CHICAGO — It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Hope is at an all-time high, positive vibes are plentiful, and the bigger picture is in focus.
On Tuesday night, teams like the Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs will form several prayer circles for Lady Luck, hoping to change their fortunes and escape the long process of rebuilding.
For the moment, we do not know how the evening will unfold. What we do know is that a good portion of these organizations don’t want to get used to this process on a yearly basis. The plan is to win and train young talent.
AthleticismRockets beat writer Kelly Iko and Pistons beat writer James Edwards III sat down before a busy day to discuss where the two franchises stand, what to expect and the various outcomes of the draft.
Located: Good to see you back here James – if rebuilding and sub-25 win seasons are your thing. The day is finally here. In a few hours, we will know the fate of the 14 NBA Draft Lottery teams and above all, we will know where Victor Wembanyama is likely going.
What’s the sense around Detroit this week? Are there any apprehensions as to where they might possibly land? I remember being in the room last year and hearing the collective gasps when the Pistons ended up with the No. 5 pick.
Edwards: Yes, there is a bit of anxiety, I think. Detroit doesn’t expect to have a very good chance of landing the No. 1 pick again in the future, so they really want to take advantage of it while they’re here.
Everyone in Detroit will jump for joy, of course, with number 1. That goes without saying. A lot of people will go through the roof with No. 2, great with No. 3, then absolutely gutted if the Pistons pick No. 4 or 5.
I believe there’s a real chance Detroit will trade the pick if it’s not in the top 3.
Is it bleak in Houston if he doesn’t land in Wemby?
Located: I would reserve unhappiness and sadness for anything not in the top 3.
From the outside, it definitely looks like Detroit is a lot more patient than Houston. You can talk more about it, but Pistons owner Tom Gores didn’t tell me much about the desperate need to speed up the process. I can’t say the same for Houston.
Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta bought that franchise in 2017 and inherited a group that was dedicated to winning and seemed like a lifelong contender. A lot has changed since then and he wants to get back to winning ways as soon as possible. The team has talked a lot about phase one, phase two, phase three – and phase two, the one currently following the hiring of Ime Udoka, is getting back to the playoffs. I highly doubt they have the stomach for another disaster year or two. There would be drastic changes if that happened.
Winning the NBA draft lottery, earning the right to draft Wembanyama, and heading into the summer armed with nearly $60 million in cap space is the quickest way to turn the page on this rebuild. They would always be happy with the second or third pick, but that’s where they would draw the line. Anything after that would be prime commercial fodder. Now, I’m not saying it’s final because it takes two teams to make a deal, but they would be extremely open.
Outside of Wembanyama, who do you see aligning more with Detroit – Scoot Henderson or Brandon Miller? Is there even a dark horse candidate that you think fits their mold?
Edwards: The Pistons want to turn a corner next season, but I haven’t gotten the feeling the property is getting impatient yet. Reception has been patient and will continue to be if the situation calls for it, and the owner seems to be aligned with that vision.
Henderson has a higher upside, but Miller is more in line with the team’s needs and still has a very good upside. The closer we get to the draft, the more I think the Pistons favor Miller over Henderson (especially considering their belief in Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey). I could be completely wrong, but that’s just a feeling I have right now.
If Houston drops to four, five or six, who do you love for them?
Located: I’ve been back and forth between Henderson and Miller for weeks but I’m comfortable with Miller.
I’m leaning more and more toward the “Miller/Cam Whitmore draft, sign a veteran point guard in free agency” now that the Philadelphia 76ers have passed away for the second straight season. I’m not saying it should be James Harden or the bust – Fred Van Vleet and Austin Reaves are also intriguing if more complicated – but I feel like time is running out for the whole team dynamic. Houston has been monitoring Harden’s situation closely and I see no reason why they shouldn’t feel confident with their grand plans. This summer should be interesting.
But assuming Wembanyama, Henderson and Miller are out of the picture, Whitmore and Jarace Walker move slightly for them above the Thompson twins. Whitmore has real dynamic potential as an off-the-ball threat and Walker is going to be a defensive terror who can guard multiple positions – not to mention new head coach Udoka’s penchant for that side of the ball. It’s anything but an exact science and I could be wrong, but that’s where I’m at right now.
Either way, whoever these two teams end up with will be joining very young, development-dependent teams. Based on what you’ve seen over the past two seasons, are you confident in Detroit’s patient plan to bring these players up to speed?
Edwards: I’m confident mainly because they have talented players. Cunningham hasn’t even played a full NBA season yet. The flashes are too strong to ignore. Ivey was improving every month. Jalen Duren, I think, is going to be a problem when he has more experience under his belt. The likes of Isaiah Stewart and Isaiah Livers, two guys who can play with several different formations, round out a young core.
It just takes time. Not everyone is patient. The Pistons haven’t been very good for about 15 years. Fans tend to blame that frustration on Troy Weaver and his team, even though I think Detroit is Finally build it the right way. What happened before Weaver got here isn’t his fault and he shouldn’t rush the process just because of it.
Located: When you dive into the nitty-gritty, the Rockets should feel optimistic. Things could and should have been better now, but given certain circumstances, they are in a solid position. Jalen Green and Jabari Smith Jr. looked stronger towards the end of the season, they will come back hungry. Tari Eason impressed me from start to finish of her rookie season. Alperen Şengün also improved in his second season.
All things considered, Houston has had several rookie players over the past three seasons. Like you said, these things take time and the players and development aren’t always perfect. Udoka will be a game changer for these players and in a year the growth will be astronomical. But it starts with the draft. Good luck. Pray for Victor.
(Photo: Jeff Pachoud/AFP via Getty Images)