As lottery nears, Pistons have work to do on their offseason checklist

Detroit News

Detroit — The Detroit Pistons are on the cusp of their most pivotal offseason since Troy Weaver took over as general manager three years ago.

Coming off an abysmal 17-65 season, the second-worst in franchise history, there’s nowhere to go but up.

There’s a laundry list of things to do to improve the roster, but Detroit’s offseason plans will begin to get clearer after next week’s draft lottery.

However, the Pistons are still in need of a coach. They also need to add more depth to their young roster, which includes Cade Cunningham, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren and Isaiah Stewart.

Here are the four most important things Weaver must address this offseason:

Hire the right coach

It’s not just important for the Pistons’ ownership and front office to hire a new coach. They need to hire the right person for the job, one who is capable of leading the franchise back to the postseason.

Three candidates — Kevin Ollie, Jarron Collins and Charles Lee — will meet Pistons owner Tom Gores in Los Angeles this week, a league source confirmed to The Detroit News this week.

No matter who emerges as the frontrunner from that group, the task will be a tall one, since they will be charged with leading an NBA team for the first time.

However, experience may not be as important a factor as it appears. Recent trends around the league suggest that the Pistons’ next coach could find success, as long as that person is equipped with the talent to compete.

The Los Angeles Lakers’ Darvin Ham and Boston Celtics’ Joe Mazulla are first-time coaches who are currently in the second round of the playoffs. Both squads have All-Star caliber talent, which certainly helps, but those teams also possess young players who are competing in the postseason for the first time.

Detroit’s next coach will have the resources and support, which includes draft capital and cap space, but it’s on that person and the coaching staff to take the Pistons to the next level.

Draft successfully

After drafting the cornerstone piece in Cunningham in 2021 and coming away with roster staples last offseason in Ivey and Duren — both of whom were named to the NBA All-Rookie second team — the Pistons need to nail this year’s draft to continue stockpiling some of the best young talent in the league.

If Detroit hits the jackpot and earns the No. 1 pick in next week’s draft lottery, the choice is simple. Victor Wembanyama is expected to be the first name called by NBA commissioner Adam Silver on draft night. If the Pistons land at No. 2, there will be a discussion on whether to choose the best player available versus roster needs with G League Ignite guard Scoot Henderson and Alabama forward Brandon Miller as the likely choices.

If the Pistons drop to Nos. 3, 4 or 5, they’ll have to assess their draft board and either make a choice based on positional value, or they could explore trade options for a proven veteran.

The Pistons also own the No. 31 pick, which is often looked at as a late first-rounder, since it’s the first pick of the second round. Adding depth at that selection is vital and the Pistons could choose to go with the best available player. That pick may not mean much in the grand scheme if Detroit strikes gold with Wembanyama.

Win in free agency

Finding depth at the forward position is priority No. 1 once free agency begins in July. It’ll be intriguing to see if the Pistons prioritize help externally before negotiating with their own free agents — Alec Burks (team option), Hamidou Diallo, Cory Joseph and Rodney McGruder (unrestricted). Isaiah Livers, who has a team option, is the one player Weaver said who fits the “defensive wing that can shoot” archetype that Detroit desperately needs.

Several players who are expected to hit the open market this summer fit that bill.

Brooklyn Nets forward Cam Johnson (restricted) should be at the top of that list. Johnson is a 39% 3-point shooter and has the length, at 6-foot-8, to defend on the perimeter. If the Nets choose to match a potential offer sheet for Johnson, a nice backup option would be his teammate Yuta Watanabe (unrestricted).

Former Pistons forward Jerami Grant could be in the market to return to Detroit after a successful season with the Portland Trail Blazers. The Pistons have multiple ball-handlers, so Grant would primarily be needed for his defensive presence and improved 3-point shooting — he made career-high 40.1% from 3 this season.

This one is going to be a longshot — especially after his breakout playoff performance with the Lakers — but Rui Hachimura also will be a restricted free agent this offseason. He’ll likely have many suitors, but I’d imagine Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka will want to keep his 3-point shooting and shot creation next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis for the foreseeable future.

With the center and power-forward position log-jammed between Duren, Stewart, James Wiseman and Marvin Bagley III and the primary focus of this offseason on the wing position, Detroit also could look to add another veteran guard to help guide Cunningham, Ivey and Killian Hayes.

Joseph could be an option to return, or Detroit could look elsewhere and try to recruit the likes of Lakers guard Dennis Schroder, Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson or Nets combo guard Seth Curry.

Fill the front office

The Pistons are in need of two new assistant general managers to complete the front office, after losing one to another team and the dismissal of another.

Former Michigan Wolverine Josh Bartelstein left his post before the end of the season to join Mat Ishbia in Phoenix as the Suns’ new CEO. More recently, the Pistons announced the firing of Rob Murphy for a violation of company policy amid claims of inappropriate conduct with a former female employee.

Weaver said during his end-of-the-season media availability that the team could elevate someone within the organization or they could make an external hire to fill Bartelstein’s position. However, the loss of Murphy creates another need, since the former Eastern Michigan coach also held the position of president of the G League’s Motor City Cruise.

George David and Tony Leotti currently serve as assistant general managers next to Weaver, and his special assistant is Cruise assistant general manager Stacey Lovelace.

Former Pistons coach Dwane Casey didn’t have a defined role in the front office when he spoke to reporters for the final time in April, so there may be an opportunity available for him as an assistant GM.

Regardless, the Pistons will look to fill those vacancies before the season begins.

Twitter: @MikeACurtis2

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