Pistons Mailbag - June 12, 2013
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Karthik (Delhi, India): Why are fans upset the Pistons hired Maurice Cheeks and not Brian Shaw? I agree that Cheeks’ resume doesn’t say much, but frankly neither does Shaw’s. I think we as fans should look at the hire as one made with some logic and a thought process and wait for the year to play out.
Langlois: Human nature, Karthik. As long as there’s a Phil Jackson unemployed, a segment of the fan base is going to be dissatisfied with anything less. Shaw’s appeal was his association to Jackson, mostly, and the media conferring on him the “next big thing” mantle. There are one or two assistants every year who benefit from the backup quarterback syndrome – anybody’s better than the known quantity of the starter, right? But Pistons history offers evidence that serving as an assistant to a guru doesn’t necessarily translate to head coaching success. The assistants who served at Chuck Daly’s side were all highly respected, but none of them – Dick Harter, Ron Rothstein, Dick Versace, Brendan Malone – left much of a mark when they got the chance to be a head coach. Daly himself is evidence that a coach who failed in one place might prove himself given a fighting chance somewhere else. Daly was 9-32 in his only previous head coaching stint, with Cleveland, when Jack McCloskey hired him in 1983. The early returns in Detroit were uneven, too, until McCloskey upped the talent quotient by drafting Joe Dumars, Dennis Rodman and John Salley and trading for Rick Mahorn and James Edwards. As for the patience to let it play out, that ended with the advent of sports-talk radio and Internet message boards. If you can declare a coach a failure before his introductory press conference, you’ll have bragging rights if he’s fired two or three years down the line. And if he’s a success? Hey, who remembers?
Al (Wolverine Lake, Mich.): Why didn’t the Pistons go after Lionel Hollins, George Karl or Brian Shaw – the coaches that other teams want?
Langlois: Let’s look at those three examples. Would Hollins have moved the needle two years ago? I don’t think so. But Memphis came of age and he proved himself a pretty good coach in enabling that process. Is it unreasonable to think the Pistons, as Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond mature into a formidable interior tandem and with the capacity they have to improve the roster this off-season, can’t follow a similar path? And if that happens, who’s wise enough to say definitively that Cheeks won’t be able to mold the Pistons to similar effect? As for Shaw, I’m not nearly prescient enough to know how he’ll do as a first-time head coach. I know he’ll have a far better chance of success if he lands with a talented team, as seems possible with his name linked to jobs with the Nets and Clippers and their playoff-ready rosters. But if Shaw’s first job were to come with Charlotte or Orlando in their current states? I think the glow would wear off pretty fast. As for Karl, I think his stature is such that he’s almost in the Phil Jackson-Gregg Popovich class: He’s only going to sign on to a team ready to contend for a title at this point, and command the level of salary that only a team poised to contend with a championship-quality roster likely would be willing to commit to spending. Coaches are only as good as their talent allows. The economics of today’s NBA have changed the equation in coaching. When Chuck Daly left the Pistons, he was at the top of the coaching profession, as validated by his selection to coach the Dream Team. That was before coaching salaries exploded. No one thought it especially curious that he chose to work for the Nets, or that a historically struggling franchise – though one with a pretty solid roster at the time – would choose to target and actually win the services of such a coach. Today such a scenario would be extremely unlikely. The Pistons are coming off four straight lottery seasons. They’ve done as well as they possibly could in putting it back together, which was the reason candidates like Nate McMillan and Mike Budenholzer, to name two with a measure of leverage who were reported as candidates, expressed interest in the job. Anyone who seriously proposed Phil Jackson, and to a lesser extent even Karl, as a candidate for the Pistons is either being deliberately provocative or is naïve to today’s dynamic.
Chris (Brighton, Mich.): I did not like Chauncey Billups’ game until Larry Brown broke him down and rebuilt him into an elite, efficient point guard. Brandon Knight seems to need a similar reprogramming. Is there anything in Cheeks’ history to indicate he’d be willing to do that? Also, thanks for the Doc Rivers comparison. It makes me feel better about the hire.
Langlois: Cheeks has been praised for hastening the development of Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, Chris. I don’t think Cheeks is going to take credit for the fact that Westbrook has emerged as an elite player – Westbrook came to the Thunder as an extremely talented prospect with boundless self-confidence and a desire to be great – but the opinion of those close to the OKC scene is Cheeks, more than anyone, helped Westbrook harness his talent. Knight has many of the same personal qualities as Westbrook – confidence, work ethic, desire – so it’s reasonable to expect Cheeks will have a similar effect on him. That doesn’t mean Knight automatically becomes an All-Star guard, only that Cheeks will help him maximize his athletic gifts.
Matthew (Chicago): I keep reading about Cheeks’ work with Westbrook and everyone seems to jump to the conclusion that this is a hire to get more out of Brandon Knight. I’m more intrigued by the Cheeks-Drummond dynamic. By all accounts, Andre seems like an emotional and genuinely nice guy and Cheeks the calm, nurturing type. Perhaps a Lionel Hollins, who seems more a stern leadership figure, would be too strong, therefore discouraging the young talent.
