Pistons Mailbag - January 11, 2017
A little bit of everything – from Boban’s emergence to KCP’s growth to Stanley Johnson’s future – in a jam-packed new edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Vincent (@VincentHaddad): Any suggestion on this long road trip of giving Andre Drummond a night off? He looked exhausted in overtime. It would be an opportunity to see Boban again.
Langlois: Stan Van Gundy has been pretty clear on the issue of giving players nights off, Vincent. Unless he gets an indication from a player and the medical staff that someone needs to sit, it’s not going to happen. And it surely wouldn’t happen when Jon Leuer is already out with a bone bruise in his right knee. I’m sure everybody was exhausted as Sunday’s game pushed into double overtime. Drummond had more reason than anyone; he didn’t sit once after coming back from a brief rest in the first half and wound up playing 52 of the game’s 58 minutes. But the Pistons didn’t practice on Monday. I don’t think it was an issue for him during Tuesday’s loss at Sacramento; he set a career high with seven blocked shots.
Rob (@rkrull): What is the future for Stanley Johnson?
Langlois: To be determined. Stan Van Gundy is certain that Johnson has elite defensive potential. But becoming a consistently great defender in the NBA is a process. It’s not just about physical ability and mindset. It also requires familiarity with NBA personnel – every time you guard a great player, you should pick up a few things that help you do a better job of neutralizing his strengths the next time around – and the ability to digest and synthesize game plans and scouting reports. What Johnson becomes on the offensive end is less clear. He’s got an array of skills and is blessed with vast and unique physical ability. If he sharpens his skills – ballhandling and, especially, shooting – he can become a superb two-way player.
Shameek (@shamshammgod): Are there any legitimate sportswriters who believe that KCP shouldn’t get paid this off-season?
Langlois: Not something I routinely poll, Shameek. And sportswriters ultimately will have zero influence on how much Caldwell-Pope commands if he gets to restricted free agency. (It’s still possible, of course, that the Pistons and Caldwell-Pope will reach agreement on a contract in July, before he can ever be courted by other franchises.) If he continues to shoot at or near 40 percent from the 3-point line and grows as a playmaker off the dribble, he’s going to be a very attractive target. The Pistons, from owner Tom Gores to Stan Van Gundy, have consistently maintained they intend for Caldwell-Pope to be part of the Pistons core for a very long time. The odds are pretty heavily in their favor that they make it happen.
ThatGuyGayle (@ThatGuyGayle): Could you see the Pistons making a move for Jimmy Butler?
Langlois: I remain skeptical that the Bulls are going to move Butler. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. He’s 27. I understood when it was reported recently that Atlanta was gauging the market for Paul Millsap – they’ve since reportedly decided to stand down – since he’ll be 32 in February. Nobody is absolutely untouchable – I’m sure Cleveland would consider dealing LeBron if Golden State offered Kevin Durant and a sweeter (or two), for example – but to trade a top-15 level player in his prime seems … counterproductive.
FoxDoucette (@RealFoxD): Has Boban earned the right to move past Baynes as the second-unit center? If not, why pay him $7 million a year.
Langlois: Without delving into the laborious explanation of Aron Baynes’ situation for the umpteenth time, the Pistons signed Boban Marjanovic last summer because (a) they became convinced, based on salaries given to centers like Ian Mahinmi and Bismack Biyombo, that Baynes would draw offers as a restricted free agent above the threshold ($11.375 million) beyond which they would be forbidden to go by CBA parameters next July; (b) they still had cap space after signing Ish Smith and Jon Leuer and knew they would not have any space next summer after signing Andre Drummond to his maximum extension and (c) they further saw a very shallow pool of available centers on the horizon for next summer even if trades had transpired that would have created cap space for them. So Marjanovic, as has been detailed previously, was signed more with 2017-18 and beyond in mind than this season. As for whether he’s earned playing time at Baynes’ expense, his eye-opening stint in last week’s win over Charlotte (15 points, 19 rebounds in 22 minutes) gave Stan Van Gundy plenty to think about. He’s not going to tear up the blueprint based on one game, but he’ll look for matchups that favor Marjanovic, as he did in Sacramento on Tuesday. Against Kosta Koufos, Van Gundy went with Marjanovic in the first half and for 10 minutes compared to six for Baynes.
