Pistons Mailbag - February 12, 2014
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Steven (West Bloomfield, Mich.): There is no rational argument for standing pat at the trade deadline. Doing so makes sense only if the organization believes coaching was this team’s sole problem, which anyone can see isn’t true. If even one team offers Greg Monroe a max-level contract, the Pistons will have just three days to renounce Stuckey, arguably our best guard, and find a taker for its meager $10 million in cap space. From there, they can expect the first two seasons of Monroe’s extension to look very much like this one. Much wiser to recognize this isn’t working out and be sellers at the trade deadline, bringing back picks and prospects to give the Pistons off-season flexibility. Standing pat virtually guarantees the status quo continues for several more years.
Langlois: No rational argument? I can think of a handful. The biggest one is the canard that doing something constitutes progress. Trading Monroe for “picks and prospects” guarantees improvement? They’d do well to get a pick that would produce a prospect with 80 percent of Monroe’s productivity. Let’s keep in mind that for all of the anticipation the trade deadline generates, the amount of activity it creates is a fraction of what takes place in the first week or so of July. There’s a reason for that. It’s a lot easier to make deals in the off-season, when far more teams have cap space and far more players are available – either because they’re free agents or because cap space enables their availability. Dangling Monroe now means you’re most likely going to be selling low and certainly will be fishing in a shallower pond. Frustration is always a bad motivating factor to take to the marketplace. Now, if the Pistons can take advantage of a team dealing out of disappointment and frustration, I’m all for it. But taking 65 cents on the dollar for a player like Monroe, simply because of the uncertainty his restricted free agency might generate, is less than advisable. That doesn’t mean any deal involving Monroe would be a bad deal, either. It just means that if the Pistons stand pat at the trade deadline, they weren’t going to make a deal just to satisfy anyone’s frustration – theirs or their fans’ – at the risk of a better future.
Robert (Orange City, Fla.): With Cheeks gone, do you see any kind of a shakeup in the rotation – maybe Jerebko or Datome getting more time?
Langlois: Jerebko was the notable addition to the rotation in Loyer’s first game, Monday’s win over San Antonio. Loyer wouldn’t be pinned down to say anything had a measure of permanence to it based on what we saw on Monday. He said his mind-set upon becoming head coach was to basically get through these first two games, regroup over the All-Star break and then start tweaking things. But certainly, the fact Jerebko got the first crack at joining the rotation is a positive sign for him.
Brady (Bowling Green, Ky.) Mo Cheeks seemed to do film study solely with Brandon Jennings except when Andre Drummond joined in. Your story on Tuesday said Loyer works with Singler and Stuckey. Siva was quoted in a Fort Wayne newspaper saying he was excited to bring film back from the Mad Ants because Chauncey Billups and Will Bynum would go over it with him. Tony Mitchell at one time worked with Maz Trakh but now Trakh is gone. Rasheed Wallace works with Andre and Greg Monroe. With Loyer short two assistants, who will provide player development for the rookies, including Datome?
Langlois: Those are the ripple effects of a staff change mid-season, Brady, and not every detail has been worked out yet. Loyer said he anticipates talking about those types of things over the All-Star break. He said he’s comfortable with the staff as it is right now and he won’t add someone just to fill a vacancy. But if there’s somebody out there who’s available and he’s comfortable brining on, he’d go in that direction, too. At this time of the season, NBA teams start cutting the duration of their practices back. The veterans and the players logging heavy minutes won’t be putting in quite as much individual work. The coaches, therefore, will have enough time to go around. Rasheed Wallace will still work with Drummond, Monroe and Josh Harrellson, when he gets back from his knee injury. Bernard Smith and Raman Sposato are the two other player development coaches, along with Wallace. They’ll be available for Siva, Mitchell, Datome and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for all of the extra work they desire. Kamran Sufi, their advance scout, was behind the bench for Monday’s game. But Loyer said it was only because the timing happened to work out. They’re not planning on bringing Sufi in from the road.
Marcell (Howell, Mich.): Do you think the Pistons will give John Loyer the head coaching job permanently if they finish the season with a winning record?
