Pistons Mailbag - January 8, 2014

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.

Vance (Detroit): I think it might be time to alter the starting lineup. Bring Andre off the bench with Bynum and Stuckey. This allows for us to have a more potent bench unit as Will and Andre work so well together, while also allowing Monroe and Smith more space to operate down low.

Langlois: Several variations of this question again this week, Vance. Stuckey and Bynum have both missed considerable time and that’s affected Cheeks’ rotation. But what you’re describing is essentially what he tried to do – pair Drummond with a second unit anchored by the Stuckey-Cheeks backcourt – by getting Drummond out of games first among the frontcourt starters and then bringing him back to start second quarters. I wouldn’t focus so much on the starting lineup but more on the substitution patterns when the Pistons have all hands on deck.

Andrew (Escanaba, Mich.): What’s the deal with this team? They need to make a move to spark this squad or something.

Langlois: If a move makes sense, sure. But I’d be surprised if Joe Dumars made a move based on the last few weeks. I think after the Pistons won at Miami, Indiana and Boston a few weeks ago, there would have been a general consensus among fans that the team was showing signs of coming together. A general manager can’t get swept away by peaks and valleys until he’s relatively certain they indicate irreversible trends. And while I can’t tell you what he’s thinking at this particular moment, his track record doesn’t indicate someone prone to knee-jerk reactions. On the other hand, when there’s a chance to go get a player he sees as a better talent or a better fit, he’s never shied away – as some executives do – from engaging in trades that carry a degree of risk.

Jonathan (@Jonathan_Hill): Do you think the Pistons moved a year too early in signing Josh Smith? Free agency this summer looks much stronger.

Langlois: Does it? Only if a number of players with the ability to opt out – Miami’s three stars, Carmelo Anthony and Zach Randolph, most notably – all do so. You’d have to be supremely confident of your ability to attract one of those players to sit on cap space for an entire year. And, don’t forget, some of that space would have been eaten up by Greg Monroe’s cap hold. The Pistons still project to have about $10 million in cap space this summer. That won’t be enough to get in on the bidding for elite free agents, obviously, but it’s surely enough room to sign a useful player or two or to use the flexibility that space allows to facilitate other moves.

Haris (@haris_ahmad1): How does this Bynum-Deng deal affect the Pistons?

Langlois: We’ll see. A deal involving two division rivals could have long-term ripple effects, Haris. Chicago obviously felt it couldn’t afford to retain Deng, who will be a free agent this summer. It saves the Bulls about $20 million, given the luxury tax relief it gives them once Andrew Bynum is waived on top of the money it no longer owes Deng, but that could give the Bulls tremendous flexibility to retool around a nucleus of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson. Chicago could gain even more flexibility by using its amnesty provision on Carlos Boozer this summer. If Cleveland re-signs Deng and lands another high lottery pick, the Cavs will have the makings of a very formidable nucleus with Kyrie Irving at the heart of it.

Jack (Pasadena, Calif.): Huge lifelong Pistons fan and would love to see Kevin Love on our team. Any chance of getting him in a trade package that included Greg Monroe and other pieces?

Langlois: Love can opt out of his contract after the 2014-15 season and, barring something unforeseen such as a serious injury, it would be a pretty big upset if he didn’t do so. There was rampant speculation before Minnesota removed David Khan and installed Flip Saunders that Love would surely leave the Timberwolves at his first opportunity. (The Khan administration chose to save its five-year maximum contract offer, of which teams are limited to one under the new collective bargaining agreement, for Ricky Rubio and gave Love a four-year max deal.) There is also speculation that the Lakers will target Love as a free agent, though make of that what you will. I think it’s very likely the Timberwolves will do their best to gauge Love’s intentions and trade him by the February 2015 deadline if they’re not confident they can retain him. Rest assured, he will generate a robust market. He’s very likely a top-10 player right now and still very young. Any team that trades for him – given the expected cost – would be risking a great deal if it couldn’t be assured of retaining him for at least the duration of his contract, as Chris Paul gave the Clippers assurances he wouldn’t opt out when they acquired him coming out of the 2011 lockout.

Percy (@DahBadGuy): What should the Pistons’ main focus be in the upcoming NBA draft and why?

