Pistons Mailbag - March 7, 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.

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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.

Carl (Troy, Mich.): I see that the Pistons have four veterans who are on the last year of their contracts. Between Maggette, Calderon, Maxiell and Bynum they have about $30 million coming off the cap. How are they going to spend that $30 million?

Langlois: The amount of money in expiring contracts doesn’t necessarily equal the amount of money a team will have under the cap, Carl. Remember, the Pistons are about $11 million over the current cap of $58 million. The cap for 2013-14 won’t be set until the first week of July, but let’s say it goes up to $60 million. The Pistons have about $34 million in committed salary for next season, though they have the capacity to create more depending on what they choose to do with the contracts of Rodney Stuckey (guaranteed at about 50 percent of his reported $8.5 million), Charlie Villanueva (eligible to be amnestied, which means he’d still get all of his reported $8.6 million but it would no longer count against the salary cap), Slava Kravtsov (reportedly a team option for next season) and Kim English (ditto). But let’s stick with $34 million, and if we assume a cap of $60 million, that leaves $26 million in cap space. If the Pistons intend to bring back Jose Calderon – as they’ve said they do – then he would have a “cap hold” of 150 percent of his current salary, which would be approximately $16.5 million. It would then behoove the Pistons to get something done fast with Calderon so the cap charge would then revert to his first-year salary. For argument’s sake, let’s say that would be $7 million. That would leave them with $19 million after signing Calderon. As for how they’re going to spend it, impossible to project at this point. The best guess is they will look to improve their athleticism and/or scoring punch on the wings.

Joe (Traverse City, Mich.): I know there are conditions on when the Pistons have to send their first-round draft pick to Charlotte. Could they send it to them this season if they wanted to instead of waiting for next season?

Langlois: The short answer: Yes, but only if Charlotte is agreeable. The No. 1 pick that goes to Charlotte from last June’s Corey Maggette-Ben Gordon trade is lottery protected this year, protected through the top eight picks in 2014 and protected only if it is the No. 1 pick in 2015. But the teams can amend the trade if both sides so choose. It’s not implausible, I suppose, but nothing would be discussed until the results of the lottery are known. I’m sure the Pistons will go into the draft confident that next season will be their opportunity to make a move in the standings. Would they rather have the 10th pick this year in what is perceived as a fairly deep draft but one devoid of certifiable stars or a pick in the late teens, for instance, in 2014, when the draft is expected to be more star heavy? As for Charlotte, bumping along with the worst record in the league again, it’s conceivable they would jump at the chance to get another lottery pick this year, knowing that the Pistons will be armed with cap space and an improved young core, so likely will not have as attractive a draft slot next year.

Barry (Burton, Mich.): With Brandon Knight being somewhat off and on with his shooting and Charlie V looking like he has no business out there shooting 3-pointers, why do the Pistons shy away from the D-League for help? Frank keeps searching for a reliable scorer. There are shooters in the D-League showing themselves capable of knocking down shots on a more consistent basis.

Langlois: The Pistons have a 14-man roster right now, Barry, but they were full at 15 until the trade five weeks ago that shipped out Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye and returned Jose Calderon. So it wouldn’t have been possible until recently to consider a D-League signing. Fans are howling already about carving out more playing time for Kim English, Khris Middleton and Slava Kravtsov. There is also the payroll consideration. The Pistons are under the luxury tax, but not by a ton, and if they were to make the playoffs – which until the All-Star break and trade deadline, roughly, still was at least a slim possibility – then bonuses would be triggered that potentially would put them over the threshold. They could also cut someone, I suppose, to create a roster spot, but that creates the same payroll tax situation. But let’s get serious: If there were a player in the D-League that teams believed would be a consistent NBA scorer worthy of being in any team’s rotation today, he’d be in the NBA. That doesn’t mean there aren’t players in the D-League that couldn’t be useful NBA players down the road, or even players there who could help in one area or another sporadically now. Of course there are. But with the premium NBA teams put on scoring – in an era where heavy emphasis on defense makes scoring a more precious commodity than ever – a player teams believed could score against the size and athleticism that abounds in the NBA would be in the NBA already, simple as that. If the Pistons were going to take a flyer on a scorer, I’m pretty sure they couldn’t find a more reliable option than one they already have: Corey Maggette.

Tiba (Detroit): I know he’s not even had two years, but I’m not sold on Knight at point guard. I’m not seeing the playmaking skills of a point guard, but rather the scoring prowess of a shooting guard. I know there’s been lots of talk about drafting Michael Carter-Williams, but my question is what are your thoughts on Trey Burke?

Langlois: Since the draft comes before free agency, the Pistons can’t be certain on draft night what their situation is at point guard, given that both Jose Calderon and Will Bynum are hitting free agency. (As to your concern about Knight, it’s clear that if the makeup of the roster stays the way it is, he’s a shooting guard; that’s all he’s played for the past five weeks, essentially.) But I think chances are strong that they bring back at least one of them. And that would lead me to believe that if they draft a point guard in the lottery, it might put them in a bind if they take an undersized point guard. I love Burke and believe he’s got a ton going for him in the intangibles category, over and above his varied scoring ability and his superb assists-to-turnovers numbers. He might make more sense for a team with a bigger point guard as the incumbent. But I think teams picking around 10th could do a lot worse, for certain.

Kyle (Detroit): I don’t think a backcourt of Brandon Knight and Jose Calderon is one that can have playoff and championship success. I know it’s a bit early to think like that, but that is the end game, right? I don’t think Brandon is a 20-plus point scorer a game. The coaches and front office seem higher on Calderon. Maybe they can swing Knight and pick up a 25-plus point scorer to complement Calderon.

Langlois: Here’s the list of players averaging 25 or better a game: Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and James Harden. There’s no tree you can shake and have one fall into your lap, Kyle. I don’t know what the ceiling is for a Calderon-Knight backcourt, but if both Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond grow into All-Star big men and the Pistons land a consistent scorer at small forward – I’d set my sights a little lower than your 25-point threshold – in trade or free agency (or, perhaps, even in the draft, though it’s less likely), the makeup of their backcourt could take on many different forms and still yield success. As for your characterization of a Knight-Calderon pairing as one unlikely to find postseason success, a GM can’t operate as a fantasy team owner might. As Jack McCloskey told me about building the Bad Boys, his goal was always to improve the roster incrementally, by 5 or 10 percent, year to year. So you don’t pass up the chance to improve a position just because the upgrade is to a Cadillac and not a Rolls Royce, so to speak.

Chris (Mount Pleasant, Mich.): I’ve been a Pistons fan all my life, but especially during the Chauncey Billups and “the best starting five in basketball” era. Not a knock against any of the players since then, but I think some of those jersey numbers should be retired, especially No. 1. Any thoughts?

Langlois: My preference is to wait a sufficient length of time before deciding such things, Chris. I think it’s a pretty safe bet that there will be more than one number from the 2004 title core retired, but none of those players have even officially retired yet. The perspective only time can provide is a helpful tool to get those things right. Once you retire a number, you can’t “unretire” it. I look in the rafters at some NBA arenas and furrow my brow, wondering about some of the decisions.