Playing “what if” with the Detroit Pistons and Houston Rockets

Troy Weaver general manager of the Detroit Pistons addresses the media beside owner Tom Gores Credit: Brian Bradshaw Sevald-USA TODAY Sports
Troy Weaver general manager of the Detroit Pistons addresses the media beside owner Tom Gores Credit: Brian Bradshaw Sevald-USA TODAY Sports /

The Detroit Pistons and Houston Rockets entered this past offseason in very similar situations.

Both teams were off a terrible season, but had some young talent to build around. Both teams added high-profile new coaches in Monty Williams and Ime Udoka to help usher in the next stage of their rebuild.

Both teams drafted a Thompson Twin, with Amen going 4th to Houston and Ausar going 5th to Detroit. Both teams had huge amounts of cap space to spend on free agency and trades to try and augment their rosters around the talented young core.

And that’s where the similarities end, as the Rockets used their cap space to add young veterans who can still play in Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks, while the Detroit Pistons spent $30 million on trades that yielded Monte Morris (who hasn’t played yet) and Joe Harris (who is completely washed and now injured).

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The moves have paid off for Houston so far, as they are 6-3, sitting 4th in the Western Conference, riding a six-game winning streak and both VanVleet and Brooks have been a huge part of it.

You could say the same about the Indiana Pacers, who “overpaid” for free agent Bruce Brown, who has been a big part of their 6-4 start.

The Pistons are 2-9 and riding an 8-game losing streak. You have to wonder how things might look if the Detroit Pistons had taken a similar approach to the Rockets and Pacers.

What if the Detroit Pistons hadn’t spent their cap space on Joe Harris?

Troy Weaver’s decision to use $20 million of his cap space to take on the corpse of Joe Harris has not paid off. It’s not just that Harris was bad, and now injured, but that there were players out there who might have actually helped this team win.

I’m not suggesting the Pistons should have pursued VanVleet and Brooks, but there were guys like Grant Williams, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Torrey Craig who could have helped this team without breaking the bank or sacrificing future flexibility. I have said many times that I am glad Detroit didn’t go all in on Cam Johnson or Jerami Grant, but they could have improved without maxing out a mid-level player.

For that matter, they could actually use Saddiq Bey, who has been good for Atlanta and is a guy who suits up every night. Again, I don’t think Detroit should have made a long-term financial commitment to Bey, but he’d offer more to this team than James Wiseman, there is no doubt of that.

Would keeping Bey and signing a guy like Grant Williams (who is shooting 50 percent from long range and fits into the defensive culture the Pistons are trying to build) have been enough to keep this young team afloat?

You can blame injuries, but Troy Weaver gave away a huge chunk of cap space and a roster spot for Joe Harris when he could have had a younger, low-cost veteran who can actually contribute, all for the big payoff of two garbage second-round picks.

It’s fair to ask what might have happened had Weaver actually tried to build a team instead of looking at his cap space as a way to grab easy-to-acquire assets.

It’s also fair to ask if Troy Weaver should be the one using the copious cap space the Detroit Pistons will once again have at their disposal at the end of this season. I think Weaver deserves one more shot, as injuries have to be taken into consideration, but he won’t get much beyond that, as he’s yet to prove he’s good at any parts of the job that don’t involve choosing draft picks.

It’s difficult to watch what is happening in Houston and not think it should be happening in Detroit. It still might, as there is a ton of season left, but right now the Rockets are headed in the right direction while the Pistons are still staring up from the bottom of the NBA, wondering when it’s going to be their turn.

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