Pistons Mailbag - April 24, 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.

Ryan (Grand Rapids, Mich.): Can you break down the Pistons’ cap space for us? I have seen anywhere from $20 million to $38 million in cap space and I know some of it depends on who returns. But can you explain what room we have now and how much more we can clear?

Langlois: The cap was $58 million for 2012-13, Ryan. We won’t know what the cap for 2013-14 will be until the first week of July, when the NBA – after reviewing financial statements, which determines the cap number, as the fiscal year ends on June 30 – will adjust the number for next season. Most expect it to go up. And how much it goes up, obviously, will factor into the amount of space under the cap the Pistons will have at their disposal. Let’s assume it stays flat, simply for the sake of a starting point. Under contract for next season, with their widely reported salaries (not necessarily accurate, but let’s assume they are for our exercise) listed, are: Charlie Villanueva ($8.6 million), Rodney Stuckey ($8.5 million), Jonas Jerebko ($4.5 million), Greg Monroe ($4 million), Brandon Knight ($2.8 million), Andre Drummond ($2.5 million), Kyle Singler ($1 million) and Khris Middleton ($800,000). That comes to $32.7 million. They also have team options on Slava Kravtsov ($1.5 million) and Kim English ($800,000). If you assume both come back, you’re at $35 million – which would put the Pistons $23 million under the current cap. If neither comes back, the number would go up to roughly $25 million. They could create more by using the amnesty clause on Villanueva (that would get them to $33.6 million) and by buying out the guaranteed portion of Rodney Stuckey’s contract (reported to be $4 million), which would get them to approximately $38 million. I don’t think it’s likely that either of the last two things happen, so for rounding purposes I’ve been using $25 million as the rough starting point for the summer, not because I’m assuming Kravtsov and English don’t return, only because it would be relatively easy to get to that number – but not so easy to get to the larger number without cutting into their rotation and needing to spend similar money to fill it back out. Hope that helps. (Also, I’ve included this question in a recently updated Mailbag FAQ.)

Isaac (Flint, Mich.): Another second-year coaching exit. Do you ever just think of what could have been if we’d hired the “other guy” – Tom Thibodeau – instead of Kuester, Woodson instead of Frank. I’m worried about this next hire. Nate McMillan is rumored to be favored, but he’s a slow-it-down, half-court coach and that sort of flies in the face of the roster we have. What about Brian Shaw. And who is this European coach I’m reading about, Obradovic?

Langlois: It has been reported that Joe Dumars talked to Tom Thibodeau in the summer of 2009 before hiring John Kuester. Let’s keep in mind that the Pistons were for sale and it’s been well understood that there were fairly tight parameters on the latitude Joe Dumars had at the time. Thibodeau was a somewhat unique case in that he had reputations as both a defensive genius and a questionable head coaching candidate. There were real concerns that his brusque personality would make him ill-equipped to deal with daily media interactions and the delicate balance of locker-room chemistry. Seems silly now, but that was the perception. He also made it clear he wasn’t jumping at just any head coach opening, so he had some leverage because many teams were willing to pay top dollar to let him be lead assistant. Coaching is often about being in the right place at the right time, as I addressed last week in a True Blue Pistons blog intended to put the process of changing coaches into perspective. If you’re a coach looking for an NBA head coaching job right now, this looks like the right time to come to the Pistons, as I also outlined in that same blog. As for McMillan, I wouldn’t pigeon-hole him just yet. He did what he had to do to win at Seattle and Portland. As for the style that best suits the Pistons, that’s yet to be determined. Let’s see what the roster looks like come October. But with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe fixtures, you could argue that there’s a good chance they’ll wind up being an interior-focused team that will look for points in transition – as all teams do – but then pound the middle. Zeljko Obradovic has been linked to the Pistons, I suspect, because he spent all of October observing training camp along with his longtime assistant Dmitri Itoudis. It was the friendship between Itoudis and Pistons assistant general manager George David that led to the connection. Obradovic sat out last season after years of success – eight European championships spread over a career spent coaching in four countries. It’s highly likely that Obradovic is coaching a Euroleague power next season.

