Pistons Mailbag - September 3, 2014

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

It’s Rajon Rondo week at Pistons Mailbag, sparked by a “report” that he’s told the Celtics he wants out. Lots of other chatter, too, including Stan Van Gundy’s impact, the playoff picture in the East and playing time at the two backcourt spots. On with Mailbag...

Larry (St. Claire Shores, Mich.): If Rajon Rondo wants to be traded, should the Pistons go for him? If so, would it be a good trade to send Greg Monroe, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and D.J. Augustin for Rondo and Tyler Zeller?

Langlois: A whole bunch of Rajon Rondo questions this week, all presumably sparked by a remark made by Boston-based reporter Jackie MacMullan – amid the taping of an ESPN show but during a commercial break, no less – that Rondo had requested a trade, which Rondo’s camp denied. Let’s set that aside for the sake of argument. Rondo’s an elite point guard, if he’s indeed fully recovered from his early 2013 ACL tear. Would Van Gundy part with Monroe, Caldwell-Pope and Augustin (who can’t be traded until Dec. 15, given that he signed this off-season as a free agent)? That would be a lot to sacrifice, though it’s conceivable that the possibility of losing Monroe in return for cap space next summer would change his perspective. I know Caldwell-Pope greatly impressed him in Summer League and Van Gundy has said he’ll be the team’s best perimeter defender. If Rondo and Monroe are taken as known commodities, then the swing factor in deciding the merits of this trade come down to how high you believe Caldwell-Pope’s ceiling really is. I get the sense Van Gundy thinks it’s pretty high. Boston, for its part, hasn’t fully committed to a rebuilding mode and Danny Ainge has been vague about his intentions. If they put Rondo on the market, I’d have to think an offer of Monroe and Caldwell-Pope would prove a powerful attraction.

Buk (Bangkok, Thailand): Monroe and Jennings for Rondo. Who says no?

Langlois: As in all proposals that include Monroe, keep in mind that he’s still a restricted free agent. If he were to sign the one-year qualifying offer, then the equation changes and he couldn’t be traded without his consent. (And since consenting to a trade would mean his new team would not have his Bird rights and, thus, would not be able to offer a five-year contract, Monroe’s motivation – if his expectation is getting a five-year maximum deal out of his free agency – would be suppressed, it figures.) If Boston makes a satisfactory contract offer to Monroe before the Oct. 1 deadline for him to sign his qualifying offer and the Celtics and Pistons strike a satisfactory trade agreement, then a deal is still possible. As for who says no … Boston drafted Marcus Smart and likes Phil Pressey, by all accounts, and Avery Bradley can also play point guard and might wind up doing so if James Young wins minutes at shooting guard to go with Marcus Thornton. Even if Danny Ainge really likes Brandon Jennings, I’m not sure he’d want to take on that much more in salary at that position when he would seem to have enough there now.

Philip (@philtheburns): What are the odds we can get Rajon Rondo to shore up our point guard position? Will Josh Smith still be on the team?

Langlois: One more Rondo question for the road, Philip. As when any All-Stars is involved, the odds of any random team being able to obtain him are long, indeed. The reality of Greg Monroe’s somewhat unusual circumstances might put the Pistons on a list of seemingly logical trade partners, but that only goes as far as the mutual interest Boston and Monroe might have in each other and then the compatibility of the rosters for trade purposes. What made me select your inquiry off of the Rondo docket of questions was your use of the “shore up our point guard position” phrase. Van Gundy added two players, drafting Spencer Dinwiddie and signing D.J. Augustin, to holdovers Brandon Jennings and Will Bynum. He’s high on Dinwiddie’s future and loves the size and defensive versatility he could bring to the backcourt. That doesn’t mean he would wave off the chance to obtain an impact player like Rondo (or like the Rondo we remember, at least), but it’s worth keeping in mind. Van Gundy might be satisfied enough with his point guard corps to save a major move for another position. As for Smith, read on …

Chris (@KahlMeMaybee): What have you heard about the proposed Josh Smith to Charlotte trade?

Langlois: Not a darn thing until I saw your question, Chris. I did a Google search and found a string of bloggers who appeared to be reacting to each other’s analysis of a possible trade of Smith based on...well, nothing of substance I could see. Remember, where there’s smoke, there’s often a smoke bomb. Van Gundy has spoken highly of Smith since signing on and, as I wrote earlier this week, Smith says the two are on the same page with training camp looming.

Ethan (Radford, Va.): A lot of sources still have us finishing outside the top eight in the East for this coming season. We’ve had a lot of changes but we’re still expected to finish toward the bottom? Why? What areas on both sides of the ball do we need to address and what players should we get to fill those voids?

