CHICAGO – The Pistons soon will start a parade of draft prospects through their Auburn Hills practice facility. For all but a few of them, it will be the one day in their life they wear Pistons gear. Stan Van Gundy wants to make sure they leave with a strong favorable impression.
Van Gundy’s vision, backed by Pistons owner Tom Gores’ financial commitment, has quickly given the Pistons a league-wide reputation as a first-class organization. And because of that, they don’t expect the lack of a second-round pick this season to have a huge negative effect on their ability to bring in an array of prospects in advance of the June 22 draft.
“It can affect it,” general manager Jeff Bower said as the draft combine wrapped up on Friday. “Some guys aren’t going to want to come in and work out if they don’t see a real vehicle at the end of it. We don’t have a second-round pick right now. We could. Those possibilities change, so you want to try to be prepared. Our relationships with the agents over the years are very strong. They like our program. They like their guys to have the exposure to us, whether it’s a potential second round or potential undrafted guy or potential D-League target.”
Doing right by their guys – no matter their status – endears the Pistons to agents. You never know when or in what form the payoff will come. Maybe it’s a heads up when an opportunity to trade for a client the agent knows the Pistons covet arises. Maybe it’s steering an undrafted free agent to the Pistons for a Summer League berth. Maybe it’s getting a seat at the table when an elite free agent hits the market.
The Pistons will be looking for creative ways to fill roster needs this summer, given their lack of a second-round pick and the fact their only tools in free agency will be cap exceptions – the mid-level and, if they choose to exercise it, the biannual exceptions.
Last summer’s front-office reorganization, prompted by the exits of assistant general managers Ken Catanella to Sacramento and Brian Wright to San Antonio for promotions, resulted in Van Gundy beefing up the Pistons’ international scouting presence in a department headed by J.R. Holden. Van Gundy felt the Pistons had a comprehensive picture of international draft-eligible prospects but a lesser grasp of players no longer subject to the draft.
Last season’s backup centers – Aron Baynes and Boban Marjanovic – both came to the NBA with San Antonio from European leagues, Baynes after a four-year college career at Washington State and Marjanovic via the pro league in his native Serbia. The Spurs got both players on low-cost deals. One such signing this summer, perhaps, will make up for the absence of their second-round pick, one of two, along with their 2019 pick, spent to acquire Reggie Jackson in February 2015.
Not having the pick didn’t impede the Pistons from using all of their allotted 20 interviews at the Chicago combine. Teams submit a list of requested interviews; the NBA has final say on setting the interview schedule based on draft slot and expectations for each prospect’s draft range.
“We were allowed 20 and we used all that we were allotted,” Bower said. “We were comfortable with who we were assigned and how they went. I think it was probably the most productive combine in three years (since joining the Pistons). From the overall combination of the interviews and the court work and shooting sessions, I think it was really valuable.”