Pistons' Ed Stefanski Not Here To Tank: "Our Task Is To Win"

It starts at the top with owner Tom Gores.

Jamie and Stoney
February 08, 2019 - 9:31 am

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

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Echoing comments made last month by Pistons owner Tom Gores, acting general manager Ed Stefanski said on Friday the team's primary goal is to compete for a playoff spot this season. 

The trade deadline came and went on Thursday with the Pistons making a pair of minor moves. They remain a middling team in the East -- not good enough to seriously contend, not bad enough to have a real chance at an elite player in the draft like Zion Williamson. 

Stefanski explained the organization's approach in an interview with the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket. 

"I hear you with Zion, I understand how exciting that young man is. But from Tom Gores down, our task is to play every night and to compete and to try to win. So that’s how we’re going to do it," Stefanski said. "I  hear the argument (of tanking). I’ve been on different sides of listening to it on different teams. I feel good that even if we make the playoffs, with (director of player personnel) Gregg Polisnky, who I brought in from the Nets who was with me years ago, and myself, I think we have good eyes to find players. I’m very confident about that. 

"I’m not going to argue with you that the higher you go in the draft the better your chances are. But we’re in it to try to win every game. I don’t know how it’s going to go, but we feel now we have a nice, little, young nucleus of players and we’re going to try to still be in that buyout market." 

The Pistons acquired rookie forward Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and a second-round pick from the Lakers in exchange for Reggie Bullock, a player they weren't prepared to pay in free agency this summer, and third-year center Thon Maker from the Bucks in a three-team trade involving Stanley Johnson. It's been reported they intend to aggressively pursue Wayne Ellington in the buyout market if and when he's released by the Suns. 

Detroit is 24-29 and 1.5 games out of the last playoff spot in the East. 

Asked specifically about the long-term gain of a likely first-round playoff exit this season versus securing a top pick in the draft, Stefanski reiterated, "We’re competitive. We’re going to try to win. I really don’t defend -- when you try to win every game, that’s the makeup of this organization and that’s how we’re going to do it." 

As for the rumors regarding a trade for Mike Conley, Stefanski wouldn't comment directly. The Pistons were reportedly offering Reggie Jackson and a first-round pick

"I won’t talk about individual players, but we talked to every team. I really believe our front office with (assistant general managers) Sasha Guptin, Malik Rose, Pat Garrity, Andrew Loomis, they’ve been on the phone for weeks now and we talked to every team over and over. There were proposals back and forth with teams, but it takes two to make a deal, and these were the two deals we came up with," Stefanski said. "The larger deals, I’m not surprised, may not have had a chance because of our lack of cap flexibility." 

The Pistons' payroll is about $123 million, per HoopsHype, well over the NBA's soft salary cap of about $101 million and right up against the luxury tax threshold. Gores said he was willing to absorb the luxury tax to add a star player at the deadline, but Stefanski suggested it wasn't really feasible for the Pistons to be buyers. 

"We had more opportunities to be a little bit of a seller," he said. "With our situation, there’s no secret, we are cap restricted. We don’t have much wiggle room to make deals with cap space, so we have to make little moves on the side here, which I think we did. But we got these moves where we got players that we think are good prospects, with rookie contracts, which is huge for us." 

Excluding Henry Ellenson, whose option the Pistons won't pick up this summer, Detroit now has five players on rookie contracts in Mykhailiuk, Maker, Bruce Brown, Khyri Thomas and Luke Kennard​. That's the young nucleus Stefanski is talking about. 

"We got some young guys under manageable contracts, and now we have to play. We’re still trying to make the playoffs," Stefanski said. "There’s no question about that."