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Three questions the Detroit Pistons must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season: 37-45, missed the playoffs following Detroit’s first postseason berth in six years

I know what you did last summer: The Pistons paid the price of Marcus Morris to upgrade from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to Avery Bradley, who’s still on a relatively cheap old-TV-money deal for one more season. Detroit also seemingly spent well above market rate (three years, $21 million) for Langston Galloway, who plays the same position as No. 12 pick Luke Kennard. Anthony Tolliver returned after a season with the Kings.

THREE QUESTIONS THE PISTONS MUST ANSWER:

1) Will Reggie Jackson revert to form? Two years ago, Jackson was a solid starting point guard propelling the Pistons on an upward track. He started last season injured then never found his footing.

Jackson wasn’t exactly the Pistons’ problem last year. But he was central to all the Pistons’ problems last year.

He just didn’t attack the rim the same way, which hindered Andre Drummond‘s abilities in the pick-and-roll and Detroit’s other players getting as much space on 3-pointers. Meanwhile, Jackson stuck with the heavy-dribble, high-usage style he had grown accustomed to. Considering he was far less effective while still dominating the ball, that might have contributed to some infighting.

But if the worst thing about Jackson is that he doesn’t know how to adjust when not fully healthy, that doesn’t matter if he’s fully healthy.

2) Will Avery Bradley make the Pistons eager to invest in him long-term? Instead of paying Kentavious Caldwell-Pope this summer, Detroit set itself up to pay Bradley next summer.

This could go a few ways. Bradley could play poorly and not be welcomed back, which would be troubling very soon. But as long as he plays at least moderately well, the Pistons will probably pony up. They’re on track to be capped out even if he leaves in unrestricted free agency, and they’ll also likely want to save face on this summer’s moves as long as it’s feasible.

If Bradley merely meets the lowest expectations Detroit has for him and then re-signs on a lucrative contract, that wouldn’t be so bad. He’d probably be overpaid, but that’d likely be a manageable deal for the Pistons.

If Bradley truly thrives, though, that’d be a boon for Detroit in the short and long terms. In this cap environment, his salary probably wouldn’t climb much higher, and the Pistons would have a really good player.

The 26-year-old Bradley will get his chances. A lockdown perimeter defender, he’s likely in line for an expanded offensive role. This is a great situation for him entering free agency.

3) Will Andre Drummond take the next step? Drummond’s flaws are glaring. He’s an all-time bad free-throw shooter. He posts up far too much with ugly post moves. His effort and focus can wane.

But he’s still darned effective. With elite physical tools and a nose for the ball, Drummond is an elite rebounder. He finishes well in the pick-and-roll, and he can be disruptive defensively.

Despite the complaints of his detractors, Drummond is worth having on the floor. The good outweighs the bad.

That isn’t enough, though. The Pistons have treated him like a franchise player – max contract and a roster built around him. For their season to truly be a success, they need him become a star.

That starts defensively, where Drummond has shown flashes but taken just baby steps overall. If he locks in mentally and plays more energetically on that end more consistently, Detroit would be in far better shape.

Watch Luka Dončić go coast-to-coast with sweet slam for Slovenia

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Slovenia won its first European basketball championship on Sunday, defeating Serbia 93-85 in Istanbul behind 35 points by Goran Dragic.

Dragic, the Miami Heat guard who was voted MVP of the tournament after the game, watched the final four minutes from the bench due to cramp. He had been visibly tiring, missing all three shots and the one free throw he took in the final quarter.

With Dragic out, Serbia briefly took the lead at 79-78, and again at 82-80 with 3:37 to go. But Slovenia, which had upset pre-tournament favorite Spain 92-72 in the semifinals, refused to fold. It went on a 12-0 run, during which guard Klemen Prepelic scored the go-ahead basket, 84-82, with 2:20 to go.

After a balanced first quarter, which ended with Serbia 22-20 ahead, Dragic scored 20 of Slovenia’s 36 points in the second quarter to help give it a 56-47 halftime lead.

