Pistons Mailbag - March 12, 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.

Gregg (Negaunee, Mich.): What do you think about Adam Silver saying he’d like to mandate that players spend two years in college as opposed to one?

Langlois: I’m ambivalent about it in general, Gregg. (And, go Negaunee Miners!) As a fan of college basketball as well as the NBA, I like it. But when a player like LeBron James comes along – granted, once every generation, maybe – it seems silly to limit his ability to choose his own path. I’ve heard the case made that such a provision – even the current one that mandates a player be one year removed from the graduation of his high school class to be draft eligible – wouldn’t hold up in court. I’ll leave that to the lawyers, but I would think something that’s collectively bargained between the NBA and its Players Association would hold sway. From a practical standpoint, if Silver is intent on approaching the Players Association and getting the rule changed in time for the 2015 draft rather than wait for the next collective bargaining agreement, it could have a dramatic impact on the Pistons. The 2015 draft will be dramatically weakened if the current class of high school seniors is prevented from entering it. The Pistons owe a first-round pick to Charlotte and it goes to the Bobcats this year unless it’s a top-eight pick. Next year, it goes to the Bobcats unless it’s the No. 1 overall pick. Obviously, it would be preferable to convey the pick in a weak draft year. The 2015 draft, though it’s early to offer much in the way of solid evidence, shapes up as another strong one with some potential high-impact players at the top – if the eligibility rule isn’t amended. Stay tuned.

Luther (Mobile, Ala.): Is Brandon Jennings the franchise’s future point guard?

Langlois: Depends on too many variables to speculate with any degree of credibility, Luther. It’s fair to say Jennings is an NBA starting-quality point guard in a golden age for the position, though Deron Williams’ decline and knee injuries to Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo – his 18 assists against the Pistons the other night notwithstanding – have taken off a little of the luster. Jennings signed a three-year contract last summer. It hasn’t been the season anyone anticipated for the Pistons, so it’s fair to assume there will be some roster shuffling. Andre Drummond is the franchise’s center of the future and, beyond that, I don’t know that anyone is a virtual lock to be a long-term fixture. (Greg Monroe might be, but as a pending restricted free agent the Pistons will have to determine a price point that makes sense for them.) That’s just the way it goes in the NBA when a franchise is looking to get to another plateau.

Griff (@GriffinK60): Who would be the best draft prospect for the Pistons?

Langlois: Interesting question. I haven’t spent any time scouting college players this season, obviously, but I’ve seen a fair amount of TV games and talked to a number of people around the league I’ve known for years who scout college players. There are some wide-ranging opinions about which of the current crop of projected top-10 picks have the brightest NBA futures, but if you’re asking me who I think would be a logical fit for the Pistons should they get the No. 1 pick – a real long shot, of course – I’d say Jabari Parker of Duke. He’s not yet a great perimeter shooter, but I’d be surprised in two to three years if he’s not at least an average NBA 3-point shooter, and other than that he seems to do everything well to very well. The comparison I’ve heard most frequently with Parker is to Grant Hill, just a multiskilled basketball player. The Pistons clearly have the center position resolved. Andre Drummond’s presence really will be a factor that dictates major personnel decisions for the foreseeable future. I think it’s safe to say that Joe Dumars will be looking to surround him with shooters and ballhandlers who are adept pick-and-roll operators. If the Pistons retain their No. 1 pick this season but do not pull a top-three pick, it would be logical to think they’ll be on the lookout for a player who does at least one of those two things very well – shoots the ball or offers something in pick-and-roll situations. If they brought sound perimeter defensive instincts with them, so much the better.

Jack (@Walker03Jack): Do you think the Pistons will trade Josh Smith this off-season?

Langlois: Not unlike the Brandon Jennings question I fielded earlier, the answer is that when a season veers off course as this one did, management looks for remedies and that usually means roster churning. When you have a contract the size of Smith’s, the list of teams that would be potential trade partners shrinks somewhat. There are some teams that would be hesitant to consider a Smith addition for financial reasons, whether it’s a struggling market or a bloated cap sheet. Smith’s production certainly hasn’t been out of line with his contract, though. I think teams look at him and see what he can offer. The struggles of the Pistons this year can reasonably be largely written off to the parts not meshing as well as hoped, not necessarily to collective talent. So a team that needs what Smith can provide wouldn’t be scared off by the fact that he was the marquee off-season addition of a team that failed to meet its own expectations. The Pistons probably will first have to confront a decision on Greg Monroe’s future before any action on Smith would be addressed. (Sure, trades happen around the draft, but they’re far more likely to happen after July 1 when cap space is far less a constraint on trades.) Monroe is set to become a restricted free agent on July 1. How that plays out surely will shape many decisions that follow for the Pistons.

Michael (@Michaelptrain23): Are the Pistons tanking?

Langlois: There certainly is no mandate from ownership or management to lose games, Michael. You can’t accuse interim head coach John Loyer of not doing what he can to win games. He’s playing his starters major minutes. Twitter doesn’t do subtlety very well, so it’s possible your question comes coated in sarcasm. Here’s what Loyer said before Tuesday’s game with Sacramento when the subject of being caught in a tough spot – still within reach of the playoffs on one hand, but not very far removed from moving into the league’s bottom eight and having a better shot at preserving the franchise’s 2014 lottery pick on the other – was broached, specifically if his focus had changed: “It hasn’t turned a drop. We’re trying to win every game. We look at that in practice. We talk about it each and every day. Whatever we are – 3½ games out – you’re a three-game winning streak from being right back in it. That thought has never crossed my mind and I would hope it’s never crossed their mind.”

