Pistons Mailbag - January 17, 2013

Pistons.com editor Keith Langlois answers your questions about the Pistons and NBA. Click here to submit your questions - please include your name, email address and city/state on the form. Return to the Mailbag homepage.

We reserve the right to edit your question for the sake of brevity or clarity.

Editor’s note: You can now submit Pistons Mailbag questions via Twitter. Include the hashtag #pistonsmailbag and, as always, your first name, hometown and state or country. Questions submitted via Twitter will also include the questioner’s Twitter handle.

Leon (Mechanicsburg, Pa.): I’m going to go old school on you. If Vinnie Johnson was “The Microwave,” why do you think he never won the Sixth Man of the Year award?

Langlois: The fact he was playing behind Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars is the best answer. So many times, the player who wins the award is a sixth man in only the most technical sense: He doesn’t start, but he usually finishes and is almost universally considered one of his team’s five best players. Johnson didn’t start for the Pistons because he played behind two Hall of Fame guards who almost always finished games – not always, because Chuck Daly would ride the hot hand and Vinnie’s hand could get as hot as anyone’s. Some of the winners back then, like Rickey Pierce (a two-time winner) and Eddie Johnson averaged more than 20 points a game. Roy Tarpley, early in his career and during the peak of Vinnie’s, won it once with Dallas when he averaged a double-double. Keep in mind that Vinnie was at his peak when the NBA was a 23-team league, for the most part, and it was easier to stockpile talent in the pre-salary cap era. So some teams were really loaded and some very good players were coming off of benches. Vinnie Johnson will be remembered as one of the NBA’s all-time best sixth men. Few have performed as consistently well in a tough role over the bulk of their careers. The fact he never won the award is more of a quirk than any reflection on how he filled the role. Pierce, by the way, could have filled that role for the Pistons, perhaps, if Johnson hadn’t already been on the roster. Jack McCloskey, in another example of his phenomenal eye for talent, drafted Pierce with the No. 18 pick in 1982, but traded him the following year for two second-rounders. He was a tremendous scorer and shooter who had many big games against the Pistons, especially during his Milwaukee days.

Ben (Grosse Pointe, Mich.): Just for kicks and giggles, let’s say you’re Joe D and OKC calls to offer Kevin Durant for Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. Assuming all the contract requirements added up, would you pull the trigger on that deal?

Langlois: Durant is one of the most gifted scorers I’ve ever seen, Ben, and in an era when coaches focus on defense far more than they did in past generations – mostly because technology and scouting manpower make it an area they feel they can control more readily – that scoring ability makes him incredibly valuable. Look, OKC isn’t trading Durant unless Miami offers LeBron James and a sweetener, so kicks and giggles is the extent of it. Given Durant’s star power and the impetus he’d give to an organization in the throes of a struggle to win back its fans, it would be very hard to resist a trade offer for Durant no matter what the demand. But if you were to give up both Drummond and Monroe in that deal, you’d have to hope cap space and Durant’s presence would be enough to attract a free agent big man – hello, Dwight Howard? – or you had enough else on board to combine assets in trade for another big man.

Bernardo (Ciudad Juarez, Mexico): Why don’t the Pistons trade Maxiell, Prince and Stuckey for Calderon and Bargnani?

Langlois: No one would be surprised if Calderon and Bargnani wind up together in a trade package before the Feb. 21 trade deadline, Bernardo. I’m not sure Bargnani fills a great need for the Pistons as long as they have both Charlie Villanueva and Austin Daye on the roster – two players who essentially provide what Bargnani does best, a range-shooting big man. Put Villanueva in your proposal instead of Maxiell and you might have something that would more interest Toronto, unless it was Maxiell’s expiring contract the Raptors coveted. In that case, though, if they were giving up Calderon’s expiring deal, they probably wouldn’t be looking to take on the added years of Stuckey and Prince’s deals but, instead, would be looking for cap space and future assets, draft picks or a promising young player on a rookie deal. A true playmaking point guard like Calderon might have some appeal for the Pistons, but his pending free agency would, of course, mean they might not have him beyond this season.

