Pistons Mailbag - July 31, 2013

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

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.

Jacob (Richmond, B.C.): What do you think of the trade for Brandon Jennings? Do you think it was a matter of management giving up on Brandon Knight’s development or do you think they just believe Jennings is a better player?

Langlois: Certainly more the latter than the former, Jacob. Perhaps more precisely, I think the trade is a manifestation of the belief that after adding Josh Smith, Chauncey Billups and Gigi Datome, the Pistons put themselves in position to take a significant leap in the standings and Joe Dumars likely felt the chance to add a point guard that much farther along in his development to guide the team gave him the best chance to capitalize on that opportunity. Joe D is genuinely fond of Knight, a big believer in his character, competitiveness and work ethic. But Jennings came out of high school earmarked for greatness by many because they saw a player with exceptional court vision and playmaking potential. That’s gotten a little skewed by his experience in Milwaukee, perhaps, but as I wrote today, it’s not unlike the situation that Chauncey Billups found himself in when he came to the Pistons 11 years ago. Under Maurice Cheeks’ tutelage, Jennings has a chance to take the next step in his development surrounded by weapons he hasn’t had available to him in Milwaukee.

Andy (Toronto): Joe Dumars was having quite the off-season. He added shooting, defense and athleticism. Then he traded for Brandon Jennings, who is exactly the type of player Detroit does not need. How does Joe justify giving up so much value and an overpriced contract, in my opinion, to a player like Jennings?

Langlois: We’ll hear his rationale when the Pistons introduce Jennings soon, Andy. Jennings might have two years on Knight and be a four-year NBA player, but it’s best to keep in mind that he’s 23 and still a fair way away from his assumed prime. The guy can do things that not many can. His change-of-direction quickness is remarkable. There probably aren’t a dozen players in the league as likely to drop 20 in a quarter as this guy, and his court vision is just as rare. Does he need to better harness his breathtaking array of gifts? Sure. And just as the Pistons felt Maurice Cheeks would benefit in hastening Knight’s development, I’m sure they’ll say that they feel confident turning Jennings over to Cheeks.

Michael (Ishpeming, Mich.): If the Pistons wanted Brandon Jennings, why didn’t they just sign him to an offer sheet. I believe with the animosity between Jennings and the Bucks, they might have let him go rather than match the offer when they obviously were ready to move on. Doing it that way, we wouldn’t have gotten rid of any players and Siva probably ends up being the odd man out instead of depleting our quality reserves.

Langlois: Good question, Michael, and keep the U.P. warm for me, I hope to get up there soon – if we can go a week without a major trade or free-agent signing. If the Pistons had given an offer sheet to Jennings, they would have tied up the amount of money in his first-year salary for three days while free agency played out. The Pistons had about $21 million in cap space on July 1. If the numbers reported on both Jennings and Josh Smith are correct, that would have meant that either they (1) barely had enough money to fit both under the cap and wouldn’t have been able to bring back Will Bynum and add both Chauncey Billups and Gigi Datome; (2) wouldn’t have had quite enough to make Smith’s contract level across all four years, requiring a lower salary next season and escalating amounts throughout, hurting the cap down the road; or (3) would have had to use the amnesty clause on Charlie Villanueva and lose the asset his outside shooting and expiring contract represent. Using their cap space first, then negotiating a sign-and-trade for Jennings allowed all the other moves after Smith’s signing to transpire.

Dave (Lenox, Mich.): Don’t you think Brandon Knight deserved the chance to develop into more than what we’ve seen from him so far? I thought his work ethic and desire gave him a great chance to be successful. I like Jennings, but do you think he’s really an upgrade in the long run?

Langlois: I think he’s an upgrade right now and likely for the next few years, at least. When they’re 29 and 27 six years from now? Impossible to say at this point, but they’ll both be playing under different contracts by that time and there’s no guarantee either will be in their present cities. As I mentioned above, I think Joe Dumars will at some point say that after adding talents like Josh Smith, Chauncey Billups and Gigi Datome, the Pistons needed a point guard to run the show who’s a little further advanced than Knight is at 21. As for whether Knight “deserved” the chance to develop here, it’s not like he’s being sent to the D-League, or Siberia. He’s got a valid NBA contract and the Bucks obviously valued him enough to part with Jennings. It sure appears he’ll be the starter in Milwaukee, or at least get a shot to win the position over veteran journeyman Luke Ridnour.

