Pistons Mailbag - February 26, 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.

Roger (Hibbing, Minn.): LeBron James caused a stir recently when he said he should be on basketball’s Mount Rushmore? Do you agree?

Langlois: I don’t disagree, but it’s still a little premature to give him a spot while his career is in mid-sentence, Roger. It’s really impossible to compare players across eras as vastly different as the ’50s and ’60s to the ’80s and ’90s to today because the game has evolved so dramatically. I think Kevin Durant would have averaged 35 or 40 points a game had he played in the go-go ’70s, for instance, and be recognized as one of the very best offensive players the game has ever known. I can’t speak with much credibility about the merits of players like Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, other than to say I fully believe they would have been All-Stars and Hall of Famers in any era. For my money, the best player I’ve ever watched was Magic Johnson. I’ve never seen anyone have as profound an effect on his teammates, and the game, as he had. Michael Jordan was magnificent, obviously, and I was witness to all of his epic battles with the Pistons in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Nobody ever scared the opposition more than Larry Bird. You could have a 20-point lead with six minutes to play against his Celtics and not feel safe. For all of that, I’ve never seen a more mind-boggling individual effort in person than what James did at The Palace against the Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals in 2007 when he scored 48 points in Game 5, including Cleveland’s last 25 straight points, to beat the Pistons 109-107 in double overtime. It ranks right with Magic’s epic Game 6, title-clinching performance in 1980 as a rookie when he started at center – think about that, a rookie point guard moving to center! – and piling up 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists to lead the Lakers past a great Philadelphia 76ers team. I didn’t see that game in person, of course, and even TV viewers didn’t get to see it live. The game was shown by CBS on tape delay at 11:30 p.m. Eastern, after local newscasts on a Friday night. Which is why Magic Johnson’s place on basketball’s Mount Rushmore is permanent. After that game, the NBA was never shown on tape delay again. LeBron’s got some work to do to achieve that status.

Simone (Pegugia, Italy): Would it be possible to create a system like they have in San Antonio and bring to Detroit people who fit a system instead of valuing them based on talent?

Langlois: There are a lot of people who will tell you that the “system” in San Antonio is Tim Duncan, Simone. Of course, it goes beyond that. But Duncan is the common thread to all of San Antonio’s success. Gregg Popovich is obviously a great coach who deserves a ton of credit for the sustained success they’ve enjoyed there. But without Duncan, you have to wonder if Popovich would’ve lasted long enough for his genius to reveal itself. Duncan’s greatness only begins with his rare gifts as a basketball player. The fact he was a virtually egoless star, and by all accounts an incredibly hard worker, made that as easy a situation for a coach as could be possible in today’s NBA. When your best player is the team’s hardest worker and not only accepts but invites coaching, everybody else falls into line. I fully expect Popovich, as he’s said, to step away when Duncan retires. Then we’ll really find out about the “system” in San Antonio. I think they’ve got a lot of smart people in that organization. I think they’re so smart, they realize it’s not very likely they experience another run like their past 15 years for a very long time.

Rick (Big Rapids, Mich.): Why is it that this team refuses to play defense? Why do the coaches have to almost beg them to play D?

Langlois: No question, the Pistons have been a subpar defensive team for virtually the entire season, Rick. I expected their defense to be better, but it’s a good reminder of the ingredients required to play consistently good defense in the NBA of this era, where the rules have been consistently tweaked to favor offenses. It takes chemistry, first and foremost, which essentially comes down to having a group of players with great instincts for the game, familiarity with each other, thorough knowledge of the individual responsibilities within the framework of the system, a belief in the plan and trust in each other. The Pistons have had difficulty in most phases of defense, starting with preventing dribble penetration. The potential to have at least a league-average defense is still there, though, and I say that largely because of the promise of Andre Drummond. He’s a long way from being a dominant defender just yet, mostly because, for example, the complexities of pick-and-roll defense – a huge part of the job for a center in today’s NBA – cause him to think more than instinctively react still. I’d quibble with your characterization of the coaches having to “beg” the Pistons to play defense. So often when fans accuse teams of not playing hard, what they’re really seeing is a level of non-assertiveness that comes from a certain lack of confidence or trust in what you’re doing. Compare it to whatever it is you do at work. When you’re not 100 percent sure you’re doing something right, you’re probably not doing it with the confidence required to do it well. The “not playing hard” thing is a lazy broadside used by media and, subsequently, by fans. I’ve never bought it. That doesn’t mean every pro athlete goes 100 percent all the time, either. But to stay at this level, those who don’t play hard – unless they’re the 1 percent of the 1 percent who are naturally superior to even other pro athletes – are quickly weeded out.

Kim (Sterling Heights, Mich.): Why does the NBA allow teams to employ the Hack-a-Dre tactic until the last two minutes of the game? If it is OK for the first 46 minutes, why not the last two? I would like to see the rule changed so the player fouled gets three shots to make two. This might discourage the practice.