Rickey (Toledo, Ohio): If the Pistons were to trade anyone this season, who might it be and what position do you think management will trade for?

Langlois: Let’s flip the question, Rickey. Who isn’t going to be traded? Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe are pretty unlikely to be moved. (Nobody is untouchable, but some – Kevin Durant, as we discussed above, probably the closest to it – are virtually so, yet I can’t imagine what it would take to engage Joe Dumars in talks on Drummond, at this point.) Brandon Knight is so early in his development, and the Pistons so believe in his work ethic and the likelihood that he’ll realize his potential, that he’s also unlikely to be traded. Kyle Singler offers terrific production for a modest salary for the next two seasons. If he’s traded, he’s an addition to a much larger deal – the kind that happens once a generation for most franchises, so, again, unlikely. Beyond those players, I don’t think it would raise too many eyebrows if anyone else were to be traded. That’s the nature of the NBA. You could go through virtually every roster in the league and would find the same situation – a few players highly unlikely to be traded, everyone else fair game. The reality is there probably won’t be more than a handful to two handfuls of trades involving a relative pittance of players leaguewide.

Frans (Hesperia, Calif.): Any chance the Pistons could take a look at Greg Oden if he returns next year? They could sell him on Arnie Kander and point out there would be less pressure on him with the young frontcourt of Monroe, Drummond and Jerebko already in the fold.

Langlois: If I’m Oden’s agent and I look at a Pistons roster with three young big men under contract for next season and likely beyond – Monroe, Drummond and Slava Kravtsov – they wouldn’t make my long list, let alone my short list. Sure, Oden would ideally find a home where he wouldn’t be expected to log 20-plus minutes a night as he eases back following his third microfracture surgery, but I don’t know where his opportunity would come with the Pistons. And if you’re the Pistons, even though you’re always on the lookout for undervalued talent, I’m not sure you’re going to put a lot of eggs in the Oden basket when you have Drummond and Monroe in the fold already. If you’re going to devote a roster spot to a health risk, it probably would be for someone who, if healthy, would bring something nobody else on the roster could provide. A healthy Oden – and, in all likelihood, we’ll never see a healthy Oden – essentially gives the Pistons what they already have in Drummond.

Naif (Roseville, Calif.): I know you’re really busy with everything else you do, but in the past Pistons Mailbag would be posted twice a week on Monday and Thursday. Will you be doing that again? Also, I still think making the playoffs is a realistic goal for the Pistons. Your thoughts?

Langlois: At 10 games under .500 going into today’s game with the Knicks in London, the Pistons don’t have a great deal of room for error. But, yeah, there’s still a shot. There are only two teams between the Pistons and the No. 8 spot – Milwaukee and Philadelphia. Games against those teams – and against the likes of Toronto and Orlando (currently tied with the Pistons) and perhaps even Boston, currently sitting at No. 7 – are especially critical. That’s why last week’s win at Milwaukee was a big one – not just a road win, but a win against one of the teams the Pistons will have to leap to make the playoffs. As for Mailbag, I took it back to once a week for a few reasons – expanding my duties in other areas took more time, but mostly I found I’d be answering almost the same set of questions on a Thursday that I answered on a Monday. It’s not etched in stone that it will remain a weekly feature, but it’s working for now.

Ken (Dharamsala, India): Reggie Miller says the run-and-gun style of play will not hold up in the postseason. The Bad Boys’ half-court offense was a thing of ferocious beauty as was their physical defensive play. Is that what the Pistons are growing toward? Can the present Pistons guards run a half-court offense at a playoff level? Fans who insist the Billups trade was a fiasco forget he was shut down in the playoffs his last couple of years in Detroit.

