Detroit Pistons mailbag: Who stands out at No. 5 pick, win/loss expectations for 2023-24

Detroit Free Press

The upcoming month will be jam-packed for the Detroit Pistons, as well as the NBA offseason as a whole.

The Pistons are expected to introduce new head coach Monty Williams in a news conference this coming week. The NBA draft, in which they pick fifth overall, is scheduled for June 22. Free agency begins June 30, followed by the Las Vegas Summer League on July 7.

It will be a pivotal stretch of decision-making for a Pistons team stocked with cap space (around $30 million) and looking to turn the page on a disappointing season. Now is the perfect time for a mailbag, and the questions are all centered around a long list of decisions to make in the coming weeks.

Thanks to everyone who sent a question. We’ll get right to it.

Has Cade been 100% cleared for all basketball activities? — @bigdogpistons

Good question. It’s not clear exactly where Cunningham is in his recovery after undergoing surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left shin in December, but I’m not concerned. I’ve checked in on his progress with a few people in the organization who would know, and haven’t heard anything suggesting he’s suffered a setback. “He’s doing very well,” one person told me on Friday.

In April, he confirmed he was running at full body weight, taking jumpers and expected to start change-of-direction work and running a few weeks after. The organization has expressed nothing but confidence that he will make a full recovery. It would be unusual for him not to, given the nature of his procedure. We should have more clarity later this offseason, but I still believe we’ll see Cunningham at full strength next season.

THE PULSE: Pistons the rare team with cap space to strike in NBA free agency, trade market

Would Detroit have any interest in signing Chris Paul if he is available? — @jamara23732

I doubt it. NBA newsbreakers recently reported the Phoenix Suns are considering waiving Chris Paul. If it happens, he would immediately become one of the most sought-after free agents this offseason. He averaged 13.9 points, 8.9 assists and 1.5 steals last season — his 18th — and remains one of the league’s best point guards at 38 years old.

Of all of the veteran point guard options, Paul is the best. With Cory Joseph entering free agency, I can see the Pistons adding experience to their backcourt. Paul is already acquainted with Monty Williams. But he’d likely take up a significant chunk of their cap space, and they don’t need to invest too much into a point guard when they have a glaring need at the wing. I also doubt Paul would want to join a rebuilding team at this stage of his career. Crazier things have happened, but he doesn’t strike me as a priority.

With gs likely breaking up their big 3 soon due to the cba, how likely is it that draymond comes home? It would be intriguing to see how he effects the defensive culture and would be the ideal mentor to stew / possibly jarace — @ScArisen

Klay Thompson has another year left on his contract (and could sign an extension), and Stephen Curry will almost certainly retire with the Warriors. Green has a player option worth $27.6 million; although he could look for more money elsewhere, I think it’s more likely he returns to Golden State, even if he does so on a more team-friendly contract. Things could change, but he has incentive to stay put.

With that, it would eat up nearly all of the Pistons’ cap space just to match the value of that player option. Green would unquestionably upgrade the defense and bring competitive fire. He could be a great mentor for the young players. But the Saginaw native is 33 and expensive. Unless he’s willing to return home for a significant pay cut, I don’t think a union is likely.

WELCOME TO THE PISTONS: Five roster questions new head coach Monty Williams will have to answer

Should Detroit focus on players like Walker, Thompson, and Hendricks (in that order) because they primarily play off ball and doesn’t take away touches from Ivey and Cade to give value? I feel Cam needs the ball in order to be good and his decision making is poor as well — @SpiralTriggerEX

It makes sense for the Pistons to prioritize an off-ball player with the No. 5 pick. They already have two lead ball-handlers in Cunningham and Ivey, and have a clear need for a forward who can defend and hit shots. All of the players mentioned in the question — Jarace Walker, Ausar Thompson and Taylor Hendricks — would address that need to varying extents, assuming SpiralTriggerEX is referring to Ausar and not Amen Thompson, who needs the ball and profiles as a big point guard.