Patrick (Charlotte, N.C.): Please clarify the draft pick included in the Ben Gordon trade. Is it protected next year also?

Langlois: I’ll steer you to Mailbag FAQ, Patrick.

Marvin (Richmond, Va.): With this being an important off-season for Andre Drummond, who will be working with him on his skills (free throws, post moves, etc.) until a coaching staff is in place?

Langlois: It’s a quiet period right now for everyone, Marvin. If the Pistons get a coaching staff in place sometime in May, I don’t know that they’d feel they’ve lost anything, necessarily. I don’t expect much activity in the team’s practice facility for at least the next month or so other than players who happen to be in town – most go back to their off-season homes for at least a few weeks – and they’ll be working with Arnie Kander and his strength and conditioning staff, which remains intact. Kander’s work with Drummond – and we’ll have more on that topic soon on Pistons.com – was always going to be a significant component of their off-season plans for him. The Pistons intend to have Drummond with them in Summer League in July. Though he probably will not play more than a game or two, he’ll be involved in practices and get a chance to work with the new coaching staff at that time and for the rest of the summer, at minimum.

Tara (Brighton, Mich.): Given the need and ignoring draft position, in your opinion, who do the Pistons have at No. 1 on their draft board: Noel, Porter, McLemore or Burke?

Langlois: With more than two months to go until draft day, Tara, teams don’t have concrete draft boards. The process varies from team to team, of course, but at this point they’re a long, long way from solidifying positioning to that extent. Teams might have a general sense of what players are likely to wind up being their top-10 prospects, for instance. That’s what they spend all of the college season assessing – starting with a long list, 100 or so players, that they consider potential draft prospects, roughly sorting them into lottery candidates, first-round possibilities and the field. To more specifically answer your question, it seems that Noel and McLemore are the two players who have any sort of separation right now. They appear to be the consensus top two players. But it’s not a stretch this season, unlike many, to speculate that somebody other than them could be the No. 1 pick depending on who winds up winning the May 21 lottery. I’m sure the Pistons have a pretty safe idea who they would take if they were to land the No. 1 pick, but it’s not something they’d advertise this early, for sure, because they would still want the chance to work that player out and spend time with them.

Dwayne (Clinton Twp., Mich.): Just wondering your thoughts on Jeff Van Gundy’s comments. I agreed with him. We were only like three games behind Boston for the No. 8 seed until the trade of Tayshaun Prince. We can’t keep firing coaches but keeping less talented players.

Langlois: Van Gundy’s a coach and he’s predisposed to side with the coach, Dwayne. Beyond that, he’s had pointed criticism for the Pistons since his buddy, Flip Saunders, was fired after three seasons. Coaches have a shelf life. Every failure uses up a little piece of it, just as every success can extend it. At the NBA level, you can assume a certain level of competence in every head coach. Getting fired as an NBA head coach, then, is more often than not less a statement of the coach as failure than of his shelf life in that particular situation having been exhausted. No one thinks Lawrence Frank isn’t a qualified NBA head coach. I doubt we’ve seen the last of him in that capacity. He did some terrific things for the Pistons and I believe he was absolutely the right hire at the time. But it’s hard to argue that the shelf life wasn’t expired here given the turn the season took after the All-Star break. There’s never a guarantee that the next coach will be able to push the process along another step, but it usually becomes pretty clear when the likelihood of taking that step has dissipated under the last head coach.

Kenneth (Mechanicsville, Md.): Am I the only one who would like to see the Pistons draft Seth Curry? We could use a player that can fill it up coming off the bench.

Langlois: I’ll be curious to see how scouts separate what Steph Curry has become with what they see in his younger brother, Kenneth. It’s a hard thing to gauge, too, because Steph did it on a smaller stage at Davidson yet seemed to play with a consistency that Seth hasn’t been able to attain. I thought Steph was going to be a pretty good NBA player and didn’t think Golden State overdrafted him in the least. But he’s obviously much better than “pretty good.” The threat of his shot completely scrambles defensive game plans. He’s remarkable. And it’ll be interesting to see if somebody takes Seth much higher than seems likely today on the one-in-whatever chance that he can become even Steph Lite.