“We gave them a lot of transition points. They brought the NBA speed on the floor,” Serbia coach Aleksandar Djordjevic said.

“We are an uptempo team … the importance of the game shouldn’t change what we do,” said Slovenia’s Serb coach, Igor Kokoskov.

Djordjevic responded by taking out his 2.21-meter (7-foot-3) center Boban Marjanovic of the Detroit Pistons in favor of more mobile players, who managed to slow down the pace in the third quarter at the 16,000-seat Sinan Erdem arena. Dragic still managed to score nine points and Slovenia stayed ahead, 71-67, but lost young star Luka Doncic with a sprained ankle.

Bogdan Bogdanovic, who is set to join the Sacramento Kings next season, led Serbia with 22 points.

Kokoskov, also the assistant coach for the Utah Jazz, gave a nod to his boss – coach Quin Snyder.

“He is my dear friend, my boss. He told me `Be prepared for the press conference and say something deep and smart.’ Well, I can’t say anything.”

Dragic may be a nine-year NBA veteran but Kokoskov, the first European to be a full-time assistant coach in the league, has spent 17 seasons there, after a brief stint at college level. He and Dragic worked together at the Phoenix Suns for four seasons (2008-11 and 2012-13)

Earlier, Spain defeated Russia 93-85 to take third place, with 51 points coming from the Gasol brothers, Pau (26) and Marc (25). Alexey Shved led Russia with 18.

Celtics pay the price to transform themselves

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Boston turned over 11 of 15 players from a team that earned the No. 1 seed and reached the conference finals. The Celtics made three trades each bigger than many teams’ biggest move this summer, and they signed Gordon Hayward.

An offseason so busy, I had to grade it twice.

Boston’s massive overhaul culminated in dealing for Kyrie Irving, a huge trade among the Eastern Conference’s two best teams. The Celtics got the young star, but at a significant cost.

The Nets’ unprotected 2018 first-round pick is an elite asset. Jae Crowder is a versatile 3-and-D wing on one of the NBA’s most team-friendly contracts. Isaiah Thomas is a star himself when healthy (obviously a major question). Ante Zizic is a nice developmental prospect. And Boston sent another second-rounder to complete the deal.

It can be hard to conceptualize the value of the Brooklyn pick, as it doesn’t show up when comparing last year’s Celtics roster to this year’s – definitely younger, maybe even better. But that pick was the centerpiece of their offer, and to me, it tilted the trade to unfavorable.

At least Irving will be ready to begin the season, unlike Thomas. That’ll keep the Celtics rolling, especially with Hayward.

Hayward was the lynchpin of a successful offseason. An in-his-prime star acquired with cap space created by renouncing marginal players and trading Avery Bradley for Marcus Morris.

That trade wasn’t great in a vacuum. I didn’t like trading the No. 1 pick for the No. 3 pick (Jayson Tatum) and a future first-rounder, either. My reservations about those deals largely stand from my initial grading:

Boston traded down from the top pick to No. 3 to draft Tatum. Count me among those who believed there was a significant drop from Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball to the next tier – and the tier after that.

The extra first-rounder the Celtics acquired has also only lost value since the trade.

It’d convey from the Lakers if they pick 2-5 next year. But they added two players, Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, better than they were expected to get. Los Angeles looks less likely to stumble into a top-five pick – especially without incentive to tank.

If not the Lakers’ pick this season, Boston will get the higher of Sacramento’s and Philadelphia’s 2019 first-rounders (or lower if one is No. 1). The Kings signed a couple veterans, George Hill and Zach Randolph, to help them in 2018-19. Sacramento’s young players will be more developed by then, and mirroring the Lakers this year, there’s no incentive to tank. (Philadelphia is also on the rise, but the Celtics probably already knew that.)

There’s still a chance Boston winds up with a high pick – or even wins the trade with a middling additional selection. Tatum, as the Celtics have claimed, might be a better prospect than Fultz outright.

I originally thought the trade was about fair. Developments swing the pendulum away from Boston, though perhaps I’m overly colored by my relatively dim evaluation of Tatum. (I expected the Celtics to draft Josh Jackson when the trade was made.)

