Pistons Mailbag - July 30, 2014

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

The draft, Summer League and the first big crush of free-agent signings are in the rear-view window. What’s left for the Pistons? The Greg Monroe situation is still on the front burner, one of many topics on the minds of Pistons Mailbag readers.

Jeffrey (Crawfordville, Fla.): I get the impression Stan Van Gundy is putting a team together somewhat like the one that won it all in 2004. No one gave that team a chance (and I cleaned up on bets). The 2004 team had too many weapons. Everyone could shoot the ball and they had an anchor in the middle to defend. Do you see any similarities between the team being put together now and the 2004 team?

Langlois: Way too early to start making those comparisons, Jeffrey. We’re not sure what the final roster will look like, let alone how the pieces Van Gundy puts together will mesh. I also think that people take one grain of truth about the 2004 team – one of the rare NBA teams to win a title without an acknowledged superstar on the roster – and stretch it so that it becomes a David vs. Goliath tale. Let’s not forget that the 2004 Pistons had two top-five draft picks, Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace, and another top-10 pick, Rip Hamilton. We know that Tayshaun Prince should have been a top-10 pick in an extraordinarily weak 2002 draft. We also know Ben Wallace, a borderline Hall of Fame candidate, should have been a top-10 pick, as well, though it’s completely understandable why he wasn’t even drafted at the time he came out of college. The Pistons of today have three top-10 picks – Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – and all appear worthy of their draft status. But only Monroe is anywhere close to his ceiling and even he has plenty of room to grow. If the Pistons keep Monroe through his restricted free agency and that core stays together, I trust Van Gundy is going to put a very nice team together around them. Maybe that will be a comparison worth revisiting in another year or two. But the high draft picks the Pistons had on that 2004 team were all mature (or very nearly) players by then. Most educated observers felt Billups and Hamilton were the league’s best backcourt in 2004 – certainly the best backcourt in the East – and the Wallace and Wallace combination, after the trade deadline deal that completed them, gave the Pistons the best defensive frontcourt in the league. We can’t say anything of the sort with the current Pistons. Lots of promise there, but let’s see how it plays out.

Ian (Westland, Mich.): Some thoughts – trade Jennings for Houston’s non-guaranteed contracts and draft small forward Stanley Johnson in 2015.

Langlois: I’d be a little surprised if Houston prioritized point guard as the target should it decide to convert non-guaranteed contracts on fringe players into more tangible assets, Ian. The Rockets like Patrick Beverly and have pretty strong expectations, from what I heard in Summer League, for second-year prospect Isaiah Canaan. Plus, they drafted Nick Johnson early in the second round and he played well in Orlando and Las Vegas. I don’t doubt for a second that the Rockets would upgrade at point guard if they saw an opening, but they might not view Jennings as the right fit next to James Harden, a shooting guard who has the ball in his hands more than most and generates a ton of pick-and-roll action. They might prefer more of a spot-up shooter to play off of him and somebody with more size to give them defensive flexibility, given Harden’s shortcomings on that end. As for Stanley Johnson, he’s a nice prospect, by all accounts, though not yet considered can’t-miss status. With the exception of the 76ers, I don’t think there’s an NBA team out there jockeying for position in the 2015 lottery just yet.

Marcus (Kalamazoo, Mich.): Are Smith and Monroe up for trade or are we going to hang onto them? I personally think Smith makes a better power forward than Monroe does. Monroe could be a better bench center to back up Drummond than continue to be a power forward. Could we trade Monroe to the Cavaliers for Wiggins?

Langlois: It’s clear that the Cavs hope to convert Wiggins (and assorted other assets) into Kevin Love, Marcus. Though Monroe is a different type of player, there’s not much doubt he’d also thrive in Cleveland surrounded by LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. There are probably several dozen NBA players who’d thrive in those circumstances, but Monroe – as a restricted free agent – is one of the few who might be available to the Cavs because of his status as a restricted free agent. Should the Love deal fall through, maybe it’s something Cleveland management would explore, though it might give the Cavs pause to trade Wiggins within their own division. You ask if Smith and Monroe are up for trade. From everything that Stan Van Gundy has said, largely substantiated by credible reporting on off-season trade speculation, I get the sense that while he doesn’t necessarily think it ideal to have your three best players – Drummond, Monroe and Smith – grouped at the two power positions, his clear inclination is to see how he can make that work rather than trade one of them for 75 cents on the dollar. If somebody offers something of relatively equal value for one or the other, then that’s a different story.

Anthony (@ACardamoneNBA): Is Monroe’s agent, David Falk, asking for a lot more money than Stan Van Gundy wants to give him?

