Pistons Mailbag - March 14, 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.

Clinton (East Lansing, Mich.): This might seem a silly reason to want someone traded, but Brandon Knight is the laughingstock of the league and I honestly think he has lost all confidence. That on top of the fact that he is inefficient, inconsistent and doesn’t have a set position means we need him gone. Trade him while his potential value can land us something pretty decent.

Langlois: Well, you’re right about one thing, Clinton. That is a supremely silly reason to trade someone. The whole incident leaves me somewhere between confused and contemptuous. I’m at a loss to figure out why the dunk became such a topic of conversation. It was one dunk, worth two points, and the only thing that made it any different than a thousand other lob dunks is that Brandon Knight attempted to stop it or at least to foul a bad free-throw shooter and force him to earn his two points. I think players who step out of the way and readily concede two points, as many do in similar circumstances, are far more deserving of scorn and ridicule. And if you think that (or anything that’s transpired this season) has caused Knight any loss of confidence, well, that’s simply not the case by all appearances and the testimony of anyone who knows him. I won’t claim to speak with any authority on how Brandon Knight’s career will play out or how high he can go, but I know this: He’s going to milk every ounce of talent out of his body that he can and he’ll never back down from hard work or a challenge. As for the “trade him while his potential value can land us something pretty decent,” you must not think that other teams share your opinion of Knight, or why would they be willing to part with an asset the Pistons, who like Knight plenty, would covet more than Knight?

Tani (Memphis): Khris Middleton has been getting a lot of minutes lately. Shouldn’t English and Kravtsov be getting more playing time, as well? It’s clear we will not be making the playoffs, so why not play the youngsters. If we lose, it’s OK, because we’ll get a better draft pick.

Langlois: If Brandon Knight is going to be out for a while with his sprained ankle, English is likely to get his chance, Tani. Brian Hill said before Wednesday’s game with Golden State that English would play, though Hill wound up sticking with a three-guard rotation when he liked what he saw from both Rodney Stuckey (22 points, five assists) and Will Bynum (16 points, four assists) and wanted to maximize their minutes. Kravtsov has gotten plenty of opportunities since Andre Drummond went out in early February. The Pistons have made it pretty clear over the past three seasons that they are going to make winning basketball games their priority. It’s a slippery slope to navigate once you crack the door to any other way of thinking.

Caleb (East Lansing, Mich.): I know the draft is over 100 days away, but since the Pistons are most likely not going to make the playoffs I have turned my attention in that direction. I have been scouting three prospects who I think would fit: Otto Porter, Shabazz Muhammad and Ben McLemore. If we are lucky enough to have the chance to choose between those three, who would you take?

Langlois: Tell me who’s going to have the best NBA career, Caleb, and there’s your answer. I’m not trying to be flip, but that’s the only right answer. The “best fit” is usually the best player, especially for a team picking in the lottery, which by definition suggests it has more than one hole to fill. All three you list will be wing players in the NBA, a small forward or a shooting guard. I had several similar questions in this week’s Mailbag, and a fourth name that others put forward was Indiana’s Victor Oladipo. My hunch is those positions will be the Pistons’ off-season focus via free agency or the trade route (or both). I do not think they will draft based on what they think will happen in free agency unless they have an ironclad belief that they know what will happen – and that simply isn’t very likely to be the case. I also believe that this year, unlike the last three, the Pistons will not focus on a specific position in the weeks leading to the draft, as they have the past three years when they had spent a disproportionate amount of the scouting process on big men. (Remember, even when they drafted Brandon Knight in 2011, the draft’s strength and the Pistons’ needs were in the frontcourt. But then Enes Kanter, Tristan Thompson, Jonas Valanciunas, Jan Vesely and Bismack Biyombo all went off the board right before they picked, sending Knight tumbling unexpectedly to the No. 8 spot.) My hunch is they are focused only on getting the best player this year, potentially even another big man if the rise of players like Oladipo and Porter should send a big man that they really like falling to them. It could also be a point guard, given that both Jose Calderon and Will Bynum will be free agents. Of the players you listed, I think the Pistons likely would need to pull a top-three pick to have any shot at McLemore. One among the rest, or all of them, conceivably, could be available to them if they draft in the same range they’ve picked in the past three drafts, seven through nine.

Bob (Lancaster, Calif.): As you have noted, the draft comes before free agency. So shouldn’t the Pistons draft the best player available regardless of position? I don’t want them to settle on a position of need and pass on a better player. If the best player is a big man, even if they have Monroe and Drummond, so be it.

