Pistons Mailbag - November 13, 2013
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Tiba (Detroit): Writing to you on Veteran’s Day, which also happens to be my birthday. As a proud soldier of the United States Air Force and a birthday boy all I want is to see my favorite team on earth get some wins. I couldn’t have been much more impressed with the loss last week to OKC. Jennings is looking great at the point, Smith is making teams pay from deep and Monroe’s elbow jumper is becoming a weapon. They missed a lot of shots they’d normally make, but I think we’ll be legit title contenders before the end of the season!
Langlois: That’s a pretty good double-double, Tiba – your birthday and Veteran’s Day all in one. From everyone associated with the Pistons, thank you for your service and all that you do so that we’re allowed to dwell – obsessively, at times – on relatively trivial pursuits like basketball. It would have been nice to come away with a win in one of those three games against Memphis, Indiana and OKC, but the Pistons battled all three contenders hard. If they survive the early weeks of the season – and get out of this current Western Conference road trip with something positive – the Pistons could make things very interesting over the season’s second half and into the playoffs. Long way to go before we get there, though.
James (Plano, Texas): Wouldn’t the 76ers and Pistons make great trade partners? The Pistons could trade Monroe, Stuckey and Villanueva (possibly even Jerebko) for Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Tony Wroten. This would benefit both teams with a solid big in Hawes coming off the bench, Turner becoming our go-to scorer that he is becoming better at, and Wroten is very promising. Then you can pair Monroe with Noel and Michael Carter-Williams and use the cap space and draft picks to get another shooting guard.
Langlois: I don’t think the Pistons would be remotely interested in that trade. I think you’re overestimating Turner’s value, James, though he’s off to an encouraging start to his fourth season. It doesn’t exactly fit the 76ers’ blueprint, either, given the deconstruction of the team with an eye toward cashing in on high draft picks in the 2014 lottery. But if offered the chance to get Monroe for that package, it might be tough for Philly to turn it down.
Darrin (Mio): Isn’t there a way for Mo Cheeks to get Drummond more time? That’s a lot of points and presence sitting on the bench.
Langlois: You didn’t refer to the OKC game specifically, Darrin, but I can only assume your Mailbag entry was prompted by Drummond playing only 23 minutes against the Thunder. That was in part due to foul trouble – he picked up his fourth in the first minute of the third quarter – and in part due to the fact he just wasn’t having much impact on the game, finishing with four points and three rebounds. (Very well could have been early foul trouble took him out of it emotionally, not unusual for young players.) In the four games before OKC, he was averaging 37 minutes. Then he played 42 at Portland on Monday night. That’s a ton for a big man, especially a young big man who struggled as a rookie on occasion with extended stretches. Mo Cheeks is going to give Andre Drummond all the minutes he can reasonably handle.
Jesse (@jgk381): The Pistons need to try Drummond defensively at small forward against those elite 6-foot-9 players. I think he’s got the tools to guard them.
Langlois: What if Miguel Cabrera was the best bunter the Tigers had? Would you want him to bunt when four times out of 10, he’s likely to hit a smoking line drive to the gap in right-center? I don’t think Drummond would be put to best use guarding Paul George or Kevin Durant. He’s got the physical ability and the mind-set to be a top-10 defensive force in the paint. As gifted as he is for his size, I’m not sure you want a 285-pounder chasing George through screens or trying to guard Durant at the 3-point line off the dribble.
Nawaf (@NawafDET): Factoring in Monroe’s extension, do you think the Pistons can commit to a long-term contract in trade?
Langlois: The right contract, attached to the right player, sure. I’m projecting the Pistons to have about $10 million in cap space after accounting for the cap hold on Monroe’s contract, which will take up about $10 million. If a trade comes along that gives them the opportunity to acquire a player they like – a player they would spend that type of money on next summer with the cap space they would have if they don’t make any in-season additions to next year’s payroll – then, sure, they would have to consider such a deal.
Weston (@the_real_adonis): If we wanted to trade Monroe later in the season, who would you ideally trade him for?
Langlois: I’m going to reiterate the point I’ve made on here repeatedly since the subject of trading Monroe before he can become a restricted free agent became a common topic. He’s a highly productive 23-year-old big man who has shown the capacity to expand his game. The Pistons know the quality of his character and what that means for the likelihood of him realizing all of his potential. Nobody’s really untouchable, this side of LeBron James, at least, but you’d have to be very, very deliberate in your calculations about the risk-reward ratio of dealing Greg Monroe. I think the one quality that would at least bring the Pistons to the table would be a player who scores both consistently and efficiently and, in all likelihood, does damage from the perimeter. I’m talking about 20 points-plus a night in a way that doesn’t detract from what teammates do best. There aren’t a lot of those guys out there and even fewer likely to be made available.
Gary (@gary3106): How long do you think it will take before this group starts clicking together?
Langlois: Somebody asked Chauncey Billups that question last week. He said, essentially, there is no magic number of games or weeks. It’s a process and there’s not usually a lightning bolt moment that transforms a team into a well-oiled machine. It’s a pretty timeless question. At one of my first NBA games I covered as a reporter, I asked then-Milwaukee coach Don Nelson how long he thought it would take the Pistons to come together after a major off-season overhaul. (It was early in the 1986-87 season after the Pistons had added Adrian Dantley in trade and drafted Dennis Rodman and John Salley.) Nelson answered by saying his team expected that it would take them half of the season to fully incorporate its only significant off-season addition, Jack Sikma. That was a different era, before full-blown free agency, and teams are much more accustomed to changing course these days. I’m not sure that makes it any easier, though. It didn’t help the Pistons that they lost both Brandon Jennings and Rodney Stuckey for nearly a month with training camp injuries. We’ll just have to watch and see how it plays out.
