Christian Wood

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Joe Johnson working to prove Big3 is path back to NBA roster

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When Joe Johnson signed with the Detroit Pistons, the headline everywhere seemed a variation of “The Big3 Is A Path Back To The NBA.”

Except Joe Johnson is not on an NBA roster yet — the contract he signed with the Pistons was only partially guaranteed. Meaning they can cut him at any point without too much pain. Johnson and Christian Wood are the guys considered to be battling for the final roster spot (Wood is on a non-guaranteed contract as well, although reportedly with a smaller guarantee).

Johnson, however, understands he is carrying the hope of a lot of Big3 players on his shoulders, and he takes that seriously, as he told Eric Woodyard of ESPN.

“That was another reason why I thought it was very important for me to take this opportunity, because those guys in the Big3, a lot of them anyway, have hopes to at some point to be able to get back in the league,” Johnson said. “So I just wanted to let everyone know that it’s possible just to get to this point. I mean, I’m not even all the way on the roster, but to get to this point, get your foot in the door. Then whatever you do from that point, it’s up to you.”

Johnson reportedly has been in good shape and performed well early in camp, but we’re weeks away from decisions being made.

Whether he makes the roster or not may come down to what the Piston coaches and front office prioritize. Johnson can provide depth at the three behind Tony Snell, and maybe a little stretch four at points, plus is a pro in the locker room. Johnson is a “we want to win more games now” kind of choice. Wood, at 24, is 14 years younger, is more athletic, and at this point has more upside, but he is a project.

If Johnson can make the Pistons’ roster the Big3’s pitch to guys such as Jamal Crawford or Corey Brewer (or even Carmelo Anthony) is “we can be your path back to the NBA.” Just getting into training camp provides some of that.

Roster battles are rare in an NBA of guaranteed contracts, but Johnson’s fight for a roster spot is worth watching.

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

Report: Pistons signing Joe Johnson, not Michael Beasley

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Remember when the Pistons were signing Michael Beasley to an unguaranteed contract? Well, they found a better option than a 30-year-old coming off a difficult season and facing a five-game suspension.

Detroit will instead sign a 38-year-old who has been dominating a 3-on-3 league for NBA retirees – Joe Johnson.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Bobby Marks:

A seven-time All-Star, Johnson is a bigger name. But not much should be expected of him anymore. He didn’t even play in the NBA last season.

Still, the Pistons could use another bigger wing. Johnson can still sometimes get buckets. There will be nights Johnson’s scoring would make a difference for Detroit.

Johnson is positioned to compete with Christian Wood for the Pistons’ final regular-season roster spot. Wood, who has an unguaranteed deal, is younger and probably better. But Johnson’s partial guarantee indicates Detroit’s interest in keeping him.

I wonder whether Beasley can still accept his reported $2.6 million-guaranteed offer in China. Not only might the interested team have already moved on, the Chinese Basketball Association is reportedly now barring its teams from signing players facing drug suspensions in other leagues.

If China doesn’t work out for Beasley, there’s always the Big3. As Johnson showed, that might be a pathway back to the NBA.

Now what for Lakers after DeMarcus Cousins injury?

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“He was going to be a big part of what we’re going to do.”

Laker forward Kyle Kuzma summed it up well when asked about DeMarcus Cousins tearing his ACL during an off-season workout in Las Vegas this week. The Lakers were counting on a bounce-back season from Cousins — for him to play more like the guy from Game 2 of the NBA Finals against Toronto when he was vital to a Warriors win — because it would take some of the burden off of just-acquired Anthony Davis.

Make no mistake, Davis is the best center the Lakers have — he is arguably the best center in the game  (two seasons ago he was the First Team All-NBA center). However, Davis is not built like Joel Embiid and does not want to bang in the post for 30 minutes a night, he wants to play more at the four, face-up, run and space the floor, and play next to a traditional center (then slide to the five in certain situations/lineups, not unlike how the Warriors use Draymond Green at the five).

