Pistons Mailbag - May 7, 2014

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

The path to the playoffs in 2015, speculation about free agents Rodney Stuckey and Greg Monroe and the sudden availability of Mark Jackson as a coaching candidate dot the menu for this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Jay (Detroit): Seeing quick turnarounds from other teams like the Raptors, Wizards and Suns, why do you think the Pistons continue to have trouble clicking while other teams tend to rally for new head coaches? What do you see in those teams that you didn’t see in the Pistons? And how can the Pistons quickly turn it around to become that playoff team the city is used to seeing?

Langlois: Let’s parse your own questions, Jay. I think there are plenty of long-suffering fans for the teams you mentioned who would argue their turnarounds were anything but “quick.” They had (somewhat) surprising success in 2013-14, though I really wasn’t much surprised that Washington made the playoffs, and especially after adding a quality big man like Marcin Gortat on the eve of the season. But those teams have had their struggles in recent years, too. The Raptors ended a six-year playoff drought this spring and they’ve won exactly one playoff series in their 19-year history – and that came 13 years ago. Since 1982, the Wizards until beating Chicago this season won exactly one playoff series – nine years ago. The Pistons have won three NBA championships in that time and went to six straight conference finals from 2003-08. You’re right – the city is “used to” seeing the Pistons in the playoffs. What I saw from the teams you cited this season was great chemistry. They got the most out of their talent. Certainly, coaching goes into that, but it’s not just about coaching. The Pistons have a solid base of talent now – certainly a much more talented roster, and young talent, than they had two, three or four years ago – and that will bode well as they go about the critical tasks of filling vacancies in management and coaching. When you ask how the Pistons can turn it around, it has to start there. If they get their critical hires right, there’s no reason they can’t execute the type of turnaround that Toronto, Washington and Phoenix managed over the next 12 months. When you start with Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe (either returning or yielding a sign-and-trade return of presumably equal value), Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings, Kyle Singler and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, that’s a pretty good bunch with a little bit of (almost) everything. As last year indicated, they need to sprinkle in a few reliable shooters to balance the roster. Add in around $10 million in cap space and – if the odds hold during the May 20 lottery – a top-10 draft pick and I’ll take my chances that the Pistons will be at the front of the line for teams looking to move from lottery to playoffs in 2015. We’ll have more on that over the next few days on True Blue Pistons, Jay.

Tony (@Tmerlo19): Where do you think Stuckey will end up? What kind of money does he think he’s worth?

Langlois: That will be a fascinating free agency to follow, Tony. The way free agency usually works is the teams with the most money go after the elite free agents at the stroke of midnight on July 1. But one of the byproducts of the 2011 collective bargaining agreement is that teams are handing out shorter term contracts, which means (a) more players are hitting free agency as the two- and three-year deals of the recent past, since the lockout ended, are expiring and (b) teams are hitting their cycles of having money to spend in free agency more frequently. The Pistons project to have about $10 million in cap space this summer and, not so long ago, that would have put them probably in the upper 25 percent among the NBA’s 30 teams. This summer, it probably will put them in the middle of the pack. So it could be that a team with about $10 million, give or take a few million either way, in cap space this summer will target players of Stuckey’s ilk – less than elite players but solid additions to anyone’s rotation – right out of the gate while teams with major money to spend woo the All-Stars. I expect there to be a fairly robust market for Stuckey. There simply aren’t a lot of players who do what he does as well as he does – take the ball strong to the basket – when he’s feeling comfortable. My bet is a team that feels it has a solid infrastructure and a clear vision of how to use Stuckey will find him a very attractive player. Will the Pistons be in play for him? Impossible to predict without knowing who’ll be making that decision. As for what he’ll command, he’s coming off a three-year deal that paid him about $8 million annually. He’ll likely stir up a similar deal, though keep in mind: Offers aren’t made by league consensus opinion of a player’s value, but by what any particular team feels that player is worth. Every summer, there are examples at either end that are surprising – a player who gets way more than expected and some who wind up signing for considerably less than anticipated after the merry-go-round stops and teams are largely spent out.

Something Else (@PPno9): Should the Pistons consider trading down in the draft to get rid of one of their terrible contracts – you know who?

Langlois: Going to guess you’re referring to Josh Smith, Something. I know the Pistons collectively underperformed last season and Smith, as their highest-paid player, likely must shoulder a disproportionate share of the blame for their 29-win season. But Smith, in a vacuum, was not an ineffective player for the Pistons. He averaged 17 points and seven rebounds and continued to put up numbers in assists, blocked shots and steals. The glaring numbers were his 3-point attempts (3.5 per game, career high) and percentage (.264, career low). In his defense, playing small forward in a lineup that included non-perimeter threats Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe virtually demanded that Smith shoot more perimeter shots. That’s what defenses gave up while pinching off his driving lanes and clogging the paint. I don’t know that the Pistons would get dollar-for-dollar value for Smith in trade, but his contract was seen as fair-market value when it was agreed to last summer and, at 28, he’s still in his prime. Trading down in the draft isn’t a very likely way for the Pistons to reshape their roster, but it’s worthwhile to keep in mind that until the May 20 lottery the Pistons won’t know if they’ll retain their No. 1 pick

Buk (Bangkok, Thailand): If Tim Duncan retires (as has been rumored), do you think there is any chance San Antonio could be a trade partner with Detroit? I was thinking a sign-and-trade of Monroe for Kawhi Leonard.

