Pistons Mailbag - May 1, 2013
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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.
Lloyd (Clinton Twp., Mich.): The Pistons have been in rebuilding mode for a while. Despite the recent records, the roster has some talent and with a lottery pick and cap space, what are the chances of hiring a championship-level coach on the faith that we will have a championship-level squad?
Langlois: Depends what you mean by “championship-level” coach. There are only four active NBA coaches who’ve won an NBA title: Gregg Popovich, Erik Spoelstra, Doc Rivers and Rick Carlisle. None are available. Phil Jackson and Larry Brown are the others who’ve won a title and might conceivably coach again in the NBA, although I wouldn’t hold my breath. It’s also a leap to say the Pistons will field a “championship-level” team in the near term. They have the resources to make a significant leap next season and, if things go well, they could open the season with a playoff roster. But it’s still going to take improvement from the core young players – Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Andre Drummond foremost – and a few key additions to position themselves for title runs. Do the Pistons believe they have a bright future? Yes, they do. Does Joe Dumars go to the marketplace confident he’ll be able to attract a quality field of coaches? Absolutely. The most important thing will be to find a coach he believes can help the roster as he envisions it come October take the next step and stay on track for a playoff chase and, ultimately, deep playoff runs and championship chases.
Tyler (Fenton, Mich.): Am I the only one wondering why Bill Laimbeer isn’t a coaching candidate? He has gotten some assistant coaching experience. Wouldn’t this be a welcome reunion?
Langlois: I can answer part of that with 100 percent certainty: No, you’re not the only one wondering about Bill Laimbeer. You are definitely not alone. As for the rest of it, nobody knows if he’s a candidate or not. Joe Dumars and Pistons owner Tom Gores aren’t in the habit of revealing a list of names under consideration to be Pistons coach. We do know that he was one of five people to interview for the position two years ago. So they’ve considered him at some level for this position, it’s fair to say. Maybe they heard enough two years ago to know that either (a) they don’t want to hire him this time around or (b) they don’t need a get-to-know-you interview at this time even if they are considering him a part of the candidate pool.
Hal (Laingsburg, Mich.): Would not Lionel Hollins be someone worthy of consideration for the Pistons coaching vacancy? He has a proven track record of player and team development in Memphis. He is at the end of his contract there and appears to be unhappy with the direction of the franchise. A parting of the ways appears imminent.
Langlois: What if Memphis gets to the conference finals? Or goes all the way? I get the speculation about Hollins’ future in Memphis: He’s working for a general manager who didn’t hire him and an owner who bought the team since he took over the Grizzlies. But it would be a rash decision by team management there to fire a guy who’s done more than any coach in the history of the moribund franchise. More than rash, it could undo all the progress made in the past three years in a town where it seemed the window had closed on the chance for an NBA team to thrive. It could be Hollins wants out badly enough to walk away. In fact, there is speculation that if the union dissolves, it will be more Hollins’ doing. I don’t know that anyone regards the situation as intolerable; perhaps it is. But it sure seems like there is motivation on the part of both sides to make this work for as long as the current Gasol-Randolph-Conley core can be kept together. Would Hollins become a candidate, should Memphis fall in the first round and they part ways immediately? It all depends on how Joe Dumars feels about the quality of the pool already under consideration, I suppose, but you’d have to believe it would be a possibility. The way Memphis plays team defense – I was particularly struck, watching Tuesday’s pivotal Game 5 Memphis win on the road over the Clippers at how well they played transition defense – will make him a desirable coaching commodity if he hits the open market, I would think. But my guess is both sides figure out a way to make it work in Memphis.
Chris (Brighton, Mich.): I know Steph Curry is a special player, but the way Golden State is playing in these playoffs highlights the value of having 40-plus percent 3-point shooters. Calderon and Knight are the only ones on the Pistons roster who seem to be at or near that class. How do we get more?
Langlois: Draft, trade, free agency or develop them, Chris. There are no magic bullets, but the Pistons have a chance to pursue talent through every means available this off-season thanks to their lottery pick (and two other draft choices) plus the flexibility for free-agent signings or trade that the approximately $25 million (or more) they figure to have in cap space provides. The Pistons understand that with Andre Drummond’s devastating ability to finish lob dunks and offensive rebound that the space good shooting around him creates will be a critical piece of the puzzle. There are very few high-quality teams left that don’t almost always have multiple 3-point threats on the floor. The Pistons will be hunting for scoring threats in general this summer, it stands to reason, and likely at least one player good enough to be either a starter or a high-quality bench player who represents a consistent 3-point threat.
Kingi (Ann Arbor, Mich.): The reports about 18-year-old Greek prospect Giannis Adetokuobo and coach Zeljko Obradovic are interesting. Adetokoubo sounds like a rare talent physically, although reports are varied on his potential and how raw he is. I’m wondering what you think are the chances either of them wind up part of the Pistons?
