Pistons Mailbag - January 15, 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.

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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.

Nick (Grand Rapids, Mich.): If the Pistons can work a deal for Rajon Rondo, I think they need to bite. Monroe’s defense makes him the best trade bait worth losing. I don’t think sliding Jennings over to the two could hurt as he could still run the offense for around 10-12 minutes while spreading the floor as Josh Smith takes over at the four. I think Boston will be selling low on Rondo after coming off an ugly injury, the Celtics tanking and Rondo’s inability to ever really win over Boston charismatically as a franchise player.

Langlois: To be fair, Rondo really hasn’t had a chance to “win over” Boston. Paul Pierce foremost and then Kevin Garnett were the dominant personalities on that team. Trading them away not only removed the faces of the franchise but also severely depleted the talent base. Rondo hasn’t played a game as the new face of the franchise, so until he does … and, at any rate, I think Celtics management will be motivated by more tangible factors than winning a popularity contest among fans. I don’t know about the viability of the Pistons as trade partners for the Celtics. While I don’t doubt Boston is open to trading Rondo and perhaps even inclined to do so, I would stop short of agreeing that the Celtics are going to sell low. They’ll be asking a ton. Boston, if it moves Rondo, is very likely going to want a lottery pick in the 2014 draft as the centerpiece of any deal if he’s moved at the trade deadline next month. The Pistons can’t offer that as their pick goes to Charlotte unless it’s a top-eight pick.

Edward (Manila, Ark.): Instead of bringing Andre Drummond off the bench, why not bring Josh Smith or Greg Monroe instead. That way, one of them can add scoring punch to the second unit. This will also maximize the usage rate of both players as one will become the focal point of the offense whenever the other is on the bench. It’s basically a three-man rotation for the forward spots.

Langlois: Mo Cheeks said before the Pistons won two straight last week that he was “close” to making some lineup changes. He wouldn’t get any more specific than that, so it wasn’t necessarily a move to split up the big three up front. It could have been inserting Rodney Stuckey or Kyle Singler at shooting guard for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. But in those two games, he also played the three big men together sparingly – in essence, not at all once he went to the bench midway through the first and third quarters. That could have been a response to the smaller lineups Philadelphia and Phoenix were playing. We’ll see when the Pistons get off of the five-day break they’re on and start playing games again. If one of the big three is removed from the starting lineup, my guess would be Drummond. You can make the case for any one of them, but Drummond – being the youngest and the one with a recent history of playing well off of the bench – probably carries the least risk. Or Cheeks could split the difference and merely bring Singler off the bench a few minutes earlier in each half; instead of coming on with five minutes to go in the first quarter, maybe with seven or eight minutes left. That would limit the big three’s time as a unit to about 10 minutes a game.

Troy (Center Line, Mich.): How about a trade of Thaddeus Young for Greg Monroe?

Langlois: That breaks the tie and moves Young one spot ahead of Jeff Green in the race for “who gets nominated most in how about a trade of (fill in the blank) for Greg Monroe.” I like Thaddeus Young a great deal. The Pistons looked at him long and hard before the 2007 draft, when he went before their pick and they took Rodney Stuckey. But I want more for Greg Monroe if I’m the Pistons.

Sebastian (Durham, N.C.): With attendance off and the Pistons struggling in the standings, do you think the days of the Pistons remaining in Michigan are numbered? I can see Tom Gores selling the team to the Seattle investment group if things keep going as they have.

Langlois: If the Seattle group is looking to snatch an existing team away rather than wait for an expansion opportunity, I don’t think the Pistons would be on their short list of candidates to pursue. (The team in your home state would be a far likelier option, Sebastian.) Tom Gores has been vocal about his desire to make the Pistons a championship contender again and to use his mantel as owner of the team to do good for Detroit and all the communities where Pistons fans live and work. He’s spent millions to improve The Palace and make it a more comfortable and inviting place both for Pistons fans and his players. When Joe Dumars created cap space last summer, ownership authorized him to spend all of it, and on long-term contracts, to restock the roster with talent. These aren’t the actions of an owner looking to sell the team. Beyond that, the region’s economy is clearly on the upswing after a very trying decade. Once the Pistons start winning with a little more consistency – and they were close to that point until the Christmas break and the subsequent backslide – I think the attendance issues will resolve themselves.

John (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.): Why do you think coach Cheeks seems to concentrate the team’s offensive problems on not getting enough fast-break opportunities when just about everyone else, including the players, acknowledges they need to share the ball more and get away from one-on-one basketball? Is he basically saying they are an inconsistent half-court team and unless they score a certain number of fast-break points they are unlikely to win?

