Pistons Mailbag - October 9, 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.

Jeremy (Kewadin, Mich.): In your opinion, who will be in the starting five this season?

Langlois: Don’t think there’s much suspense for four of the five spots. Jeremy. Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings are as close to locks as it gets. It gets interesting at shooting guard, where Rodney Stuckey was my best guess coming into camp but Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has a chance to win the job with a strong preseason. And he’s off to a good start. But Maurice Cheeks said before Tuesday’s preseason opener that a rookie would have to “go above and beyond” to win the job when he has two veterans he trusts like Stuckey and Chauncey Billups. Right now, it appears a two-horse race between them. Caldwell-Pope has the tools and the mind-set to be a solid defender right out of the gate (and eventually a top-notch wing defender) and if he can do that while being an “opportunity” scorer – knock down open jump shots, get out in transition and employ his speed for easy baskets, clean up around the rim where he can use his superior rebounding skills for a guard – then he’s a very logical fit in the starting lineup. It would also allow Cheeks to use Stuckey off the bench, where he could be more of a focal point than he would have a chance to be with the starters, where Jennings, Monroe and Smith will all have the ball a good deal. The biggest issue with starting Billups would be keeping his minutes in check. The darkhorse is Kyle Singler, whose reliability in all areas – as a solid man-to-man and team defender and as someone who’ll keep the ball moving on offense – offers a very nice fall-back option. But Singler can only really play at shooting guard if the Pistons are confident that Gigi Datome can soak up backup minutes at small forward.

Darrin (Mio, Mich.): Now that Lawrence Frank is no longer the coach, what are the chances of Jonas Jerebko playing more minutes and playing at a high level this year?

Langlois: There’s a role for one of Jerebko or Charlie Villanueva, Darrin, but maybe not for both of them. As I’ve maintained since Josh Smith was signed, he might start at small forward but he’s going to play a good deal of the time at power forward when Greg Monroe slides over to center while Andre Drummond sits. I think there should be something like 12 to 16 minutes a game available in the big man rotation. It’s likelier that those minutes go to one player than get split over two, but you never know. It was telling that Cheeks didn’t even try to play both in Tuesday’s preseason opener, giving Villanueva 21 minutes but not playing Jerebko, then saying after the game that Jerebko would play Thursday against Miami but Villanueva probably would not. And it also could be, though it’s unlikely, that Mo Cheeks will try to keep both Jerebko and Villanueva involved and sharp by using them selectively as the situation or the opponent demands – one plays one night, the other plays the next.

Rokell (El Paso, Texas): I recently read that the Pistons are looking into acquiring a D-League team. Can you shed some light on this? I think it would help the team a lot.

Langlois: There is a growing trend of teams that either own D-League franchises outright or come to an agreement to be an exclusive affiliate in return for covering operating expenses. Because of that, there are very few D-League franchises left available for the type of loose affiliation the Pistons have enjoyed with Fort Wayne, which has been their D-League affiliate for the past several years. And that means the relative few unaffiliated D-League teams are in demand by multiple teams to serve as incubators for their NBA players. This season, Fort Wayne is the D-League affiliate for five other teams: Memphis, Orlando, Milwaukee, Charlotte and Indiana. How might that be problematic? Well, the Pistons have two odd breaks in their schedule this year when they have five days without a game twice within the span of about three weeks. That might be a team they’d want to send Tony Mitchell and Peyton Siva to Fort Wayne if it coincides with a stretch of games in the D-League schedule. But if two or three other NBA teams have their players stashed in Fort Wayne at the time, it wouldn’t serve anyone’s needs to have Mitchell and Siva sharing minutes with prospects from two other NBA teams at their positions. It probably will force the Pistons’ hand at some point, unless the number of D-League franchises is increased to reduce the stress. The Pistons have been studying the situation for two or three years, at least.

Charlie (@cdkarafa): Monroe seems like a loyal player. Will that translate when he’s a free agent? Would he consider less money to stay with Detroit?

Langlois: Monroe’s made it clear he’s not going to answer questions about his pending free agency, assuming an agreement on an extension is not reached by the Oct. 31 deadline. (And, as I’ve written, Monroe’s agent, David Falk, has in the past often said his preference is to take players into free agency.) Teams and players always act in their best interests, Charlie. That doesn’t always mean money is the only factor of the ultimate deciding factor. But this early in a player’s career, it usually wins all tiebreakers. If Monroe’s season follows his career arc, it’s certain that he will be in demand as a free agent next July. But he’ll be a restricted free agent, the Pistons are on course to have a favorable cap situation at that time and the collective bargaining agreement gives the home team built-in advantages to retaining their own free agents. The Pistons from top to bottom are big believers in Monroe’s character and his future. Monroe, for his part, has always spoken of being a leader in restoring the Pistons to prominence. In other words, both parties have done nothing to indicate they don’t want a future together. Any time a player gets to free agency, there is an element of uncertainty. It figures that both parties will be influenced by how the season ahead plays out, but there’s no reason at this point to believe the Pistons won’t do everything in their power to retain Monroe next summer.

