Pistons Mailbag - June 18, 2014

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

With the NBA Finals concluded and the season still more than four months away, it’s all about the draft, Summer League, free agency and roster tinkering this time around in Pistons Mailbag.

Jason (Warner Robbins, Ga.): Seeing as how Stan is doubly invested in the team as both president and coach and since he wants to give players a fair shot before trades, is there any chance he’ll coach the Summer League team? No, he won’t see the likes of Drummond, Monroe, Smith, Jennings, Singler and a few others, but he’ll get a handle on KCP, maybe Harrellson, Gigi, Siva, Mitchell and the 38th pick. Also, if some players do as Monroe did last year, some may be in Orlando to help with some of the practices and get in time with SVG. Thoughts?

Langlois: Van Gundy isn’t going to coach the Summer League team, but I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that he’s seated courtside for every practice and every game and will make his voice heard to the team frequently. I don’t know which of the team’s younger veterans will accompany the group to Orlando to participate in practices before games start, but it wouldn’t surprise me if anybody under contract shows up at some point. Datome is one notable exception. He has national team obligations for Italy that begin on July 1.

Mitchell (Bettendorf, Iowa): If you were Miami, would you push (or exert influence on) Wade to retirement so you have a legitimate shot at signing Anthony?

Langlois: Retirement isn’t remotely a consideration for Wade, unless there’s something we don’t know about his physical state that would force it, a la Brandon Roy. His knees are obviously an issue that have diminished his standing as an elite NBA player, but his contract calls for him to make more than $40 million over the next two seasons unless he exercises outs in either of the next two summers. Might he do that? Sure, if Pat Riley makes a compelling case to his star players that a little bit of sacrifice could dramatically alter their championship window. But it’s difficult to imagine Wade opting out with no assurances of what’s coming in his next contract or whether Heat ownership would sign off on venturing into tax territory to field a deeper team. (Remember, Miami amnestied Mike Miller last summer to save on their tax bill and dealt away Joel Anthony for the same motivation during the season.) He has to know that given his reduced load during the regular season – essentially, he plays two out of three games now – coupled with the inability to remain a dominant postseason player even given the regular-season rest, that he is no longer likely to command max-level money. It’s true that all three of Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh took less than maximum contracts (but not by much) to make it work under the salary cap four summers ago. It’s not inconceivable they would make similar sacrifices this summer. Similar, but not monumental. I would not expect any star to be open to the magnitude of sacrifice it would take to accommodate a plan that would allow four players who on the open market could command a max salary to join forces. A player of Anthony’s tenure could get a five-year deal for $129 million from his own team. The scenarios that would have Anthony joining the Heat – even if the three others took bigger cuts than they accepted the last time around – would see him leave about $70 million on the table for the chance to chase a ring in Miami. That’s unfathomable to most. The only player in the NBA for whom it wouldn’t be, perhaps, is James, who can and does make enough money outside of the game to render his NBA salary a secondary income stream.

Evan (@evan4623): What are the Pistons’ plans for Siva and Mitchell? Also, should we trade Monroe to his hometown Pelicans?

Langlois: Siva and Mitchell will play with the Summer League team in Orlando, Evan. Siva finished his rookie season with a flourish. Unless the Pistons draft a point guard at No. 38, Siva is going to get a lot of minutes at the point with the Summer League team and that will be a great opportunity for him to make an impression on Stan Van Gundy and the coaching staff. More on Mitchell later in Mailbag, but it’s a critical summer for him, as well. As for Monroe, I saw the report that the Pelicans will be interested in making a play for him. Makes perfect sense from their perspective as he and Anthony Davis would be a dynamic 1-2 frontcourt combination – in much the same way the Pistons see Monroe and Drummond a tremendous foundation. Van Gundy has been as blunt about this topic as he can be: His preference is to retain Monroe, but even restricted free agency means the team doesn’t have full control of the outcome. The only thing close to a certainty is that the Pistons will do everything in their power to avoid an outcome where they lose Monroe without getting roughly equivalent talent in return.

Shawn (Garden Grove, Calif.): If LeBron James chooses to opt out of his contract and test free agency, is there any chance Stan Van Gundy and Jeff Bower reach out to him to let him know that he’d be welcome as a Piston if he took a pay cut? It seems like he’s at least entertaining the idea of taking another pay cut with all the talk about a Miami “Big Four” anyway.

Langlois: See above regarding my opinion on squeezing four elite players into one team’s salary structure. Now, let’s talk in hypotheticals. Let’s say the world’s best player, in the prime of his career, chose to opt out of his contract. Would he really need any team to reach out to him to gauge their interest? I suspect if and when that player chooses free agency, his agent will be the one calling the shots, inviting teams to the bidding. Every participant that has a fighting chance – and, if you’re invited to bid, you have a fighting chance – will make the same offer: the maximum. What they want to hear is your plans for building a championship contender around that player.

Nick (Grand Rapids, Mich.): I can’t help but think taking the ball out of Brandon Jennings’ hands is wishful thinking. He has some great playmaking abilities, but it’s often overshadowed by unnecessary flashiness and inconsistent shooting. I like him more in a scenario where he shares ballhandling duties. I think Van Gundy will patch up some of this play and even set him up for catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, one of his strong suits. Do we go after a point guard (more specifically, a ballhandler/facilitator) this off-season?

