The Big Question: Should the Pistons keep or trade the fifth pick in the NBA Draft?

Detroit Bad Boys

There are so many reasons it is a bad idea for a rebuilding team to trade lottery picks. Young talent that is cost-controlled for 7-8 years, ensuring you are getting players on the upswing instead of the downswing, letting young players grow together and form real chemistry.

So why does it seem to make so much sense for the Detroit Pistons to trade this year’s draft pick? This year isn’t like any other year, and this sorry franchise is not like other sorry franchises you are used to.

The Case for Trading the Pick

This team has nine players born in the year 2000 or later. If most of them return, it is questionable if adding one more teenager to the mix makes much sense. This team is also desperate for competent two-way players. Of those nine millennium players, you can’t say with much confidence any of them are sure bets to be two-way impact players. They could all get there eventually, of course, but I’m not sure what I’d wager on Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren, and Cade Cunningham turning into plus defenders, and I’m not sure I’d bet on Quentin Grimes, Marcus Sasser, Isaiah Stewart, or Ausar Thompson to turn into reliable NBA scorers.

Another important ingredient in the Pistons making the right call on player evaluations at No. 5 is to have actual player evaluators in the organization. Right now, the team is in the midst of hiring a president of basketball operations, and all signs point to that person mostly cleaning house in the front office from Troy Weaver on down. That means a new president would either be relying on the evaluations of a lame-duck front office or taking a huge bet based on their own personal evaluations.

There is also the sense that not only is this draft bereft of true star upside players, but of the ample talents you will find among potential lottery selections, players who can shoot are not among them. It feels like if the Pistons keep the pick, they will be selecting among intriguing players that project as defenders with extremely iffy offensive games.

Detroit has been there before with selections such as Ausar Thompson last year, Killian Hayes and Isaiah Stewart in 2020, Sekou Doumbouya in 2019, and Stanley Johnson in 2015. I can see plenty of teams excited about the potential of Stephon Castle, Donovan Clingan, and Ron Holland, but I’m not sure the Pistons are in a position to be one of them.

Finally, there is the Cade Cunningham of it all. The Pistons have lost — a lot — since drafting Cunningham No. 1 overall in 2021. This franchise can’t afford much more losing. Sure, Cade is likely to sign a maximum contract extension. However, once he has his bag, nothing prevents him from asking out as early as the next day once the ink is dry.

This team is under pressure to get better and get better soon. Otherwise, they will start a brand new rebuild and use the assets they can get from a Cunningham trade to jump-start it.

The Case for Keeping the Pick

All of the above remains true. And yet … trading away the pick could be throwing away good money after bad. The Pistons can’t act like anything but a young, bad, rebuilding team. Bad previous decisions shouldn’t dictate that they make bad current decisions.

There are real questions about the actual value of the fifth overall pick in an NBA Draft with so few sure bets. On the hand, the value could be seriously depressed because no other teams see players with high upside. On the other hand, all it takes is one team who convinces themselves that Player X will be THAT dude and it’s great fortune they’ve fallen to fifth, and they are willing to pay to take the big swing.

If the Pistons can’t get high value for the No. 5 overall pick then they should make the selection. The Pistons need to get better, and they need to be willing to put everything on the table, from this pick to current players, but that doesn’t mean everything must go. It only means everything should be an option.

The Pistons have $60 million in cap space. This team can get better in free agency and doesn’t necessarily have to rely solely on the draft to put a much better team around Cade Cunningham. If the Pistons new front office (I’m willing a great new POBO into existence in this scenario) sees a player they like at No. 5, they should be willing to stay there and pick him.

Moreso, if they see a player at No. 5 that is direct conflict with the position or skillset of a player on the current roster, they should pick them anyway. If things aren’t working now and you think a defensive anchor like Donovan Clingan works at center better than an offensive player like Duren, then trade Duren.

If you believe in Stephon Castle’s defense on day 1 and believe he could develop a true offensive game by Year 2, then you take Castle.

This also might be the season the Pistons should take stock of what has worked and what hasn’t about their drafting in previous years. This team that is desperate for complementary players could certainly find a complement even if the pick isn’t sexy or is viewed as controversial. Is that Reed Sheppard at 5? Dalton Knecht? Cody Williams? Tidjane Saluan? Kyle Filipowksi?

If the Detroit Pistons can walk away from this offseason with veterans who can serve as capable starters and a young roster continuing to develop off the bench, isn’t that close to a best-case scenario?

Call it the Houston Rockets plan. They signed players to huge deals as free agents, built a .500 team, put their young guys in roles that played to their strengths, and were just rewarded with the third overall pick (via trade, but it still required the team with the ninth-best odds to jump up to the top 4).

So what do you want the Pistons to do with their draft pick? Keep it or trade it?

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