Darrell (Detroit): The Pistons unleashed their secret weapon against Charlotte named Boban Marjanovic. I agree with Stan Van Gundy: “foul him or watch him score.” So why was he not elevated as Drummond’s backup? Andre and Boban would provide 48 minutes of dominance under the basket against pretty much every team in the league. I think the Pistons could trade Aron Baynes to a team like the Celtics, who could use a more traditional center in their quest to catch Cleveland, in exchange for their first-round pick. The Celtics could start Baynes at center, allowing Horford to slide over to his natural power forward position. That would be a win-win-win scenario for all parties.
Langlois: Because Stan Van Gundy trusts the 1½ seasons Baynes has given him over the one game Marjanovic logged last week. It was impressive, to be sure, and Van Gundy holds legitimate optimism that Marjanovic will prove a more than serviceable backup center over the next two seasons when it’s anticipated that Baynes will be playing elsewhere after moving on as a restricted free agent whom the Pistons won’t be able to retain for reasons beyond their control. Marjanovic, it’s pretty safe to say, has greater scoring potential than Baynes. He’s massive and has an incongruously feathery touch for a big man, let alone a 7-foot-4 big man. But Van Gundy doesn’t regard it an accident that Baynes has been at or near the top of the list in plus/minus numbers all season or that he ranks statistically as one of the team’s two best defensive players. As Van Gundy never fails to mention when discussing Baynes, he makes it easier for his teammates to fill their roles with the way he sets screens on offense and communicates and covers for them defensively. What the Pistons could get for a half-season of Baynes on the trade market is an interesting question. Van Gundy’s posture in his two-plus seasons as Pistons coach is that he hasn’t been willing to sacrifice any part of the future for short-term gains made by trades. Now the question becomes is he willing to sacrifice any part of the present for a future-enhancing asset? I think he’d be very reluctant to do so at this point. The Pistons had very high expectations for this season when training camp opened – before the news of Reggie Jackson’s injury sunk in. They’re just now starting to get Jackson back at full stride. I don’t think anyone’s eager to pull the plug before they get an idea of what they have here. And Van Gundy clearly still believes, with ample justification, that the Pistons are a better team with Aron Baynes than without him.
Vance (Detroit): I’ve read that Atlanta is looking to move Tim Hardaway Jr. He’d be a good fit and a player we could use coming off the bench.
Langlois: I get your proposal. The Pistons haven’t found an answer for consistent production behind Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at shooting guard this season. And Hardaway has been playing well since given greater opportunity with the exit of Kyle Korver, averaging 19 points and shooting extremely well over his past four games through Monday. It becomes a question of cost to acquire the player and need for the Pistons. Despite the inconsistency, they’re not without options at the position from among players about whom they believe have considerable growth potential. Stanley Johnson, shooting issues aside, has played better and better – I thought he was terrific defensively in getting Allen Crabbe under control down the stretch in Sunday’s big double-OT win at Portland – and Reggie Bullock is all but back from his knee injury. A healthy Bullock, really, gives the Pistons what they would get with Hardaway, pretty much. And there’s still Darrun Hilliard. It hasn’t gone as hoped for Hilliard this season, another player set back by preseason injury, but the Pistons remain sold on his potential and unique offensive skill set.
Ken (Dharamsala, India): Players have to play to get better. But they cannot play until they are better. Seemingly, Catch 22. The solution? Binary logic. Either you are an elite team or you are not. If not, then you must give talented young players some playing time at the expense of winning immediately. This is not tanking and is not the same as throwing rookies to the lions. This is skillful management of player development. As a billionaire owner, my general manager would operate this way. If I concluded that this was too expensive, driving fans away, then I would sell the franchise, hitch a Winnebago to my Rolls Phantom and go look for America.