Langlois: I alluded to that in the previous question, Bob. I think the Pistons almost always take the player they feel represents the best value, as they proved two years ago when they took Brandon Knight even though their clearest need was in the frontcourt and players like Marcus and Markieff Morris were thought to be suitable selections in their range. (Kenneth Faried has turned out to be the superior player to either of the Morris twins, but that didn’t reflect the strong consensus at the time.) Given that Jason Maxiell is a pending free agent and the two remaining power forwards, Jonas Jerebko and Charlie Villanueva, are not truly inside players, it’s not a stretch to think the Pistons would take a big man in this draft if they feel he represents value for the pick. Slava Kravtsov also enters into the equation. If the Pistons end the season believing Kravtsov can be part of the frontcourt rotation next season, then they might not place as much emphasis on the two interior positions as they would on the three perimeter spots. If they’re less certain Kravtsov can be counted on for every-game minutes, then a big man would be more of a likelihood. We’ll see.

James (San Marcos, Texas): What do you think of trading an expiring contract like Stuckey or Maxiell for a second-round pick in this year’s draft?

Langlois: If a contract is expiring – Maxiell’s is, Stuckey’s isn’t – it can’t be traded once the trade deadline for that season has passed, as this year’s did nearly a month ago. Stuckey’s contract is partially guaranteed for next season, but that doesn’t mean it’s expiring. The Pistons could trade Stuckey, theoretically, for a player who makes in the ballpark of the approximately $8 million he is due to make next season if the team that holds his rights at the time picks up the full contract. The motivation for the trade partner would be to get rid of its contract, then buy out Stuckey for only the guaranteed portion of his deal, thereby saving about half of the fully guaranteed portion of his contract. A team interested in such a deal would likely be motivated by avoiding luxury taxes for the 2013-14 season. But there probably would be more effective avenues available to do so.

Tony (Roseville, Mich.): There was a time when the biggest star position in the NBA was shooting guard. It was like that for a long time. Now it has become possibly the hardest position to fill. No surprise, it is currently the Pistons’ weakest position. What happened?

Langlois: Great question, Tony. And as with most great questions, there’s no obvious answer. In an era when athletes are bigger, stronger and faster across the board, the depth at shooting guard isn’t what it was a generation ago. In the Michael Jordan heyday, players like Joe Dumars, Clyde Drexler, Jeff Malone, Rickey Pierce, Byron Scott, Rolando Blackman, Mitch Richmond, et al, made it a an extremely deep position stocked with scorers and shooters. These things go in cycles. In the late ’90s, power forward was the richest position with young players like Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Garnett on the ascent to go with now-retired stars like Karl Malone, Chris Webber, Shawn Kemp, Larry Johnson and the last days of Charles Barkley. Now, point guard is the position with the most depth of stars. Why? I haven’t heard anyone come up with a credible explanation.

Omar (Beirut, Lebanon): Is there any chance Andre Drummond starts when he returns? Do you think we have a chance at going below a .333 winning percentage. If we get there, we could be picking at a great spot and if there’s ever a good time to get a good lottery pick, it’s now.

Langlois: The first question with Drummond has to be if he’ll get back to log any games before the season ends. If he’s cleared to play, I think the Pistons would like to get him back in the lineup if for no other reason than to give everyone, Drummond especially, the peace of mind going into the summer that he’ll be able to pick up where he left off with no ill effects from the injury to hold him back. I don’t know that his conditioning level would be at a level where he’d be able to play starter’s minutes. As for the lottery, I’m not sure it’s a great year to be picking at the top, Omar. Most draft followers see this as a draft without big-time talent at the top, but with the way salaries are slotted the teams that pick there will be paying those players far more than players picked in the range where the Pistons have picked the last three years. I’ve talked to executives from a few teams who believe you’re better off picking toward the middle to back end of the lottery this year.

Dawn (Allendale, Mich.): I’ve enjoyed watching Tayshaun Prince play with the Grizzlies, doing the same thing he did with Detroit but with more appreciation. I’m nervous with four veteran free agents departing. Who would you keep given one choice?

Langlois: I’ll take it from the perspective of which one is likeliest to return, Dawn. My guess is that would be Jose Calderon because the Pistons are likely to make him the priority. Of course, Calderon is not without leverage in this matter and, if he has more than one serious pursuer, as he is likely to have, the Pistons might have to move on and act on other players. I think they would certainly be open to a return from Maxiell. It all depends on what he’s looking for and the role the Pistons foresee him occupying. It could be a tricky negotiation because Maxiell will end this season as a two-year starter for the Pistons and they might not want to pay him as a starter if they view Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond as their starters going forward. The draft will come before free agency, so some of what happens in free agency is likely to be influenced by the draft. If the Pistons were to take a point guard, for instance, then it might not be very likely that they would pursue both Calderon and Bynum. If they take a big man, that might affect their interest in retaining Maxiell. Corey Maggette has expressed interest in returning. At this stage of his career, though, he probably will have to wait until closer to training camp when teams are at the point of filling out the back end of the roster with very specific needs.