Langlois: I know Joe Dumars and George David have profound respect for Obradovic. They spent a lot of time together observing practices throughout October as Obradovic and his longtime assistant, Dmitri Itoudis, spent all of training camp and the preseason with the Pistons. But I asked a European journalist about Obradovic’s future as an NBA coach while the Pistons were in London to play the Knicks in January – Obradovic traveled to spend more time with the Pistons that week – and he told me that Obradovic expected to be coaching a high-level European team again next season after voluntarily sitting out this season. As for Adetokoubo, I think it’s an extreme long shot the Pistons would consider him with their lottery pick. If he gets through the first round – and that’s still very much a possibility, given how far away from the NBA most believe him to be in terms of readiness – then he’d bear watching with their pick at 37 or 38 in the second round.
Karthik (Farmington Hills, Mich.): If Zeljko Obradovic is the Phil Jackson of Europe and is really considered an elite coach, how come the Brooklyn Nets have not hired him considering their owner should know him well?
Langlois: I’m sure Mikhail Prokhorov is aware of Obradovic, even though Russia was not one of the many European countries in which he’s coached over the past two-plus decades, Karthik. But I don’t know the fact they share a continent of origin makes it any more or less likely that they’d choose to form a union on this side of the Atlantic. Prokhorov seems predisposed to make a big splash, but I’m not sure hiring a coach largely unknown in this country will make much of a splash in New York. I’d have an easier time envisioning Prokhorov making a play for the Phil Jackson of America.
Jason (Atlanta): I know each team has their own way of interpreting statistics, but how in depth do they go? Not everyone appreciates advanced stats, but there are some things that when broken down can be useful – things like who assists on what types of shots and what types of fouls each player commits and how many points result from those fouls. Do the Pistons have even more detailed stats than what is readily available on some of the more sophisticated NBA websites?
Langlois: I can only speak to what the Pistons do … and I can’t really say much about that, Jason. The Pistons, like most NBA teams, are very guarded about revealing how they go about collecting and making use of data. Ken Catanella and I have talked at length with the understanding I don’t share his findings, but you can rest assured that the Pistons are in very good hands with regard to having a complete picture of NBA personnel and the strengths and shortcomings of their own roster. Assistant coach Charles Klask was hired by Lawrence Frank from Orlando’s staff in large measure due to his proficiency for interpreting statistical data. Klask occasionally shares his pregame statistical preparation for each opponent with me, usually running about 40 pages. There are big-picture and small-picture applications. In the category of the former, teams might, for instance, keep players apprised as to the ways and the areas of the court they have their most success as scorers. As to the latter, when games can come in bunches of four in five nights, you have to be selective to keep players from becoming buried in information on their opponent, for example. There’s only so much they can absorb given the time constraints.
Trey (Titusville, Fla.): What do you know about any underground European players? There have been a lot of steals in the second round of the draft, a la Manu Ginobili. I think we can get another very productive player from the second round if we dig deeper like the Spurs seem to do and like we did last year with Slava Kravtsov.
Langlois: Ginobili was 21 when the Spurs spent the 57th pick of the 1999 draft on him with the understanding they were unlikely to see him for at least a few seasons. He was 25 by the time he debuted for them in the 2002-03 season. Here’s how things have changed in the past decade, Trey. The Chicago Bulls used the 23rd pick of the 2011 first round on Nikola Mirotic, a player they think they might have a chance to bring over after the 2013-14 season – but, even then, it will take some tricky negotiation to make it work. In other words, teams have a much better handle on the international scene than ever. They’re starting to get a feel for which players will be able to make the transition and which ones will struggle. They’re more than willing to spend draft choices and wait two, three or more years for players who they believe will be able to crack a rotation, at minimum, and hopefully become starters or even stars. When the Pistons were granted the second-round pick of the Los Angeles Clippers, Pistons assistant general manager George David admitted one of the potential benefits of acquiring the pick was to spend it on an international player who either needed more time to season or couldn’t be let out of his contract in the near term. David just returned Tuesday from Europe after a week scouting a handful of draft candidates and another two or three free-agent types – about as close to it gets to “sleepers” anymore – in several countries. There really aren’t any more “underground” players, just players who require covering a lot of ground in order to scout.
Darren (Warwick, Australia): With the Bulls figuring to pay the luxury tax again next season, combined with the emergence of Jimmy Butler, is there any chance the Pistons could land Luol Deng? I’m not an NBA general manager, but I think he’d be good in a Pistons jersey.
Langlois: Deng would be good in any jersey, Darren. I think you’re barking up the right tree, but maybe at the wrong branch. This is precisely the type of deal the Pistons will be looking to make – looking at franchises that are facing a cap crunch and gauging which players might be made available. You’d have to believe the Bulls are intrigued by the cost-saving possibilities of sliding Butler into Deng’s small forward spot, not just to save tax dollars but to allocate money to other needs. No, Butler isn’t Deng, but can he be close enough in another year that the Bulls would be better off spending some of the savings on another player or two? The hurdle in completing the deal would be twofold, as I see it from a thousand-yard perspective: (1) Would the Bulls want to risk alienating Derrick Rose by trading away one of his two most reliable teammates (Joakim Noah the other) perhaps a year too soon; and (2) would they be willing to deal Deng to a division rival, especially one with the antagonistic history the Pistons share with them?