Ryan (Grand Rapids, Mich.): What does this Brandon Jennings trade do to our cap space for next year? Also, with Jennings and Billups taking all the minutes at point guard and with a young Siva on the bench, what role will there be for Will Bynum?

Langlois: It’s highly speculative to try to pin a specific number on cap space this far out, Ryan, but my best guess before the Jennings-Knight trade was that the Pistons would be about $15 million under the 2014-15 cap next July 1. If the reported numbers on Jennings’ deal are correct, then this deal shaves off about $4 million from that figure – the difference, approximately, between what Jennings and Knight will earn for the 2014-15 season. How Billups and Bynum are used will be Maurice Cheeks’ call. I wouldn’t assume that Billups will be the first point guard off the bench. With Kentavious Caldwell-Pope perhaps needing some time to acclimate, it could be that Billups spends more of his time – at least early in the season – at shooting guard. That won’t begin to play out until the preseason.

Marcus (Durham, N.C.): If we are to assume that Chauncey Billups, Brandon Jennings, Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum are point guards and that Singler is a small forward, then that would mean the current roster has just one player, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who is a shooting guard. Starting the season with only one true shooting guard who is also a rookie is not a good plan, and I’m a fan of KCP. The roster needs a proven, starting NBA shooting guard. Would Joe Dumars consider a trade to add Arron Afflalo?

Langlois: Stuckey’s spent a considerable amount of time at the position in recent seasons and Singler was the starter there for half the season. They might not have a classic shooting guard in the Ray Allen mold, but there are a number of teams playing without that type of player. I was struck at the Team USA minicamp in Las Vegas last week how few shooting guards were in the mix. Saw plenty of backcourt combinations that included two shooting guards: John Wall-Ty Lawson; Mike Conley-Jrue Holiday; Kyrie Irving-Damian Lillard. That’s the way it goes across the league right now. There are more point guards than shooting guards. The fact Billups and Stuckey can play both spots will give Maurice Cheeks flexibility. I think KCP is going to factor, maybe not right out of the gate, but eventually. His combination of size, athleticism and motor will at least put him in consideration for defensive matchups, and if he can contribute something offensively beyond that as a rookie, Cheeks will have even greater potential to find winning combinations.

Kim (Sterling Heights, Mich.): The Pistons probably need to win 41 games to be a playoff contender. That’s a 12-game improvement over last year. How often do teams make a 12-game improvement? Where do the Pistons pick up the additional 12 games?

Langlois: It’s rare for teams that don’t make significant roster upgrades. The Pistons believe they’ve done so, Kim, after addressing their primary needs with virtually every move. Joe Dumars said he wanted to get more athletic and bigger on the perimeter, add outside shooting and toughness. Josh Smith adds athleticism, size and toughness at small forward. Chauncey Billups, of course, brings a major dose of shooting, not to mention the effect I see him having on team chemistry and his late-game presence in close games that together should help win a few of the games that slipped away last season. Gigi Datome, if he can adjust to the physical play and pace of the NBA, could significantly upgrade 3-point shooting. Jennings’ quickness adds another element. It might take Kentavious Caldwell-Pope a little while to hit his comfort level offensively, as it did Khris Middleton as a rookie last season, but KCP’s athleticism could force the coaching staff to find a spot for him regardless. I don’t see a clear need for Tony Mitchell to play at this point, but he’s so gifted athletically that there might be a role for him, too. There will be an onus on Maurice Cheeks and his staff to get the pieces sorted out quickly to avoid the type of start that can drag down a season, but there are some enticing possibilities.

Kevin (Troy, Mich.): I know the Pistons have extremely talented bigs in Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. But what do you think the chances are of them playing a relatively small-ball rotation, one that might put Billups, Jennings, KCP and Gigi Datome all out on the floor together? It seems like a nice change of pace to the pound-it-in-the-paint style the Pistons are currently gunning for.

