Pistons Mailbag - July 23, 2014

With most free agents of consequence landing in new homes, attention on the few remaining – like the Pistons’ own Greg Monroe – multiplies. That attention was enough to fuel the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Joseph (@JosephJarbo): Any suitors for Greg Monroe? Who would be a realistic sign-and-trade player we could get in return?

Langlois: The sign-and-trade possibilities are broader than the offer sheet possibilities, of course, with most teams that came into the off-season with enough cap space to make a run at Monroe having spent their dollars elsewhere. I think Atlanta, Phoenix and Philadelphia are the only teams still with eight figures worth of cap space that could present Monroe an offer sheet worth tempting him. Philly seems unrealistic given the organization’s timeline. There have been rumblings of dubious credibility about Phoenix’s interest. As for sign-and-trade prospects in return – not sure about “realistic” – keep reading.

Kevin (@BigFudge831): How about a Greg Monroe for Eric Bledsoe deal of restricted free agents with a couple of other players thrown in to make the depth charts whole?

Langlois: That last point is an important consideration, Kevin, before we get to the meat of your question. For all the suggestions about trading Josh Smith or bolstering the perimeter with a Monroe sign-and-trade deal, the Pistons would be left pretty thin up front. (Unless they got another quality big man in return. But the likelihood of a team with enough frontcourt depth to shed a player like that in pursuit of Monroe is pretty thin.) They’d have Andre Drummond at center and either Smith or Monroe at power forward and Jonas Jerebko as a combo forward. The Pistons have reportedly agreed to terms with veteran center Aaron Gray, though his signing has not yet been announced by the team. If it happens, he’d be in the rotation of necessity without either Monroe or Smith on the roster and one injury away from a major role. So, yeah, there would likely be another move in order if the Pistons were to lose either Smith or Monroe via trade. The Suns aren’t exactly awash in spare big men, either. Emeka Okafor’s contract would eliminate the possibility of him being a balancing factor in the deal. Alex Len? I doubt the Suns are willing to part with him as a throw-in, though it’s not out of the question. One of the Morris twins might hold some appeal as a stretch four, especially with the addition of Anthony Tolliver in Phoenix, but that doesn’t really solve the issue of adding somebody who could guard big men and protect the paint. No matter your opinion of Bledsoe, adding him at the cost of Monroe leaves you with work to do on the roster.

Detroit (@Detroitsports14): When will we see Monroe action?

Langlois: There hasn’t been much in the way of news surrounding Monroe’s free agency, Detroit. Which might or might not mean something. It could be plenty is happening between Monroe’s agent, David Falk, and the Pistons as well as other potential NBA suitors. Some agents are better at keeping those things quiet than others. Some teams are better at keeping their business out of the headlines than others. As I wrote above, it now seems more likely that if Monroe is to play anywhere but Detroit in 2014-15 – and that’s still a big if – it will be a sign-and-trade deal that takes him out of town instead of an offer sheet. And trades, as we know, can happen at any time – today, in mid-August, or on the eve of the regular season. Stan Van Gundy has ticked off the list of possibilities and usually finishes by saying, among the scenarios that would return Monroe to Detroit for the coming season, that “some things would be better for us than others.” The worst-case scenario for the Pistons, as in all restricted free-agent situations, would be for Monroe to sign the one-year qualifying offer. In addition to making for an awkward situation, it would mean he’d become an unrestricted free agent next summer and put the Pistons at risk of losing him with nothing more than cap space to show for it. It’s an action rarely employed by players of Monroe’s stature. Ben Gordon did it in 2008, but Monroe would be leaving a lot more money on the table, seemingly. Gordon, as the No. 3 pick in 2004, had a qualifying offer of $6.4 million; Monroe, as the No. 7 pick in 2010, has a qualifying offer of $5.4 million. What Gordon expected in a long-term deal wasn’t all that far off of $6.4 million in first-year salary; what Monroe seeks is far greater than $5.4 million, presumably and from all speculation on what Falk is asking of other teams. So the only best guess on timing? When some team – the Pistons or otherwise – meets or comes close to the terms Falk seeks. If no team does, then Falk and Monroe eventually must decide whether to seek and accept their best offer or consider the one-year qualifying offer. Sitting out a year isn’t a viable option. It would merely stop his clock from ticking toward unrestricted free agency.

