CHICAGO — In many drafts, the fifth overall pick is a desirable position to be in.
That could be true for the Detroit Pistons, after falling as far as the odds allowed them to during Tuesday’s NBA draft lottery. It’s a pick that delivered them Jaden Ivey a year ago, Darius Garland to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2019, Trae Young to the Atlanta Hawks in 2018 (via trade) and De’Aaron Fox to the Sacramento Kings in 2017.
But in a draft that had a grand prize in Victor Wembanyama at the top and just two other prospects widely considered to have clear star upside in Scoot Henderson and Brandon Miller, this year’s fifth pick may not hold the same appeal compared to past drafts.
PLEADING THE FIFTH: Cam Whitmore, Jarace Walker stand out as roster fits for Pistons
There are talented prospects who will be available at five, including super-athletic Overtime Elite guard Amen Thompson and defense-minded Houston forward Jarace Walker. Like any year, at least one player picked outside of the top three will likely reach stardom. But Detroit will do its diligence and consider all options as it looks to move past a 17-win season — and take significant steps toward competing after three seasons of rebuilding the roster.
Those options also include trading the pick — either to move up or down, or out of the first round entirely. The June 23 draft will say a lot about the Pistons’ priorities and how long their patience with the rebuild runs.
“We think it’s another high-end draft where there’s a lot of high-end talent,” Troy Weaver said Tuesday night. “Obviously one was a different tier, but we’re excited about where we are to add another young player to our core.”
“Absolutely, we’ll turn over every rock and vet it out,” Weaver continued when asked about trading the pick. “If it’ll help us move forward, we’ll entertain it. We’re excited about this draft pool but we’ll look forward to moving this team forward any way we can.”
If the Pistons wish to make a swing in the trade market this offseason, they’re well-equipped to. They’re among the league leaders in available cap space, somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 million. They have tradeable veterans in Bojan Bogdanovic ($20 million owed in 2023-24), Marvin Bagley III ($12.5 million) and Alec Burks ($10.5 million).
And they now have a top-five pick that could be used to sweeten the pot on a deal, though they would have to wait until after the draft to finalize a trade with it since they’re bound to the NBA’s Stepien Rule. They owe a protected first-round pick to the New York Knicks, thanks to their 2020 draft night trade with the Houston Rockets to land Isaiah Stewart.
An uninspiring free agency class gives the Pistons extra incentive to survey the trade market. James Harden, Fred VanVleet, Kristaps Porzingis, Khris Middleton, Draymond Green and Kyle Kuzma all have player options. Restricted free agents Cameron Johnson, Austin Reaves and Grant Williams could be tough to pry away.
Portland Trail Blazers (and former Pistons) forward Jerami Grant, an unrestricted free agent, might top the list of realistic options for Detroit. Ironically, he may be a better roster fit now compared to when he was traded last summer. Detroit has a clear need for a big-bodied defensive wing who can knock down 3-pointers. He’s already familiar with the organization, though he would have to learn a new scheme with the organization looking to hire a new head coach.
If Grant is off the table, the Pistons can look to a trade market that could heat up as the draft draws closer. The Trail Blazers are reportedly open to trading the third overall pick for immediate help. Will the Toronto Raptors look to blow up their roster after missing the postseason and parting ways with head coach Nick Nurse? Could the Philadelphia 76ers be active in the event Harden declines his player option?
There’s much to develop, but the Pistons — per usual — are expected to be open for business.
Of course, they could also just keep the fifth pick. Walker, the Thompson twins, Villanova wing Cam Whitmore, Arkansas wing Anthony Black and others would raise a talent floor that already includes 2021 first overall pick Cade Cunningham and 2022 lottery picks Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren. Whomever they draft may not contribute to winning immediately, but they don’t have to rush their process.
But the franchise is ready to show that they’ve progressed. Things didn’t go according to plan last season. Cunningham’s season-ending shin surgery crushed any hopes of moving up the Eastern Conference. Losing a lot, multiple years in a row, wears everyone down. With an already strong core of young players in place, perhaps it’s time for a splash.
Outside the top three, the draft is more of a crapshoot. The Pistons have had a strong tolerance for the ups and downs of player development. But eventually, the work they’ve put into building a winning team will have to bear fruit.
The next two months will reveal how eager the team is to make a push next season.