Luke Kennard

Pistons Will Exercise Patience In Free Agent Market

The Pistons will wait until the big free-agent signings are made before trying to fill out their roster, new senior advisor Ed Stefanski told Rod Beard of the Detroit News. Salary constraints will likely prevent Detroit from being active during the early days of free agency. “We’ll see who’s out there in the second wave,” Stefanski said. In general, Stefanski doesn’t foresee much of a roster turnover due to the decisions made by the previous regime, headed by former coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy“The luxury-tax line is on us,” Stefanski said. “We’ll see what players are available. The team we have now is our team because we don’t have the flexibility at this time.” Re-signing veteran power forward Anthony Tolliver, an unrestricted free agent, will be difficult because of that lack of flexibility unless the Pistons can somehow clear cap space by moving a big salary.

Here’s more from Beard’s interview with Stefanski:

  • The Pistons feel they lucked out that Dwane Casey essentially fell into their laps during their coaching search. “We’re very happy to bring Casey on board; it was our first priority,” Stefanski said. “We’re very fortunate that the Coach of the Year was sitting out there without a job. It’s unusual in any sport that that caliber of coach is out there.”
  • All of Detroit’s draft preparation is complete, thus there’s no rush to hire a GM. The team doesn’t own a first-round pick in the upcoming draft. Assistant GM Pat Garrity remains in the running for a front-office position.
  • Casey met this week with many of his top players this week during summer workouts in California, including Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson, Stanley Johnson and Luke Kennard“He’s getting an idea of how each guy will play and have them work that into their individual (summer) workouts,” Stefanski said.

Draft Notes: Ayton, Pinson, Spalding, Amius, Eubanks

DeAndre Ayton is the top pick in ESPN Jonathan Givony’s latest mock draft heading into the draft lottery on Tuesday. Givony has the Arizona center going to the Suns, Euro guard Luka Doncic being snapped up by the Grizzlies at No. 2 and Duke big man Marvin Bagley III heading to the Mavericks at No. 3. Naturally, the deck could be shuffled after Tuesday’s results. Michigan State big man Jaren Jackson Jr. (Hawks) and Texas center Mohamed Bamba (Magic) round out the Top 5.

In other draft-related developments:

  • North Carolina combo guard Theo Pinson will participate in the draft combine in Chicago, Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports tweets. Pinson is ranked the No. 89 prospect on Givony’s latest Top 100. Louisville’s power forward Ray Spalding has also been invited, Charania reports in a separate tweet. Spalding is currently ranked No. 58 by Givony.
  • Western Carolina junior forward Mike Amius has hired an agent and will remain in the draft, Jeff Goodman of ESPN tweets. He averaged 12.7 PPG and 5.6 RPG last season. He is not among Givony’s Top 100 prospects.
  • Oregon State forward Drew Eubanks has signed with agent James Dunleavy and ISE Worldwide, Liz Mullen of the Sports Business Journal tweets. The junior averaged 13.2 PPG and 6.8 RPG for the Beavers last season.
  • The Suns will send Josh Jackson and the Kings will be represented by De’Aaron Fox at the draft lottery on Tuesday, Tyler Conway of Bleacher Report relays. The Nuggets’ Jamal Murray and the Pistons’ Luke Kennard are the other current players who will represent their teams in Chicago. The full list of representatives can be found in Conway’s story.

Central Notes: LaVine, Parker, Pistons

Comments from Bulls vice president John Paxson suggest that the franchise is keen on letting the market decide pending restricted free agent Zach LaVine‘s value and, as Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun Times writes, the 23-year-old’s fate remains a dicey topic.

Cowley writes that a source of his claims that LaVine’s camp regards him as a max or close-to-max player but that the Bulls may not be so sure.

The Bulls, he adds, have been passive in restricted free agency negotiations in the past, “lowballing” Jimmy Butler back in 2015 and letting the market dictate Nikola Mirotic‘s value last summer.

Well, the market dictates a lot and how things go,” Paxson said. “I think the market has tightened up a little bit the last couple of years since the spike. [The Bulls] obviously value Zach a lot, and we think he’s a part of our future, but he has the opportunity to explore things.

There’s more from the Central Division:

Central Notes: Cavs, LeBron, Felicio, Kennard

Like many teams this season, the Cavaliers have been bit by the injury bug, with All-Star Kevin Love the most glaring omission from the line-up for most of this year’s campaign. In a recent game against Chicago, the Cavs were without six rotation players – Love, Kyle Korver, Larry Nance Jr., Rodney Hood, Tristan Thompson, and Cedi Osman.

