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51Q: How big a next step forward can the Detroit Pistons take?

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We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. Between now and the start of the NBA season we will tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season (we’re taking some weekends off).

How to rebuild without trying in six simple steps: Lose, lose, lose, lose, lose, lose.

That was the dirty secret to Detroit’s breakthrough last season. Though the Pistons never set out to tank, they built a solid young core by drafting in the top 10 five of the previous six years. The only year Detroit didn’t pick in the top 10 was because it traded the No. 8 pick in a disastrous salary dump that led to signing Josh Smith – whom the Pistons expected to jumpstart their rise.

But it still happened eventually. Lose enough in the NBA, and it’s hard to remain bad – especially when you draft well (which Joe Dumars did in this era) and trade well (which Stan Van Gundy has done). In the last six years, the Pistons have drafted:

Suddenly, Detroit had a bright future. Its first playoff appearance in seven years, even if it ended in a first-round sweep to the Cavaliers, was exceedingly welcomed.

What now?

The Pistons should be done with top-10 picks for a while, so they can no longer back their way up the standings. They’ll have to earn the rest of their ascension.

That starts with internal growth. Not only were the Pistons’ the youngest team in last year’s playoffs (weighted by minutes played), they were the seventh-youngest all-time:

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Drummond (23), Caldwell-Pope (23), Harris (24), Jackson (26) and Johnson (20) will continue developing, and that alone will make Detroit better.

But Van Gundy didn’t stop there.

The Pistons signed Ish Smith and Jon Leuer to relatively hefty contracts, hoping to address holes in the bench.

After trading Jennings at mid-season, Detroit was left with Steve Blake as backup point guard. The 36-year-old was a liability on both ends of the floor. For $18 million over three years, Smith provides an upgrade.

The Pistons had a couple burlier centers in Drummond and Aron Baynes. Marcus Morris, Tobias Harris and the since-departed Anthony Tolliver could play stretch four against other combo forwards. But against a legitimately sized power forward with 3-point range, Detroit was in trouble. Enter Leuer, who at 6-foot-10, will play both big-man positions and receive $41 million over the next four years.

The Pistons built their young core. They signed veteran reinforcements. They even added Henry Ellenson and Boban Marjanovic with an eye toward the future.

But they’re unlikely to draft high again anytime soon. They’re capped out and will be limited in free agency.

Forming this team came at a cost.

Detroit should take a step forward – but far enough to justify the years of losing and pricey backups? Van Gundy is just trying to win as much as he can, but that question looms over the Pistons’ accomplishments.

Arizona State leading scoring Remy Martin declares for 2020 NBA Draft

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Arizona State junior Remy Martin has declared for the 2020 NBA Draft:

The six-foot point guard took on more of scoring role in his third season with the Sun Devils than he had in his first two seasons. Martin averaged 19.1 points per game on 43.2% shooting from the field. Martin also dished out 4.1 assists per game, after averaging 5.0 assists as a sophomore.

Arizona State’s leading scoring may just be testing the waters, as he’s expected to go undrafted. NBA scouts have concerns over Martin’s size at the NBA level. One concern is his ability to hold up defensively, as NBA point guards are trending bigger and bigger in recent years.

As a smaller guard, Martin was one of the players who could have benefited from the traditional pre-draft process. With in-person workouts on hold, and potentially cancelled entirely, players have limited opportunities to improve their draft stock. Teams may be drafting off previous in-person scouting and off of tape.

NBA players reportedly to take part in televised NBA 2K tournament Friday

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If we can’t watch NBA players on the court, at least we can watch them control their digital selves and teammates in a live basketball tournament.

ESPN plans to broadcast an NBA 2K tournament with only NBA players at the controllers, a story broken by Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports. The hope is to have it air Friday, with the players competing from their homes around the country.

The NBA is planning a players-only NBA 2K tournament that will feature the league’s sharpest video gamers and it will be broadcast on ESPN, league sources told Yahoo Sports…

Players competing against their peers in the comfort of their own homes could offer a distraction for fans who are missing the game and a little competition.

Esports are incredibly popular and growing as a spectator sport, both in person and on Twitch and other platforms. With there being a pent-up demand for sports programming, this seems a smart attempt to draw eyeballs. Even people who are non-esports viewers could tune in just to check it out, because it’s that or rewatching Tiger King.

You can bet that if it works, we will see a lot more of it in the future.

(Inside baseball note: I would love to see the emails/texts flying around ESPN about Yahoo breaking a story about what is coming in their network.)

 

Shaquille O’Neal: I had no idea what was happening with Joe Exotic of Tiger King

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On a recent episode of “The Big Podcast with Shaq” former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal said that “he had no idea” what was happening at the zoo run by Joe Exotic. Joe Exotic was recently made famous through the popular Netflix documentary “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness”.

Footage of O’Neal appeared in the first episode of the show and was shown taking photographs with the animals.

The documentary also showed a cut of O’Neal on TNT saying “Shoutout to Exotic Joe. I got two more tigers.”

On his podcast, O’Neal explained:

“So we go in there, and it’s a beautiful place, and the character that was there was Exotic Joe. We’re there and I dropped some donations for the tigers’ foods and all that. We take pictures with (the) tigers. We went back a couple times. Then we go back another time and we found out that he’s involved with all the stuff, and then, actually, I stopped going.”

Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as Joe Exotic, was sentenced to 22 years in prison after being found guilty of 19 different charges. Those charges included murder-for-hire plot, illegally selling endangered species and other animal-related offenses.

O’Neal clarified that he never bought any animals, but often donates to charities that help animals. He also made it clear that he’s not friends with Joe Exotic, nor anyone involved in the trade of endangered species.

“I don’t harm tigers,” O’Neal said. “I love tigers. I love white tigers. Do I put donations to these zoos to help these tigers out? I do it all the time. Do I own tigers personally at my house? No. But I love tigers. Listen, people are going to make their own opinions, but, again, I was just a visitor. I met this guy — not my friend. Don’t know him. Never had any business dealings with him, and I had no idea any of that stuff was going on.”

Report: Brooklyn Nets looking to hire a blue-chip head coach

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When the Brooklyn Nets and Kenny Atkinson parted ways in early-March, the team installed Jacque Vaughn as the interim head coach.

According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst that’s a short-term appointment. On his podcast “Brian Windhorst and The Hoop Collective”, the reporter said the Nets are looking to hire a coach with a track record of NBA success.

“One of the things that has been expressed sort of the grapevine, that’s the way I’m going to say it to protect myself from the aggregators, is that Durant and Irving would like a blue-chip coach. I don’t know what this says about the way they thought about Atkinson, but they want a big-name coach.”

Names linked to the Brooklyn opening are Tom Thibodeau, Mark Jackson, and both Jeff and Stan Van Gundy.

Atkinson leaving Brooklyn was a surprise, considering he had led the Nets back to the playoffs in 2019. That success came after a three-year rebuild. That process was kicked off when general manager Sean Marks hired Atkinson to lead the on-court development. Under Marks and Atkinson, the Nets developed several players who had been given up on by other teams.

Brooklyn was 28-34 when Atkinson was let go. The Nets had gone 2-0 under Vaughn before the NBA suspended play in mid-March.