But I disagree that Cam Whitmore needs the ball to be effective. He’s arguably the best off-ball player in that group, and I had the Pistons selecting him in my latest mock draft. He knocked down 40% of his catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, is an active and effective cutter and an above-the-rim athlete and lob threat. He has a solid handle for his size, and forced turnovers. Next to Ivey and Cunningham, he’d thrive as a spot-up shooter who could attack close-outs. Defensively, he’s capable.

His biggest weakness is his negative assist-to-turnover ratio, meaning the Pistons wouldn’t want him handling the ball more than necessary as a rookie. Even at 18, and with a lot of room to grow, Whitmore’s skill set meshes well with the roster and what they need from the forward positions.

HOW IT HAPPENED: Inside the record deal that convinced Monty Williams to become Pistons coach

What is a realistic amount of games we could win this year? Cade is back so 30/35+ should happen? Who are your favorite wing prospects for the Pistons to draft at 31? — @_RoyDonk_

With Cunningham back, 30-plus wins seems realistic for the Pistons. They could be next season’s version of the Orlando Magic, who jumped from 22 to 34 wins last season and went 29-31 with Markelle Fultz in the lineup. Or the Indiana Pacers, who went from 25 to 35 wins and were propelled by Tyrese Haliburton’s All-Star ascension. On paper, the Pistons should have everything they need to compete every night for 82 games. After last season, there’s nowhere to go but up.

Even without Cunningham, the Pistons should not have been 17-win bad last year. They shut down most of their key players down the stretch and lost 23 of their final 25 games to position themselves (aka: tank) for Victor Wembanyama. Obviously, it didn’t work. The organization wants to move on from this chapter and start winning. It’s tough to project the extent they’ll improve in a loaded Eastern Conference, but it would take significant bad luck for them to not meaningfully improve next year.

As for realistic options with their 31st pick I listed six of them recently. A name I didn’t list who I would look out for — G.G. Jackson, a 6-foot-8 South Carolina freshman who is the youngest player in the class. He was the top-ranked high school prospect of 2023, but reclassified to attend college a year early. He’s athletic and physical and has great two-way upside but is very raw. There’s a good chance he’s gone before the 31st pick, but he makes a lot of sense for the Pistons, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they find a way to get him.

Do you think the big man room will be the same at the start of the season?  I just don’t see how we can be successful if we don’t add some more shooting/passing/defense to it. — @BeetFarm19

Much of this depends on who the Pistons add in the draft and free agency, but I feel pretty confident that Jalen Duren, Isaiah Stewart and James Wiseman will all return next season, at a minimum.

The organization is banking on internal development easing any fit concerns in the group. Stewart will continue his transition to playing power forward full time and shooting 3-pointers at high volume. Duren has flashed promise as a passer, and he and Wiseman know that they have strides to make defensively. It’s tough to say how they will mesh without seeing them in action.

Drafting Jarace Walker or Taylor Hendricks would shake up the rotation, as would signing either Jerami Grant or Cameron Johnson in free agency. Those are all realistic outcomes. Let’s revisit this in a month.

Is there any trade value with the Piston’s pick? Seems like it’s clear that the draft is three player deep and then throw a dart at a dartboard… — @wigton_dave

The No. 5 pick certainly has trade value, but it’s more likely that the Pistons trade down than up. There just isn’t much incentive for the teams who own the top three picks — in order, the San Antonio Spurs, Charlotte Hornets and Portland Trail Blazers — to move down. The uncertainty starts with the Houston Rockets and the fourth pick.

There are teams below the Pistons that have the resources to move up. If they have the will to make a deal happen, I believe Detroit would be willing to listen. The two teams I would watch are the Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz. Orlando owns the sixth and 11th picks, and Utah has the ninth, 16th and 28th picks. If the Pistons think they can get their preferred prospect after five, and those teams have a prospect they’re willing to give up assets to move up for, a deal would make sense.

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

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