Pistons Mailbag - August 27, 2014

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Andre Drummond’s experience with the national team competing in the FIBA World Cup, a little more Greg Monroe chatter and the future of Gigi Datome are all fodder for the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Nick (Grand Rapids, Mich.): The casual NBA fan will hear again and again that the experience of playing on Team USA is a big bonus for the development of a player. Ideally, this will prove to be the reason why everyone wanted Andre Drummond to make the team. My question, then, is what exactly makes the Team USA experience so beneficial? If it more the influence of playing with great players and receiving advice from great coaches or that there really is no other place to play basketball at that level during the summer. What specifically can be taken away from Coach K, Tom Thibodeau, et al, during this time of year that can’t be received elsewhere?

Langlois: More than anything, being in that environment among a group of alphas raises the competitive juices and pushes players to heights even they might not have realized were within their reach. Stan Van Gundy weighed in on your question when I talked to him about Drummond’s Team USA experience earlier this month and I wrote about it earlier this week.

Chris (Auburn Hills, Mich.): What do you think about a trade with Phoenix, Greg Monroe for Eric Bledsoe? Both players are set to become unrestricted free agents next summer and both want out of their current teams. This would make both players happy and alleviate both teams of their “problematic” players. Also, it’s an equal trade as far as potential.

Langlois: It’s not that simple, Chris. The Pistons and Suns can’t make that trade without the consent of the players, essentially, since both are restricted free agents. They could do a sign-and-trade involving those players, but that would require each to negotiate satisfactory contracts with the other team’s front office and then for the two organizations to agree on the terms of a trade. So … a very long shot, in other words. Even if the Pistons and Bledsoe, for instance, could agree on contract terms – and Bledsoe’s camp, more so than Monroe’s, has been fairly frank about wanting a maximum contract – dealing a big man for another guard would leave the Pistons with a guard-heavy roster an precious little depth up front. Phoenix has enough cap space to sign Monroe to a maximum offer sheet if the Suns really want him, so they could get Monroe – or at least put the Pistons in a position of losing him for nothing or matching the offer sheet to keep him – if they really wanted him without having to sacrifice Bledsoe.

Derek (Canton, Mich.): What are your thoughts on Luigi Datome? He was brought in last year to be a shooting specialist off the bench and he obviously didn’t have the impact that was expected. Do you think there is a chance he turns it around and turns into a rotation player or possibly even a starter? He seems to fit the Van Gundy mold of guys who can shoot and have strong character. What are your thoughts?

Langlois: Datome’s NBA rookie season was undermined by two training camp injuries, a foot injury suffered during 2013 EuroBasket play and a hamstring pull that cost him all of the preseason schedule. He was playing catch-up from that point on. Datome, when he got his shot to play, showed some surprising passing, ballhandling and rebounding skills and held his own defensively, though when they played him at power forward he understandably had difficulty holding his position in the post. But it was the 3-point shot that lured NBA teams to Italy and spurred interest in bringing him across the Atlantic and Datome managed to make only seven 3-point shots all season, hitting 18 percent of his attempts. I don’t know how many minutes he’ll get in the preseason, but he’ll have to make them count, and most important of all will be how he performs in training camp practices and scrimmages. He kept his spirits up remarkably well last season and consistently said he knew it would be a big adjustment to the NBA despite his international experience and success. He spent all of May working with Arnie Kander and his staff in the weight room and he put on 10 pounds of muscle, I was told. He impressed the coaching staff that Van Gundy was able to put in place right after being hired, before Datome returned to Italy to be with his national team, for the ferocity with which he attacked his workouts. Van Gundy has said he’ll go to training camp with a completely open mind regarding his rotation, but it would be hard to imagine that the minutes at small forward won’t be split up mainly by Kyle Singler and Caron Butler. Cartier Martin also will be in the mix, but he could also factor at shooting guard, where Jodie Meeks and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are the front-runners. There’s also a role, perhaps a limited one, for a stretch four on this team, given Van Gundy’s experience with players like Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis in Orlando. Jonas Jerebko will be a candidate to fill that role, but Datome, Martin and Singler also could make a push to fill that role.

Ku (Detroit): Even with Andre Drummond, the player who’s going to determine if we make the playoffs next year is Josh Smith. We all know what Drummond can do and how he affects the game, but if Stan Van Gundy can feed Josh’s strengths and give him a coach to listen to that he’s never had before, his shot selection will get better and he will return to the star he is. With Drumming grabbing rebounds and scoring put-backs, Jennings’ shooting and playmaking and the all-around better shooting, Josh Smith will decide whether the Pistons make the playoffs this year. Your thoughts?

