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With this era’s flame still flickering, Pistons load bench with name recognition

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NBC Sports’ 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.

Just three teams have had the same trio of $16 million-plus-salary players each of the previous two seasons and next season:

Golden State won a championship, returned to the NBA Finals and enters next season with four-ish stars in a two-star league.

Detroit missed the playoffs, got swept in the first round and enters next season with, um, a reasonable chance at making the Eastern Conference playoffs.

The Pistons’ expensive core has underwhelmed while limiting flexibility. Drummond and Jackson are paid too much to trade for value and too good to tank with. The best option is probably the least drastic, keeping this group together and hoping for the best.

Same story last summer. Same story this summer.

But maybe not same story next summer.

Jackson’s contract expires after next season. Drummond has a player option he sounds ready to decline. At that point, the Pistons must decide what to do with Griffin – keep his top supporting players, find new ones or trade him to kickstart a rebuild.

In the meantime, Detroit added yet another expensive potential starter and a few recognizable reserves. This far into the plan – no matter how lackluster the results so far – the present remains a high priority.

The Pistons turned Jon Leuer‘s deadweight contract and the No. 45 pick into Tony Snell, No. 37 pick Deividas Sirvydis, No. 57 pick Jordan Bone, the Trail Blazers’ 2023 second-rounder and $3 million. I would’ve rather kept Snell and the No. 30 pick sent by the Bucks for taking his undesirable contract (and Detroit’s original second-rounder, No. 45). But that wouldn’t have generated the $3 million cash.

Milwaukee dumped Snell because he’s too expensive for a fringe rotation player there and due $12,178,571 in 2020-21. Leuer’s contract was expiring. But the Pistons are so desperate on the wing, they might start Snell.

The Pistons also signed Derrick Rose (two years, $15 million), Markieff Morris (two years, $6.56 million) and Joe Johnson (partially guaranteed, surely minimum). That’s a former MVP, someone who finished fourth in Most Improved Player voting at age 24 and a seven-time All-Star.

But those likely backups are past their primes. Rose looked like he’d fall out of the NBA before a resurgent/outlier-shooting season last year. Though helpful more often recently, Morris didn’t crack the Thunder’s playoff rotation. Johnson has been playing in a 3-on-3 league for NBA retirees.

Expectations shouldn’t be too high. But there’s at least hope this group packs more punch than departed Ish Smith provided off the bench. More bench scoring could limit the load on Griffin, who – even in his best season in years – wore down by the playoffs.

Because of Rose’s injury history, it was important to sign Tim Frazier (minimum) as third point guard. Claiming Christian Wood off waivers was another a good under-the-radar move. But signing Joe Johnson will make it harder for Wood to make the regular-season roster.

If all goes well, Detroit’s best move of the offseason will be drafting Sekou Doumbouya No. 15. I rated him No. 7 on my board. But that was because I like his raw talent in a weak draft, not because I’m convinced he’ll become a good NBA player. It’ll take a while to assess that pick.

This summer wasn’t easy for the Pistons, but it was simple. Their status quo could change soon. If they play well next season, they’ll face difficult choices with Jackson and maybe Drummond. If they don’t play well next season, that’ll invite its own problems.

They’re hoping to face the play-well issues and built this team accordingly. But with limited flexibility, the outlook remains similar, with next summer looming as the major inflection point.

Offseason grade: C

Winning percentage will determine final seedings in NBA restart; regular tiebreakers used

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Heading into the NBA’s restart in Orlando, the Trail Blazers are the nine seed in the West, followed by the Pelicans and Kings. All three of those teams are 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed, however, Portland gets the nine seed because it played two more games than either New Orleans and Sacramento, went 1-1 in those two games, and that gives Portland a slightly better winning percentage (.439 to .438).

That winning percentage matters because it’s how the league will determine seeding in a situation where teams have played a different number of games, reports Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

In practical terms, this may not matter much.

In the West, if Portland and New Orleans both went 8-0 in the seeding games then winning percentage would play a role with the Blazers getting the higher seed. However, that scenario is highly unlikely. More likely is wins and losses in Orlando will decide this and other tiebreakers (New Orleans beat Sacramento in their one head-to-head meeting, but our projected schedule for those teams has them playing twice, so the head-to-head tiebreaker is still up in the air). Because of how the records shake out, tiebreakers are irrelevant to Portland — it will not tie any teams, winning percentage will decide their seed.

