There’s a chance I was a little over the top in my reaction to the Detroit Pistons’ selection of Stanley Johnson in the NBA Draft.
I, like many others, wanted the Pistons to draft Justise Winslow, who had fallen to the Pistons at No. 8 despite that being something very few had considered possible for most of the draft process. In the last few days leading up to the draft, it started to sound like something that could happen, then the Sacramento Kings selected Willy Cauley-Stein at No. 6 and OH MY GOODNESS THIS IS HAPPENING.
But it didn’t, because the Pistons selected Johnson, a very good player from Arizona who I believe will be a good pro. Normally, that’s fine, and there were definitely circumstances where I would have been happy with that. But Winslow could be great, and now he’s going to get that chance in Miami, a place that doesn’t need any luck when it comes to bringing in top talent.
In the week or so since the draft, I’ve cooled down quite a bit about this. Then free agency reminded me of why I was mad about it in the first place.
The Pistons are not a landing place for marquee free agents. They won’t be until they start having success, and even then, we’ve learned in the past that this is not a destination for big names. Josh Smith is the biggest name free agent the Pistons have signed in recent years, and not only was he grossly overpaid to come here, but trading him wound up sparking the most exciting run the team has had in the past six years.
A player like Winslow, who can be a superstar, is going to be hard for the Pistons to acquire outside of a trade or the draft, so when he falls to you at No. 8, like Andre Drummond did at No. 9 in 2012, you pick him.
Those of us who love Detroit do so because we know it. Players can come to Detroit and grow to love it, too. But the initial sell is difficult, especially with a team that’s been out of the playoffs for six straight years.
Let’s not kid ourselves and pretend there was a realistic, franchise-changing option out there this year in free agency. Most all of the big names weren’t actually going anywhere, so the players that were available were mainly pieces you could fit together to hopefully improve your team. Yet the Pistons still found themselves out early on any free agent that mattered.
Trading the Suns a second-round pick in 2020 for a salary dump of Marcus Morris, Danny Granger and Reggie Bullock isn’t a bad trade for the Pistons. Morris is 6-foot-9 and can shoot in the mid-30s from 3-point range, while Bullock is an intriguing enough prospect. Granger was once a very good player in the league, but his best days are well behind him thanks to injuries.
You have to make that deal if you’re the Pistons, because a second-round pick in 2020 is essentially getting them for free, and free pieces are a necessity for a team that needs to build with pieces.
None of those pieces are putting the Pistons over the top, however. Minor improvements over several seasons aren’t good enough in the NBA, because it’s a league where getting out of the middle is incredibly hard.
I really hope that I’m wrong about Winslow and Johnson, and that the Pistons made the right move at No. 8. Because while nobody wants to pass up a superstar, the Pistons margin for error is smaller than most.
Contact Paul Costanzo at (810) 989-6251 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PaulCostanzo.