Our Longest Summer series will look at the eight teams whose seasons are now officially over, and will have to wait until mid-October to make decisions on what’s next and how to proceed after falling short of the cut-off for a continued 2019-20 campaign.
It may seem like a lifetime ago, but the 2019-20 Detroit Pistons were supposed to compete for a postseason berth in the Eastern Conference. The Pistons landed in the playoffs last season and, with Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond anchoring a team with a respectable roster, there was optimism, at least in some circles, for a repeat performance. Fast-forward to the end, however, and Griffin appeared in only 18 games, with Drummond seeing only 49 games of action before being dealt to Cleveland before the deadline.
In some ways, Detroit’s demise was foreseeable, especially with regard to Griffin’s injury issues. The All-Star forward was banged up considerably by the end of the 2018-19 campaign and, while unfortunate, it wasn’t totally shocking that he wasn’t able to play at full strength this season. Still, the Pistons heavily relied on his brilliance in 2018-19 and, without that centerpiece available, the lack of talent on the roster became glaring on the way to a 20-win performance in the aggregate. Now, the Pistons shift fully to rebuilding mode and the 2020 offseason provides a number of questions for the team to attempt to answer.
2020 Free Agents
Christian Wood (UFA), Tony Snell (player option), Brandon Knight (UFA), John Henson (UFA), Langston Galloway (UFA), Thon Maker (RFA), Jordan McRae (UFA)
2020 Projected salary cap space (assuming $115 million salary cap)
$33.9 million, per Early Bird Rights
Areas of Strength
This is a tough one. There are some intriguing young pieces on the roster with Luke Kennard and Sekou Doumbouya, though neither is established enough to specifically build around. From there, Christian Wood emerged in a big way this season, but the young center now hits the free agent market with unrestricted status. The Pistons certainly can afford to bring Wood back at a considerable number but, if they don’t, things become even more adventurous. Detroit did benefit from a strong season from Derrick Rose, who remains under contract at a reasonable cap figure, and flexibility is the order of the day for this franchise.
Areas of Need
Aside from a magic potion to make Griffin 100 percent healthy again, the Pistons need a focal point. Though Wood’s emergence is encouraging, Detroit still lacks star power and, though they could get lucky in the draft lottery with a path to select a prospect like LaMelo Ball, every rebuild begins (and sometimes ends) with the quest for a franchise player that the Pistons don’t have for the future. Beyond that, Detroit’s roster is (very) thin when accounting for only players that are firmly under contract, and Griffin’s highly lucrative contract is tough to navigate.
Wood is the team’s only free agent that should command a large sum on the market, and Detroit’s willingness to pay up is perhaps the franchise’s most interesting decision of the offseason. If the Pistons believe Wood is an average starter (or better), bringing him back would plug a hole and give the team more of an identity. If the bidding gets out of control and Detroit sees the need to move on, the canvas is even more bleak. From there, the team’s lottery pick will be key to everything and, in advance of that, the Pistons are a team that could really use some lottery luck and a path to selecting a prospect with legitimate star equity.
Overall Offseason Focus
Though there may have been chatter that the Pistons could avoid the full-scale rebuild, that evaporated this season. Barring some sort of miraculous effort to send Griffin’s large contract elsewhere, the parameters appear to be set in Detroit and the franchise simply needs to patient in accumulating assets and doing anything they can to find a young star. That is easier said than done, but the Pistons are in a vastly different place than they were even nine months ago, and that is the reality.