Beard: Pistons’ patience won’t let them jump in too soon in free agency

Detroit News

When I was little, some of the kids on the playground would jump rope, which was good exercise, but it was mundane after about two repetitions.

Jump in. Jump out.

With just a little coordination, almost everyone was able to play and figure out the timing.

As I got older, things got more challenging, because it ramped up to Double Dutch, and that changed the game completely. It wasn’t just timing the one rope. If someone jumped in too soon, that second rope hit a leg or a shoulder and everything stopped.

It’s where the Detroit Pistons are in their rebuild under general manager Troy Weaver.

When the Pistons were a perennial playoff team, the NBA draft used to be simpler — pick the best player at that spot and keep it moving. After all, that pick wasn’t going to be a key contributor immediately, so the draft strategy was about getting a player, who would have time to grow and mature around a veteran roster.

In the past decade or so, that hasn’t been the case.

The Pistons’ recent picks have had very little time to get acclimated to the NBA before expectations were heaped upon them to produce. Andre Drummond, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Spencer Dinwiddie, Stanley Johnson, Luke Kennard — and the list goes on. They had to be ready before they were ready.

Weaver had to move on from that era of Pistons drafts, and as the Pistons have had top-10 picks in each of the past four years, the expectations have been higher — and rightly so — because the picks have been higher.

More: Pistons center James Wiseman healthy, happy to be ‘hooping’ again

The Pistons’ hard times now are mostly a result of their drafting. For rebuilding teams, a good portion of the roster should be coming from the draft, with some veterans to lead and give guidance. Before last month’s draft, the Pistons had six players whom they drafted: Killian Hayes (2020) — the longest-tenured Pistons player — along with Isaiah Stewart (‘20), Cade Cunningham (’21), Isaiah Livers (’21), Jaden Ivey (‘22) and Jalen Duren (‘22).

With this year’s two first-round picks, Ausar Thompson and Marcus Sasser, the Pistons finally have the majority of their players coming from the draft, but it’s going to take time to get this roster right.

And patience. And lessons. And losses.

Double Dutch took timing, patience and coordination back in the day. Any miscalculation and you’re out of the game.

That seems to be the way the Pistons are approaching this rebuild.

Timing is everything

Count me among those who thought the Pistons would make a big splash in free agency. Although it had been duly noted that there weren’t any elite-level free agents within the Pistons’ reach, there was some hope that they’d be able to get a second-tier addition, such as Brooklyn’s Cam Johnson, a reunion with Portland’s Jerami Grant, or possibly a shot at Dallas’ Harrison Barnes.

All three re-signed with their teams, and the Pistons used their cap space to trade for Brooklyn’s Joe Harris and Washington’s Monte Morris. Neither is the game-changing wing that many fans wanted to add this offseason.

Patience, though.

Like Double Dutch, timing is everything. Just because you missed an opportunity to jump in this time, there’s another one coming soon.

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There’s still a lot of dust to settle around the league this offseason, including finding destinations for Damian Lillard and James Harden — not for the Pistons, but they could be an added team to send out young players or get some draft compensation as part of a bigger multi-team deal. There are some other mid-level free agents whose movements could change things around the league, and the Pistons could find themselves in the fray.

Weaver has a history of trades after free agency and before the start of the season. Remember that the Pistons added Bojan Bogdanovic in September last year, and they unloaded Sekou Doumbouya in a trade with the Nets in September 2021. After Weaver’s first draft, in 2020, he made a slew of deals to reshape the roster.

So, don’t be surprised if there’s something still to come before things tip off in October.

The Pistons’ focus is on internal improvement, mostly with having a healthy Cade Cunningham back, and building around the young players that Weaver has hand-picked. As was the case with dealing 2021 draft pick Saddiq Bey for James Wiseman, Weaver isn’t afraid to cut deep into the roster to take a chance on a player who has some potential.

Just vegetables

For what it’s worth, the Pistons had significant cap space entering free agency, and their moves weren’t ground-shaking, to say the least.

They’re not in the same contending time frame as other teams, and they’re not going to be until Weaver’s roster is ready. That’s where the patience comes in. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the rebuild may not kick into high gear this year. Injuries have derailed some of the progress, but rebuilds don’t happen overnight, either.

Bogdanovic still is the highest-paid Pistons player, at $20 million, with Harris’ expiring contract just behind at $19.9 million. Bogdanovic is a trade candidate, with his $19 million due for 2024-25 only partially guaranteed. According to some reports, the Pistons intend on keeping Bogdanovic, and until they know what they have with this roster, that seems to make sense.

The Pistons aren’t at the same dinner table with teams like Brooklyn, Memphis and Houston that are handing out contracts worth $30 million to $50 million per year. Those teams are ordering steaks and crab legs, while the Pistons are focusing on getting healthy, with vegetables — at least for now.

It’s just about figuring out what this roster is, and that will take time.

Count on Weaver to jump in when the time is right.

Just like Double Dutch.

Twitter: @RodBeard

Pistons Summer League schedule

▶ July 8 vs. Orlando, 5:30 p.m.

▶ July 9 vs. Houston, 6:00 p.m.

▶ July 12 vs. Toronto, 6:00 p.m.

▶ July 14 vs. San Antonio, 8:30 p.m.

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