Langlois: Nobody wants to mess with success, Marcell, so if the Pistons play dramatically better under Loyer than they did for Mo Cheeks, then he’d have to be considered a very strong contender to be the coach in 2014-15. I saw a comment from Mavs owner Mark Cuban the other day that, and I’ll paraphrase, said choosing a head coach was by far the most challenging aspect of running a professional sports team. I don’t disagree. I’ve seen coaches who made so-so first impressions go on to prove themselves good to great head coaches, and I’ve seen the opposite. Loyer has been very impressive so far. It’s never easy to be a head coach, but it’s usually free of trap doors in the early going when a coach is hired under conventional circumstances. Loyer wasn’t, coming in 50 games into the season. Once a season starts, a series of mini-crises awaits: injuries hit; or someone underperforms expectations, has playing time cut and becomes moody, threatening team chemistry; or a prominent player chafes at a coaching decision made during a game, challenges leadership and tests his coach’s mettle. That sort of stuff is especially corrosive on a team without great leadership from a core of veteran players. So we’ll see how Loyer performs over the season’s final 31 games. He’s got a real chance for success, though, because his players clearly both like him and respect his work as an assistant. He is a thoroughly organized worker and a clear thinker who communicates his thoughts very well and displays no ego. Players see all of that. As I said, he comes to the job under difficult circumstances, but he’s been unflappable so far.
Derrick (Shelby Twp., Mich.): One of the local sports stations is of the opinion that since the interim coach is in place for the season, the Pistons will probably not make any major moves to get better at the trade deadline but hope to do worse so they can keep their draft pick and look forward to an upcoming stronger draft. Are you of that sentiment also?
Langlois: Nope. I have no idea what types of moves are in play for the trade deadline, but I don’t think you’re going to see the Pistons do something that would indicate they’re anything less than fully invested in making the playoffs this season. The fact they made a coaching change refutes your favorite radio station’s assertion on the face of it, doesn’t it? I don’t think John Loyer’s marching orders upon taking over were, “Try to lose, John.” They fired Mo Cheeks because, as owner Tom Gores said, in effect, they were underperforming relative to the talent in place. If the end game was to keep their lottery pick, staying the course on underperforming would have been the right move. They changed coaches to win more games. I fully believe they’ll attempt to do something at the trade deadline to improve the roster, but they’re not going to do anything out of desperation. They think they have the talent in place to be a playoff team and changing coaches, they hope, draws that talent out of the roster.
Sam (Ann Arbor, Mich.): How many coaches has Rodney Stuckey played for during his tenure with the Detroit Pistons? I think the whole firing-the-coach, scapegoat tactic is starting to get a little old as this seems to be an annual occurrence for nearly the last decade.
Langlois: Stuckey has played for Flip Saunders, Michael Curry, John Kuester, Lawrence Frank, Mo Cheeks and now John Loyer. It’s the nature of the business, Sam. Most coaches sign three-year contracts, which usually means they get two years to prove themselves unless the first year provides compelling evidence that a positive outcome is unlikely. Saunders got three years, Curry one, Kuester and Frank two apiece, Cheeks less than one. The Pistons are hardly alone among teams struggling to escape the lottery in churning coaches. It’s never pleasant, but when the fact of a bad marriage presents itself, it doesn’t serve anyone’s interests to allow it to endure.
Ethan (Radford, Va.): Do you think Arron Afflalo could be a player who would make the Pistons’ offense better? Would we have a trade or trade package that would benefit both teams?
Langlois: Afflalo is a borderline All-Star, Ethan. He’d make virtually any team better. He’s a 43 percent 3-point shooter, and a 46 percent overall shooter, averaging nearly 20 points per game. There is speculation that Orlando, in full-blown rebuilding mode, is open to trading him because he has two years remaining on his contract – one if he opts out after the 2014-15 season. The seeming obvious match for a trade would be Rodney Stuckey, who is a relatively similar player – same position, roughly the same age, provides offense but in a different way – making virtually the same amount of money. Whether either side would be motivated to do such a deal depends on what they’d hope to get out of it. Orlando might want more than an expiring contract for Afflalo, so I’m not sure the fact that getting a comparatively equal talent in Stuckey would be the primary motivation for the Magic. And I doubt the Pistons would want to give the Magic a first-rounder instead. For the Pistons, that trade would essentially be their off-season. Stuckey’s contract coming off the books would account for the bulk of the $10 million in cap space the Pistons figure to have. So the front office would have to decide if that addition would enhance the roster more than what would be possible in free agency and trade following the season. For sure, Afflalo’s 3-point shooting would satisfy a current Pistons need.
Tim (Battle Creek, Mich.): I watched the Pistons play the Nets and the offense ran through Greg Monroe for the first three quarters and ran very well. He found cutters and open men at the 3-point line. When Monroe left late in the third quarter, the offense became really undisciplined. My question is, for a team searching for an offensive identity, why not run your offense through Monroe all the time?
