Pistons Mailbag - July 10, 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.

Phil (Negaunee, Mich.): Will the Pistons carry 15 players next season? Seems like the roster is getting full with the addition of Josh Smith and the Italian player and bringing Will Bynum back.

Langlois: I think there is a good possibility, perhaps even a likelihood, that the Pistons will go into the season with the full roster complement of 15 players. But not necessarily the current 15. The Pistons can create roster space in various ways. Kim English’s contract must be guaranteed by Friday or else the Pistons must release him. That would create one spot. There’s no guarantee the Pistons will sign Peyton Siva. They could simply choose not to sign him, or at least delay the signing until much later in the summer, to give them more roster flexibility. They have until next week to invoke the amnesty clause (Charlie Villanueva is the only eligible and realistic candidate) but that remains unlikely, it appears, given Villanueva has just one year remaining on his deal.

Ryan (Grand Rapids, Mich.): What can you tell us about Luigi Datome? Does he project as someone who can start at small forward?

Langlois: I talked to an Italian league team executive who requested anonymity in Orlando after Tuesday’s news broke that Datome would be signing with the Pistons. He gave a very positive review of him and this guy wasn’t just blowing smoke because Datome was Italian. He cautioned that because Datome’s team didn’t play in the Euroleague, he wasn’t quite ready to say Datome would be an instant NBA success. But he’s betting on him. He told me that Datome has long been viewed as an extraordinarily talented player in Italy – he’ll be a mainstay of the national team in the European Cup play later this summer – but a “late bloomer.” Only in the past few years has he matured, both physically and competitively, to become a dominant player. He said he’s not quite as big and strong as Danilo Gallinari, but he compared favorably to him otherwise. In fact – and this surprised me – he said Datome is a better pure shooter than Gallinari, great as a spot-up shooter but also extremely talented at coming off picks. Datome, he said, could play power forward, too, especially as a stretch four, in addition to small forward. He has big hands and can finish above the rim, a deceptively good athlete, I was told. One thing that struck me: He said Datome has “no fear.” Another NBA source who’s seen him said he’s a very tough player, as well. As for the roster, the limit of 15 doesn’t apply until the regular-season opener. So there’s plenty of time to sort things out.

Anthony (Spokane, Wash.): Will all of the pieces being added to the roster, what lineup should we expect to see? Will we go big with Drummond at center, Monroe at power forward, Smith at small forward, Stuckey at shooting guard and Knight at point guard?

Langlois: If the roster stays as it is now, that’s probably the safest bet. It’s fun to speculate, but it’s fairly meaningless to conjure starting lineups in July when much can change between now and October’s start of training camp. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope could challenge Stuckey, depending on how much progress he makes between now and training camp, because there might be some appeal in bringing Stuckey’s scoring ability off the bench.

Kim (Sterling Heights, Mich.): I keep hearing the Pistons lack a “true” point guard. What is the determination of a true point guard? Why can’t Brandon Knight be that type of guard?

Langlois: It’s pretty much an obsolete term, Kim, or at least the lines have been blurred by the evolution of the game. It’s great to have a creative playmaker, but it’s also important that perimeter players be scoring threats in today’s NBA to space the floor and give teammates driving lanes and big men room to operate. I had a good talk with Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks in Summer League. We were talking about Mo Cheeks and the conversation turned to Russell Westbrook and the patience required to nurture point guards. Knight’s 21. I think he’ll always be a scorer, but if Cheeks can help him even incrementally see the game from a different perspective and improve his decision-making – and Brooks thought Cheeks, over time, would have a tremendous impact on Knight – there’s no reason he can’t have a long and successful career as a point guard.

Mark (Romulus, Mich.): With the signing of Josh Smith, how much cap space do the Pistons have left? How much will they have in 2014 when Charlie V’s and Stuckey’s contracts are up?

Langlois: Smith plus Will Bynum plus Luigi Datome probably leaves them with $4 million in cap space remaining, though we don’t know the specifics of their first-year salaries. Without knowing how the salaries are structured – are they flat, with no annual raises, or do they come with the maximum allowable built-in raises? – then it’s guesswork. There is a new exception available to teams like the Pistons, who are far enough below the salary cap that they don’t have the other exceptions (mid-level and biannual, plus another new one available to tax-paying teams), called the “room” exception. For the coming season, it’s about $2.6 million in the first year.

