Pistons Mailbag - July 24, 2013
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Raymond (Elkhart, Ind.): How are Andre and Greg looking in Las Vegas at the USA Basketball minicamp?
Langlois: They’re doing what they came to do, Raymond: making it tough for the folks in charge of shaping the national team roster to not include them. Both have a skill set that’s valuable in international play. Monroe’s offensive versatility – not only the ability to score in a variety of ways but also to pass when there are so many good scoring options around him – makes other players more effective. Drummond’s great appeal to the national team is his athleticism and ability to not only protect the rim – and, remember, with the difference in goaltending rules, that can be an even bigger plus for him – but, perhaps more critically, his great lateral quickness for what it can do to disrupt pick-and-roll basketball. They were both very good on Tuesday and, as I write this, there’ll just be a short practice today and then the Thursday night scrimmage, which is scheduled to air at NBA-TV at 9 p.m. Eastern time.
Marvin (Richmond, Va.): In the interview with George Blaha, Mo Cheeks says he wants to create turnovers and get in the open floor and run. Obviously, this is not Chauncey’s strength. Please tell me he was not brought back to be the starter.
Langlois: I don’t know whether he starts or not, Marvin. I would suspect that there will be a conscious effort to manage his minutes wisely, given the fact he’ll be 37 when the season starts. It would be unlikely anyone goes into the season expecting more than 20 minutes or so a game from Billups. Given that, it might be easier to manage those minutes if he’s coming off the bench. I think it’s reasonable that even if he’s not a starter, if he’s healthy the Pistons are going to want him on the floor in the last four minutes of tight games for his presence, 3-point shooting, ability to protect the ball and knock down free throws. I don’t see any inherent conflict with playing Billups 20 minutes a game and wanting to create turnovers and run. The Pistons will have three big men – Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith – who are all very good at coming up with steals and two of them, Drummond and Smith, are proven shot-blockers. Those things fuel transition basketball. If Kentavious Caldwell-Pope cracks the rotation, he showed clear signs in Orlando of being a guy who’ll create turnovers, as well. Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey are effective transition players. I don’t think Cheeks is wedded to a rigid formula; I think he was speaking with the roster in mind.
Anes (Grand Rapids, Mich.): It seems that when the Pistons got out and ran more during games last year, they were much more effective scoring. Wouldn’t it make sense to run and gun more this season to avoid the cluster with our bigs?
Langlois: See above. I’ve never heard a coach in the modern NBA who didn’t want to get out and run. Defenses are so sophisticated and players so much more athletic relative to their size than ever that only the very best teams – usually the ones with the handful of the game’s best offensive players – can make a steady living in the half court. Sure, the Pistons would love to get a few dozen easy points in transition every game. On paper, they should be better equipped to do that next season. Can’t wait to see how it translates between the lines.
Nuno (Lisbon, Portugal): Do you think this is the last opportunity for Stuckey to prove his value or his time in Detroit will be finished? With the roster we have, I think probably he will not play many minutes.
Langlois: He’s entering the last year of his contract, Nuno, and he’ll be an unrestricted free agent next summer. Given that he’ll be just 28, there certainly will be a market for Stuckey. How robust that is will be determined by the level of consistent production he maintains this season. That’s been Stuckey’s biggest issue over the years: consistency. He can be brilliant and has, at times, carried the Pistons offensively in recent seasons for games at a time. If he can raise his low points and shorten the duration of his bouts of subpar productivity, he’ll have a home in the NBA for a long time. He goes into training camp with a strong chance to be a backcourt starter, or at least to play starter’s minutes. It’s in his hands from there.
T.J. (Rochester Hills, Mich.): I’m curious as to what Stuckey, Jonas and Charlie V are up to? I believe they are the wild cards on the roster. Any insight into their summer workout plans?
Langlois: All three have been part-time visitors to the Pistons’ practice facility this summer, T.J., while also training elsewhere. Jerebko is gearing up to lead the Swedish national team in Eurobasket competition later this summer. He’s the national team’s undisputed star and will play heavy minutes for the underdog Swedes. The frontcourt got suddenly crowded with the free-agent acquisitions of Josh Smith – who likely will take up about 35 minutes at the two forward spots – and Gigi Datome, who will vie for minutes at small forward along with Kyle Singler, Khis Middleton and, perhaps, Jerebko. Smith and Greg Monroe will eat up most of the power forward minutes, but there is still a likelihood for a situational role that either Jerebko of Villanueva could fill. As addressed above, there’s a place for Stuckey if he can improve his consistency of production.
Malik (Muenster, Germany): We’ve heard rumors of Rodney Stuckey and Charlie V offered to Boston in a trade for Rondo. Do you think Stuckey is a candidate that is likely to be dealt if there is a move? I really like Stuck and think there is much more inside him that just has to be unleashed. Maybe Chauncey Billups can help?
Langlois: A few very interesting issues raised there, Malik. Most Pistons fans know Stuckey and Villanueva are now on expiring contracts, which have inherent value as trade assets. But I wouldn’t peg the Pistons as any more likely than not to trade them based solely on that. The Pistons project to have roughly $15 million in cap space next summer – they’re loose projections at this time, but that’s a solid starting point – which means they will be in a position to get a player, in theory, at least, similar to Josh Smith, who reportedly will earn $13.5 million. That means they’re only likely to trade Stuckey or Villanueva under two scenarios: (1) for a player with a long-term contract they would prioritize if he were a free agent or (2) for another player(s) with an expiring deal that won’t constrain their flexibility heading into free agency 2014. As for your suggestion that Chauncey Billups might help Stuckey, it was interesting to hear how forcefully Billups was on the subject of Stuckey at his (re)introductory press conference last week. Billups was a big believer in Stuckey’s ability and future during their overlapping time in Detroit. He wasn’t alone, of course. Perhaps the combination of Billups and Maurice Cheeks will draw it out of him on a more consistent basis next season.
