Pistons Mailbag - June 25, 2014

It’s the eve of the draft and there’s plenty of buzz over Greg Monroe hitting free agency and rumors surrounding Josh Smith to pack the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Phil (Negaunee, Mich.): Now that the draft is a day away, two questions: Who will the Pistons take at 38 and who do you think they would have taken had they stayed at No. 8?

Langlois: I keep coming back to what Stan Van Gundy told me a week after taking the job as Pistons president of basketball and coach: “The holy trinity for us is tough, smart and can shoot.” He followed up by saying that, above all, the Pistons needed to find players who were highly competitive with great character more than a skill set. He said much the same thing just this week, adding that the Pistons were looking for players who could do one or two things to help the team as opposed to a great athlete without anything in particular as far as an NBA skill. There’s one guy who checks every box on that list who has a 50-50 shot of being available at 38: Virginia’s Joe Harris. He’s not a high flyer – if he were, he’d be talked about in the lottery – but he looks like a player ready to step in and contribute immediately. He’s a notch below the best shooters in the draft – Nik Stauskas, Doug McDermott and Travis Bader – but projects as an above-average NBA 3-point shooter. Markel Brown of Oklahoma State is another guy I think has a shot to turn into a good off-the-bench scorer. Another player I like if he’s there is Colorado’s Spencer Dinwiddie, a point guard who’d give them backcourt size and flexibility. He’s coming off an ACL tear that probably knocks him down to the second round, but he should be ready to go for training camp. As for who they would have taken if they’d kept their lottery pick, that’s a little like trying to guess what a jigsaw puzzle will look like when it’s halfway completed. It would have been a tough call between taking one of the perceived top prospects still available – maybe Marcus Smart or one of the top power forwards, Julius Randle or Aaron Gordon – vs. one of the two elite shooters, Stauskas or McDermott. My gut tells me Stauskas would have held great appeal to Van Gundy, but that’s just a guess.

Joseph (@JosephJarbo): Do you see the Pistons making any trades or moving up on Thursday?

Langlois: Stan Van Gundy said this week it’s unlikely. I’d be surprised if they wound up trading into the first round. I think it’s something every team looks at, but it usually carries too high a sticker price. Phoenix has three first-round picks and its GM, Ryan McDonough, has gone public with his preference for trading away the last of those picks at 27. The Suns simply don’t have the roster room to absorb three first-rounders. But he wants a future first-round pick in return. Van Gundy categorically ruled that out this week. He said the Pistons wouldn’t trade “a player” – and you can interpret that to team someone on the roster today he believes will be in his rotation next season – or a future No. 1 pick to get into the late first round. If a future No. 2 pick and cash can buy the Pistons into the late first round, sure, he’d do that. But you don’t want to be in a position in a few years where you’re sitting out of another strong draft and giving up a pick far better than 27 to get a late first this year. Van Gundy is intent on putting a team on the floor that can compete for a playoff berth immediately, but he doesn’t strike me as a guy who will take big gambles with the future for a modest bump for the present. Is the 27th pick really going to move the needle much next season? I doubt it. Now, if there’s a team that desperately wants to trade out of the first round to clear the cap space that would be created by not having a guaranteed salary slot on the books and is willing to take only the $3 million cash payment for doing so, that would hold tremendous appeal to the Pistons, I would imagine. But most teams will figure a better way around that obstacle, like drafting a European who has no intent of playing in the NBA immediately.

Jason (Wynadotte, Mich.): With the news the Pelicans are heavily interested in Monroe, what are the chances we can snag Jrue Holiday from them in a sign and trade? Before you tell me they wouldn’t have another starting point guard, we could turn and offer Jennings and Singler for Anderson, a back-door deal, if you will. In essence, we’ll have traded Monroe, Jennings and Singler for Holiday and Anderson. That makes way too much sense for both sides for it to ever happen, but I can dream, right?

Langlois: I’m not sure who’d protest more if I were in Stan Van Gundy’s seat– my medical staff or my basketball staff. Look, I like both Holiday and Anderson a great deal. They were both invited to USA Basketball’s minicamp last year and Holiday, in my view, outplayed John Wall over the course of that week. Anderson, obviously, is at or very near the top of the charts as a stretch four and Van Gundy used him to great advantage in Orlando. But both are coming off major injuries, Anderson’s especially worrisome. He suffered a herniated cervical disc after crashing hard to the floor. I don’t know what the long-term prognosis is, but neck injuries are often tricky. Monroe, in my view, has the best long-term future of anyone in the trade. Would the Pistons really need to sweeten the pot with Singler? I’d already have reservations about giving up Monroe, but Monroe and Jennings for Holiday and Anderson is at least a worthwhile consideration. As it stands now, the Pistons would be tossing in their projected starter at small forward – assuming Van Gundy’s musings about the lack of success the Pistons experienced playing Monroe, Josh Smith and Andre Drummond simultaneously mean he intends to bring one off the bench if all three return – as well? Pretty steep price given the medical red flags they’d inherit.

Ryan (Hudsonville, Mich.): Any truth to the Josh Smith to Sacramento rumor? How about we include Jennings and get Thompson, Williams, Terry and No. 8?

Langlois: Let’s assume for the sake of discussion that all of what ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported this week is accurate: that the Pistons and Kings have discussed the framework for a deal that would send Josh Smith to Sacramento; that among the names talked about coming in return are Derrick Williams, Jason Thompson and Jason Terry; and that “nothing is imminent.” If every such front-office exchange – loose frameworks for possible trades in which both sides agree to table the conversation – became public knowledge, there’d be about 5 percent of league players not involved in trade talk. I’d file this under “nothing to see here” until we have reason to believe otherwise.

