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Report: Pistons’ Henry Ellenson to play for USA Basketball in World Cup qualifying

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Most of the NBA’s biggest names are candidates for Team USA in the 2019 World Cup.

But the Americans first must qualify.

FIBA, in its infinite wisdom, scheduled qualifying windows that largely overlap with the NBA season or come close to it. So, USA Basketball has sent teams of mostly minor-leaguers for qualifiers in November, February and June/July. David Stockton played earlier this summer while still under contract with the Jazz, but it was always fait accompli they’d waive him and his unguaranteed deal. Alex Caruso also played earlier this summer while on a two-way with the Lakers.

It has gone well enough. The U.S. is 5-1, though it got upset by Mexico.

But the Americans – who host Uruguay Sept. 14 in Las Vegas then play Panama on Sept. 17 – will bolster their roster for the next qualifying window. They’re adding a bona fide NBA player with a guaranteed salary… Pistons big Henry Ellenson.

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

Despite his superior contract status, Ellenson isn’t really a gamechanger. Some of the minor-leaguers who’ve already played for Jeff Van Gundy in these qualifiers are probably better than the 21-year-old Ellenson.

Besides, the U.S. should beat Uruguay and Panama, anyway (though I would have said the same about Mexico).

But I am curious whether this indicates USA Basketball will add other NBA players to the roster for next month. There are a few days between the Panama game and NBA training camps opening.

Or maybe Ellenson is just the rare exact right level of NBA player – barely in the league, in major need of development – to make sense for this event.

Report: Jon Leuer expected to return to Pistons by start of season

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Pistons big Jon Leuer underwent meniscus surgery, leaving plenty of doubt about his availability for next season.

Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

After losing Anthony Tolliver in free agency (to the Timberwolves), Detroit needs Leuer as a stretch big off the bench. Unless Henry Ellenson is ready for rotation minutes, which…

If Leuer isn’t quite ready for the start of the season, Stanley Johnson could play small-ball four, but that weakens wing depth.

The Pistons’ best hope is Leuer getting healthy on schedule.

Pistons present themselves as Eastern Conference heavyweights with Dwane Casey

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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DETROIT – Pistons spokesman Mark Barnhill, introducing new coach Dwane Casey, said he tucked his notes for today’s press conference into his jacket pocket. Then, as he pulled them out, he discovered an old Pistons playoff ticket in the same pocket.

“It’s a bit of an omen and a bit of a challenge,” Barnhill said.

The ticket was for the Pistons’ best playoff performance in a decade.

“No pressure,” Casey said.

Actually, really, no pressure.

Detroit lost by only two points in Game 4 of the 2016 first round, getting swept by the Cavaliers in the game Barnhill referred to. The Pistons haven’t won a playoff game in the last 10 years and reached the postseason only twice in that span. A two-point loss was their best result.

They’re starving for only moderate success. The 59 wins and second-round loss that got Casey fired by the Raptors? That’d be a dream season in Detroit. Even just making the playoffs next year would be welcomed.

“Our time is now,” Casey said. “…The talent level on the roster is there.”

It better be.

The Pistons are too close to the luxury-tax line to use most of the mid-level exception. They surrendered their first-round pick in the Blake Griffin trade. They’re left with only the No. 42 pick in the second round.

“Whatever player we get, that would be great. But we don’t need another one,” Pistons owner Tom Gores said. “Like, we’re good. That’s why Dwane is here.”

That and $35 million.

The Pistons presented Casey with a favorable contract, a front-office head he knows (more on that later) and a solid roster. Detroit is probably better off trying to win now, because the alternative would be even trickier to pull off. With so many highly paid players stained by losing, the Pistons can’t easily switch paths and rebuild. Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson are close enough to their primes that the present should be the priority, even if this team maxes at pretty good.

Yet, Detroit’s brass couldn’t help but raise expectations even further.

“We have three very – we have a great roster – but very special players,” Gores said of Griffin, Drummond and Jackson.

That’s an overstatement. Besides, how much noise can Detroit make with the Celtics and 76ers rising the Raptors still hanging around?

“I feel very comfortable that we’ll have a product that will compete with the teams that you just said,” Gores’ advisor, Ed Stefanski, said. “We have to win games, as Tom said. But you don’t usually get to an organization and have three core guys like we have.”

Again, they’re talking about Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.

Griffin hasn’t made an All-Star team in three years, a drought players rarely escape. Drummond is a borderline All-Star in the East (and a tough fit with Griffin). Jackson has only once even sniffed the All-Star discussion.

Casey also praised those three – and Detroit’s last three first-round picks: Stanley Johnson, Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard. Johnson particularly drew attention from Casey, whose Raptors got swept by LeBron James‘ Cavaliers the last two years and lost the most lopsided six-game series in NBA history to Cleveland the previous year.

“Somebody said, ‘Well, what happened to Toronto in the playoffs? ‘Well, I said, ‘It’s about matchups,'” Casey said. “And Stanley Johnson is the best match up for 23 in Cleveland that there is, physically.”