Simone (Perugia, Italy): Why didn’t the Pistons try to trade for Kevin Love? I know it’s a risk, but...

Langlois: There are two huge considerations in play here, Simone. One is whether the Pistons felt they had enough ammunition to approach Minnesota about a trade. I’m sure if the Pistons were to make Andre Drummond a part of Minnesota’s return – or all of it – there would have been a real conversation to have. Barring that, the Timberwolves very likely would have had to covet Greg Monroe. Flip Saunders has been seeking shooting and wing athleticism over the past few off-seasons – the Pistons strongly believed Minnesota wanted Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the 2013 draft and their selections of Zach LaVine and Glenn Robinson III last month shows they’re still in the hunt for that type of player. Would Monroe and Caldwell-Pope have tempted the Wolves? Depends if they believed Monroe would be a good fit next to Nikola Pekovic. The other consideration, of course, is whether the Pistons could have convinced Love to stay. It would be disastrous to give up the assets a talent like Love would command and then be left with nothing should he walk as a free agent after the 2014-15 season. We’ll see if Love winds up in Cleveland as speculation persists. It’s been widely assumed Love’s preference is to play on the West Coast, though there are reports he’s willing to commit to Cleveland now that LeBron James has returned.

Tony (Southgate, Mich.): Hate to do it but how about we trade Drummond for Kevin Love. It works for both teams.

Langlois: The Pistons surely wouldn’t consider such a deal unless Love agreed to stay in Detroit for the long term, Tony, and even then you wonder how much appeal it would hold, even given Love’s status as a top-20 player (and that might be underselling him by 10 spots). The Pistons have Drummond – a player they very likely consider to have a similar ceiling – under control for three more seasons and Stan Van Gundy has already intimated that he’s a likely candidate for a maximum five-year contract extension after his fourth season. My hunch is the front office’s preferred route is to build a team around Drummond, still only 20. Minnesota already has a sturdy center in Nikola Pekovic, but you’d have to think getting Drummond for Love would be better than the Timberwolves could hope to obtain given Love’s ability to hit free agency after one more season. Tons of questions about Kevin Love this week, by the way.

Impatience (@Discomfort): Is Will Bynum on his way out of town?

Langlois: The Pistons have 16 players under contract, if you include Greg Monroe, or soon to be under contract after reaching agreement with five free agents, by all reports, plus adding second-round pick Spencer Dinwiddie, who Tweeted a picture of his signature on a contract on Monday. Four are point guards, including Dinwiddie. Since Stan Van Gundy has said he does not expect Dinwiddie to contribute in the coming season as he recuperates from January knee surgery, it’s conceivable the Pistons could carry all four. It’s just as conceivable Van Gundy plans another move. Bynum has just one year left on his contract and a pretty solid resume as a backup point guard. Teams know what he can do. Bynum’s ability to get to the paint is a skill all teams covet to some degree. There would figure to be a market for him if it comes to that. But if both Bynum and Augustin are in training camp, I would expect a spirited battle to back up Brandon Jennings – or even to press for some of his minutes as the starter. Bynum has fought for minutes dating to his college days at Arizona and Georgia Tech. He went undrafted and fought his way to the NBA. No matter what else you want to believe about Will Bynum, he doesn’t shrink from competition. Van Gundy did say, though, before free agency opened that one of the items on his to-do list with his cap space was to add a veteran backup point guard. So it’s not like he signed Augustin just because he was a bargain too good to pass. He was looking for something else at the position after evaluating what the Pistons already had.

Anthony (Spokane, Wash.): The talent pool in the Las Vegas Summer League usually outweighs the prospects in the Orlando Summer League. Is there any particular reason why the Pistons don’t partake in the Las Vegas league as opposed to Orlando’s?

