The Detroit Pistons are a little more than halfway through the season, but let's face it, this team is barely contending for a playoff spot, and is extremely unlikely to advance to the second round. That's why it's as good a time as ever to start thinking about the offseason.
First, let's start with some basic assumptions. There are a few players that are unlikely to return to Detroit next season. Tayshaun Prince, if he isn't moved before February's trading deadline, won't be re-signed as the team continues to focus on rebuilding. The same can be said for Chris Wilcox.
Under the right circumstances, the Pistons would love to have Tracy McGrady back, but after what he's proven this season, he'll likely get a few offers from contenders. Plus, the Pistons won't want to commit too much cap space to a player that isn't a part of their future.
Finally there's Richard Hamilton. Obviously the team wants to trade him, but no one knows when, or if, the team will be able to complete a deal. Considering how poorly his situation has deteriorated, it's nearly impossible to imagine him on the Pistons' roster next season.
If Detroit is able to obtain expiring contracts in exchange for Hamilton, they'll have some money to spend in free agency, plus they'll be picking between 1-15 in the draft. So what should be general manager Joe Dumars top priority heading into the offseason?
Depending on how you weigh the importance of positions on the roster, it should boil down to a traditional, pass-first point guard or a well-rounded big man who can defend the post and operate with their back to the basket on the offensive end.
Why a point guard?
Tracy McGrady has been a pleasant surprise at the point after the Pistons moved Rodney Stuckey to shooting guard. McGrady has proven that a gifted distributor can make the Pistons' unbalanced roster run more smoothly.
Since the 2007-08 season, the Pistons have been in the bottom ten in the NBA in scoring efficiency, a stat that measures the amount of points a team averages per 100 possessions.
Detroit's struggles with efficiency are the result of a number of factors, including the team's pace, their unbalanced roster, and perhaps most of all, the lack of ball movement.
The Pistons rank 24th in the NBA in assists, averaging 19.9 helpers per contest, and 20th in the league in assist rate, which measures the percentage of a team's possessions that end with an assisted basket.
A good point guard knows how to maximize the talents of his teammates.
Free agency won't be ripe with options. You have veterans like T.J. Ford and potentially Andre Miller, should the Blazers opt not to pick up the team-option in his contract. There's also younger, under-the-radar talent like Patty Mills, but it's far-fetched to believe he could have a major impact.
The draft has a few interesting prospects led by Duke's Kyrie Irving. He has missed most of the college season with a foot injury, but his early-season play placed him a step above other NCAA point guards.
Irving, if he comes out, will almost assuredly be a top five pick. Other names that could fit the bill for the Pistons are Kentucky's Brandon Knight, Illinois' Demetri McCamey and Villanova's Maalik Wayns.
Why a post player?
It's been said that there's nothing harder to find than a well-rounded big man. The Pistons can clearly empathize with that sentiment. The last frontcourt player to average a double-double for Detroit was Olden Polynice with 13.1 points and 12.4 rebounds during his injury-shortened 1993-94 campaign.
There are plenty of statistical measures that expose the Pistons' void down low. Detroit ranks 25th in the league in blocked shots, 27th in rebounding rate and 24th in opponents offensive rebounding rate.
As noted many times, Detroit has been carved up by opposing power forwards and centers in the post. In fact, opposing power forwards have a 21.4 PER against Detroit this year. PER is a complex formula to rate the efficiency of a player.
To put that number in perspective, only 24 players in the NBA have a higher individual PER. Basically nearly every power forward plays like an All-Star against Detroit.
On the offensive end, the Pistons don't have a big man that can consistently score from the low block. Greg Monroe has shown improvement, but still projects better as a power forward that operates from the high block, where he can maximize his passing skills.
Finding a well-rounded big man is easier said than done. Look around the NBA. How many power forwards and centers would you label as an offensive threat, good rebounder, defensively sound and a decent shot-blocker? There's Dwight Howard, Paul Gasol, Al Horford, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan and Andrew Bogut are among the few elite. Other players, such Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Amar'e Stoudemire and Zach Randolph are so talented in some statistical areas, you can get past their defensive shortcomings.
There will be a few options in free agency, depending how much cap space the Pistons can clear. Randolph will probably be the top name on the market. There's also the risky option of trying to outbid Portland for injury-prone, but ultra-talented restricted free agent Greg Oden. Both David West and Nene Hilario have early termination options and should be on the market. Finally, there's Tyson Chandler, who the Pistons tried to acquire during this past offseason.
The draft offers options as well. Although he was ruled ineligible by the NCAA, Enes Kanter still projects as the top big man in draft. The 6-11, 260 pound center has an NBA body, a diverse offensive skill set, and the ability to be a dominant rebounder. Detroit would have to get lucky in the lottery to have a shot.
Other, potentially more realistic, names to watch include Georgia's Trey Thompkins, Florida State's Chris Singleton and international player Jonas Valanciunas.
What is the best option?
In reality, it's more complex than deciding on a primary need and going out and locking up the best player at the position. Factors, such as cap space and draft position will play a large role in how the Pistons approach the offseason.
But let's imagine a scenario where the Pistons get lucky in the draft lottery, and they have the option of Kanter, the top center, or Irving, the top point guard. Which way should the team go?
Injury concerns aside, and both players have them, you can't go wrong with either selection. Kanter would shore up rebounding, post scoring and post defense. Irving would easily be the best floor general the team has drafted since Isiah Thomas.
Right now, I'd lean toward Kanter. The Pistons' hole in the frontcourt seems bigger, and it's simply harder to find a quality big man than a quality point guard. That's just my opinion, please use the comments to share yours.
What should be the Detroit Pistons' biggest offseason priority: A traditional point guard or a back-to-the basket post player?