Maybe Casey, with his strong record of player development, will help Johnson eventually compete at those high levels.

“We’re not developing,” Casey said. “We’re not two or three years away. We want to win right now.”

The Pistons are so confident in their current roster, they haven’t even hired a general manager or equivalent. For now, Stefanski – advisor to the owner with the title of “senior executive” – is running the show. It sounds as if that could continue for a while.

“We could make Ed GM tomorrow,” Gores said. “That’s easy. If you guys want a title, that’s kind of easy.

“That’s not the point. The point is we’re building an organization, not around one person, but around what our vision is.”

Stefanski said, no matter how the front office is assembled, Casey will report to him. And Stefanski will report to Gores.

After giving Stan Van Gundy massive control, the Pistons are dispersing power.

Casey is a good coach, and he’ll help. Stefanski has plenty to prove as a front-office head. Gores is still learning as an owner, a failed experiment (keeping Joe Dumars) and unfulfilling tenure (Van Gundy’s) behind him. The roster is solid, though unexciting, when healthy.

They’re now all in it together, awaiting a chance to deliver. Considering how modest external expectations are, maybe they will.

But as the Pistons overstate their standing, it gets harder to take them seriously.

Pistons kicked the can down the road – heedlessly

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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.

In their seminal set of transactions this offseason, the Pistons upgraded to a better, cheaper version of their previous shooting guard.

The bill – Marcus Morris already used as down payment – will come due next summer, when Avery Bradley becomes an unrestricted free agent. Will Detroit be better equipped to handle his free agency than Kentavious Caldwell-Pope‘s this year?

That’s the bet the Pistons are making.

They had a breakthrough run to the 2016 playoffs, where they were the youngest team to qualify. But their ascension got sidetracked around Reggie Jackson‘s injury-plagued 2016-17 season. There’s a good case the point guard’s injuries contributed to his ineffectiveness, Andre Drummond‘s regression and the chemistry problems that plague losing teams.

The result: The Pistons had to face Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s restricted free agency with the luxury tax breathing down their neck and most of their players’ values in the gutter. Rather than spend its way out of the hole, Detroit kicked the can to next summer.

In the meantime, the Pistons got Bradley, who will earn about half of Caldwell-Pope’s salary this season. Bradley, two years older, is also better than Caldwell-Pope right now.

But the swap cost Detroit Morris, who was traded to the Celtics for Bradley. It also cost the Pistons Caldwell-Pope – though it didn’t necessarily have to.

They rescinded Caldwell-Pope’s qualifying offer after getting Bradley, clearing Caldwell-Pope to sign a one-year, $17,745,894 deal with the Lakers as an unrestricted free agent. But Detroit could have strengthened itself by keeping Caldwell-Pope restricted – even without actually trying to re-sign him.

If Caldwell-Pope accepted his $4,958,374 qualifying offer, the Pistons would have gotten another quality contributor at a bargain price for this season. They could have easily stayed under the tax with him earning so little. Would he have been somewhat redundant behind Bradley? Yes, but teams need backups, and Caldwell-Pope would have been a heck of a backup and trade chip. He would have held the right to veto trades, but any team dealing for him would’ve likely put him in a better position entering free agency. Barring a trade, Detroit would have entered next summer with both Bradley’s and Caldwell-Pope’s Bird Rights – doubling (or so) the odds of re-signing a quality shooting guard long-term.

If Caldwell-Pope signed an offer sheet elsewhere, it would have been required to be for at least two years (not including option years). So, that Lakers contract would not have been allowed. Whichever team signed Caldwell-Pope would’ve therefore likely been out of the running for another starting shooting guard next summer, easing the Pistons’ ability to re-sign Bradley.

As is, Detroit doesn’t have Caldwell-Pope this season, will have Bird Rights on only one starting-caliber shooting guard next offseason and will face a deeper pool of teams courting Bradley.

Rescinding Caldwell-Pope’s qualifying offer, clearing the way for his one-year, bet-on-himself contract with the Lakers was a huge favor to him. He didn’t have to lock into a multi-year deal in a market he found unfavorable. He’s earning more than triple what he would’ve on the qualifying offer while still getting a crack at unrestricted free agency next summer. There’s valuing in doing right by players who don’t quite fit the long-term plan.

I’m just not sure the Pistons are in a strong enough position to do a favor that big rather than exercising their collectively bargained rights. Graciously letting Caldwell-Pope walk just puts more pressure on everyone else.

Without Morris, the Pistons will need Stanley Johnson to step up this season. Tobias Harris can man one forward spot, but Johnson – the No. 8 pick in 2015 – is the ideal choice for the other. Johnson struggled his first two seasons, but he’s just 21, and it’s far too soon to close the book on him. Though I wouldn’t want to rely on him making a jump, Detroit has little choice.

The Pistons won’t be forced to lean on Stan Van Gundy’s other two first-round picks, power forward Henry Ellenson (No. 18 last year) and shooting Luke Kennard (No. 12 this year), quite as much. Detroit hedged with more experience – and expensive – veterans.