Langlois: Neither side has done any negotiating via the media, Anthony, so it’s hard to say. Van Gundy has said that he and his inner circle have discussed their response to every million-dollar increment in an offer sheet Monroe might attract from another team. The likelihood of him landing an offer sheet has diminished since July 1 simply because the number of teams with the cap space necessary to put one together has dwindled to … one, maybe, realistically? If the Pistons were to offer Monroe a five-year maximum extension, it’s definitive that no other team could do better than that for him. But that would also prevent the Pistons from offering a similar deal to Andre Drummond to take effect after his fourth season. (That’s a stipulation of the 2011 bargaining agreement; teams can only offer one five-year maximum extension to a rookie contract.) Falk, to my knowledge, has never explicitly said he’s holding out for a max contract, but the general assumption is that’s what it would take to break the logjam at this point with two months before training camp opens. As the days dwindle, as happens in all types of negotiations, perspectives can change.

Ku (Detroit): Given that signs point to Josh Smith returning to the Pistons this year, if Greg Monroe is to come back the Pistons will need to use one of the big three off the bench. In your recent blog, you said Drummond might be the one. I find that absolutely ridiculous. How can we bring our cornerstone of the franchise off the bench? Especially when he’s being compared to Dwight Howard? He’s on his way to becoming the best center in the NBA. Why not bring Greg Monroe off the bench?

Langlois: Go back and read it again, Ku. I pulled Drummond’s name to show the thought process that will be employed when Van Gundy considers the arguments to be made on both sides in the case of all three players. I said, “Let’s just suppose for the sake of argument that it’s Drummond and how things might unfold from there.” Van Gundy has made no secret of his belief that Drummond is the centerpiece of the team as he envisions the future for the Pistons. That, in and of itself, will have little bearing on how he approaches lineup decisions for the coming season if all three return, though. My guess is Drummond will be the opening night starting center no matter who’s on the roster. But I do believe Van Gundy will look at every contingency before coming to any firm conclusions.

James (Kirkland, Wash.): I know this summer was madness for the front office given they got a late start and haven’t gotten up to full staff, but what is the likelihood of the Pistons being at both the Orlando and Las Vegas summer leagues next summer? There are plenty of teams that go to both and the Las Vegas tournament is quickly becoming an exciting moment of summer basketball. So any chance we fans could see Detroit’s young guys in Las Vegas next summer?

Langlois: Very few teams – three, this summer – participate in both leagues, James. This year, it was Houston, Miami and Philadelphia. I can’t claim I’m familiar with their reasoning, but I can guess. At the time teams had to commit to play –and plans were set in stone long before Van Gundy was even hired by the Pistons – both Houston and Miami undoubtedly envisioned a team centered around three max-contract players: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for Miami; Dwight Howard, James Harden and fill-in-the-blank for Houston from a list that began with Carmelo Anthony. That means they would have been on the hunt for lots of players making the league minimum to fill out the latter half of the roster. So they were going to audition a number of different players over the course of nearly three weeks and both venues. Philadelphia, of course, was on the other end of the spectrum with precious few long-term assets on its roster. If you’re going to have the same core of players participating in both venues, as the majority of teams do, that’s an unusual grind for players in July. I wouldn’t anticipate Van Gundy putting the Pistons through both leagues at this stage of their development. And, as I wrote in last week’s Mailbag, given Van Gundy’s ties to Orlando, I would expect the Pistons to continue their participation there.

De-Von (Indianapolis, Ind.): Since the Celtics signed Evan Turner, who is going to fill in at small forward? Caron Butler is older and Jodie Meeks is more of a shooting guard. Maybe we should sign Shawn Marion to mentor Josh Smith because they kind of play the same but Marion has more of an outside shot.

Langlois: The Pistons don’t have roster or cap space to sign Marion, De-Von, though they could still employ the “room” exception if the market comes back enough so that would entice Marion and, yes, the fact they have 16 players under contract at present wouldn’t prohibit them from committing to another guaranteed contract at this point. There’s also no reason to believe the Pistons don’t believe they have enough at small forward as constituted with Kyle Singler and Caron Butler. They also have reportedly come to an agreement with Cartier Martin and still have Gigi Datome, who is optimistic that he’ll be much better prepared to compete for minutes in his second NBA season after getting off a slow start last year when injuries cost him all of preseason.

Roger (Hibbing, Minn.): The Pistons had press conferences to introduce Jodie Meeks, D.J. Augustin and Caron Butler but nothing for Cartier Martin or Aaron Gray. How come?

Langlois: While Martin and Gray were reported to have reached contract agreements for veteran’s minimums during the first week of free agency, the team has not yet confirmed their signings. One plausible reason, Roger, is to make maximum use of their salary cap space. If the contracts signed by Meeks, Augustin and Butler have left the Pistons with room below the cap, then they likely could be waiting to take care of the rest of their business – perhaps a resolution to Greg Monroe’s situation – before signing players to minimum deals. That’s speculation, of course, but typical of the way teams with cap space conduct their off-season business. That’s because after teams have spent up to the cap to sign free agents from other teams and gone over it to retain their own by using their Bird rights, they can add others only by exercising cap exceptions. The most frequent exception used is the veteran minimum. If that is indeed the case with Martin and Gray, then the Pistons can’t and won’t announce their additions until they sign their contracts.

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