Gregory (Lincoln Park, Mich.): Halfway through Summer League and a few of the young guys don’t look too bad. KCP finally got his shot to fall against OKC, Tony has shown athletic ability he was reported to have, Siva looks decent and Drummond is the man of the future. Speaking of the future, what are the details of the 2014 No. 1 pick that’s owed to Charlotte?

Langlois: Charlotte gets the pick unless it winds up being in the top eight, Gregory. If the Pistons keep it in 2014, Charlotte gets it in 2015 unless it’s the No. 1 pick. KCP’s going to be a player, Gregory. I don’t know if it’ll happen in November or February or in his second season, but it’ll happen. He’s too gifted. I look at the leap Khris Middleton made from last July to this July and project KCP making a similar leap forward with significantly advanced athletic skills.

Boris (Troy, Mich.): Does the acquisition of Josh Smith herald the moving of Greg Monroe for another player like a top-tier point guard or shooting guard? Wouldn’t the Pistons be able to sign Monroe to a substantial new contract when his rookie deal ends and make him a long-term part of a quality team?

Langlois: As much logic as there might be behind a trade of Monroe – given the emergence of Andre Drummond as a potentially dominant center and the addition of Smith, who has played mostly at power forward to fit Atlanta’s needs – I’m having a tough time seeing Joe Dumars pulling the trigger on a deal unless it brings back something overwhelming. Monroe just turned 23 and the Pistons are convinced he’s got room for great growth ahead of him. Given what they know about his makeup and how that will allow him to continue on a path of progress … wow, you don’t usually let guys like that get away, unless, again, what you’re getting back is equally irresistible. As for signing him long-term, it’s safe to assume that’s the intention.

Andrew (Farmington Hills, Mich.): Do you see Cheeks starting Smith, Monroe and Drummond together or will Drummond come off the bench again like last year?

Langlois: I’d bet that Drummond is the starter on opening night and well into the future. It’s likely that Monroe, Drummond and Smith gobble up almost all of the available minutes at power forward and center over the course of a game, though. Smith could very well wind up playing as many minutes at power forward as small forward. I could see a rotation pattern that sees Smith play the first seven or eight minutes of each half at small forward, then move to power forward when either Drummond or Monroe comes out of the game. The intrigue will be who wins the battle for backup small forward minutes among Kyle Singler, Khris Middleton and newcomer Luigi Datome and possibly Jonas Jerebko, if he doesn’t factor at power forward, as well.

Jay (Ann Arbor, Mich.): Now that the Warriors have signed Andre Iguodala, what do you think it would take for the Pistons to get Harrison Barnes?

Langlois: Promising young player on a rookie contract. No reason to think Golden State is looking to move him. If another critical need pops up and they decide bringing Barnes off the bench is a luxury they can’t afford, I suppose they might shop him. But you wouldn’t get him in a salary dump, for sure.

Bill (Pioneer, Ohio): I’m not sure how a sign-and-trade deal works. Could the Pistons sign Jeff Teague to a four-year, $42 million offer sheet and then work with Atlanta to take Stuckey and Bynum for Teague and Smith? Would that give Atlanta a large trade exception?

Langlois: Depends on the cap space. However much more in salary the Pistons would be taking back – let’s say the Pistons were taking on players making $22 million next season but shipping out players making $11 million (ballpark figures for your scenario) – they’d have to have at least $11 million in cap space (they do). But your scenario still wouldn’t be possible. The Pistons can’t sign Will Bynum as a free agent and then trade him. Bynum would have to sign as a free agent with Atlanta and Teague (a restricted free agent) would have to sign a Pistons offer sheet. (And they’d have to have enough cap space, after signing Smith, to fit his first-year salary under the cap; unless Teague were to take a first-year salary of about $8 million, which is about what the Pistons would project to have after accounting for Smith’s salary, they wouldn’t.) The transactions also would have to be conducted separately, but it wouldn’t change the core of the problem. And, finally, it’s moot now because the Pistons no longer have the cap space – after commitments to Smith, Bynum and Datome – to produce that type of offer sheet to Teague or anyone.

John (Hexham, England): Apart from Rasheed Wallace joining the staff, what is the latest on who is coming with Maurice Cheeks?