Langston Galloway might live up to his three-year, $21 million contract. But he’s just one forgettable season split between New Orleans and Sacramento away from the Knicks pulling his qualifying offer and the Pelicans signing him to just a two-year, $10,634,000 deal with a player option. It seems likely Detroit went well above market rate to sign the combo guard, a disturbing trend.

The Pistons got power forward Anthony Tolliver cheaper, for one year with the $3.29 million bi-annual exception. But that also means they can’t use the bi-annual exception again next year. Using the bi-annual exception this summer is not necessarily flawed. The Pistons knew it’d be useful now, and there’s no guarantee it would be next offseason. But preserving resources for the future seems to barely be a consideration for this franchise.

At least they convinced Aron Baynes to decline his $6.5 million player option, granting them more maneuverability. He was left with the $4,328,000 room exception in Boston.

Winning creates flexibility, as players on winning teams hold more value. Perhaps, Jackson getting healthy creates a ripple effect in Detroit that – with these new additions bolstering the roster – sparks a revival.

But the Pistons are poised to face the same luxury-tax issues they had with paying Caldwell-Pope this summer with paying Bradley next summer. Except Bradley will start free agency unrestricted, meaning Detroit will have even less control of the situation.

The Pistons just hope they win enough this year to confront that issue from a position of greater strength.

Offseason grade: C-

Stanley Johnson drains late three, Pistons beat Rockets 114-109

Associated Press
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HOUSTON (AP) — The Detroit Pistons gave some of their young and seldom-used players a chance to play Friday night, and it helped them beat the Houston Rockets.

Boban Marjanovic, Detroit’s 7-foot-3 backup center, led the Pistons with a career-high 27 points with 12 rebounds off the bench and Stanley Johnson hit a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 32.4 seconds left before adding two free throws to lift the Pistons to the 114-109 victory Friday night.

“It was great and we had a bunch of guys out there that really wanted to play,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “They weren’t bogged down by the way the season has gone. They had great enthusiasm to play. I don’t care when it is in the year or what the situation is that’s a big part of this is just having a great enthusiasm to play and those guys just did.”

The Rockets led by two after a dunk by Montrezl Harrell before Ish Smith made a basket to tie it. James Harden missed a 3-pointer on the other end, and Johnson’s 3-pointer made it 110-107.

Harden missed another 3-point attempt, and Johnson added the free throws to make it 112-107. Harrell added a layup after that but Tobias Harris tacked on two more free throws with eight seconds left.

Harden finished one rebound shy of a triple-double with 33 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds. He said players getting rest was no excuse for what happened on Friday night.

“Whoever is in the game has to know what they’re doing on both ends of the floor,” he said. “And just go out there and try to execute.”

The Pistons used a 12-1 spurt, capped by four points from Marjanovic, to cut the lead to 94-93 midway through the fourth quarter. Houston missed seven straight shots in span before Eric Gordon ended the drought with a 3-pointer to make it 97-93.

A 3-pointer by Johnson tied it with about three minutes left before Harden made a pair of 3-pointers sandwiched around a layup by rookie Henry Ellenson to give Houston a 105-101 lead.

Ellenson finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds in his first career start.

Coach Mike D’Antoni rested starting center Clint Capela and said he’ll rest other players in the last three regular-season games after Houston clinched the third spot in the Western Conference on Wednesday.

However, Harden and Patrick Beverley won’t be among those who will sit out because they refused when he asked them.

Reggie Bullock made back to back 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter to get the Pistons within 6. But Houston made the next six points to extend its lead to 93-81.

Smith got the Pistons within 1 point with a jump shot with about nine minutes left in the third quarter before Houston used a 10-3 run, with two 3-pointers from Harden, to make it 69-61 midway through the period.

The Pistons scored seven straight points, with five from Harris, to cut the lead to 76-73 with about two minutes left in the quarter.

But Houston outscored the Pistons 9-2 the rest of the quarter to lead 87-75 entering the fourth. Lou Williams scored the seven points in that span and Harden capped the run with a reverse layup.

Houston led by as many as 11 in the first half and was up 54-52 at halftime.

TIP-INS

Pistons: Michael Gbinije missed the game with a respiratory infection. … Smith finished with 20 points. … The Pistons had just six turnovers. … Andre Drummond had 15 points and 11 rebounds.

Rockets: Harden made seven 3-pointers for his 35th game this season with at least four 3-pointers. … Beverley had six points and a career-high 13 rebounds.

THEY SAID IT

Marjanovic on his career-best performance: “I’m more happy because we won this against a very, very good team. We just played hard like you’re supposed to do.”

ANDERSON’S RETURN

Ryan Anderson returned after missing the last six games with a sprained right ankle. He had nine points, three rebounds and a block. D’Antoni said before the game that he’d limit him to 20 minutes in his first game back, but played him for just 13 minutes, where were all in the first half.

 

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