Pistons Mailbag - March 14, 2018
The Blake Griffin trade and its impact on the roster and decisions facing the franchise moving forward tops the docket in the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Ken (Dharamsala, India): Was Tom Gores informed about the Blake Griffin trade beforehand? Are there any “untouchables” or “untradeables” on the roster now?
Langlois: When a franchise executes a trade to acquire a player of Griffin’s magnitude, I can’t imagine a scenario when the owner wouldn’t be more than “informed” of the pending deal. Griffin signed a reported five-year, $173 million contract last July. That’s not only an enormous financial commitment, the obligation for which ultimately falls to the owner, it sets the course for the franchise for the immediate future. I would venture to say that Gores was “informed” of subsequent deals for Jameer Nelson and James Ennis because you really don’t want your owner finding out you made trades via media reports, social or otherwise. Trades of anything above that level need, at minimum, the owner’s consent if not his full-throated support. Gores made clear he was an enthusiastic backer of the trade for Griffin. There are no untouchables or untradeables in the league. Some are more touchable or tradeable than others, of course. Griffin seemed about as close to untouchable as it got after signing with the Clippers last summer, at which time they held a rally and called him a “Clipper for life.” I don’t anticipate the Pistons trading Andre Drummond, but it’s not impossible to imagine it happening. Probably the contract that would get more votes for toughest to move for the Pistons would be Jon Leuer’s. But he’ll have two years and roughly $20 million left at season’s end. That doesn’t even approach “untradeable.” As the roster stands, Leuer figures to be an important piece next season, allowing the Pistons to go without signing another true center behind Andre Drummond and Eric Moreland while also potentially serving as Blake Griffin’s top backup at power forward if Anthony Tolliver, a pending free agent, signs elsewhere.
Andrew (Tallmadge Twp., Mich.): Now that we have Blake Griffin, is it a foregone conclusion that Andre Drummond is traded? Imagine trading him for a guy like C.J. McCollum. I feel like that would make Detroit a much better team.
Langlois: I’ve seen this sentiment expressed – not as a foregone conclusion, perhaps, but as a greater possibility than before Blake Griffin was added to the roster. I think that’s premature, at minimum. Stan Van Gundy made the deal on the belief that Griffin in a vacuum improved the roster, foremost, but beyond that because he thinks Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson will form a dynamic and complementary nucleus. As I wrote in response to the previous question, though, Drummond – or anybody else – would be available for the right return. What that looks like, who knows? I think Drummond would have considerable value on the trade market as a 24-year-old who is the dominant rebounder of his era and has taken a big step forward this season on two fronts – consistency of effort and foul shooting, the latter of which allows him to be on the floor at crunch time.
Darrell (Detroit): In the next two seasons, the Pistons are committed to paying $97 million and $101 million to three starters – Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson – two bench players, Jon Leuer and Langston Galloway, and one retired player, Josh Smith. Considering Drummond’s contract is tradeable and having no first-round pick this summer unless the Pistons luck out in the lottery, how do the Pistons improve in the foreseeable future? The Pistons can’t even tank by having a fire sale with these current contracts.
Langlois: Get healthy, stay healthy. That’s the first step. A reminder: The Pistons were 19-14 after beating Indiana on Dec. 26, in the No. 4 spot in playoff seeding, when they lost Reggie Jackson for what is now 34 games – one more than he’s played this season. Stan Van Gundy says they would have made the trade for Blake Griffin even at that point, dismissing suggestions that the deal was made with a run at the playoffs this season as the primary motivation. It was done, he said, because he and Jeff Bower felt it was the best move for the future of the franchise even though they understood that in the here and now it thinned out the roster on the wings and would make for a considerable adjustment period due to the need to restructure the offensive system to fit Griffin’s skills. So how do they get better? Get Jackson back. Use their assets to find complementary parts to a Jackson-Griffin-Andre Drummond core. Keep developing their young players like Stanley Johnson, Luke Kennard and Henry Ellenson, for whom progress should be anticipated. That’s the formula.
Hevvy (Harper Woods, Mich.): You said it would be a leap of faith to hire Chauncey Billups as general manager. I disagree. Joe Dumars had no experience and he was five years younger than Chauncey Billups is now.