Langlois: Keep in mind the pick goes to Charlotte unless it’s among the top eight. So there’s a pretty good chance the Pistons’ first pick won’t come until the 40s, where the likelihood of someone sticking around for more than a year and having any impact isn’t great. At that spot in the draft, you merely take a guy you think has a chance to play in the NBA and don’t worry about roster fit or need. If you need a shooter and draft a shooter who has too many holes in his game to survive, you’ll still need a shooter. At the top of the draft, I still say teams err by drafting for need over long-range impact. If you need a point guard, say, but have a relatively good small forward so you take a point guard with very little upside and pass on a small forward who turns out quickly to be better than your incumbent, you’ve lost.

Ben (Petoskey, Mich.): Who has expiring contracts this off-season besides Monroe, Stuckey and Villanueva?

Langlois: Stuckey and Villanueva have expiring contracts. Monroe will be a restricted free agent. Jonas Jerebko has a player option. When Chauncey Billups signed last summer, it was reported to be a two-year deal with the second season being at the team’s option. That’s it.

Terry (Flint, Mich.): Greg Monroe is budding into an All-Star quality big with a high basketball IQ and great passing, yet his usage seems way down and it’s cost the Pistons wins. Is there any indication that Mo Cheeks will run more of the offense through him and let him utilize that great vision and passing more into the new year?

Langlois: When LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Miami, Dwyane Wade’s time with the ball in his hands probably dipped, too. That’s obviously an extreme example and I’m not comparing Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings to James and Bosh. But when you add talented players, of course the offense will be more evenly distributed. I think it’s fair to say that Cheeks and the Pistons are learning how to play to their strengths. They’re always going to explore Smith’s matchup simply because he will have a physical edge against most small forwards who guard him to start each half. But Cheeks also is aware that Monroe at power forward also often has the ability to score efficiently in the post.

Corey (Taylor, Mich.): I know you’ve answered a lot of Greg Monroe questions and others involving apparent balance issues. I truly fear that with continued inconsistency and a “win now” culture that a trade will indeed happen at the expense of Monroe. Understanding Monroe has the highest trade value, I feel even without an equal return this might happen. I feel it would be a safer bet for a trade to involve Smith. Do you agree?

Langlois: Depends on the return, Corey. I’ve repeatedly responded to Monroe trade inquiries that I’d be loathe to deal a 23-year-old with his resume and character, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a trade out there that makes sense. Take the two players you mention out of the equation, though, and the fact is that their contracts – Monroe a pending restricted free agent, Smith with 3½ years at a significant sum remaining on his deal – will separate the teams who would pursue either player into widely different camps.

Geoffrey (Brantford, Ontario): Are the Pistons ever going to sell the Motor City alternate shorts? I have the home whites, the road blues and even the alternate red shorts from years ago. I love the Motor City shorts and desperately hope they’ll sell them, too.

Langlois: That’s a lot of Pistons gear, Geoffrey. How many Gretzky sweaters – Brantford’s native son – are hanging in your closet? I’m told by Terry Adam of our merchandising department that Adidas did not offer the Motor City shorts as a retail item this season, but plans to do so in time for next season.

Odor (@odor31): Do you think Gigi could produce more numbers if the Pistons gave him more in-game time to warm up?

Langlois: Not the way it works, Odor. It’s a bottom-line business and if you’re not producing and you don’t have a history of success, nobody can afford to wait until your game comes around. An Italian journalist asked Mo Cheeks before Tuesday night’s game at Madison Square Garden about Datome, framing it by pointing out to Cheeks that Datome was recently voted Italy’s best basketball player, in essence intimating that the Pistons would be better served by playing Datome. Cheeks, as he has in the past, acknowledged that he thinks Datome eventually prove himself. “Gigi is going to get better,” he said. “He’s a worker, he’s an excellent teammate. He’s more than a shooter for me. He puts effort out on the floor. He’s a guy that’s going to get better as time moves on.” To a broader question of using bench players who haven’t yet won permanent rotation roles, Datome among them, he said, “I’m from the old school that when you get an opportunity, you try to take advantage of it. And if it works – I know I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but if it works, I’ll keep you out there.” So, back to your question. Yes, given more time, Gigi Datome almost certainly will prove himself a better player than we’ve seen to date. But there are very few players in the NBA who don’t feel the same way about themselves.