In the East, winning percentage is irrelevant for the playoff chase — either Washington gets within four games of Orlando hand forces play-in games for the final playoff spot, or it doesn’t and Orlando is in.

Eight teams not headed to Orlando considering mini-camps, summer games to help players

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Nine months is a long time to go without playing a basketball game.

That’s what the eight teams not going to the NBA season restart in Orlando — Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Golden State, Minnesota, and New York — face. And for all of those teams except the Warriors, developing young players to be the future core of the franchise is their goal, and no games from March to December will set that effort back.

Which is why the teams are talking about “mini-camps” — think college spring football — with two teams at least playing each other during those camps, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Among the front-office ideas presented to the NBA, sources said:

• A combination of voluntary and mandatory workouts for two weeks in July.
• Regional minicamps in August that include joint practices for a period of days and approximately three televised games.

Those teams also want other “voluntary” team workouts and to start their training camps for next season earlier than the teams headed to Orlando.

The NBA isn’t going to grant teams everything on their wish list, but there should be some allowance for organized mini-camps and scrimmages/exhibitions. This would be particularly important to New York (and maybe Chicago), where a new coach will be installing a new system and trying to start a new culture.

Those eight teams missed out on 17 or so “meaningless” games with their season put on hold, games that would have meant something in terms of developing young players and giving guys key minutes. The league should — and almost certainly will — take steps to allow those off-season camps and scrimmages, helping teams get their player development programs back on track.

Gregg Popovich’s powerful statement: ‘Our country is in trouble and the basic reason is race’

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As protests continue across the nation — sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, but really the culmination of decades of systemic and, sometimes, overt racism across the United States — NBA voices have spoken up. Players, coaches, and staff have done more than take to social media, they have participated in and led marches across the nation, and put their money where their mouth is.

One of those voices is Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

He had spoken to Dave Zirin at The Nation, and on Saturday he released a powerful video statement through the Spurs.

Popovich has been at the forefront of NBA voices willing to speak out on social issues and criticize President Donald Trump. Popovich’s voice carries a lot of weight, both as a leader of men, and as a former Air Force officer who underwent intelligence training and specialized in Soviet studies.

In addition to coaching the San Antonio Spurs, Popovich will coach the USA Basketball team in the Tokyo Olympics, now set for July of 2021.

Knicks reportedly remain open to trading Julius Randle

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Back at the trade deadline in February, the Knicks and Hornets discussed a Julius Randle trade, it just never came together. New York continued to stumble through the season, with the combination of Randle and RJ Barrett — two ball-dominant, inefficient scorers who don’t space the floor — never meshing.

Now officially onto their offseason (the Knicks are not one of the 22 teams headed to the NBA restart in Orlando), New York and new team president Leon Rose remain open to trading Randle, reports Marc Berman of the New York Post in a Q&A.

Undoubtedly the Knicks are open to [trading Randle]. His contract for next season ($18.9 million) is manageable but the downside is he will count $4 million on the 2021 cap if they don’t exercise his team option after next season. The 2021 free-agent class is golden. Randle had his moments as a double-double force and is still early in his prime. But Randle’s defense is below average and it’s been reported here his knack of over-dribbling frustrated some teammates, including RJ Barrett. And a bigger disappointment was Randle lost his magic from the 3-point line (27.7 percent). As David Fizdale noted recently, the Knicks could use a 3-point shooting stretch 4. Someone like, say Kristaps Porzingis.

Quality little dig with Porzingis at the end.

The challenge in trading Randle becomes finding a dance partner. Randle has talent and is a floor raiser for a struggling team — he averaged 19.5 points and 9.7 rebounds a game — but he’s not a consistent All-Star level talent teams are going to build around. Going back to the trade deadline, Randle would have made Charlotte better in the short term, but long term the Hornets are better off going into the draft lottery and adding talent rather than trying to make a late push for the eighth seed.

What role Randle plays for the Knicks next year will depend on the coach Rose hires — likely Tom Thibodeau — and what direction the organization goes in terms of building with youth vs. going after veterans. Rose has a lot of other things higher up on his to-do list than a Randle trade at this point.