Chosen one slot before Donovan Mitchell, Luke Kennard has faced unjust expectations for three years in his NBA career. With the Detroit pistons aiming for the playoffs, Kennard played a backup role in his first two seasons. He received a fair amount of minutes off the bench while coach Dwane Casey appreciated Kennard’s ability to become a secondary ball manager while shooting with three skills.
The 2019-20 season was a year of free fall for the Pistons. After placing the Pistons in the playoffs in the 2018-19 season, left knee surgery put Blake Griffin aside for much of the season. The team subsequently shifted the gears to a rebuild while the team swapped Andre Drummond for Cleveland Cavaliers. Reggie Jackson lost most of the season with a back injury before the team abandoned him after the trade expired.
Kennard had an important start to the season, averaging 15.8 points / game, 2.6 three / game (40% from three) and 4.1 assists / game. However, knee tendonitis ended Kennard’s season early after only 28 games.
The pistons are at a crossroads. Griffin’s contract extends during the 2020-21 season with a player option worth $ 38 million in the 2021-22 season, an option he will most likely take unless he has a breakout season. Outside of Griffin, the only significant contracts are Derrick Rose, Sekou Doumboya, Tony Snell’s player option and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk. Their available roof space is around $ 45 million at this point. The Pistons could make the last attempt to contend with Griffin on the roster or to rebuild further.
In both situations, Kennard’s contractual situation presents an interesting conundrum. Health is the biggest question mark for Kennard since he has lost much of the past season. Furthermore, his roof is limited due to his defensive shortcomings and the lack of explosiveness at the end of the offensive. If the Pistons want to fight, they would like to maximize their maximum space. Therefore, extending Kennard to a large contract would not be smart. At the same time, if the Pistons wanted to start from scratch, offering Kennard a long-term extension makes little sense.
It was somewhat surprising that the Pistons received commercial calls to Kennard in February. While the new GM Troy Weaver complimented Kennard on his initial press conference, there is certainly no support for his long-term future. The Suns almost swapped a combination of Elie Okobo, Jevon Carter and a protected 1st round choice for Kennard when the trade expired before the discussions ended. The Pistons have long had an interest in Frank Ntilikina, so it could be a potential piece that moves to Detroit, although this makes Knicks fans angry. Sure, the Pistons might consider one of Dennis Smith Jr or Kevin Knox to be low-level targets, along with a choice from the 1st round of 2023 (via Dallas), but it may not be too tempting.
Any deal for Kennard only makes sense if the Knicks see it as a long-term piece on the roster.