Langlois: I wouldn’t put it on Billups, necessarily, Ken, but you are correct to call out the fact the Pistons struggled mightily in their half-court offense in the playoffs in 2006 and beyond. After dominating Cleveland in the first two games of the 2006 conference semifinals, the offense clutched up and from that point on would come and go during the postseason. As for the contention that run-and-gun basketball won’t hold up in the playoffs, I’d say it’s probably more accurate to say great teams give the opposition very little opportunity to run. They generally take care of the basketball and take good shots. If you’re not turning it over and not taking a lot of shots out of imbalanced offensive sets, you aren’t going to make yourself vulnerable to transition basketball.

Tani (Memphis, Tenn.): It was said the Pistons were beginning to give Daye more minutes because they wanted to shop him, but now he has done well and surpassed everyone’s expectations. Are the Pistons happy about this because is increases his trade value or will this make the Pistons want to keep him more?

Langlois: How about yes and yes – yes, Daye’s recent play has made him a more attractive trade target and, yes, Daye’s recent play makes him more likely to remain a Piston beyond this season. Andre Drummond obviously will play a critical role in how the Pistons shape their roster and, as I wrote last week, one thing that Drummond has exhibited so far is he plays effectively when he has the room to operate around the rim that good perimeter shooting can provide. If Daye can turn in consistently good performances off the bench over the season’s final half, the Pistons will have to give very strong consideration to presenting him with a qualifying offer to make him a restricted free agent (as opposed to not making the QO, in which case Daye would be an unrestricted FA and as good as gone). I don’t know that Joe Dumars will be actively shopping any player between now and the trade deadline, but it’s fair to guess – given the league-wide interest in finding range-shooting big men – that he’ll field a few calls on both Daye and Charlie Villanueva. Whether they’re enough to stir a legitimate conversation or not is anyone’s guess.

Dave (River Rouge, Mich.): Why do most Pistons fans want Stuckey out of Detroit? Should Brandon Knight be dealt for a first-round pick?

Langlois: I don’t know if a desire to trade Stuckey rises to the level of “most” Piston fans. Certainly, any time a young player flashes the type of promise Stuckey did as a rookie and then hasn’t achieved All-Star status by his sixth season, there is a tendency to believe he’s regressed simply because he hasn’t progressed in steady and measurable increments. Stuckey’s had his ups and downs, to be sure, but he gives the Pistons another dimension when he’s attacking the basket and putting the opposition on its heels defensively. Throw out the first week of the season, when he couldn’t get anything to fall and saw other areas of his game suffer, and he’s been pretty darn good this season. As for trading Knight, the Pistons took him with the No. 8 pick and I think he’s lived up to that draft status. So if you’re going to trade him for a first-rounder, it would have to be for a pick you were almost certain would be a mid- to high lottery pick in a draft you strongly felt would deliver great value relative to the pick. If Knight is traded – and, again, that’s unlikely – I wouldn’t think it would be for a draft pick.

Bo (New York City): Any gut feeling on what the Pistons might do with their cap space? Facilitate trades? Pursue talent? If so, who?

Langlois: It’s pretty rare that a team that knows it will have a considerable amount of cap space in the off-season ahead does so with an absolute focus on one or two free agents, Bo. The summer of 2010 was unusual in that regard, of course, when several teams cleared cap space for the specific intent of going hard after LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Amare Stoudemire – a crop manipulated by their agents to become free agents in the summer before the widely anticipated lockout. The Pistons’ front office will be well prepared for July 1. They will have compiled by then thorough reports on every pending free agent. They will have heard – either from other general managers, agents, or both – about players available via trade. Once their season ends, they will meet frequently and review their roster and their needs. Then they blend all of that information and come up with a short list of off-season objectives. So when I say that the question you ask is something that isn’t close to being decided, it doesn’t mean that attention to getting those answers isn’t being devoted daily toward that end. My best guess remains that it is more likely the Pistons use their cap space to acquire players via trade than spend it on free agency, though it’s certainly possible they do both. I think the trade route is more likely this off-season than most because of the new reality – luxury taxes get steeper from this point forward. A number of teams looking to avoid taxes, or at least to reduce their tax load, will be open to moving desirable players with contracts that help get them there.