Harold (@haroldwatkins2): If Monroe gets a huge offer from another team in free agency, do you see the Pistons moving on? Another big-name guy or pieces if they do?

Langlois:The Pistons see what other young big men have been getting the past few years. Players like Roy Hibbert and DeMarcus Cousins have gotten four-year maximum contracts. They are, of course, preparing for a scenario where Monroe – assuming, as seems prudent, he reaches restricted free agency next July 1 – would receive a similar offer from another team. They would have the benefit of 82 games (plus postseason, they hope and expect) to gauge, by that point, how Monroe and Andre Drummond mesh in the frontcourt with Josh Smith. I think the only thing we can say definitively is they won’t let Monroe get away without compensation. Beyond that, we know the Pistons are sold on Monroe’s character and believe that in part because of his makeup he will continue to broaden his horizons as a player.

Chris (Brighton, Mich.): Since the start of training camp, the talk has been “we are focusing on defense and we will figure out the offense along the way.” I disagree with that philosophy. Much of Larry Brown’s defensive success with the Pistons came from offensive execution. Don’t you need to know your plan of attack before you can set up your plan of defense? Personnel wise, I think this team would lend itself very well to the triangle with Josh Smith in the Odom/Horry/Pippen role, Jennings in the Kobe/Jordan role and Monroe/Drummond in the Shaq role.

Langlois: There is a connectivity between offense and defense in basketball, similar to hockey or soccer, that doesn’t exist in football where the clock stops and a different group of players enters, Chris. If you turn the ball over a ton or jack up bad shots with an imbalanced floor, you’ll pay on defense. Similarly, if your defense is porous and you rarely get the opportunity to attack the opposition in transition, instead being forced to take the ball out of bounds while the defense gets set, it makes it tough to operate a consistently efficient offense. Any suggestion that the Pistons are going to just wing it on offense and put their trust in defense is a misinterpretation of their intentions. It stands to reason that it might take some time for Cheeks to find the right combinations on offense and, beyond that, to tweak the playbook to best draw out the skills of individuals within those playing groups. Defense requires a degree of chemistry, as well, but it’s generally a less complex balancing act than finding it on offense.

Matt (Onekama, Mich.): How is Gigi looking so far? Especially considering he just came off of EuroBasket competition? Is he experiencing any of the issues Singler had in his first year with the short rest between the end of his season in Spain and Summer League?

Langlois: He came to camp with a lingering foot issue, not considered serious, and then he suffered a hamstring strain during Saturday’s open practice at The Palace. No idea how long that will keep him down just yet. The timing of EuroBasket was unfortunate for him and the Pistons. He had to carry a heavy load for his Italian national team, which was minus Andrea Bargnani and Danilo Gallinari, and he played 11 tough games in a compressed window after a month of training camp. He’s hoping to get back quickly and have a chance in preseason to win a rotation spot. Maybe the hamstring injury will give the rest of his body a chance to refresh, but it’s tough for a first-year NBA player to fall behind in training camp.

Sam (@Dewey2000): How can Cheeks justify starting Billups over KCP when Chauncey doesn’t take part in all of the practices? Competition? Sheesh!

Langlois: Cheeks is giving the 37-year-old Billups the latitude to scale back in practice as he sees fit. That seems a laudable decision, especially for someone who played in an era when not many coaches would have extended such a courtesy. I think it’s an encouraging sign. Autocratic coaches run themselves out of the league real fast. There are certain rules of behavior that must apply universally and without fail. But there should not be duplicate expectations for the practice intensity of Chauncey Billups and Andre Drummond, 17 years his junior. I don’t think you can fully appreciate the respect Billups commands from teammates until you get a chance to talk to them and hear what they say, unsolicited, in extolling his character and leadership. Nobody in the locker room would begrudge him sitting out a suicide drill at the end of practice to save himself for bigger days ahead. They know he’s as diligent as anyone with his off-season conditioning.

Gideon (Riverview, Fla.): What do you think of this frontcourt rotation: Greg, Andre and Josh start. Andre is first to the bench for Charlie V. That would move Greg to the five and Charlie V stretches the floor. Then Monroe and Josh come out and Andre and Gigi come in with Charlie. Then rotate Josh and Greg back in with Andre? And what about a Stuckey-Singler trade for Danny Granger? If he doesn’t work out, we still have an expiring contract.

Langlois: Granger’s knee is a major red flag, Gideon. I would think long and hard about giving up two valuable rotation pieces for a guy whose knees have been a question mark since he came out of college. Granger is a marvelous scorer (though a suspect defender) when healthy. As for the frontcourt rotation, you’ve got the framework nailed pretty well. The biggest question marks to be answered in preseason are the backups at the three and four with Charlie Villanueva, Jonas Jerebko and perhaps Josh Harrellson in the mix at power forward and Kyle Singler and Gigi Datome and perhaps Jerebko in the mix at small forward.