Moreover, Cavaliers’ head coach Tyronn Lue remains out with health issues. Yet, things are now beginning to turn around. Osman and Korver remain out, but Love returned earlier this week and, as reported by Joe Vardon of The Plain Dealer, Nance Jr., Hood, and Thompson all returned for tonight’s game against Phoenix, albeit on minutes restrictions.

Vardon adds that there is still no word on whether Lue will join the Cavaliers on an upcoming three-game road trip, with interim coach Larry Drew stating, “I haven’t heard anything. I’m just going to proceed and take it a game at a time until I hear something different.”

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • In another article for The Plain Dealer, Vardon details LeBron James‘ response to Cavaliers‘ fans putting up a billboard in James’ favor in his hometown of Akron, OH. “I haven’t seen it, but, like I said before, it’s very flattering. It’s just, I don’t know, it’s very humbling. I know my hometown, so, I already know there’s no place like Akron, that’s for sure.”
  • Sam Smith of Bulls.com takes a look at how Bulls‘ big man Cristiano Felicio is looking to improve his game to show he deserves the $32MM contract Chicago gave him over the summer. “I know a lot of people talk whatever they want to. I am not focusing on them. I am just focusing on myself and trying to get better. I know I wasn’t playing well at the beginning of the season (but) now they are giving me an opportunity again, and I am trying to show, go out and show them I can play.”
  • It may have taken awhile, but Pistons‘ rookie shooting guard Luke Kennard is now firmly entrenched in the Pistons’ rotation and is an important part of Detroit’s future, writes Keith Langlois of Pistons.com. Teammate Blake Griffin likes what he’s seen out of Kennard lately, saying, “He’s been great this stretch. Not only scoring the ball but running offense with poise when he has it, playing good defense, being in passing lanes, passing the ball well. He’s done everything. He’s very capable of doing that and it’s been huge for us.”

Central Notes: Oladipo, Pistons Rotation, Griffin

Victor Oladipo knew a breakout season was possible after speaking with Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard on the team’s private plane prior to his introductory press conference last summer, as Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated divulges in a feature story. Pritchard assured Oladipo that the club truly coveted his services, rather than just matching up salaries to facilitate the Paul George blockbuster with the Thunder. Indiana wanted to play faster this season. “This wasn’t a dump. We targeted you,” Pritchard told Oladipo, according to Jenkins. The All-Star shooting guard is averaging a career-high 24.4 PPG for the surprising Pacers.  “It was the first time in my career I felt like a team really believed in me,” Oladipo told Jenkins. “I was just thinking, Don’t mess this up.”

In other nuggets involving the Central Division:

  • Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy will likely go with a 10-man rotation once Reggie Jackson returns from his Grade 3 ankle sprain, according to Ansar Khan of MLive.com.  Jackson would join a starting unit of Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin, Stanley Johnson and Reggie Bullock. Ish Smith would return to his usual role as leader of the second unit with center Eric Moreland and forwards Anthony Tolliver and James Ennis getting steady minutes, Khan speculates. Luke Kennard and Langston Galloway would split time as the backup shooting guard, Khan adds.
  • Pistons owner Tom Gores invited Griffin and his business partners over to his California home immediately after the blockbuster deal with the Clippers, as Keith Langlois of Pistons.com details. Gores wanted to assure Griffin how badly the Pistons wanted him and address any concerns the five-time All-Star power forward might have, Langlois continues. The Pistons are 5-3 since Griffin joined their lineup. “We were very quickly on the same page with the same view of what we want to achieve and the approach to get there,” Gores told Langlois. “He’s definitely hit the ground running. It’s been great to see how his teammates, the whole organization and the fans have embraced him.”

Trade Rumors: Suns, Smart, Pistons, Ferguson

While Suns general manager Ryan McDonough is working the phones, one source tells Scott Bordow of The Arizona Republic that there hasn’t been a whole lot of Suns-related chatter this week. The odds of Phoenix completing a major deal in advance of the deadline appear slim, according to Bordow.

Still, as Bordow details, there are a few Suns players who make some sense as trade candidates. The team would like to shed Tyson Chandler‘s contract, which includes a $13.6MM guaranteed salary for 2018/19, a source tells Bordow. Alex Len, who wants to be a starter – or at least a backup on a contender – next season, is another trade candidate. As is Troy Daniels, who says he’s prepared to move if necessary, but would rather stay in Phoenix for now.