Boston’s next big move, signing Hayward, also comes with a major caveat. To get Hayward, the Celtics had to downgrade from Avery Bradley to Marcus Morris.

The reasons are clear: Bradley is earning $8,808,989 in the final season of his contract. Morris is locked up for two more seasons at $5 million and $5,375,000.

Bradley for Morris is understandable given the circumstances. Trading down for Tatum is a difference of opinion, and Danny Ainge is rightfully sticking by his.

The Celtics are in awesome shape. They have a young good team plus three extra first-rounders, including the vaunted Lakers/Kings/76ers pick and a sneaky valuable Grizzlies pick.

But it’s important to remember they entered the offseason in awesome shape, and I’m grading how their position has changed. Though I didn’t love their decision-making, luring Hayward with cap space that mostly existed anyway was a massive victory.

Offseason grade: B

Stan Van Gundy says Reggie Jackson will be ready for Pistons camp

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Reggie Jackson was not around for the start of last season in Detroit and it set the entire team back. They were counting on the chemistry he and big man Andre Drummond were developing in the pick-and-roll, and even when Jackson came back that was not the same. Ish Smith played fairly well behind him last season and is back, and Langston Galloway provides some depth at the point, but the Pistons need Jackson to make the playoffs.

He missed the final nine games of last season with the knee tendonitis that bothered him all season, and doctors have been slow in clearing Jackson to prepare for this season, but he will be ready for training camp coach/GM Stan Van Gundy told the Detroit Free Press.

Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy told the Free Press on Monday morning that after an examination last week, Jackson has increased basketball activity and will arrive at the practice facility later this week to join teammates.

“All good with the doctors and ramping up his basketball work,” Van Gundy wrote in a text.

“He’ll be ready.”

In a wide-open bottom half of the Eastern Conference, the Pistons have a real shot to make the playoffs. That, however, has to start with the team being healthy. Specifically Jackson. He has to get back to being the explosive, aggressive guy off the pick-and-roll who could finish at the rim he was a couple seasons ago.

Avery Bradley on getting traded: “I knew I was going somewhere”

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Danny Ainge completely revamped a 53-win team this summer. It is a big gamble.  One of those moves was trading starter and defensive stopper Avery Bradley to Detroit for Marcus Morris. For the Celtics it was a move to clear cap space, making way for the signing of Gordon Hayward.

For Bradley, this is a fresh start.

During a break at his youth camp in Vancouver (you remember, the city that used to have an NBA team, the one where the nickname Grizzlies made sense) Bradley told Bleacher Report that this trade was not a surprise to him.

“Not from me because you know, I’m eight years in the NBA and it’s the business, man. Anything is possible, anything can happen at any time. … I wasn’t shocked that it happened, you know what I mean? I knew it was a possibility; it was something that we spoke about. Obviously, you can’t read the future and know what team, but I knew I was going somewhere.”

That team is Detroit, where he is an upgrade on the wing over Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (because Bradley is a much bigger threat to hit a three and is just a better offensive player). Bradley sees this as an opportunity to impress and maybe stay in Detroit.

“I feel like anything is possible. Where we’re able to buy into what Stan is trying to do, we have a lot of talent. If we’re able to put that all together and everybody buys in, we can have a special year. Especially with a coach like Stan Van Gundy; he’s special and he really knows his stuff.

I want to help bring more leadership to help this team and just bring that hard-working mentality to the team, and I feel like if I’m able to accomplish that, I feel like anything is possible for our team this year.”

It’s going to be an interesting market for Bradley next summer. A few summers ago quality “3&D” wings were getting paid big bucks, but the market will not be flush with cash next year, and a number of other guys of that ilk — Danny Green, Gary Harris, even Caldwell-Pope — will be free agents. That said, with a good season Bradley will be at the top of the list, and Van Gundy has said the Pistons will pay to keep him.

The Pistons have the potential to be a solid playoff team in the East if guys take a step forward. Bradley and his leadership could help with that — and that will earn him some money next summer, too.