Pistons Mailbag - August 13, 2014

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

More talk on Greg Monroe, with a new twist added to the mix, and a debate over “rebuilding” vs. “building for the future” top the list of subjects touched on in the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Randy (Kewaunee, Wis.): How do you interpret the report that Greg Monroe has informed the Pistons that he will sign their qualifying offer? What does it mean?

Langlois: The reporter, the consistently reliable Jeff Zilgitt of USA Today, is based in Washington, also home base for Monroe’s agent, David Falk. You can’t assume the source was Falk’s camp, but it’s a coincidence too rich to ignore. So start with that. And if Falk’s camp was the source, I suppose it could be nothing more than a courtesy – giving the Pistons fair warning that this is their decided course of action – but it also could be a way to provoke a response. Even if Monroe’s camp has, indeed, told the Pistons that is their intention, there’s still a lot of time to go between now and the Oct. 1 deadline for Monroe to actually sign the document. Until he does that, all of the other possibilities remain on the table – an offer sheet from a team with cap space (increasingly unlikely), a sign-and-trade transaction or a long-term contract between the Pistons and Monroe. Once Monroe signs the qualifying offer, he cannot be traded without his consent. That, of course, complicates and greatly limits any trade possibilities.

Steven (West Bloomfield, Mich.): In his recent interview in the Free Press, Tom Gores reinforced the team’s refusal to say they are rebuilding because, “What does that say?” To me it says the team is aware of its problems and has a realistic approach to solving them. Nothing is holding the team down more than this prideful, unattainable goal of immediate success. I would have a much easier time supporting a rebuilding Pistons team than watch this team flail hopelessly at a token playoff berth every year.

Langlois: Before Gores uttered the phrase that touched a nerve with you, Steven, he said this: “One of the things that Stan and I talked about is to win, but don’t sacrifice the future. Stan understands. Now, am I willing to lose with Stan? Absolutely. Stan knows exactly what he’s doing. We’re on the same page in that we’re building for the future.” So … semantics. “Building for the future” hits my ear as a more appropriate description for the Pistons right now than “rebuilding” does. Philadelphia is rebuilding; let’s see how that strategy plays out. I think it’s fair to say Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith are top-50 players in the NBA and all are under 30; Monroe is 24 and Drummond turned 21 three days ago. That’s a pretty good start. Brandon Jennings is still 24 and reports are that he’s added some needed weight and strength this summer. Jodie Meeks and D.J. Augustin come to the Pistons as young veterans about to hit their prime. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope could be on the verge of big things. Look, I don’t think anyone’s planning the championship parade just yet, but if you look at Van Gundy’s track record with fitting pieces together, this is a roster that can realistically compete for a playoff spot this year. “Token” playoff spot? That’s probably what some Indiana fans said about four years ago. Or what some Portland or Charlotte fans said last year. Teams don’t generally take quantum leaps from outside the field to title contention barring the landing of the occasional superstar in the draft.

Gabriel (La Quinta, Calif.): Do you think the Pistons will retire 1, 32, 22, 36 and 3 for the best starting five in Pistons history? They were the best TEAM ever and really deserve to be remembered for all they have done for Detroit.

Langlois: There are some number or jersey retirements that are no-brainers and require no passage of time for perspective. Isiah Thomas, for one shining example, fits that category. I think there’s a pretty good chance we’ll see multiple jersey retirements from the Goin’ to Work Pistons, but the decisions will now be made by an ownership and management team that wasn’t in place when that group made its mark. Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace and Rip Hamilton probably have the best cases to be made – they were the early building blocks and saw it through – but what made that bunch so unique, of course, was the way the five of them fit together and could alternate nights, one through five, of being the team’s most indispensable player. I’d argue that the best starting five in Pistons history was probably the one that included Hall of Famers Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman plus Bill Laimbeer, who has a reasonable case for the Hall, but there’s room for debate.

Maxx (Flint, Mich.): I’m still wondering what Stan Van Gundy was thinking by not bringing Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace back to the Pistons.

Langlois: When you’ve been given the broad authority that Van Gundy has to reshape the Pistons, it’s imperative that you surround yourself with people with whom you have mutual rapport and respect. Of the assistant coaches Van Gundy hired, he’d worked with Bob Beyer, Brendan Malone and Charles Klask before and had coached Tim Hardaway, Malik Allen and Quentin Richardson. He’s known Jeff Bower, his general manager, for more than 20 years going back to their days as college assistant coaches. A few other new staffers have ties to Van Gundy from Orlando, as well. That’s no knock on Billups or Wallace. The reason Wallace was brought on to the coaching staff a year ago had very little to do with his ties to the Pistons and everything to do with his past relationship with Mo Cheeks. I’m sure Van Gundy would have been receptive to retaining Billups as a player if he could have been given any assurances as to his health. But the track record of players pushing into their late 30s who have missed big chunks of recent seasons isn’t great. And I think that’s why Van Gundy targeted Caron Butler in free agency, a veteran – and one with whom he had a prior relationship – who has similar respect around the league for his professionalism and competitiveness. Billups has made it clear that he sees his future in someone’s front office, not on a bench coaching. But he’s also still unsure whether he’s ready to give up on his playing career. There was a report just last week that he had worked out for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Whenever he decides to hang up the sneakers and plunge headlong into a post-playing career, he’ll have many options, I’m sure.

