Pistons Mailbag - May 14, 2014

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Mailbag: SVG. The latest edition of Pistons Mailbag hits your doorstep on the day the Pistons made a little bit of news, hiring Stan Van Gundy as the team’s coach and president of basketball operations. On with Mailbag …

GM (@GPMasters): Is Stan Van Gundy a good fit?

Langlois: I’ll have a little more on that if and when this comes to pass, but the folks on the ground floor of the NBA – the lifers who see things during a game the casual fan would never notice – have long considered Van Gundy one of the shrewdest in the business. Those guys can spot a phony a mile away and they see in Van Gundy someone who lives, breathes and understands basketball from every angle. He’s a no-nonsense guy but one who comes with enough stature that he’ll have his locker room’s attention before he enters it. Players are amazingly perceptive and it quickly becomes apparent to them if a coach knows his stuff. I have zero reservations Van Gundy won’t win them over within the first 15 minutes with his basketball acumen. Then it becomes about convincing them he knows how to pull everybody’s best traits together into a team. His well-documented friction with Dwight Howard aside, there’s not much reason to doubt he won’t win that battle, too. As much as NBA players respect Howard’s talents, they also know of his enigmatic personality. Having coached Howard, I can’t think of a guy who’d come to the Pistons with a better idea of how to build a team around Andre Drummond, either. If there had been another candidate of similar stature who interested the Pistons on a similar scale – and for the record, that’s just a hypothetical – that would be a pretty clear tiebreaker for me. I wouldn’t underestimate the years Van Gundy spent figuring out how to win with an athletic, young, virtual 7-footer with a limited post game and what type of talent best complemented his skill set.

Ben (@brgulker): Why Otis Smith?

Langlois: Van Gundy is going to need to hire people he knows, trusts and respects to both sit on his bench and conduct all the day-to-day tasks required of basketball operations. That’s especially important given that he will be wearing two hats. Those are two big jobs and to the extent one man can function successfully in both, it’s only if he hires good people on both sides and has strong working relationships with both staffs. If he were to hire Otis Smith, his general manager in Orlando when Van Gundy coached there, as has been speculated, it will speak to the trust and respect he has for him. That doesn’t mean he agreed with every personnel move Smith made in Orlando. I think it’s safe to assume, given their time already spent together, they would enter into another relationship with a clear understanding of its dynamic. If Van Gundy comes to the Pistons as both coach and president of basketball operations and hires Smith to work for him … well, it’s going to be clear to Smith that he’s working for Van Gundy. That means he’ll spend his days doing all the leg work the job requires and report his findings to Van Gundy. If Van Gundy wants to explore various trade possibilities, he’ll charge Smith (or whomever he tabs as his No. 1 personnel executive) with laying the groundwork. The decision-making will be Van Gundy’s. Let’s not ignore that distinction. As it pertains to the draft, for instance, a general manager doesn’t – can’t, in fact – spend nearly as much time scouting college players as his staff does. Yet when it comes time to make the call on draft night, it’s the GM’s charge, based on assimilating all the information at his disposal from the staff he trusts. Whoever Van Gundy might tab as his GM will be many things, but in essence he will be something akin to a chief of staff, ultimately responsible for providing his boss with the most relevant information in the most concise and efficient manner possible to best inform the organization’s most critical decisions.

Steven (@steven_welling): If SVG brings in Otis Smith as GM, what impact will that have seeing SVG is really in control?

Langlois: Don’t get caught up in titles so much, Steven. Like all multimillion-dollar organizations, NBA franchises require many moving parts operating in harmony to function at a high level. Van Gundy is going to need a deep team of assistants. If “general manager” is the title of whomever he tabs as his No. 2 on the executive side, it means what I tried to convey in my answer to Ben above. Final decisions will belong to Stan Van Gundy. The No. 1 assistant – whoever it might be – will direct the rest of the staff, I assume, and be the sounding board at the end of the workday who takes direction from Van Gundy.

Chris (Clinton Twp., Mich.): I think Stan Van Gundy would get us to the playoffs, but I think Mark Jackson is a hand-and-glove fit for the Pistons. He represents everything the Pistons’ culture has been – a hard-nosed, defensive guy, not to mention he’s a players’ coach. What do you think? Did the Pistons try to get Mark or did they pass?

Langlois: The Pistons ran a very quiet search for their two prominent openings, chief basketball executive and coach. I think it’s logical to assume they kicked the tires internally on all of the obvious names, Jackson included. They employed Jed Hughes, widely respected and known, to help facilitate the process. Whether they reached out to Jackson or to any other particular candidate is not known. There were enough head-scratching situations that emerged in the aftermath of Jackson’s dismissal to make it less than a slam-dunk that he’ll be back as a head coach immediately. I know Van Gundy is held in extremely high regard within the coaching community and he’s 7-for-7 in winning seasons as an NBA head coach. How he’ll fare as an executive is less of a certainty, but I don’t think anyone has serious concerns about his ability to assess talent, a huge component of the job.