Langlois: There are maybe 10 players in the league good enough to have their teams’ offense run through them “all the time.” For the most part, you know them by one name or a set of initials: LeBron, Carmelo, Kobe, Dirk, KD, CP3. You’re right – the Pistons are still in search of what their most reliable options are on offense, besides the missed shot that Andre Drummond dunks. There are times it runs through Monroe and times it runs through Josh Smith and times it features Brandon Jennings. And that’s OK. That can work. There were certainly times in the Goin’ to Work Pistons era where Chauncey Billups took over, or seven or eight plays in a row were run for Rip Hamilton, or other times when it was Rasheed Wallace featured. Monroe is a uniquely talented big man and can effectively serve as the fulcrum of a team’s half-court offense. As he develops a more consistent jump shot and becomes a more consistent finisher at the rim, he’ll move into the territory of those whose teams run offense through an individual consistently. For now, it makes sense to focus on exploiting matchup advantages which can vary from game to game or quarter to quarter.
Mico (Killeen, Texas): Every new team has to have time to mesh before you split it up. Do you think the Pistons will keep Monroe and Drummond together?
Langlois: Unless somebody gives them an overwhelming reason to do otherwise, absolutely. Drummond surely isn’t going anywhere. He’s 20, made an honest run for an All-Star berth this season and has two years left on his rookie contract. That makes him an extraordinarily precious commodity. Monroe is very much valued and appreciated by the front office – Joe Dumars has made that clear at every turn – but he’s also coming up on restricted free agency, which complicates the situation to a degree. But the Pistons are in the business of acquiring talented players and Monroe not only fits the description, he is everything they want from a makeup perspective, as well. That makes him attractive not only to the Pistons, but to other teams. If one of those teams has a surplus at an area of need for the Pistons and there’s a talent-for-talent match, it wouldn’t be out of the question that something could happen involving Monroe. But young players of his ability and value aren’t traded lightly.
Malcolm (Jackson, Miss.): What about a trade for Jared Dudley with somebody like Villanueva or Jerebko?
Langlois: There was a report last week that the Clippers are determined to move Dudley by the trade deadline, but as far as a match with the Pistons, I don’t see an obvious one, Malcolm. If the Clippers are going to deal Dudley – whose savvy and 3-point shooting would be nice fits for the Pistons, and a lot of teams – the logical return for them is a backup big man, particularly someone who can give quality minutes behind DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. The Pistons simply don’t have that guy. Jonas Jerebko would be a good match from a salary perspective and the Clippers are likely sensitive to taking on salary. His contract also runs one less year than Dudley’s, though Dudley could opt out of his contract after the 2014-15 season. Villanueva’s contract expires at season’s end, but he’d add to the team’s luxury tax bill for this season and doesn’t provide the size and inside presence the Clippers probably would want in return for Dudley.
Lee (Los Angeles): Bill Simmons discussed a hypothetical Pistons-Celtics trade of Josh Smith for Jeff Green. They thought it made sense for both teams. What do you think?
Langlois: Green’s had a really nice season for the Celtics. He would provide a little greater perimeter scoring threat than Smith. He’s not the all-around player Smith is and that’s reflected in their salaries – Smith makes a reported $13.5 million a year for three more seasons, Green around $9 million for two more seasons. Both the annual average and the terms of the deals would be major considerations for either side. Boston’s in a rebuild, so taking on Smith would say Danny Ainge sees him as a major piece of its future. Smith and Rajon Rondo have a history dating to their time as teammates at Oak Hill Academy, so it’s fair to guess that if this is a trade that appeals to the Celtics, then Ainge sees Rondo-Smith as the core of his team going forward and has no intention of trading Rondo, which runs counter to the prevailing sentiment around the league. Ainge and Dumars have a history of getting things done at the trade deadline, but while speculation is fun, let’s be clear: This is pure speculation.
Thomas (Chestertown, Md.): Why is Chauncey Billups not playing for so long when the other guards are not doing well and the Pistons are losing games?
Langlois: He’s been hurt, Thomas. The left knee tendinitis that caused him to miss nearly a month earlier in the season flared again. When he played against Brooklyn on Friday, it was his first game since Jan. 10. He played nine minutes that night, then didn’t play in Saturday’s win over Denver because he still hasn’t been cleared to play in back-to-back games. But he says Pistons strength coach Arnie Kander has told him that he will be able to give that a try after the All-Star break. If he’s healthy, his shot-making and leadership will be big additions over the final 31 games.