Ben (New Castle, Ind.): Are the Pistons going to search for perimeter shooting in the off-season, whether it’s in the draft or by trade or free agency?

Langlois: Shooting is at a premium in today’s NBA, Ben. That’s just the way the game has gone with the 3-point shot growing in importance in every five-year cycle since its implementation. Nearly a quarter of all shots in today’s game come from the 3-point line and it’s safe to say that it represents more than 25 percent of a team’s offense given the value of the shot and the ripple effects it has on producing better shots inside the arc. Joe Dumars thought the Pistons would be at least an adequate 3-point shooting team this season. The Pistons believed Gigi Datome, as a highly decorated veteran of international basketball, would have a fairly smooth transition to the NBA, which didn’t happen, probably because he reported to camp with a lingering foot issue and then pulled a hamstring that cost him all of preseason. Charlie Villanueva hasn’t found a rhythm with his 3-point stroke in the limited opportunities he’s had. Those two have combined to shoot 20 percent and make a mere 15 3-point shots for the season. That was pretty tough to see coming. Chauncey Billups’ season-long struggle with knee tendinitis, eventually resulting in surgery to repair cartilage, was another blow. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has the typical rookie shooting inconsistencies. Kyle Singler has performed to expectations and Brandon Jennings hasn’t been far off his norms. Other than that, the Pistons just haven’t had the contributions they anticipated from the 3-point arc. So, yeah, pretty safe to say that will be high on the priority list for the off-season ahead.

Doug (Riverview, Mich.): I think I speak on behalf of all Pistons fans – at this point, just let the kids play. At least they have a chance of playing with effort. Let’s give Tony Mitchell, Peyton Siva and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope some experience. Do you think they will do this?

Langlois: Caldwell-Pope is in the rotation, though it varies from half to half. But the goal remains to win games. Your question is fundamentally a different one than “Are the Pistons tanking?” but the answer is the same. They’re trying to win games. With Wednesday’s win over Sacramento, they’re three games out of the final playoff spot with 18 to play. Atlanta, the team whose spot they’re chasing, is 2-8 in its last 10 games. If the Hawks continue at that pace – and nobody chasing Detroit gets hotter – the Pistons would get in the playoffs by going .500. If they can capture the essence of what sparked their best defensive half in a long while and carry it over to those final 18 games, that’s certainly within their reach. You can’t seriously propose sacrificing that pursuit for the benefit of giving two second-round picks – go check the success rate for players picked in the spots Mitchell and Siva were taken – a little bit of playing time they haven’t earned. I get that there is some sentiment out there to do that, in the same spirit that there’s always sentiment for the backup quarterback to play for a struggling football team, but to say you speak for all Pistons fans … uh, no. I’ll anticipate the next question this will spark: What value is there in making the playoffs only to get swept by (fill in the blank)? I’ve given more expansive answers to this in the past, which start with “you never know (see: Knicks, 1999)” and end with “if they get even a taste of playoff experience this year, they’ll be that much the better for it when they get back with a more realistic chance at contending.” But I’ll add this. There is infinitely more value in making the playoffs than there could possibly be in artificially creating playing time for second-round rookies, no matter how much their character and potential are valued.

Glenn (East Troy, Wis.): If the Ben Gordon trade wasn’t about saving money but rather about creating cap space, why didn’t they amnesty him and keep the pick? I always thought it was Gores’ penny-pinching decision, because if you amnesty a player you still have to pay them all or most of their contract. They completely wasted that pick because he never used the amnesty on anyone else.

Langlois: Fair point, Glenn. The Pistons could have exercised the amnesty and swallowed about $25 million of Gordon’s contract rather than taking on just the final season of Corey Maggette’s deal that called for him to make about $11 million. Most of the impartial analysis out there thought the deal made great sense for both sides. Charlotte essentially purchased a first-round pick for $14 million but it wasn’t like the Bobcats were wildly spending money. They needed to add salary to meet the NBA’s salary floor and by spending it on Gordon, they were able to get the bonus of a future first-round pick. The Pistons also retained the right to use the amnesty clause on another player (Charlie Villanueva the only realistic candidate after Gordon was dealt), which they opted not to do. (I suspect it would have been more seriously considered if they hadn’t traded Tayshaun Prince last June, but with his contract off the books the Pistons were able to take $20 million of cap space into last summer.) Yeah, the Pistons could have spent the full value of Gordon’s contract to buy their way to cap space a year sooner. Every deal contains risk. The risk for the Pistons was in falling short of expectations and having to convey a lottery pick. That’s where we’re at. If they don’t make the playoffs, they’ll have lost that part of the bet. But they keep the pick if it’s in the top eight. I know they drafted Andre Drummond No. 9, but that took an amazing set of circumstances. The history of the draft after No. 8 shows Drummond is far and away the exception. I don’t think the Pistons, if they don’t get to keep the pick this year, will be doomed to another year or two of spinning their wheels, just as I don’t believe drafting at nine or below in this year’s lottery will vault them 20 games ahead in the standings. Will it hurt? Yes. Will it do irreparable damage? Not hardly.