Derek (Canton, Mich.): I know coach Cheeks has said he likes a four-guard rotation and I tend to agree. But I don’t think the Pistons should run with Jennings, Billups, Bynum and Stuckey because they are all ball-dominant guards and undersized for the two spot. Do you think the team would be better served to bench one of Bynum or Billups and put KCP in the rotation?
Langlois: I don’t think there are many coaches who would make that call, Derek, not unless they were under orders from the front office to play the rookie. And don’t interpret this as Cheeks being leery of Caldwell-Pope. In Summer League, Cheeks told Joe Dumars after KCP’s early shooting struggles – he was 1 of 14 from the 3-point line in his first two games in Orlando – that he loved the way he played. The Pistons are very high on his future, but right now Cheeks has four veteran guards, each of whom offers something valuable, he trusts and appreciates. It’s a long season. Caldwell-Pope is likely to get several opportunities to contribute, just as he did Tuesday at Golden State when the team was flat and Cheeks was looking for a jump start. But I don’t see a permanent rotation spot for him anytime soon, barring injury.
Aaron (Houston): I believe a trade of Villanueva to Boston for Gerald Wallace would work for both teams and make the Pistons more versatile. Not only would it vault us to the top defensively, but it would push Smith back to power forward, Monroe to center and Drummond to the bench where they would all be more useful in this year’s playoff run. Wallace’s contract will be a trade asset in two years, plus we could trade Jerebko for a future pick to free up cap space for Monroe.
Langlois: Wallace has one of the more toxic contracts in the NBA right now, Aaron. When you say his contract will be an “asset” in two years, that’s overstating things by a long shot. Boston would jump all over that deal. It makes no sense for the Pistons. The $10 million Wallace is owed next year (and the following season) would eat up all of the anticipated cap space the Pistons will have next season (so goodbye to any chance of adding a valuable piece to the puzzle) and then, in two years, it would be an albatross, not an asset, and might force them to move another player. I can’t imagine the uproar among Pistons fans if they made that deal with an eye toward reducing Andre Drummond’s role, and that doesn’t even account for the assault on the salary cap. Not sure Wallace ranks as the defensive player you suggest, not any more. Though he surely has been a hard-nosed defender and rebounder over the course of his career, scouts wonder how much he has left. There’s one way the Pistons would consider that trade, I believe: If Boston attached its 2014 No. 1 pick without (or with very limited) protection. And that doesn’t fit Boston’s blueprint at all.
Vince (Windsor, Ontario): It’s a must that we get the coaching position right for this franchise. I know it’s early but I’m already starting to wonder if Cheeks is “the guy.” From what you’ve seen and heard so far, what can you tell me to help me feel comfortable that we got the right guy?
Langlois: With rare exception, Vince, “the guy” is almost always about the delicate intersection of personalities. The right coach for Team A might be the wrong coach for Team B. I’ve used the example before, but if Jack McCloskey hadn’t employed his University of Pennsylvania connection to Chuck Daly to hire him as Pistons coach in 1983, chances are his NBA record would have ended at 9-32 (his record during half of one regrettable season with the woebegone Cleveland Cavaliers) and no one would have thought him the perfect candidate, less than a decade later, to serve as maestro of the collection of awesome talents and outsized egos that came to be known as the Dream Team. Is Cheeks the right guy to coach the Pistons? Impossible to tell just yet. We know in this business that only sustained success enables tenure. The Pistons have a very talented young nucleus in place and their future appears bright. If their key young players enjoy good health, I think we’re going to see some special seasons in the near future. I know this much so far about Cheeks: His players are about as unanimous as it gets in expressing their joy of playing for him. And in the NBA, that’s always half the battle.
Fernando (Oviedo, Spain): Why is KCP not playing? He is a better player than Bynum and Stuckey, all in Spain are convinced. It’s not logical that Cheeks thinks Stuckey is a better defender than KCP. I like Jennings-KCP and Billups-Singler as backcourt combinatioins with Bynum and Stuckey out.
Langlois: Lots of sentiment from fans to get Caldwell-Pope into the rotation, Fernando, and I guess that both surprises me and doesn’t. To a degree, Caldwell-Pope benefits from the backup quarterback syndrome – fans have seen everything, they believe, from the guy playing and are convinced the guy who isn’t playing would be providing more, never mind that the coach making the decisions has infinitely more to go on. On the other hand, Cheeks has made it clear – and I’ve tried to convey his opinions accurately and frequently – that he (a) believes there is not room for five guards in the rotation and (b) trusts and values the contributions of the four veteran options. The Pistons brought Chauncey Billups back for his savvy and 3-point shooting; Cheeks weighed in during free agency that he liked what Will Bynum brought not only on offense, where his connection with Andre Drummond has paid dividends, but for his ability to harass opposing ballhandlers; Cheeks was struck by Stuckey’s perimeter defense in training camp, where he called him the team’s best in that area, over KCP and all others; and there’s no question who the Pistons consider their point guard, Jennings. The Pistons like KCP’s future a great deal, and Cheeks has been adamant that he’s not hesitant to use him, as he did for 24 minutes last night. But he’s a rookie without a wealth of experience who was drafted on potential as much as production. It’s no surprise, and no disappointment, that he hasn’t yet made it impossible to not play him.