“I’m prepared for whatever. I’ll be prepared to play wherever it is,” the fifth-year Suns guard told Bordow. “Everything is smooth running right now. If I was going to get traded I would like it to happen in the summertime.”

Here are a few more trade notes and rumors from around the NBA:

  • The Marcus Smart trade rumors may be somewhat overblown, according to Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald, who writes that the Celtics will likely only move Smart if they can land a player who helps the team more this season — or if they can acquire a draft pick that can be flipped to secure a player who fits that bill. Bulpett also expressed skepticism that Boston will surrender Smart solely for a rental player.
  • Based on the Pistons‘ cap situation, Vince Ellis of The Detroit Free Press believes it’s “highly unlikely” that either Luke Kennard or Stanley Johnson gets moved before Thursday’s deadline. Both players will attract interest from other teams, but their affordable contracts are valuable to the Pistons, who are on the hook for a few big contracts, including Blake Griffin‘s.
  • Several teams have expressed interest in Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson, tweets Ian Begley of ESPN. However, those teams came away with the impression that Oklahoma City has no desire to move Ferguson, as we heard earlier this week.

Pistons Rumors: Failed Trades, S. Johnson, Love

The Pistons had originally planned to approach this season’s trade deadline by aggressively pursuing upgrades on the wing, writes Jake Fischer of SI.com. League sources tell Fischer that Detroit looked into several potential trade candidates around the NBA, including Danny Green, Jordan Clarkson, Tyreke Evans, Rodney Hood, and Courtney Lee. The Magic also called to discuss a deal that would have included Evan Fournier, Elfrid Payton, and Luke Kennard, per Fischer.

As a result of all that research and legwork on wing players, the Pistons came to a realization that prompted them to change direction. “It’s becoming a wing league, and not many teams are willing to move those players,” a Pistons source told Fischer. “We were willing to give up ours.”

Rather than looking to build up on their own wing depth, the Pistons decided to part with Avery Bradley and Tobias Harris in a deal that would bolster their frontcourt instead. It remains to be seen whether that approach will pay off, but the team will start to find out tonight, with Blake Griffin set to make his Pistons debut. “It’s time to make a run now,” one team source told Fischer, who notes that seven of Detroit’s eight remaining games before the All-Star break are at home.

Here’s more on the Pistons from Fischer:

  • The Pistons, who explored trading for Eric Bledsoe last summer, circled back to him in November and came “within inches” of acquiring him in a three-way deal with the Suns and Pelicans, according to Fischer. That trade, which would have included Reggie Jackson, fell through.
  • The Pistons will continue to keep an eye out for opportunities to acquire wing players, and Fischer hints that Stanley Johnson is more likely than Kennard to be included in such a deal.
  • Detroit’s front office worked with Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank and GM Michael Winger on the Griffin deal. Head coach Doc Rivers, who served as the Clippers’ head of basketball operations until this past offseason, didn’t find out about the deal until Sunday — by that point, every detail except the first-round pick protections had already been agreed upon, a league source tells Fischer.
  • If the Pistons had been unable to finalize a deal for Griffin, they were planning to shift their focus to Kevin Love, says Fischer. Obviously, that was before Love suffered his hand injury, though there’s no indication that the Cavaliers would have seriously considered moving him.

Pistons Discuss Stanley Johnson in Trade Talks

As the Pistons explore the trade market in search of potential upgrades, Stanley Johnson‘s name has come up in their discussions, reports Ian Begley of ESPN.com. According to Begley, teams that have spoken to the Pistons have come away with the impression that Johnson is available for the right return.

Johnson, the eighth overall pick in the 2015 draft, had a promising rookie season in Detroit, averaging 8.1 PPG and 4.2 RPG in 73 games. He has been inconsistent over the last season and a half though — the third-year small forward hasn’t matched or exceeded those first-year averages, and his FG% has slipped to a career-worst .348 in 2017/18.

Still, Johnson is just 21 years old, and his defensive potential on the wing could make him an intriguing target for rebuilding franchises. The former Arizona Wildcat is also on a very team-friendly contract for the time being. Johnson, who has a current-year cap hit of $3.1MM, will earn $3.94MM in 2018/19 before becoming eligible for restricted free agency in the summer of ’19.

