvement compared to where he was this time last year.

READ MORE: Jaden Ivey already taking the NBA step critics questioned

If we decide to move on from Casey as head coach, what’s the likelihood of an in house hire vs going after somebody like Udoka or Atkinson? — @93Naldo

There’s still a lot to come with Dwane Casey’s future with one year remaining on his deal. As he acknowledged Wednesday, nothing has been decided. It has long been thought Casey could transition into a front office role once his time as coach is done. He’ll discuss his options with Weaver and ownership after the season ends.

If this ends up being Casey’s final season as coach, my hunch is the Pistons would go with an external hire. Weaver has yet to have the opportunity to hire his own coach, and the current assistants were recently hired in 2021. This front office has valued continuity, but bringing in a fresh staff seems more likely in the event Casey is fired.

THE HEAD COACH DECISION: Pistons are eying a turnaround next season. Will Dwane Casey be part of it?

How is Cade’s recovery going & is he on track to be ready for training camp? — @jokrberry1016

Cunningham’s recovery is on track. He has been walking assistance-free for weeks, and has been in the gym with the player development staff ramping up his workload and perfecting his shooting mechanics.

He’ll be ready well before training camp — league sources have told the Free Press he’s expected to be 100% not long after the regular season ends. After undergoing surgery in mid-December, the team gave him a full recovery window of three-to-four months. We’re toward the end of that window now.

What Pistons are locks for next years roster? Who are the top FA targets? — @Al_CzervikUSA

Cunningham, Ivey and Jalen Duren are strong locks to return. Cunningham needs no explanation, and it would be surprising to see the Pistons part ways with their rookie duo — though the addition of another point guard in this year’s draft in Henderson could alter that conversation.

I also think Isaiah Stewart and James Wiseman, both extension-eligible this summer, will be back. Stewart in many ways is the heart and soul of this team. His defensive switchability and emerging outside shot makes him a strong fit next to any of Detroit’s bigs, and the Pistons aren’t likely to pull the plug on Wiseman just months after trading for him. Isaiah Livers has a cheap team option, and I expect the Pistons will pick it up.

Beyond that, we will see. Bojan Bogdanovic is on a team-friendly deal, and Alec Burks has a team option worth $10.5 million that is likely to be picked up. There’s a strong desire to bring them back next season. Those deals will attract interest from competitors, so there’s an outside chance the right trade comes along.

Marvin Bagley III has played well when healthy, but he’s also on a movable contract and plays a position of strength. That makes him one of the most-likely players to be dealt.

Killian Hayes is under contract but not a lock to return. He has gone cold again after an improved November and December, and is now in line with his career averages, shooting 37.5% overall and 27.7% from 3 this season. He’s a good passer and capable defender, and there’s little downside to bringing him back for his fourth season before he hits restricted free agency next summer.

Cory Joseph, Hamidou Diallo and Rodney McGruder are unrestricted free agents. R.J. Hampton and Eugene Omoruyi could both return, but the Pistons will have other roster priorities to figure out first.

As for free agency, it would be surprising to see the Pistons not touch base with Jerami Grant — who they traded to the Portland Trail Blazers last summer, and will have completed the three-year, $60 million contract he signed with the Pistons in 2020. He declined a four-year, $112 million extension from the Blazers, and the Pistons will have significant cap space to make a run at him. This isn’t an inspiring free agency class, but Harrison Barnes and Caris LeVert would also fill needs as bigger wings who can score.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.

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