Langlois: Dumars spent one full year under then-Pistons general manager Rick Sund being groomed to take over as president of basketball operations. That counts as experience – one year more than Chauncey Billups has spent in an NBA front office. Nowhere in there did I suggest Billups couldn’t succeed or overcome his inexperience. But you’d feel a lot more confident handing the reins over to him if he’d spent one full year learning the ropes.
Rock (@PolishFishman59): What are the protections on the first-round draft pick going to the Clippers from the Blake Griffin trade?
Langlois: It’s top-four protected in each of the next three seasons. On the rare chance that it isn’t conveyed over that stretch, it becomes unprotected for the 2021 draft. In essence, the only way the Pistons keep the pick this season is if they fail to make the playoffs but beat long odds to pull a top-three pick. Jeff Bower hasn’t commented on this aspect of the trade, but it’s fair to assume that the reason the Pistons held out for top-four protection is that starting with the 2019 draft, the lottery draw will determine the top four picks instead of the top three as has been the case for many years under the current format. Also starting next year, a team that finishes out of the playoffs will have a more realistic chance of drawing a top-four pick. It wasn’t the sweeping change that some advocated for the lottery, but it might incrementally reduce the incentive to deliberately field losing teams.
Kobina (Decatur, Ga.): Chris Bosh is determined to return to the NBA. Since the Pistons will be cap strapped, would they woo him over the summer to back up Blake Griffin, assuming he’s healthy?
Langlois: The “assuming he’s healthy” is a pretty significant caveat. But I’ll play along. If Bosh is returning to the NBA at this point, he could be motivated by one of two things: a big payday or an immediate shot at a ring. The Pistons won’t have cap space and couldn’t offer anything more than the mid-level exception, so they’d have to convince him they’re in position to contend for a title next season. (And, I suspect, that’s really what Bosh is hoping for, beyond the mission of going out on his terms and not by a forced retirement.) That would be a tough sell given their current standing. Crazier things have happened, I suppose, but this seems like the longest of shots.
Kevin (Farmington Hills, Mich.): I used to read about Pistons assistant coaches but haven’t really read much about them this year. Can you please rank in order who the top assistant coaches to SVG are?
Langlois: Bob Beyer is the No. 1 assistant, given the title of associate head coach by Stan Van Gundy in the summer of 2016. Beyer and Brendan Malone were Van Gundy’s two most experienced and trusted assistants until Malone scaled back his duties after the 2015-16 season. He still scouts for the Pistons, but isn’t part of the coaching staff. After Beyer, the two assistant coaches who sit on the front row of the bench now are Tim Hardaway and Malik Allen. The other assistant coaches are Charles Klask, Rex Walters, Otis Smith and Aaron Gray.
Brent (@brent_shotwell): Do you see an increased role for Luke Kennard next season or will he continue to play a minimal role, as in less than 20 minutes a game and in and out of the rotation despite being one of the better offensive players on the roster?
Langlois: Kennard has been in the rotation a lot more often than not this season. He sat for a few games in October and then spent a few more games out of the rotation recently when Stan Van Gundy didn’t see much energy or aggressiveness out of him going into and coming out of the All-Star break. But I wouldn’t call the 18 minutes a game he’s averaged as a rookie a “minimal” role. If you’re in an NBA rotation, that’s a substantial role. What I would anticipate out of Kennard next season is to be more consistent and more sure of himself. I’d bet on him having more of a role and getting more minutes, but those things always depend on what other options are available to a coach. Long term, Kennard is too gifted offensively to not thrive. He’s built for today’s NBA.
Colombo (@colombo_anthony): Thoughts on just shutting Reggie Jackson down for the season?
Langlois: The answer has to start with Jackson, first and foremost. If he’s medically cleared to return, then as long as he feels he’s ready, why shut him down? If he has confidence that his grade 3 ankle sprain is sufficiently healed and the medical team is convinced he’s no more at risk for re-injury than he would have been to turning it in the first place, then there is only benefit to be had from starting the process of building chemistry with Jackson and Blake Griffin. I don’t see any downside. Even the faction that would otherwise argue the Pistons shouldn’t bring him back at the risk of winning games to better their draft slot would be silenced by the fact the Pistons owe their pick to the Clippers unless it’s a top-four selection.