Langlois: Maz Trakh, who was in Oklahoma City with Cheeks, ran the team in Summer League, John. With him were Bernard Smith, who was with Cheeks in both Portland and Philadelphia, and John Loyer, who was on Lawrence Franks’ Pistons staff but before that served under Cheeks in both places, as well. Wallace, of course, joined up in time for Monday’s Summer League game. There is likely one more hire to come.

Zach (Oakland, Calif.): I’m tired of reading these melodramatic concerns so-called Pistons fans have about “spacing” in regards to this year’s roster and its ability to play together on the offensive end. The ’89 world champions made fewer than 120 3-pointers on the season and still managed to win games on the defensive end. Could you remind these fans to be patient with the process already?

Langlois: Rosters can be and are churned throughout the calendar year. What the Pistons’ roster looks like today could change significantly by the time training camp starts, and if that’s the roster they take into the regular season, we all know that in-season trades aren’t rare in the NBA. But it’s a legitimate question to wonder whether the Pistons have enough shooting on their roster as it’s currently constituted. I think the front office understands what it lacks and is working toward that end. Caldwell-Pope could help. Luigi Datome, from everything I’ve heard, is a tremendous shooter. As for your point about the ’89 team, the game was very different back then. The 3-pointer was something not much more than a gimmick, used to a large degree only by trailing teams in the late minutes. I’m not fond of the disproportionate importance of the 3-pointer today, but that’s another matter. The reality is every team needs shooters, which is why contracts for relatively limited players like Kyle Korver, J.J. Redick, Kevin Martin and O.J. Mayo have struck many as exorbitant so far in free agency.

Dawn (Allendale, Mich.): With Jose Calderon out of the picture, last season’s trade comes down to Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye in exchange for Josh Smith and his hefty contract. Still a win-win in your estimation?

Langlois: I believe the Pistons had legitimate interest in bringing back Calderon, but probably not at the price Dallas paid – four years and $29 million was a fairly surprising deal for a point guard who’ll be 32 when the season starts. If the contract numbers on the Smith deal are accurate as reported at four years with a $13.5 million annual average, then while that’s a lot of money, it’s well short of the max deal that many speculated Smith would get as the consensus No. 3 free agent available after Dwight Howard and Chris Paul. Do I think Joe Dumars would have traded Prince and Daye for Josh Smith at the trade deadline if Smith had agreed to take $54 million for four years when most would have pegged him for something well north of $60 million at that time? (Not pulling that out of thin air. Here’s what ESPN.com analyst Kevin Pelton wrote before free agency opened about Smith: “He merits a four-year deal starting around $15 million, but it’s unclear whether Smith can get that much money from anyone in this market.” A four-year deal that starts at $15 million would wind up averaging about $16 million and total about $64 million – $10 million than the reported number the Pistons offered.) Yeah, I think that’s a pretty easy one to answer.

John (Westland, Mich.): The Bad Boys and the 2004 team won with defense. The Pistons missed out on Tony Allen. Why not Detroit?

Langlois: Not directly related to your question, but the first week of free agency suggests that shooting, as I wrote above, is still a more valued commodity than great defense. Allen’s four-year deal has been reported at $20 million. Shooters like Kyle Korver and Kevin Martin, known as subpar defenders, got significantly more than that. The Pistons have upgraded defensively, by any reasonable assessment, by adding Josh Smith alone. I also think, based on what I saw in five practices and three Summer League games, that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is going to be a very good perimeter defender. And a bigger role for Andre Drummond, as he’s expected to have, should also mean better team defense.

Gabriel (La Quinta, Calif.): Do you think this year’s team can finally make it to the playoffs or at least contend for the playoffs?

Langlois: Yes and yes. It must be said that there will still be roster reshaping, perhaps even significant additions and subtractions, so it’s tough to put a pecking order to the Eastern Conference with any confidence. But Miami is a given, Chicago figures to be a top-four (likely top-two) seed with Derrick Rose back, Indiana isn’t going anywhere and Brooklyn has great firepower in its starting lineup if injuries don’t ravage an aging roster. The Knicks could go either way, but Carmelo Anthony’s scoring gives them a puncher’s chance every night. After those five, there’s not a roster in the East any stronger than the Pistons. Washington finished strong, Cleveland could take a big leap if Andrew Bynum lands there and stays healthy and Atlanta still has some nice pieces. But right now, the postseason is certainly a realistic goal for the Pistons.