We heard earlier this week that rookie guard Luke Kennard is receiving interest from potential Pistons trade partners as well, so Johnson isn’t the only youngster the team could consider moving. However, Begley writes that Detroit doesn’t appear to have much interest in dealing its 2017 lottery pick. Unless the Pistons push for a marquee player, I’d view Johnson as a much more likely trade candidate than Kennard.

According to Begley, guard Dwight Buycks has also impressed opposing executives. Buycks is on a two-way contract though, so while he’s trade-eligible, his present value is very limited. Begley notes that several execs view Buycks as a player who will draw major interest as a free agent this summer from teams lacking significant cap flexibility.

Luke Kennard Drawing Trade Interest

Pistons rookie Luke Kennard is drawing “intense” interest from other NBA teams as this season’s trade deadline nears, according to Vince Ellis of The Detroit Free Press (Twitter link). As Ellis notes, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski had previously hinted in a report this week that Kennard is a player of interest for Detroit’s potential trade partners.

In a series of follow-up tweets, Ellis cautioned that there’s no indication that the Pistons are shopping Kennard, or even that they’re willing to move him. In fact, Ellis doesn’t expect the 2017 lottery pick to go anywhere.

Still, Wojnarowski indicated this week that the Pistons are expected to be on the active on the trade market, and are on the lookout for a wing upgrade. President of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy subsequently confirmed that his team is “looking around for people to fill holes.” The list of Pistons trade assets that would appeal to other clubs – and that Detroit is open to moving – isn’t particularly long, so dealing Kennard might represent the team’s best chance at acquiring a win-now piece.

In his first NBA season, Kennard has emerged as a regular rotation player in Detroit. While his overall numbers are modest (6.4 PPG, 1.9 RPG), the former Duke standout has been extremely effective as an outside shooter (.443 3PT%) and several of his highest-scoring games have come in the last two weeks. In order to seriously consider moving the 21-year-old, the Pistons would likely require an offer that features a difference-making veteran.

Central Notes: Bradley, Mirotic, Giannis, Kennard

The Pistons acquired shooting guard Avery Bradley from the Celtics over the summer with the hope of signing him to a long-term agreement and that hasn’t changed, coach Stan Van Gundy told the Detroit News’ Rod Beard and other media members. Bradley, who is making $8.8MM this season, becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer and Van Gundy is optimistic the Pistons can lock him up. “I’ll take our chances in the offseason,” Van Gundy said during a press conference.

However, there will be no in-season negotiations, Van Gundy added. “He knew right from the time we got him that we made the move thinking it would be a long-term thing but he knows it’s not something we’re going to talk to him at all about during the season,” Van Gundy said (Twitter links). The Celtics dealt Bradley to free up salary-cap room for free agent forward Gordon Hayward. Bradley is the Pistons’ second-leading scorer at 16.8 PPG.

In other developments around the Central Division:

  • Bulls power forward Nikola Mirotic participated in practice on Monday and will travel with the team to Denver later this week, Vincent Goodwill of NBCSports.com in Chicago reports. Mirotic practiced with teammates for the first time since Bobby Portis punched him last month, resulting in facial injuries and a concussion. Coach Fred Hoiberg is hopeful Mirotic and Portis can coexist, as he told Goodwill and other media members, even though little to no progress has been made regarding their feud. “It is important to get those guys communicating, which I think we’re all confident will happen,” Hoiberg said. “The important thing is getting Niko back on the floor and with the team.”
  • Bucks All-Star point forward Giannis Antetokounmpo admits that he and assistant coach Sean Sweeney often have verbal altercations but it’s a product of a “tight” relationship, as he explained to Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Antetokounmpo was seen yelling at Sweeney during the Bucks’ game against the Jazz on Saturday. Outsiders shouldn’t read anything into it. “We’re OK, that’s what we do — we fight, we argue, but at the end of the day, we both want to win,” Antetokounmpo told Velazquez. “I don’t think there’s anybody from this team who wants to win more than Sweeney and me and coach (Jason) Kidd, of course.”
  • Pistons rookie swingman Luke Kennard will need to show steady growth defensively to keep his rotation spot, Beard writes in a separate piece. Kennard was considered arguably the best pure shooter in the June draft but his shooting alone won’t guarantee him a spot on the second unit, Van Gundy told Beard and other media members. “He can’t get comfortable and think that he’s got secured minutes,” Van Gundy said. “We’ve flipped that spot over before — and we will again if he’s not going to do what he has to do.”