Langlois: Never say never, Kevin. In today’s NBA, coaches are more willing to consider various possibilities. The thing that really gives unconventional lineups a chance to thrive, though, is the presence of a transcendent player. Miami can play small ball because LeBron James isn’t really going to be overmatched against even the best power forwards. The Knicks can play Carmelo Anthony there because no opposing coach would feel comfortable guarding him with a traditional power forward. Ditto with Oklahoma City and Kevin Durant. I’ve never seen Datome play. Could he guard somebody like David West or Kevin Love in the last five minutes when coaches are more apt to put their best offensive units together? That might be a lot to ask of someone with no NBA experience. But I’ll say this: As Andre Drummond becomes more experienced and instinctive, he’ll allow for some interesting combinations around him. If you surrounded him with four shooters, you could field a frighteningly efficient offensive lineup that forces uncomfortable matchups on the opposition.

Kevin (Lansing, Mich.): Do you think Indiana would take Charlie Villanueva and Jonas Jerebko and a pick for Danny Granger and a pick? I think Charlie V would spread the floor for Hibbert, Jonas would be a good replacement for Tyler Hansbrough and Granger would be a huge upgrade at small forward.

Langlois: Your question came in before the Pacers swung a trade to obtain Luis Scola, Kevin. Even though Scola and Charlie V are two very different players, I don’t know that there would be enough minutes to go around for Hibbert, David West, Scola, Villanueva and Jerebko. The Pacers probably could use another shooter, but maybe they can get that from another position. Granger could be their wild card as they look to close the gap on Miami in the East. Either he comes back healthy and forms a dynamic 1-2 punch with Paul George to complement Hibbert’s post presence and West’s reliability, or – perhaps more likely – he comes back healthy and suddenly becomes a very attractive trade chip on an expiring contract. He does fit the profile of a player the Pistons wouldn’t mind adding in trade because his expiring contract wouldn’t compromise the cap space they anticipate having next summer. The Pistons would have to ask themselves, though, how Granger would fit now with Josh Smith slated to start at small forward and Gigi Datome added to compete with Kyle Singler for the significant backup minutes that would appear to be available behind Smith, given that Smith is likely to spend half his time at power forward whenever Greg Monroe or Andre Drummond sit.

Karl (Louisville, Ky.): Is there any news on Peyton Siva? Do you expect the Pistons will be able to find a roster spot for him?

Langlois: This week’s three-for-one trade with Milwaukee puts the Pistons at 13 players under contract. That creates an opening for Siva. They still have three other point guards on the roster, though, and the trade that adds Brandon Jennings for Brandon Knight means they’ve added a player who plays only point guard for one that finished last season at shooting guard. I think it’s highly likely the Pistons commit a 14th roster spot to a spare big man to replace Slava Kravtsov. The roster as it stands now has just two true big men, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, and while Monroe will be the backup center, he’s also the starting power forward. They really need one more guy who can guard backup centers. It doesn’t have to be a legitimate 7-footer, necessarily, but a veteran who can stand his ground in the post. It wouldn’t surprise me if they hold off on signing Siva until they accomplish that objective to avoid locking the roster in at 15 in case a trade that would require them to take two players back for one presented itself. But we’ve made it clear: Siva gave a great accounting of himself in Summer League and Pistons coaches and the front office have made glowing public comments about his makeup. The nature of NBA rosters, though, is they get built from the top down. In general, you don’t make trades involving players at the top or middle of the roster to clear a spot at the bottom. It’s increasingly common for second-round draft picks to spend a season or more in Europe proving their value and improving their games. And that’s more true the deeper you get into the second round. Just this week, Erick Green – the No. 46 pick of Denver, another team with a roster crunch – signed to play in Italy. Picks in the first third of the second round usually command two guaranteed years. Look at the 2012 draft, where the Pistons took Khris Middleton with the 39th pick and Kim English 44th. Middleton, it was widely reported, signed a three-year contract, the first two guaranteed. English signed for two years with a team option to guarantee the second immediately following Summer League. The Pistons declined to pick up the option, making English a free agent. Siva was picked 56th. In 2012, the 55th pick was Darius Johnson-Odom, who made the Lakers but signed a non-guaranteed contract. The Lakers waived him in early January, just before the deadline when all contracts must become guaranteed for the remainder of the season. That’s typical of the contract offered to players in that draft range. Joe Dumars has stated publicly that the Pistons want to retain Siva’s rights, whether they can clear a roster spot for him or not. If Siva were to play in Europe, for instance, as Marcus Denmon, chosen 59th by San Antonio a year ago, chose to do, that would be one way to accomplish that objective.