Detroit Pistons 2024 NBA offseason preview: Oh, where to begin

Detroit Pistons head coach Monty Williams watches against the Chicago Bulls in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Detroit, Thursday, April 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Very little went right for Monty Williams and the Pistons. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

2023-24 season: 14-68

Highlight of the season: Malachi Flynn doing his best Tony Delk impersonation and scoring 50 points in a loss to the Atlanta Hawks on April 3.

Did it ever really start? After handing Monty Williams $78.5 million to become the franchise's next head coach, the rebuilding Pistons were expected to improve significantly. After all, the organization was entering Year 3 of the Cade Cunningham era, and last year's 2022 draft had yielded quality results in explosive scoring guard Jaden Ivey and manchild center Jalen Duren. With Cunningham now healthy after a 12-game campaign, surely these Pistons would turn some heads.

Turn heads they did, by losing 28 consecutive games and finding themselves at 3-29 when they entered the 2024 calendar year.

Williams failed to assert himself as a coach who could transition from a winning situation in Phoenix to a rebuilding team, highlighted by the inconsistent playing time he offered both Ivey and rookie wing Ausar Thompson. Instead, Williams relied on former No. 7 overall selection Killian Hayes, preferring his defensive approach to the game. Hayes was waived after playing 42 games and has yet to latch onto a new team.

Trades followed at the deadline, as the Pistons acquired 28-year-old Italian sharpshooter Simone Fontecchio as a way of replacing Bojan Bogdanović and Alec Burks, who were shipped to New York. The Pistons must enter into negotiations with the 6-foot-8 wing this summer, as he is a restricted free agent.

Needless to say, the Pistons missed the playoffs and will now look to assemble a team that won't rank as the league's worst next season. They're guaranteed a top-five selection in this year's draft, but while that may sound like an immediate way of upgrading their roster, this current draft class doesn't necessarily inspire much confidence.

As such, general manager Troy Weaver can't bank on a draft pick to save the franchise. He'll need to make shrewd moves in free agency, be aggressive on the trade market and find a way for Williams and his team to find common ground, as to best build that relationship. It won't be easy.

The Pistons are in no position to be picky. They were 29th in the league in hanging on to the ball, 29th in 3-point shooting and 25th in defensive efficiency. They need a high-scoring wing who can space the court and act as the connective piece between Cunningham, Ivey and Duren, without sacrificing their upside. If such a player isn't available, quality shooting will do for now, but at multiple positions.

The Pistons have the only active front-office opening in the NBA, and that process will set the tone for a fascinating offseason to come in Detroit. For now, the ownership has announced that general manager Troy Weaver will remain in his position while the franchise searches for a new president of basketball operations. League personnel expect the Pistons to target top-tier executives for the position, dreaming of big names like former Warriors architect Bob Myers, sources said. To widen that pool, and to make sure the Pistons land a strong candidate for the role, it will be in Detroit's best interest to wait out the early rounds of the playoffs and watch what ramifications could come from a rival team's postseason shortcoming. And depending on what level of executive the Pistons are able to bring on board to work with head coach Monty Williams, the expectation is the new president will have the authority to dismiss Weaver from his duties, sources said.

The Pistons can approach $70 million in cap space this summer, in addition to their leading odds for the No. 1 pick in this year's draft. If there was ever a team to look to move a top-five pick, it would be Detroit, already flush with lottery picks from recent rebuilding seasons approaching a draft not considered by scouts to feature a ton of premium talent. But that dynamic will also make it tricky for any team selecting at the top of this draft to find a trade partner willing to pay a premium to pick at that slot. It's impossible to predict what positions or direction the Pistons will go from there until this new president comes on board. But it seems fair to say that a general consensus among NBA talent evaluators is that even with all the misery and losing in Detroit this past year, Cade Cunningham has proven enough to still be given a puncher's chance at leading a team into playoff contention — like Paolo Banchero in Orlando, like Tyrese Haliburton in Indiana and even like Jalen Green and Alperen Şengün in Houston. — Jake Fischer

It's hard for any team projected toward the top of this class to be sandwiched in between Victor Wembanyama's draft class last year and Cooper Flagg's class in 2025. The Pistons have invested in young guard talent with Cade Cunningham and last year's No. 5 pick, Ausar Thompson, and desperately need some perimeter shooting. Alex Sarr provides that length and versatility as a pick-and-pop big, and France's Zaccharie Risacher is one of the best 3-point shooters in this draft class at 6-9 and shooting close to 40% from deep. — Krysten Peek

Draft picks: Nos. 5 and 51

The Pistons aren't lacking in funds. They'll undoubtedly turn down the team option on Evan Fournier's $19 million salary and could end up on the good side of $70 million in available money. They do have the Fontecchio contract to deal with, and they need to make a call on Wiseman. But even so, they'll have plenty of opportunities to go after big fish if they so desire.

However, the Pistons aren't likely to attract names such as Paul George or Klay Thompson. Instead, the team should utilize the newer, and harsher, apron penalties to offer expensive teams a way out of their potentially expensive tax bills. The offer is simple. Detroit would take on expensive deals, and their compensation would be a future first-round pick to do so. The longer the contract, the more picks in return.

Key free agents

Simone Fontecchio (RFA)

James Wiseman (RFA)

The easy answer would be to say, "Come back better," but for the Pistons, especially, that's fairly self-evident. However, with Flagg looming large over next season’s draft, the Pistons should try to work two angles. Instead of evaluating team success off wins, evaluate it off the performance of their young players, even if they won't necessarily make a big leap in the standings. Should Cunningham, Ivey, Duren, Thompson and whomever they select this summer make considerable gains – while putting the team in the path of Flagg – well, that’s all for the better.

After 14 wins and an NBA-record 28-game losing streak, it's clear that change is overdue. Williams' 0.5-second offensive scheme isn't working, and he's not the right fit for this rebuilding squad. Getting rid of him might be a challenge with Weaver (somehow) still employed, plus the financial commitment tied to Williams. However, change needs to happen for the team's progress.

Williams did a horrible job managing the development of his young players, and it didn't improve as the season wore on. Fantasy managers will always remember Hayes starting 31 of his 42 games with the franchise over Ivey and Marcus Sasser. Another tank-a-thon could push Cunningham to look elsewhere when his rookie deal expires. The clock is ticking in the D. — Dan Titus