Joseph (@JosephJarbo): If we retain the eighth pick, would trading down with the Suns for two of their first-round picks be the better solution?

Langlois: That’s a great question, Joseph, but also one that’s way too speculative at this point in the process. It’s something the teams themselves wouldn’t decide on, in all likelihood, until they knew what was possible at the eighth pick. Phoenix has the 14th, 18th and 27th picks in the first round. The NFL famously has a value chart that tells teams how much every pick in each round is worth, so you have an idea, say, what it would require to move up from 14 to eight. The NBA doesn’t quite work that way. Here’s why: One player is infinitely more important to a basketball team than he is to a football team, with the exception of quarterback. There are only five on the court at any one time, for one thing, and they have to play both offense and defense. So it’s less about the slotting of draft picks than the player(s) available at the time it comes up. I don’t think there are eight franchise-changing players available this year – there never are – so if the Pistons stay at No. 8 I don’t see them landing a transformational talent. But their chance of someone of that ilk landing at No. 8 is much higher than it will be at 14. (Andre Drummond, for one glaring example, was taken No. 9.) If you go back and look at the No. 8 player’s value from past drafts vs. the combined contributions of the 14th and 18th players, my guess is most years you’d be better off staying put. The flip side is that Phoenix would need to really like one particular player to move up and feel strongly that it couldn’t sit at 14 and land him. Given that it’s unlikely both teams would see the value in making that trade, I’d bet trading down is unlikely – especially because the Pistons have a pretty high concentration of young players already. Do they really want to add two more lottery picks?

Joe (@RegulatorJoe): Do you foresee KCP becoming a significant part of the offense next year?

Langlois: The 31-point explosion in the regular-season finale at Oklahoma City – and I heard a good anecdote the other day about how impressed the Thunder stars were with him that night I’ll share at some point – was a wonderful way to carry him into his first off-season, one he fully understands is critical for his individual development. He’s got all the tools to be a really good player for a really long time. Like most young players, consistency is the key to reaching his ceiling. And scoring is only a small component of that. Can he be a consistently sound and disruptive defender? Can he consistently rebound for his position? Can he consistently provide an energy bump with his transition athleticism? Can he consistently make good decisions with regard to shot selection? No matter what his role next season – starting or coming off the bench – I doubt he’ll be a featured part of the offense, just as Kyle Singler hasn’t been. But that doesn’t mean he won’t have scoring chances and plenty of them. So, yeah, he could become a significant part of the offense next year, but only if he can consistently play well in all those other areas first. Those are the things that will keep him on the floor.

Kumayl (Detroit): Who is most likely to be out of a Pistons uniform next season, Smith or Jennings? And why?

Langlois: If it’s either/or, Smith is the safer guess. If the Pistons were to trade Jennings for anything other than a point guard, they’d be left with only Will Bynum and Peyton Siva, both undersized point guards for an organization that understands it would benefit from a little more size in the backcourt. (Drafting one at No. 8, Marcus Smart or Tyler Ennis the obvious candidates, is another possibility. But can a rookie point guard be counted on to lead a team that likely will set the playoffs as a goal?) Bynum is best suited to a backup role and Siva, assuming the new management team picks up the second year of his contract, probably isn’t going to be penciled in to be part of the rotation just yet, even though he had a promising final few weeks to his rookie season. Greg Monroe’s restricted free agency will be a factor in other personnel decisions the Pistons make this summer, but as I’ve maintained all along the likeliest outcome is that he’s back with the Pistons. And if that’s the case, then the Pistons might decide using Smith as a trade chip is the surest way to balance the roster with a talented player who offers a more compatible skill set. Smith’s contract – three years left at a reported $40 million, approximately – will somewhat limit the pool of trade partners, of course. But I don’t think it would scare off teams that have a need for what he offers, which is still considerable. Plug him in on a team that has a pecking order of scoring options ahead of him and ask him to focus only on his strengths and Smith remains a very unique and talented player. I had an interesting conversation with an Orlando insider who worked with Van Gundy there and he said that when the Magic and Hawks met during his tenure there – and they met in the playoffs in both 2010 and ’11 – that Van Gundy’s scouting report conveyed to his team devoted a lot of time and gave Smith plenty of respect. That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t trade him, of course, but it certainly indicates he values his talent. He might trade him, but it wouldn’t be a fire sale.

Pistons.com editor Keith Langlois answers your questions about the Pistons and NBA. Click here to submit your questions - please include your name, email address and city/state on the form. You can also submit Pistons Mailbag questions via Twitter. Include the hashtag #pistonsmailbag and, as always, your first name, hometown and state or country. Questions submitted via Twitter will also include the questioner’s Twitter handle. We reserve the right to edit your question for the sake of brevity or clarity. Return to the Mailbag homepage.

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.

You can also submit Pistons Mailbag questions via Twitter. Include the hashtag #pistonsmailbag and, as always, your first name, hometown and state or country. Questions submitted via Twitter will also include the questioner’s Twitter handle.

We reserve the right to edit your question for the sake of brevity or clarity.

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