Langlois: Duncan has a player option for next season, Buk. Sure, he could walk away. And there’s a decent chance even he’s not 100 percent certain what he might do, especially if the Spurs win it all this year. It might be a good time to walk if that happens. Nobody knows what San Antonio’s strategy will be when Duncan moves on. Would Monroe appeal to the Spurs? I suspect he would. He’s a highly intelligent player with a well-rounded offensive game that still has room for growth; given his demeanor, there’s a strong feeling around the NBA, based on a number of scouts I’ve talked to, that his game will continue to evolve for the foreseeable future. The Spurs tend to value players with those traits. Monroe’s fate, as I’ve written, will be the first critical decision of the new chief basketball executive the Pistons hire, assuming that hire is made in time to influence free agency on July 1.

Dave (@DaveyWonder23): Since the Warriors let go of Mark Jackson, do you think we’ll go after him? It sounds like he’ll provide the chemistry we need.

Langlois: Platinum Equity partner Mark Barnhill, speaking to Matt Dery on the new Pistons flagship station 105.1 FM WMGC earlier this week, said there was no benefit for anyone in the organization to speculate about specific names, Dave. By word and deed, it’s clear the Pistons want to conduct their searches for a new chief basketball executive and new head coach with utmost discretion. The Jackson story is a curious one, made more strange by the late-season demotion/dismissal of two assistant coaches due to vague reasons. Jackson will generate interest, for sure; he had three really good seasons in Golden State and coached the Warriors through some tough injury situations. But there will be tough questions put to him – and about him through back-channel sources – with regard to the reasons Warriors management couldn’t make it work with him despite that success.

RichTrynaBounceBack (@Talk_Is_Cheap): What’s the best option for Greg Monroe – match the offer, sign and trade or let walk?

Langlois: No guarantee he gets an offer, Rich. While that sounds counterintuitive for a gifted and proven 23-year-old with a spotless off-the-court record, it also would accurately reflect the perception of other teams that the Pistons are not going to let Monroe get away for nothing. Extending an offer sheet to Monroe as a restricted free agent carries some degree of risk for would-be suitors. It ties up their cap space for three days – the amount of time the Pistons would have to match the offer. During those three days, other more realistically attainable players – unrestricted free agents, foremost – could be flying off the shelves. Again, assessing what the Pistons might do when they don’t have a chief basketball executive in place is pure speculation. But I think the NBA at large would be fairly stunned if the Pistons let Monroe walk for nothing. Sign and trade is certainly an option, though I think a historical review of such deals would suggest the team taking players back doesn’t usually get a dollar-for-dollar return. (One of the greatest countering examples: The Pistons getting unheralded Ben Wallace, plus the very useful Chucky Atkins, from Orlando in return for Grant Hill.) A team that signs Monroe isn’t very likely to be of a mind-set to deal away similarly talented young players – what the Pistons would likely prefer in return.

Eddie (@beesinyoface): Who do you think the Pistons should take that would help them perform well next season?

Langlois: If they stay at No. 8 in the lottery – and, remember, because of the conditions of their 2012 trade with Charlotte the Pistons can only pick 1, 2, 3 or 8 in this draft; if they get bumped to 9 or lower, they must cede the pick to the Bobcats – the Pistons will be looking at a fairly extensive list of players, I would guess. I’ll learn more next week at the Chicago draft combine, but my hunch as of now is that there are three players certain to be off the board by the No. 8 pick: Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. I would further guess that two more, Dante Exum and Julius Randle, are unlikely to be available, though Exum is really a mystery man and it wouldn’t shock me if he doesn’t agree to work out for teams – and that’s the suspicion, at this point – that no GM picking ahead of the Pistons would feel strong enough about his resume to spend a high lottery pick on Exum. That leaves a group that includes freshman power forwards Aaron Gordon and Noah Vonleh; point guards Marcus Smart and Tyler Ennis; shooting guards with local ties James Young, Gary Harris and Nik Stauskas; senior shooter Doug McDermott and, perhaps, an international player or two. In addition, it’s fair to guess that one or two players we’re not talking about right now is going to start altering his perception at next week’s draft combine and carry that momentum through the draft process. (Last year at this time, we weren’t considering Kentavious Caldwel-Pope a candidate for the No. 8 pick but by draft night he was squarely in the mix.) If you’re asking which of those players will help next season, as you specified, I think Smart and McDermott are most prepared to step into an NBA rotation.

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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