Philip (@philipmiller21): Who are the assistant coaches on Mo Cheeks’ staff?
Langlois: The assistants who have been acknowledged so far and were on staff in Orlando during Summer League are Maz Trakh, who came with Cheeks from Oklahoma City and has a wealth of experience at many levels of basketball, including community college and several international pro stints in Asia and the Middle East; Bernard Smith, who was with Cheeks in both Philadelphia and Portland; John Loyer, who was also with Cheeks at both of his head coaching stops and spent the past two seasons as a Pistons assistant to Lawrence Frank; and Rasheed Wallace, whose relationship with Cheeks goes back to his playing days in Portland under him. There is one hire left, presumably, and that is expected to be someone who will join Trakh and Loyer on the bench.
Nicholas (@nickprantera): How many minutes do you expect KCP to get in our crowded backcourt?
Langlois: The Pistons aren’t in a position where they need Caldwell-Pope to earn a spot in the rotation, Nicholas. They could, quite conceivably, go with a four-guard rotation of Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey, Chauncey Billups and Will Bynum. That might leave them a little undersized at shooting guard when Stuckey isn’t in the game, but it likely wouldn’t present many untenable matchups. That said, Caldwell-Pope gives them size and athleticism that no one else can match back there, so if he’s ready to handle minutes he’d be a welcome addition. It’s anyone’s guess how quickly he’ll be able to make the transition, but there was no question that Pistons management and coaching staff left Orlando feeling good about his future, whenever it arrives. They were enthused that even when his shot wasn’t falling he was finding ways to make an impact and playing hard at both ends.
Jeff (Windsor, Ontario): I heard Mike Miller was amnestied by the Miami Heat. Would he be a wise pickup for the Pistons?
Langlois: The Pistons don’t have a roster spot for him, Jeff. They’ve spent almost up to the cap, but would be able to offer Miller the “room” exception if they were so inclined. They like what they have in Gigi Datome, though, a 6-foot-8 shooter who, at 25, seems a better fit for where the Pistons are than the veteran (and somewhat fragile) Miller. Miller is a proven playoff scorer, though, which explains why teams like Houston, Memphis and Oklahoma City quickly sought him out after the Heat decided he was a luxury they could no longer afford.
Adam (Huntington Woods, Mich.): Of our four point guards, who will be the starter and who most likely will be the backup?
Langlois: That’s what training camp and preseason are for, Adam, but I’ll play along as a fun handicapping sort of exercise. Given that the starting frontcourt is almost certain to be Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, it stands to reason Maurice Cheeks will be inclined to go with perimeter shooting as a priority consideration for the other two starting spots. I don’t think Smith, Monroe and Drummond will share the court for more than 15 minutes a night, but that’s still almost one-third of a game and the Pistons will want to operate as efficiently as possible in that time. So Knight makes sense. It would also, as addressed above, make it easier to manage Billups’ minutes if he’s not starting. But Billups also offers premium shooting. Could he be under consideration to start alongside Knight? That would make the second unit guards Bynum and Stuckey, which proved effective last year when playing with Drummond and Charlie Villanueva. Knight is the safest bet to start among the four. If Caldwell-Pope is ready, he’d make sense as his running mate with some combination of Stuckey, Billups and Bynum off the bench. But if Caldwell-Pope isn’t ready, then flip a coin as to who starts alongside Knight: Billups or Stuckey?
Samson (Detroit): Have the Pistons completed their signings for the summer? Why not sign some cheap, good talent within free agency? We still have holes that need to be filled. We are forgetting the most key piece in our 2004 success was our bench.
Langlois: I’d take issue with your last statement, Samson. Yeah, the 2004 bench had nice moments, especially down the stretch when Lindsey Hunter and Mike James proved a terrific defensive backcourt tandem. But the starting lineup of Billups, Hamilton, Wallace, Wallace and Prince was remarkably durable, productive and cohesive. They were a far bigger component of the 2004 title than the bench’s contributions, considerable though they sometimes were. As for signing more players, to what end? The roster is full. That doesn’t mean the Pistons would bypass superior talent at below-market prices, I suppose, but the likelihood that such a player is out there who would look at a full roster and decide to take a below-market deal to come to the Pistons is far-fetched.
Chris (Rochester Hills, Mich.): How does Brandon Knight feel about the return of Chauncey Billups?
Langlois: Players who think they’ve made it upon entering the NBA usually don’t last very long, Chris. It’s an everyday challenge to make a roster, crack a rotation, become a starter and improve from there to above-average starter and beyond. This isn’t like the Pistons brought in another young point guard to take his place; they’re bringing in a veteran who isn’t going to be playing 30-plus minutes a night. I’m sure if the conversation between Knight, Joe Dumars and Maurice Cheeks hasn’t taken place yet, it will before too long. They know Knight’s makeup and I don’t think they have many doubts that Knight will understand having Billups as a teammate should yield dividends for him on many levels. Billups came to the Pistons a little later in his career than Knight is at right now, but had yet to really find his footing in the NBA, at least not at the level he would eventually achieve. He can put a face to the message that perseverance will pay dividends.
John (Lansing, Mich.): Do you have any updates on when Drummond’s new No. 0 jerseys will be available?
Langlois: Here’s the latest on merchandise from the folks at the Palace Locker Room, John. You can order certain presale Billups items here and certain Drummond presale items here online. They should be ready for shipping in about two weeks. Drummond youth Swingman jerseys should be delivered in about a month, I’m told. Adult Swingman jerseys for Drummond, Billups and Josh Smith will not be available until closer to the start of the season.