Langlois: Like pretty much everything in an age where people demand black or white in a world that’s almost always cast in varying shades of gray, it’s not quite simple as you posit, Ken. Stan Van Gundy, in fact, thinks the development of young players is impeded, not hastened, by playing them before they’ve earned minutes. By your rationale (“You’re either an elite team or you’re not”), at least 80 percent of the league would be sitting its best players to develop younger players for some indeterminate brighter day ahead. The Pistons starters are still at a point in their careers where it’s more than reasonable to expect that playing time will make them better, too. To buy your proposition, it must follow that Pistons starters are at points of their careers where they’ve plateaued. I think Stan Van Gundy would reject that idea out of hand. And, word to the wise, if you’re hitching your Winnebago to your Rolls in Dharamsala and expect to come looking for America, I’d recommend you buy the amphibious model.
Larry (Rockwood, Mich.): Is there a possibility Stan Van Gundy trades for Nerlens Noel? Teams are scoring way too many points. There’s no way to win a championship without defense. We can’t expect to win every game against every team in a shootout – we just don’t have superstar wings.
Langlois: The Pistons were the NBA’s No. 2-ranked defense for the first 27 games – that’s one-third of a season, Larry. They’ve slipped several rungs since then, granted, but the fact they ranked that highly over that sample size tells Stan Van Gundy the makings of a top-10 defensive team – that’s his standard for determining a team’s championship legitimacy – are in place. If the Pistons make a trade, it will be because Van Gundy sees an opportunity to upgrade the talent base or finds a more complementary roster fit. As for Noel, what do you have in mind? Replacing Andre Drummond as the starting center? Replacing Aron Baynes as the backup center? Playing him at power forward? No. 1 isn’t happening. No. 2 would depend on the cost and how much the Pistons reasonably can afford to invest in the center position when they’ve got Drummond on the first year of a reported $127 million contract and Boban Marjanovic signed for two more years at a reported $7 million per season to back him up. No. 3 … highly unlikely given the issues with regard to offensive spacing that would surely ensue.
Samuel (Ann Arbor, Mich.): There are too many forwards on this team. Last season, I thought there wasn’t enough room for Johnson, Morris and Harris. Now they have added Leuer to the mix. It might sound crazy, but would Washington bite on Morris, Johnson and a first-round pick for Otto Porter Jr.?
Langlois: Morris...Johnson...AND a first-round pick for...Otto Porter? You called yourself out on this one, Samuel. It does sound crazy. He’s shown some nice moments after an underwhelming rookie season, but I don’t know that the Pistons would trade any one of those parts for Porter, never mind all three. And Porter, like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, is in his fourth season, meaning he’ll be a restricted free agent at the end of the season who will be expecting a similar big payday. So you’d be inviting further salary-cap issues with your deal, as well.
Doug (Riverview, Mich.): What I have learned about basketball is it doesn’t matter how good you are offensively. If you cannot defend, you will not win. The Pistons’ top two players do not defend, Jackson and Drummond. At least one has to go for this team to have a chance to grow. Who could we trade?
Langlois: Well, how about “not them?” Look, there are very few flawless players in the NBA. When the Pistons played at Portland to start their current road trip, Blazers coach Terry Stotts pulled both Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum late in regulation and overtime for defensive possessions. Jackson has averaged 33.7 points against Portland over their last three meetings. Jackson surely presents at least as many problems for defenses as you suggest he creates at the other end. Stan Van Gundy, in fact, has said Jackson’s defensive effort has been very good since his return, citing a need for him to be more disciplined in his assignments. Drummond is a long way from a polished defender but Van Gundy has talked about areas where he’s been better this season, starting with his pick-and-roll defense. He blocked a career-high seven shots at Sacramento on Tuesday. In sum, Van Gundy isn’t about to trade either of his two best players to chase a better team defensive result, nor would anybody else. The idea is to build a talented roster, and a compatible one, and then build a cohesive team defense. Van Gundy has spent his first two-plus seasons upgrading the talent and finding pieces to put around the franchise centerpiece he inherited, Drummond. Jackson was the first really big addition he made, brought on because he wanted a slick pick-and-roll operator to capitalize on Drummond’s athleticism and scoring at the rim. Trading one or the other now – barring a return unlikely to be found – would represent a reset that isn’t called for at this point.