Langlois: As I wrote in Tuesday’s True Blue Pistons blog, Matthew, I think Cheeks’ leadership will resonate with this particular group of Pistons young players because they are very businesslike in their work habits. I’d be surprised if they didn’t warmly receive Cheeks and if he didn’t find them a receptive audience. Cheeks exhibited a great sense for a game’s rhythms in his days as a point guard, thus the understandable leap that he’ll have his greatest impact on Brandon Knight, though it’s no sure thing that Knight lines up at point guard until the composition of the roster comes into focus closer to October. But Drummond, who won’t turn 20 until August, surely is at the point of his career where his development is going to be influenced by his coaching staff to a greater degree than more experienced players. I don’t have any feel for how he might have responded to every possible candidate, but I think anyone who displays to him that their coaching comes with his best interests at heart will find a willing and eager student.
Dawn (Allendale, Mich.): The Pistons have a coach. The next step is the draft. With Cheeks on board, does the draft choice change significantly? Or is “best player available” the smart way to go.
Langlois: Cheeks is going to be pretty busy over the next few weeks, Dawn, and I would have to think his priority out of the gate would be to assemble a staff. He’ll probably make it a point to sit in on the group and individual workouts the Pistons have scheduled for their lottery pick and I’m sure he’ll offer his input. But the draft falls under the purview of the front office. Joe Dumars is going to give far more weight to the opinions of assistant GM George David and their staff of scouts – the guys who’ve been following those college players for months, or years in many cases – than to the snap-shot impressions Cheeks or any coach who is almost certainly seeing those players for the first time would offer him. As for the “best player available” approach, I think it generally applies to every draft but more than ever to this one. The Pistons ideally would like a great perimeter shooter/scorer, but as I’ve said often – both in this forum and during the course of our draft previews you can find at Draft Central – they could draft any position from point guard to big man in a draft that most see as filled with uncertainty. The important thing is to come away with a player they either know will incrementally improve the rotation or has a chance to be an impact player, even if there’s a risk of him falling short of delivering the type of impact you’d hope to find in a No. 8 pick. For where the Pistons are at in their arc – young talent from fruitful recent drafts and a great chance to add veteran talent with cap space this summer – this might be the time, given the nature of this draft as it’s been portrayed, to swing for the fences unless the Pistons see a player at eight that they’re certain will be solid to very good.
Sean (Ann Arbor, Mich.): The first two games of the NBA Finals have really showcased the importance of floor spacing. Currently, we do not have anyone at the shooting guard position that can truly keep defenses honest from the perimeter with consistent 3-point shooting. For that reason, do you think we’ll look at Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with the No. 8 pick? Seems like he could step in right away and fill a Danny Green-type role.
Langlois: Caldwell-Pope is today’s profiled player – the last of 10 individual profiles we’ve done of players the Pistons are likely to consider for their lottery pick – in the True Blue Pistons draft preview series. Of the 10, he’s perhaps the most likely to be guaranteed available to them, Sean. He’s risen up draft boards over the four weeks since the draft combine, mostly because teams have gone back and taken a closer look at the way he played over the second half of his sophomore season at Georgia. As I wrote in the profile, there’s not an awful lot that separates Caldwell-Pope from Ben McLemore as prospects. McLemore is the more polished player and perhaps a slightly better athlete, but Caldwell-Pope is athletic enough, he’s bigger and he plays with a higher motor. He recorded rebounds and steals at a high rate, two areas scouts feel usually translate well to the NBA. He’s an interesting option for them. As a shooting guard, Caldwell-Pope will have to impress a guy who made a Hall of Fame career out of playing the position, Joe Dumars. You’re right about the value of floor spacing in today’s NBA and it’s especially important to the Pistons as currently configured given the expected importance of Andre Drummond’s ability to finish at the rim to their future.
Jay (Novi, Mich.): Why don’t the Pistons try to trade up to the No. 2 pick in exchange for the No. 8 pick and either Brandon Knight or Rodney Stuckey? The Magic need help at both guard positions and this would solve that problem. They could use the No. 8 pick to draft Shabazz Muhammad or a big man to improve their frontcourt. The Pistons could draft Ben McLemore. The Pistons need a go-to guy and he could be that guy.
Langlois: No guarantee McLemore is on the board at No. 2, Jay. Cleveland has thrown two huge curveballs in the lottery the past two years – Tristan Thompson at No. 4 in 2011 and Dion Waiters at No. 4 a year ago – and there are low rumblings that with Nerlens Noel’s knee injury and overall questions about his potential impact looming the Cavs are looking hard at McLemore, Otto Porter or even Victor Oladipo at No. 1. For the sake of argument, let’s say they don’t take McLemore. The Pistons would have to be really sold on McLemore to sacrifice Knight or Stuckey plus the No. 8 pick. As I mentioned above, there might not be much separating McLemore from Caldwell-Pope in the eyes of some teams. I think most teams would take McLemore over Caldwell-Pope, but is the difference so large you’d throw in a guy like Knight?