Langlois: They switched in time for the 2012 Summer League when Lawrence Frank made it known it was his preference. He liked the fact they played five games in five days (since stretched out to seven days, as opposed to the 11 for Las Vegas) and also the fact that there was less outside hoopla – games in Orlando aren’t open to the public, for example. The Pistons had committed to Orlando for 2014 long before Stan Van Gundy took over as president of basketball operations in May. Given Van Gundy’s deep ties to Orlando – both the franchise whose arena serves as home base for Orlando Summer League and the city itself – it would be an upset if the Pistons switched back to Las Vegas on his watch. As for greater star power in Las Vegas, that’s merely a function of 23 NBA teams competing in Las Vegas as opposed to 10 in Orlando. (Three teams – Philadelphia, Houston and Miami – fielded teams in both cities this year.) So of course there will be more lottery and first-round picks in Las Vegas based on sheer numbers, but that doesn’t mean individual teams in Las Vegas are more potent or populated with more future NBA stars.

Rob (Detroit): With the additions of Caron Butler, D.J. Augustin and Jodie Meeks, does that leave the one through three positions up for grabs? And do you think we’ll be back in the playoffs this year with the East seemingly better?

Langlois: Two simple, straightforward questions that require more thorough answers than I likely can provide in a few sentences each, Rob. I think it’s fair to say that Butler, Augustin and Meeks are all looking like safe bets to crack Stan Van Gundy’s rotation at the three perimeter spots. There will be interesting training camp battles for minutes between Butler and Kyle Singler at small forward, Meeks and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at shooting guard and Augustin and Brandon Jennings at point guard, with Will Bynum also in the mix, potentially. The only reason I attach that qualifier to Bynum is there seems to be a surplus of point guards at this point. The addition of Augustin makes you believe he’s not going anywhere. (As a free agent, he can’t be traded until Dec. 15, for one thing.) All three of the free-agent signings are above-average 3-point shooters, which gives Van Gundy lineup flexibility. Will he choose to use all three of them together on a second unit heavy on perimeter firepower? (I touched on this in my Tuesday blog that focused on the likelihood of one of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe or Josh Smith coming off the bench if they’re all still on the roster when the season opens.) Or will he split up his shooters, perhaps starting Butler and Meeks and bringing Augustin off the bench behind Jennings? I don’t know that Van Gundy is thinking that far ahead at this point. He might just want to see how different two- and three-man perimeter combinations click in training camp and preseason games before drawing any conclusions. As for making the playoffs, I think it’s fair to say that in Van Gundy the Pistons have their most accomplished coach since Larry Brown a decade ago and the off-season acquisitions he made will give him a chance to implement an offense that he’s had experience and success operating before. Of the teams that missed the playoffs in the East last season, I think the Pistons are better positioned to make a push than Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Orlando and Boston. We’ll see what other moves the Knicks can make before camp starts. Cleveland obviously took the biggest step forward and will be gunning for somebody’s berth. Atlanta’s berth might be tenuous. We’ll see how Washington handles success and the loss of Trevor Ariza. Brooklyn has made significant changes, including its coach, and loses Paul Pierce. It’s just too soon to speculate much beyond that.

George (Grand Haven, Mich.): Would Stan Van Gundy ever consider trading both Greg Monroe and Josh Smith and try to get a true stretch four who can shoot the 3-pointer, play defense and improve floor spacing for Drummond?

Langlois: I don’t think anything is off the table, George. Van Gundy said after being hired that when you’ve missed the playoffs for five straight seasons, you have to admit that things need to change. He’s also said he’s not necessarily committed to any particular model to build a winner other than finding players who’ll play hard and play together. I’m sure he’d love to have a reliable stretch four in his rotation, but it’s conceivable he already has that player in Jonas Jerebko. Jerebko shot 42 percent from the 3-point line last season. It wasn’t a particularly large sample size because he played sparingly until John Loyer took over for Mo Cheeks for the final 32 games, but Jerebko hit nearly 50 percent of his 3-pointers over the season’s final month, as I wrote earlier this week. If the Pistons don’t retain Monroe as a restricted free agent, then I’d be pretty surprised if they also were to trade Smith this off-season.

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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