Langlois: I spoke with Van Gundy at length about Jennings recently. Here’s a sample of what he told me: “There are situations where Brandon is very, very good. I haven’t finished enough film, but my initial thought is a little more structure in terms of the situations we put him in and a little more discipline on his part. What you see in Brandon is he’ll have a game where he basically plays pretty well and then he’s got three, four, five plays in a lot of those games that are unexplainable. I think he’s got to cut those out and become a more disciplined guy. People – because he’s been in the league a little bit – forget how young he is, though. He’s 23 years old. He’s very young, he’s talented and a lot of those discipline things tend to take some time to really understand. … I think Brandon, at times, has made simple plays into hard plays. That’s something, hopefully, we can get him to recognize and correct because I think he’s got a lot of ability and I think he’s got a lot of desire to do it the right way and to win.” As Van Gundy studies his backcourt situation, it wouldn’t surprise me if he tries to find someone who can play either guard spot interchangeably just to give him someone who can defend bigger point guards at times. In Jennings, Will Bynum and Peyton Siva the Pistons have three undersized players at the spot.

Kumar (Troy, Mich.): Do you see Philadelphia being interested in trading Thaddeus Young and the No. 10 pick for Josh Smith? Would we be interested? I would hope so. Philly gets a veteran alongside Noel and we get a truer small forward with the possibility of picking either another small forward or point guard for the future.

Langlois: Smith had some big games against the 76ers last year – how about the 23-point, 13-rebound, seven-assist, four-block, five-steal night he had at Philly in a January Pistons win? – but, no, I don’t see that as a deal that would interest the 76ers for reasons that have nothing to do with Smith’s desirability. No team moved more aggressively to strip down and acquire future assets over the past 12 months than the 76ers and it is unlikely that management believes this summer is the time to push their chips to the center of the table and use their cap space. The hot rumor is Philly is pitching Cleveland on taking Young and its pick at No. 3 to get the No. 1 pick, which is more in line with a team still pointing to the future over the present. If the 76ers don’t see Young, who turns 26 this week, as part of their future, it’s hard to envision them feeling differently about Smith, who is 28.

Randy (Rochester, Mich.): Entering the draft last year, Tony Mitchell was considered a small forward/power forward. He was supposed to be able to shoot from the 3-point line. So is he a combo forward? Any potential for him to become a solid small forward and alleviate our worries about this position?

Langlois: I don’t think it’s realistic to consider Mitchell an option at small forward, Randy. There are a lot of rough edges to Mitchell’s game – that’s why he lasted to the 37th pick last June – but he has one clearly identifiable NBA skill and that’s his explosive athleticism around the rim. His ability to finish lob dunks, grab offensive rebounds and affect shots defensively is Mitchell’s ticket to an NBA role. He’ll be one of the players I’ll be watching most closely in Orlando next month during Summer League to see if he can more consistently use his athleticism to his advantage. Down the road, if he can show a capable mid-range game – and, yes, Mitchell does have some potential as a mid-range scorer – and show himself to be an option as a perimeter defender so he could see the floor against more mobile power forwards, those are all things that will improve his chances to play. But the No. 1 priority for Mitchell this summer will be to do what he does best more consistently.

Anthony (Wyoming, Mich.): When teams work out players, are the players compensated by the team or the NBA? Who pays for their travel expenses, including transportation, food and lodging?

Langlois: Yes, Anthony, teams pay all expenses to have draft prospects come to them to work out, including airfare and lodging and meals. There is no compensation beyond that, per se – it’s a job interview, essentially. Agents try to set up workouts so they make logistical sense for their clients. So, for instance, a player projected to be picked in the lottery but not among the top five picks likely would agree to work out for every team with a top 10 or 12 pick, at least. If there are three or four teams in the Pacific time zone who hold those picks, the agent will attempt to schedule those workouts a day or two apart to eliminate multiple cross-country flights – if the client is based in the Midwest or East, at least – and allow for a reasonable recovery between workouts.

That Tall Dude (@B_Eds517): Who are the Pistons looking at taking in the second round? Any ideas?

Langlois: We’ll start an abbreviated draft preview series on Thursday, Tall Dude. Part I will look at players roughly projected to go in the late first or early second round but who might slip – as one or two such players do every year. I wouldn’t try to overthink it: My guess is the Pistons under Van Gundy have looked honestly at their roster and understand that in today’s NBA you need much better 3-point shooting than they got last season. Now, I also believe it’s much more likely they find immediate help in that area from a veteran – either in free agency or trade – but if there’s a shooter at 38 they think is a smart, tough basketball player, he’d be awfully tempting. One player I think who fits that bill (spoiler alert) is Joe Harris of Virginia. He’ll be featured in the segment I write on the category of “3-D players” – guys who can shoot the 3-pointer and fit well within the team defensive concept. There’s a group of at least a half-dozen who loosely fit that description. But also keep in mind that at 38 a team first wants to make sure it gets someone who can play in the NBA, even if it doesn’t necessarily fit the roster as it’s configured on draft night. The draft comes before free agency opens or trade season heats up. There will be several weeks to sort it out after the draft.

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