Langlois: I’ve been around Cheeks virtually every day since Oct. 1 and I don’t think there’s any schism with what he’s saying as opposed to others, players included. Yeah, Cheeks wants to create turnovers that in turn create easy scoring chances. Guess what? The vast majority of coaches preach the same thing. That said, he also understands the Pistons have to be a proficient half-court offensive team to be a consistent winner. Those two objectives are hardly mutually exclusive. Cheeks is a proponent of defensive pressure to create turnovers, no surprise since that was how he played. When he was hired – before the draft and free agency, when it was clear he was going to be coaching a far different roster than the Pistons had at the time – he talked about wanting to create turnovers and getting easy baskets whenever possible. With shot-blockers in Andre Drummond and Josh Smith and a number of players who can get out and run now on the roster, it only makes sense that he would make it a point of emphasis. But it would mischaracterize his approach to contend that he is accepting of an inefficient half-court offense.

Derrick (Detroit): KCP starts and gets the Pistons going defensively and sometimes offensively. Why does he not get the same playing time in the second half? There’s a strong correlation between between team stats and KCP’s playing time, but it’s more noticeable just watching. We get outscored horribly in third quarters. Meanwhile, our best perimeter defender is on the bench getting cold. Why? Mo Cheeks was given a much longer leash as a starter in his rookie year.

Langlois: Caldwell-Pope has had a few recent games where he’s done all or the bulk of his scoring in the first half, but I don’t know that Cheeks has doled out his minutes any differently based on his scoring – except to the extent that KCP’s scoring is a function of his level of activity. When he’s active – making good, hard cuts off the ball and getting in passing lanes to use his length and quickness in creating turnovers, mostly – he’s very noticeable. When he’s not, the ball rarely finds him. But as I wrote this week for True Blue Pistons, he’s been at his best of late and that’s a good sign for the Pistons heading into the second half of the season.

Byron (Detroit): I look at the Pistons and feel it’s the most talented roster I have seen since the Isiah Thomas era Pistons, but we still keep losing. So I would keep Monroe, Drummond, Smith, Jennings, KCP and Singler and build off of that via the next NBA draft and free agency. If we don’t make the playoffs this year do we keep our draft pick?

Langlois: I think you could make a good case that it’s the second-most talented roster they’ve put together since the Bad Boys era, but you’d surely have to rank the 2004-2006 teams with four All-Stars ahead of this one at this point. But there is a very strong young core in place, Byron, with a starting lineup that ranks as the youngest in the NBA at 23. Those six players you mentioned are at the heart of their future. As for the draft pick, the Pistons will send it to Charlotte unless it winds up a top-eight pick.

Eddie (Boston): While watching the game against Toronto, the announcers brought up that while Drummond and Monroe are going through big seasons, they aren’t getting that many looks. Instead, Smith and Jennings are taking a high amount of shots. Do you think that’s a valid statement and Drummond and Monroe should be shooting more?

Langlois: Drummond’s shot attempts are going to come off of offensive rebounds, lobs or in transition, for the most part. The Pistons only rarely dump the ball into him and expect him to create his own shot. I don’t think too many would argue they should do any differently at this stage of his development. Smith and Jennings rank 1-2 in minutes played and shot attempts. Monroe is third in both categories. I think it’s fair to say the Pistons are still figuring out the proper balance offensively. Monroe can score in a variety of ways from the elbows to the rim, with either hand, and by putting the ball on the floor. It stands to reason he could do that more efficiently with the space that efficient perimeter shooting around him could provide and ditto for Smith, who is very good at going from the wing to the rim with the ball. This goes to the case for limiting the minutes of the big three collectively, as Cheeks has recently begun to do. But they also like the advantages provided when playing all three together, mostly in offensive rebounding and, in theory, at least, the rim protection it affords them. Monroe’s shot attempts are down about 10 percent from a year ago, when he averaged 13 shots a game. He’s at 11.7 per game this season.

Cody (Battle Creek, Mich.): What three things do the Pistons need to do to get out of this slump and get back on track as a serious playoff contender in the East?

Langlois: Can I list “play better defense” as one, two and three? I fully believe that if they can start playing league average defense consistently, the Pistons will start winning consistently. But I’ll play along: (1) do a better job of keeping dribblers out of their paint; (2) raise their level of play in fourth quarters when other teams naturally ratchet up their intensity; (3) make 75 percent of their free throws in the second half of the season, a reasonable goal.