Langlois: That’s a thought, Kim. I think we’re headed toward something similar – something that wouldn’t outright ban the intentional foul but would discourage it. My suggestion would be to allow the fouled team the option of shooting the free throws or inbounding the basketball if the foul is committed against anyone other than the player with possession of the basketball. So, if the Pistons throw it to Andre Drummond, then he’s fair game and if fouled he must go to the foul line. But if he’s standing at mid-court, 20 feet from the ball, and he’s intentionally grabbed, then the Pistons get to retain possession. Now, that doesn’t outlaw the intentional foul, but it does remove any serious motivation to do so. Even coaches who employ the strategy often do so sheepishly, admitting they don’t think it should be part of the game but intent on using it as long as it’s allowed and gives their team a clearer path to winning the game.

Alexander (Flint, Mich.): My friend says the Pistons have to have the ninth-worst record this year so they don’t lose their draft pick. Is this true?

Langlois: Not quite, Alexander. The Pistons owe Charlotte a first-round pick as a condition of the June 2012 trade that sent Ben Gordon to the Bobcats for Corey Maggette. The pick was protected through the lottery last season and is protected if it’s a top-eight pick this season. So if the Pistons make the playoffs, then we’ll know as soon as the regular season ends that Charlotte gets the pick. But if the Pistons don’t make the playoffs, we won’t know the dispensation of the pick until May 20 – the day of the draft lottery. If the Pistons finish the season with the eighth-worst record in the NBA, that won’t automatically mean they keep the pick; they could still lose it if one of the teams with a better record that’s in the lottery leapfrogs them and gets a top-three pick, pushing the Pistons down to No. 9. Conversely, if the Pistons miss the playoffs and finish the season with the ninth-worst record, that wouldn’t automatically mean they must convey the pick to Charlotte; they would still have a shot, although a slim one, at pulling a top-three pick on May 20 and, thus, they’d keep the pick. In 2015, the pick is only protected if it’s the No. 1 overall selection.

Marsha (West Carrollton, Ohio): Can you tell me why Josh Harrellson has not returned to the court?

Langlois: He suffered a minor knee injury – a slight tear of the meniscus cartilage – in early February when he was a part of the playing rotation. It didn’t require surgery, but it did cost him a few weeks out of the lineup. In that time, the Pistons replaced Mo Cheeks as coach with John Loyer. Loyer’s used a steady nine-man rotation since then and Jonas Jerebko has assumed the role of No. 4 big man in the frontcourt rotation for whatever minutes are left behind Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith. Harrellson’s outside shooting threat is a nice complement to the mix, but Jerebko offers greater defensive versatility and allows the Pistons to give Monroe more minutes at center as opposed to power forward. It’s a close call for Loyer – as it is in deciding on the merits of Charlie Villanueva or Gigi Datome in the mix, as well – but for now Jerebko holds the position. Nothing is permanent.

Benjamin (Struer, Denmark): I see a lot of good players being cut by their teams after the trade deadline like Glen Davis and Danny Granger. Do you see the Pistons hitting free agency for that little extra that can help gut us to the playoffs?

Langlois: The Pistons have a full roster of 15, Benjamin. In order to add anyone, they’d have to cut someone. They’d have to create a roster spot by waiving (and paying the guaranteed portion of whoever’s contract they waive) or buying out one of their players and then competing with the marketplace for players of the caliber you mention. And, really, there aren’t many players who’ve been bought out who would be obvious candidates to fit into their rotation ahead of some of the players already on their bench. Davis, a power forward, wouldn’t address a need. Granger, by all accounts and in keeping with players of his stature, limit their suitors to upper-tier playoff teams or even to the handful of legitimate title contenders.

Kahlil (Detroit): If the Pistons let Stuckey, Villanueva and Monroe walk in free agency, that would free up a little more than $20 million in cap space. What are the chances the Pistons could make an offer and sign Carmelo Anthony this summer? Signing him would solve the dilemma at small forward and could possibly lure Rajon Rondo in a sign-and-trade deal in the future.

Langlois: I don’t think the Pistons have any intention of allowing Monroe to walk away as a free agent, Kahlil. At a minimum, they’ll make him a qualifying offer which will require a $10 million cap hold on the 2014-15 payroll. Is it possible that if another team gave Monroe a pricey offer sheet that the Pistons would pursue sign-and-trade options? Yes, though I don’t expect that to be their preference or their intention entering free agency. As for the pursuit of Anthony, all I know is that he begged out of Denver for a major market, with plenty of credible evidence that his wife also strongly desired to live in New York or Los Angeles to further her entertainment career. I’d think a team willing to give him a maximum contract, provided he believed in their viability as a title contender, would get him to at least consider another destination. But I wouldn’t gamble my franchise’s future on it by allowing a gifted young big man to walk.