Cousins was to be that traditional center, and he already had chemistry with Davis from the time they played together in New Orleans.

Now, considering all his body has been through, it’s almost certain Cousins will miss the entire upcoming NBA season.

“I’m devastated for DeMarcus…” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “Injuries are a part of the game, but you are talking about a player who has now dealt with the two most feared injuries for NBA players — the Achilles and ACL — each knocking you out for an entire season… It’s unheard of.”

For Cousins, it means another year of hard-work rehab. It’s a grind that will understandably wear on him.

For the Lakers… the options are not pretty.

There is nobody readily available who can provide near the level of production they hoped to get from Cousins.

The Lakers are not going to make Davis play the five more — he does not want to, and while it’s a longshot he leaves as a free agent next summer he still has that leverage and the Lakers want and need to keep him happy.

So who are the Lakers best options? Right now they have JaVale McGee as a traditional center and that’s it. Remember, they also only have a minimum contract to offer.

The name that bounced around as speculation at the Lakers practice facility (where Team USA practiced this week) was Joakim Noah. The veteran played solidly last season in Memphis after New York wanted him out, and with the Grizzlies he played respectable defense while scoring 7.1 points a game on 51.6 percent shooting. Noah also is a good passer and smart player. He would fit with their veteran mindset, if LeBron James signed off on bringing Noah in.

Nene also is available as a free agent, but at age 37 he showed considerable decline the past couple of seasons in Houston. Marcin Gortat is another option here, he showed a decline at age 35 last season, but at this point the Lakers can’t be too picky. If the Lakers want a good pick-and-roll big, Salah Mejri has been that for Dallas in recent years.

The best available free agent is the Manimal, Kenneth Faried. He is 29 years old, always plays hard, and averaged 12.9 points per game on 58.7 percent shooting in 25 games for the Rockets last season after joining them mid-January. He picked up the slack until Clint Capela returned from injury, but once that happened Faried fell out of the rotation. The main reason for that, and for his limited playoff role, is that Faried is not much of a defender anymore. But he can get buckets.

Another name — one that sends shivers down the spines of Lakers fans — is Dwight Howard. He was traded to Memphis this summer for C.J. Miles and is expected to be bought out. If/when that happens, he has played solidly in recent years. When healthy. And that’s the bigger concern, Howard played just nine games for the Wizards last season. On a team where both LeBron and Davis are going to get a lot of nights off, the Lakers need role players they can count on to absorb minutes, and Howard is just not that guy.

The Lakers could look to the trade market — guys such as Nerlens Noel could eventually become available, Detroit may listen to offers for Christian Wood — however, Los Angeles does not have a lot to give up in a deal.

Bottom line, the options for the Lakers are not good. While the loss of Cousins does not take them out of contender status, it makes reaching their potential that much harder. The margin for error has shrunk again.

They will need to add someone at center, but at this point it’s a case of holding their nose and taking whatever they see as the best fit.

Report: Bucks signing Tim Frazier, waiving Christian Wood

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Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon is out through the start of the playoffs.

Now, Milwaukee is swapping a big for another guard.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Though a combo guard, Brogdon has primarily played shooting guard this season. Tim Frazier is a point guard. So, this isn’t a clear replacement.

Frazier, who spent training camp with Milwaukee, is a decent backup point guard. He’ll provide depth behind Eric Bledsoe and George Hill – depth missing without Brogdon. But Brogdon was merely insurance at point guard. His main role was off the ball.

Perhaps, with Frazier, the Bucks will use Hill more at shooting guard. More likely, they’ll continue to lean on Khris Middleton, Tony Snell, Donte DiVincenzo, Pat Connaughton and Sterling Brown at the position.

Christian Wood is more than a small loss. The 23-year-old has looked good in the minor league and limited NBA minutes. He possesses long-term intrigue.

Milwaukee is rightfully emphasizing the present. I’m just unconvinced Frazier moves the needle now.