Jon (East Lansing, Mich.): Is there any possibility the Pistons could land Eric Bledsoe instead of re-signing Jose Calderon? I believe Bledsoe is a free agent. What kind of contract would a guy like that warrant?

Langlois: Bledsoe, as a member of the 2010 draft class, is still under contract through 2013-14, Jon. The Clippers don’t have any urgency to trade him now, though they might well do so over the summer or sometime before the 2014 trade deadline. They’re probably wise to wait to make sure they sign Chris Paul this July as a free agent. Even though it sure seems likely as of today that the Clippers win Paul back with a maximum contract, you never know how things might turn if Memphis comes back to win their first-round series. But if the Clippers have a good postseason run, Bledsoe could be a candidate to be dealt on draft night. Would the Pistons be willing to part with their lottery pick (assuming they don’t move into the top three) for him and would the Clippers take that deal? Impossible to say.

Eddy (Miami): I keep hearing we might amnesty Charlie Villanueva. It doesn’t make sense to me to amnesty a one-year, trade-bait contract. Is this true? And are we at least going to give Phil Jackson a call?

Langlois: Your instincts are probably right on Villanueva. With only one year remaining on his contract, there is a stronger argument to be made for not using the amnesty option on him. Power forwards who can shoot 3-pointers like he can are in demand. The Pistons saw firsthand the impact that creating space around Andre Drummond can have. If they amnesty Villanueva, you can bet they’ll turn around and be looking for a player who can offer that skill set. As for Phil Jackson, my strong inkling is that if he coaches again it will only be with a ready-made title contender. Is it worth kicking the tires? I suppose. But is there any realistic possibility of a union? Very unlikely.

George (Madison, Wis.): We all know Joe D has done a fine job in recent drafts, but free-agent signings have not gone that well. With cap money this summer, will the Pistons look to free agency again? Besides Joe and the owner, who will have input on signings? Also, if we lose Jose in free agency, what is Plan B?

Langlois: Sure, they’ll look to free agency. But when you have as much cap space as the Pistons will have – probably $25 million, perhaps more – you don’t have to limit yourself to scanning free-agent lists. Joe Dumars has a pretty firm idea of what players are or could be available in trade, the fruit of all those discussions he has on a daily basis with peers around the league. Those conversations peak in February as the trade deadline nears, and the many things that don’t get tied up at that time can be revisited in the days leading up to and following the June 27 draft. Many times the deals that can’t get done in February due to cap complications are easy to accommodate after the season when caps become unclogged as free agents fall off the sheet. The Pistons can now take a $10 million (or more) player back without needing to send a like salary back. That’s huge. In effect, it expands the free-agent list considerably. Somewhere in that expanded list is likely the Plan B at point guard, as well. But keep in mind that both Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Knight have spent most of their careers at point guard. There won’t be a panic situation if Calderon departs. The Pistons could instead grab a shooting guard or two and move Stuckey or Knight back to the point.

Cam (Grand Rapids, Mich.): What are the rules regarding interviewing candidates involved with teams currently in the playoffs? How does a GM of a team go about asking permission to interview a candidate?

Langlois: I don’t think any head coach of a playoff team would openly accept the chance to interview for another position, nor is it likely that a rival GM would call to ask permission to interview an active head coach during the playoffs. If you’ll recall, the Larry Brown era started unraveling swiftly when it was widely reported that he was openly courting the job of leading Cleveland’s front office while he was coaching the Pistons in the 2005 NBA Finals. There are a number of current coaches in the playoffs who are the subject of job speculation – Lionel Hollins, Vinny Del Negro, Larry Drew, Mike D’Antoni and P.J. Carlesimo among them – but the teams with openings, if they’re interested in one or many, can afford to wait on their seasons to end.