Langlois: I think Stan Van Gundy would take issue with the team’s postseason chances boiling down to Smith’s play. But I’ll agree with you that Van Gundy should be good for Smith. As Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau told me recently in Chicago, one of Van Gundy’s great skills is playing to his players’ strengths and masking their weaknesses. Van Gundy genuinely values Smith. He had some tough playoff series with the Hawks when he was coaching Orlando and Smith got plenty of attention in his game plans. He’s talked about the responsibility he and his coaching staff have to put all players, Smith included, in position to succeed. He’s also talked about the responsibility that players have to know what their strengths are and to play to them. So I would expect Smith to be a more efficient scorer this season. It would be a major upset if his 3-point attempts aren’t significantly reduced, first because he’ll be playing far more power forward than small forward this season but also because Van Gundy will structure the offense to put Smith in position to get the ball at the elbows and in the mid-post area where he can be most effective using his quickness and athleticism to get to the rim. The Pistons need Josh Smith to play to his abilities to compete for a playoff spot, but you can say the same for Drummond, Greg Monroe, Kyle Singler, Jodie Meeks, Brandon Jennings, D.J. Augustin and Caron Butler, among others.

Jerry (Okemos, Mich.): What are your impressions of the new coaching staff Stan Van Gundy has put in place with the three former NBA players, including Tim Hardaway, Quentin Richardson and Malik Allen? Who will be in charge of what?

Langlois: It’s my understanding that Van Gundy, like many NBA coaches, doesn’t believe in very much specialization on his coaching staff. In other words, there won’t be a defensive guru and an offensive specialist and coaches won’t necessarily be pigeon-holed to coach one position. Now, that doesn’t mean that Hardaway, for instance, won’t lend his expertise to the point guards on the roster. I expect he’ll work primarily with Brandon Jennings, D.J. Augustin, Will Bynum and Spencer Dinwiddie before and after practice when they go to drill work. But the coaches will share responsibilities otherwise as it relates to scouting opponents and giving input to Van Gundy during games, etc. Richardson’s role as director of player development is actually a front-office job, not a coaching one. His primary responsibility won’t be working with players on the court, but helping younger players structure their lives outside of the hours they devote to basketball. Pretty safe bet he also imparts his basketball knowledge to them along the way, as well.

Cal (Aliquippa, Pa.): What kind of player do you expect Spencer Dinwiddie to become when he’s healthy?

Langlois: I know what kind of player Stan Van Gundy expects him to become – a very good one. Van Gundy is really high on Dinwiddie. He definitely sees him as a point guard, by the way – a playmaking point guard who can score. In watching him go through shooting drills earlier this week, I was struck by the consistency of form he exhibited – a pretty rare trait for a young player, especially one who has been limited in what he’s allowed to do as he recovers from January ACL surgery. Van Gundy also loves his size, at a legitimate 6-foot-6, and together with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s quickness that gives him the ability to defend point guards, believes the Pistons will have great defensive backcourt flexibility in seasons ahead. The other thing Van Gundy raves about with Dinwiddie is his makeup – humble yet supremely confident of his abilities at the same time.

Alvin (Ecorse, Mich.): Curious what you expect to see out of Cleveland this season with Kevin Love joining forces with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving?

Langlois: Potentially, a better team than James ever played on in Miami, Alvin. James is at the height of his career. I don’t know that he’s got any room to get better, but I don’t see any hint of slippage in his game as he nears 30 despite 11 hard years of pounding. Love and Irving are a better tandem today than Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, given the degradation of Wade’s health over the past three or four seasons. They’re also considerably better perimeter shooters in a league where the 3-point shot has become increasingly important. Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters still have plenty of room to grow. Mike Miller and Anderson Varejao, if they can stay healthy, are great role players. We’ll see if GM David Griffin can put some finishing touches on the roster. They could use another steady big man and another veteran perimeter player, perhaps. As in Miami, it might take another off-season to get the ideal complementary pieces. And rookie coach Dave Blatt’s fit will be a big part of how far Cleveland might go. But you have to love the on-paper fit of James, Love and Irving.

Ethan (Radford, Va.): If the Kings want Josh Smith, why would Rudy Gay be out? Their salaries are close and we could add someone to maybe pad the deal. Just a thought.

Langlois: There’s been no public acknowledgment from either side, nor would we expect there to be, to verify the reported Sacramento interest in obtaining Josh Smith from the Pistons, Ethan. But every report that found its way into the mainstream suggested the Kings were interested in Smith not at the expense of a starter but for a group of lesser players that included some combination of Jason Thompson, Derrick Williams or Jason Terry. I’ve seen enough instances over the years where the reality of trade talks didn’t come close to matching the generally accepted consensus of reports to know not to put much trust into the collective weight of the reports like we saw regarding the Kings and Pistons earlier this summer.

Pistons.com editor Keith Langlois answers your questions about the Pistons and NBA. To have your question considered, submit it along with your name, email address and city/state using the form below.

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