Should the Detroit Pistons go star hunting this offseason?

Detroit Bad Boys

It is clear that Cade Cunningham need help and that it is unclear if there are more than two or three players on the Detroit Pistons’ current roster capable of giving it to him. Maybe two or three years down the line, Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren, and Ausar Thompson put it all together and create a perenial playoff team. Do the Pistons have that kind of time to wait? Cunningham is eligible for a max extension soon, and after so much losing it is unclear how much more patience he has for development.

The next question then becomes, what kind of help does Cunningham need? There are two primary avenues here. Down one road, you self off the remaining upside of some your young players, you attach some draft picks, and you grab a star to play as a 1B beside Cade’s 1A.

The other path is to forgo big-game hunting and instead sign players who are much more likely to be named a “Luke Walton All-Star” than to make an actual NBA All-Star team.

This debate had been rattling around in my head for a while when news first started bubbling that Trae Young might be on the trade block in Atlanta. After another disappointing season, it’s clear the Hawks are ready to change the chemistry of the team in a significant way, and moving on from their All-Star point guard for a haul of assets is one path they could take. The Pistons, meanwhile, will always be lumped in as a possible destination because “they have to do something” and “are so desperate they would overpay.”

When this news hit Pistons fans on social, I was a bit taken aback by how people were firmly on the side of trading for Young if it was possible. If it costs you Ivey and Duren and other assets, be damned. Cade needs someone good to play off of because that will finally turn Detroit’s ship back toward relevance.

Maybe that’s all correct, but my gut instinct is to say no way. Regarding Young, both he and Cade feel like players whose games would be diminished by having to split possessions and both being weaker defenders. It feels like it amplifies weaknesses instead of maximizing strength.

Perhaps another star disappoints in the playoffs and hits the trade market. In fact, can Devin Booker please shoot 8-for-100 in a Suns sweep that also somehow culminates in him getting in a shouting match with both Kevin Durant and Mat Ishbia? Please?

If no stars emerge then what is the optimal pathway for the Pistons? For me, it’s to go the Luke Walton All-Stars route.

I have no illusions about Detroit’s young players being some crop of great young assets. But I do think they’ve all shown signs, and are all so young that you don’t know who or how each player will work alongside Cunningham.

The problem is not that you have a bunch of 22-year-olds who are not good enough alongside Cade. The problem is that your 22-year-olds are all somehow the best players on your team so when they are struggling you can’t swap them in for something better.

Duren just delivered an atrocious defensive performance for a center, but he spent the entire season with James Wiseman and Marvin Bagley as his backups. Jaden Ivey’s shot frequently abandoned him and his decision-making left a lot to be desired. His backup was Alec Burks, who hemorrhaged points on defense, and Evan Fournier who did the same.

Cunningham had some remarkable turnover issues early in the year and sometimes went very cold from deep. His backup was Killian Hayes (when he wasn’t starting next to him), and he ended up being one of the least efficient guards in NBA history.

I’m not sure the Pistons need a Trae Young. What they need is four more Simone Fontecchis. Players who are capable scorers who complement Cunningham’s (and other young players’) strengths and are natural to above average on defense. They need players better, or at least more reliable on both ends, than Duren, Ivey, Thompson and Sasser.

They need vets to set a standard that the young guys know they need to surpass to get or keep a starting role or to play crunch time in the fourth quarter.

They need a quality defensive center, an above-average backup point guard, a starting two-way forward, and one or two more depth pieces. The good news is that the team has $60 million to make all that happen. The bad news is that I’m not sure there are $60 million worth of capable free agents who would take their money.

But I don’t personally need a Trae Young trade. I don’t need a Zach LaVine trade. I don’t need Paul George.

Look to the Houston Rockets model. Yes, they spent $200 million in one free agent period and they missed the playoffs. But they didn’t sacrifice young assets, they improved to 41-41 and the vibes are good.

The Rockets didn’t sacrifice much young, but Amen Thompson, Tari Eason and Cam Whitmore started a total of 25 games. That’s fewer games started than Killian Hayes.

What about players like Isaiah Hartenstein and Malik Monk? Both are free agents around 26 years old you could reliably offer a big paycheck to and not expect an immediate fall off. Tyus Jones was a forgotten man in Washington, but he had another excellent season. Nic Claxton is a 25-year-old defensive force who might be done in Brooklyn.

When engaging in what I would call a healthy dialogue about Trae Young and whether he made sense for the Pistons, I floated the idea of a threshold of 2500 total minutes and averaged about .100 win shares per 100 possesions, which is about starter level while not making an All-Star team in the past three seasons.

Some players might be too old and clearly on the downswing, others might be great stopgap candidates. Maybe a buy-low opportunity or a guy like Okoro worth taking a real swing on in a trade.

Is this a reasonable path or is this just a road to nowhere? Generally curious where people fall. I’m all for making a huge swing if the person is right, but I don’t see Young being that guy. Conversely, it’s easy to say a new smart GM can target a bunch of worthwhile free agents, but those guys will have offers from other, much better teams.

What path do you hope the new president of basketball operations takes?

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