Kings (@Kings_1052): Do you think Josh Smith and Greg Monroe both will be on the opening day roster or is one of them gone?

Langlois: I spent about 90 minutes talking about a variety of topics with Van Gundy last week and he made several references over the course of that time – in talking about a variety of topics – to both players as he talked about the depth and versatility he felt the roster, fortified with five free agents, now held. My gut feeling here is that Van Gundy, while open to anything, is determined to hang on to his most talented players and see how he can make the puzzle pieces fit as opposed to engaging in any trade in which he’ll take back less talent. Even if he doesn’t see it as ideal that the three most talented players on the roster, by most reasonable assessments, play the two power positions – given Van Gundy’s stated reluctance to play all three together for significant stretches – he has said it’s definitely workable to play the three by staggering their minutes at power forward and center. All of that said, it makes sense that teams with a need at one of those positions might be inclined to initiate trade talks with the Pistons if they feel they have something compelling to offer. So … while it’s possible they could make a move between now and the start of the regular season, the odds are better that both players are still on the roster to start the season. And that’s the case even if reports of Monroe having decided to sign the qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent next July prove true.

Carl (East Chicago, Ind.): What does the signing of D.J. Augustin mean for Will Bynum and why did the Pistons want to sign another point guard in free agency after drafting one in Spencer Dinwiddie?

Langlois: Van Gundy is very high on Dinwiddie. He obviously liked him well enough to draft him even though he knew his availability for the coming season was in question, given his rehab from January ACL surgery. But he’s even higher on him now after getting to know him better and having a feel for his mental makeup. Still, he’s not counting on Dinwiddie to contribute this season. (He won’t hold him back, either, but it’s fair to say he planned his roster as if Dinwiddie wouldn’t be in the mix at point guard until he gets full medical clearance.) So he wanted another point guard with Brandon Jennings and Will Bynum. (Though not talking specifically about point guard, Van Gundy told me one of the goals in free agency was to field a deeper roster so that competitive practices would have players pushing each other to get better.) He told me that when free agency began, Augustin was on their list but so high that they didn’t think they’d be able to afford him. They had to prioritize shooting guard and small forward because of the depth chart, so they couldn’t allocate as much of the $13.5 million they projected into free agency on a point guard as they did at the other two perimeter spots. But then point guards – the deepest position in free agency – started rapidly coming off the board and the market changed to where Augustin suddenly became affordable for them. Van Gundy is thrilled to have him. Augustin made a big impression on him as a young player in Charlotte when Van Gundy was coaching in Orlando. The Pistons are going to have really good backcourt depth now. Van Gundy went into free agency with only Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at shooting guard – a rookie of whom he had little to go on – and a week later he’d landed his top priority in free agency, Jodie Meeks, and saw Caldwell-Pope flourish in Orlando. Then he landed Augustin to go with Jennings and Bynum. That gives him tons of flexibility, and especially so if Dinwiddie – given the size he brings to point guard – is ready to go fairly early in the season. Van Gundy is very creative in mixing and matching lineups, so we could see everything from a Bynum-Augustin pairing to Dinwiddie and Caldwell-Pope and everything in between. He also told me he will look for opportunities to play both shooting guards, Meeks and Caldwell-Pope, in the same lineup.

Y.S. (@ys61): Why did Stan Van Gundy choose Aaron Gray as a backup big man?

Langlois: Gray, who has yet to officially sign but reportedly will do so within a week, is known for his prodigious strength and competitiveness. He’s a hedge against the possibility of Greg Monroe leaving as a restricted free agent, in which case Gray would be needed for backup minutes behind Andre Drummond. If Monroe returns, Gray has the type of disposition that would accept being outside the rotation. That’s exactly what the Pistons were looking to land in a backup big man – a solid professional, capable of handling and comfortable filling any role asked of him and a player who’ll battle Drummond and Monroe in practices. Pistons GM Jeff Bower traded for Gray when he was in New Orleans and has a history with him. Pistons assistant Brendan Malone’s son, Mike, coached Gray in Sacramento last season. They know what they’re getting with him.

Steven (@steven_welling): If Detroit does retain Monroe, are they really going to try another season with Andre, Moose and Josh Smith together?

Langlois: It is highly unlikely to be the starting frontcourt, given everything Stan Van Gundy has said about what he saw on tape when the three played together last season. But he did tell me last week that he will do extensive lineup experimentation in training camp and especially in preseason games. He talked about playing small and using both Jodie Meeks and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and about going big and using the Drummond-Smith-Monroe frontcourt on occasion, perhaps. He has his notions about the fit, but wants to at least dabble with it firsthand. But the Pistons made shooting guard and small forward a priority in free agency and landed both Caron Butler and Cartier Martin to go with incumbent small forward Kyle Singler and Gigi Datome. So it’s pretty clear from those moves that Van Gundy isn’t looking for minutes from Smith as a small forward in anything other than a limited fashion.

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