Ku (Detroit): With the rumors surrounding Josh Smith being shopped, I am very disappointed. I do not think we should trade Josh. If we play to his strengths, we will win. I also believe he is our best perimeter defender. Keep Josh and add shooters to the team.

Langlois: You raise a good point, Ku. The Smith backlash is over the top. He took too many 3-pointers last season by a good margin, no question. Some of it was due to starting games at small forward next to Drummond and Monroe. The very nature of that lineup’s makeup – understanding that defenses are going to pack the paint in an exaggerated manner – limited his ability to do what he does best: score going to the basket. Stan Van Gundy has spoken highly of Smith while, at the same time, saying it was incumbent upon the coaches to put him in position to play to his strengths and incumbent upon Josh to understand what those strengths are and stop playing to his weaknesses, which include perimeter shooting. I also think the notion that trading Smith would be a virtual impossibility is not close to the truth. Athletic power forwards capable of guarding a variety of players who can block shots, run the floor, pass with the best of them and score inside of 10 feet with tremendous efficiency don’t grow on trees. A team that can put Smith in position to do those things and surround him with complementary players wouldn’t flinch at the dollars Smith has left. Van Gundy has talked about playing all three of his big men roughly 32 minutes a game to not have to bunch all three together. That’s workable. I don’t think it would have been his preference if he was starting to build a team from scratch, but it can be made to work. So Van Gundy, I get the sense, isn’t clamoring to let Monroe walk in a sign-and-trade deal or peddle Smith away just to ease the positional logjam. He views them all as assets – the three biggest on the roster – and if he winds up trading Smith, it will be to acquire assets he views as more complementary, not in a fire sale.

Steven (West Bloomfield, Mich.): With news that Detroit and Sacramento discussed a trade for Josh Smith, there has been an overwhelming sentiment from fans that any trade that removes Smith is an automatic home run. Can you please remind scapegoating fans Smith is not the source of all Pistons’ problems? This team was bad before he got here and when he missed the last five games, our Drummond-Monroe front line alongside a traditional perimeter went 1-4 and allowed 110 points a game. I have no problem trading anyone – even Drummond – if the price is right, but this team isn’t going to build a winner by subtraction alone.

Langlois: You’re on the money, Steven. Van Gundy was pretty frank when he spoke about Smith to me last month, but he clearly values his talent. I don’t envision Van Gundy – assuming Greg Monroe is retained in free agency – making a move with Smith that requires moving the franchise backward in order to move it forward. If he trades him, it will be for players he values, not players whose contracts can be spun into other assets at some point in the future. He has spoken about playing to the strength of a Monroe-Drummond-Smith frontcourt and building out around it by making smart personnel choices on the perimeter as one legitimate option. I think he’s prepared to use any other model that might present itself if an attractive trade comes across his desk, as well. But you’re right – Smith has become the focus of fan frustration and disappointment. Happens all the time to players in the spotlight when team success falls short of expectations. It’s not just a Detroit phenomenon by any stretch.

Namer (Wolverine Lake, Mich.): I understand signing Monroe is a priority, but assuming Stan Van Gundy can’t get Josh Smith traded in time for Drummond to hit free agency, would we still have the cap space to sign Drummond after we would have already inked Monroe to a deal? As far as I’m concerned, I think Drummond is the most valuable of the three.

Langlois: Van Gundy addressed the issue on Tuesday, Namer. Drummond will start making big money after two more seasons. That will coincide with the last year of Smith’s contract, the 2016-17 season. The Pistons would have more than $40 million invested in three players to play two positions, center and power forward. Here’s what Van Gundy said, as I wrote yesterday: “There would be a good chance, just because of the duplication in the makeup, that one of them is coming off the bench. So that’s an interesting scenario and we have looked down the road at that. It’s hard to say that’s the ideal situation. It really affects what you’re able to do on your perimeter and you would like a balance on your roster. But we have also come to the conclusion, if that’s what it comes to, we can deal with that for one year.” There is no chance the Pistons would ever put themselves in a position where they wouldn’t retain Drummond. Since they will have his Bird rights, they can and would go over the salary cap to sign him. But they will also consider what Drummond’s next contract will do to their salary structure in every move they make between now and then. This has two more full calendar years to work itself out. The cap situation is very manageable for the Pistons as it stands now.

David (Chicago): There were rumors a while ago about the Hawks wanting Monroe. What would be the best trade scenario for us? Would it be taking their 15th pick and a player such as Carroll for Monroe?

Langlois: The Hawks go into July with less than $50 million in cap space committed, David. They might have enough as it is today to extend an offer sheet to Monroe he finds acceptable. If a team has enough cap space to offer a max contract or something close to it in an offer sheet, the sign-and-trade possibilities dry up. If a player agrees to an offer sheet, then the options at that point are limited to (1) the Pistons match the offer sheet and keep Monroe or (2) the Pistons decline to match the offer sheet and they lose him without compensation. The sign-and-trade comes into play more with teams who don’t have enough cap space to give a restricted free agent the type of money he seeks. Under the new CBA, the appeal of a sign-and-trade deal for a player is lessened because he can no longer get the additional year – five years instead of four – or the greater incremental raises allowed for players who sign with the team that holds their Bird rights.

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