Langlois: At this time a year ago, who had Toronto as the No. 3 seed in the East or Portland as the No. 5 seed in the West? Reading preseason prognostications of “experts” or “sources,” as you phrased it, might be fun but unless there’s someone who has proven unbelievably accurate over many years I wouldn’t put much stock into it. The Pistons added six new players and, by and large, they bring just what Stan Van Gundy said he was looking to add before the draft and free agency: high-character, highly competitive players who add perimeter shooting and a dose of basketball IQ. It’s no secret the Pistons needed to add shooting on offense; on defense, it will simply be a matter of fostering the team chemistry that proved elusive last season and then absorbing Van Gundy’s system. I would expect this team to be competitive on a more consistent basis right out of the gate and then to show steady, month-over-month improvement as the season unfolds, which is the track record for Van Gundy-coached teams.

Vincent (@Go_Blue33): What is the most important thing Stan Van Gundy will bring to the Pistons?

Langlois: Van Gundy might tell you it’s a coherence of philosophy between the front office and the coaching staff, which is the natural byproduct of consolidating authority for both branches in one man’s hands. He’s known as a strong leader, a coach who believes in his system and is able to convey its principles clearly to his players. I can’t tell you how critical that is – the ability to consistently deliver easily understood messages to a locker room filled with different personalities. More than anything, I think that’s where his impact will be felt: leadership, the ability to get others to follow.

A.J. (Blackwood, N.J.): Play hard for 48 minutes, get better off the court together for chemistry. Go Pistons!

Langlois: If that’s a question, my answer is “yes.”

Isaac (Flint, Mich.): It seems to me that with the glut of point guards we now have – Jennings, Bynum, Augustin and Dinwiddie – that Will Bynum is the odd man out. Augustin is a starting-caliber point guard, Jennings is the starting point guard until he is overthrown and you have reported that Stan Van Gundy is very high on Dinwiddie. I don’t understand the moves on this front. Will has been nothing but solid for his team and this is the thanks he gets because it’s a new coach in town? He probably could have gone elsewhere and gotten a bigger contract than he got here but he stayed because he likes Detroit. I know it’s a business, but that’s just wrong. Your thoughts?

Langlois: Will Bynum went undrafted out of Georgia Tech and played in the D-League and overseas before landing in the NBA. I have no idea how the depth chart will look when preseason ends, but I’ll guarantee you that Bynum isn’t coming to camp expecting anything other than to compete for minutes and win a spot in Van Gundy’s rotation. The reality is that Van Gundy drafted Dinwiddie and signed Augustin in free agency, so he has exhibited an appreciation for those players’ skills that he hasn’t yet had a chance to express for Bynum – or Jennings, for the matter. Dinwiddie, coming off ACL surgery, doesn’t figure to be in the mix initially – Van Gundy has said he will go into the season without expectations for Dinwiddie, though he has also said he will let the rehabilitation process dictate his readiness – but the three veterans all will get their chances in camp scrimmages and preseason games. Augustin’s edge on Bynum is 3-point shooting; he took 5.3 triples a game last season and made 41 percent. Bynum can be a force in penetration and has a proven rapport on pick-and-roll sets with Andre Drummond. There will be great competition at all three perimeter spots in camp. When you write that you know “it’s a business,” Bynum understands that perfectly. He’d understand it even if it wasn’t a new administration that brought in Augustin, not the one that signed him to a two-year deal in 2013.

Luke (@lukelaster): Who’s looking to claim the starting two spot, Jodie Meeks or KCP?

Langlois: I think both shooting guard and small forward are a coin flip going into training camp, Luke. Stan Van Gundy has said he’s going in with an open mind as to lineups and rotation combinations. He’s also said you don’t necessarily start your five best players. I think if one of Meeks or Caldwell-Pope clearly outplays the other throughout camp and preseason games, that player starts. But if it’s not a knockout – and I don’t expect it will be – then it’s entirely conceivable Van Gundy will choose the starter based on fit with the other four starters. The argument for Meeks is the shooting he would bring to a starting unit that sorely lacked it a year ago. The argument for Caldwell-Pope is the perimeter defense he would add, keeping in mind that Van Gundy watched him in Summer League and already has proclaimed him the team’s best perimeter defender, and that defending starting shooting guards is a taller order than matching up with the backup in most cases. Tough call.

Hevvy (Harper Woods, Mich.): Are Jonas Jerebko and Gigi Datome playing in the World Cup for their countries this summer?

Langlois: Neither Italy nor Sweden qualified for the FIBA World Cup, Hevvy. Both national teams were involved in qualifying for EuroBasket 2015, though. Datome led Italy to a berth in next summer’s tournament, averaging 16.3 points a game as the national team finished with a 3-1 record to finish with seven points, one point ahead of Russia, to win Group G. Jerebko did not play for Sweden this summer and the Swedes finished third – one spot out of the running – in Group F out of four teams, finishing ahead of Slovakia. Sweden was not only missing Jerebko but its other NBA player, Jeffrey Taylor of Charlotte, who tore his Achilles tendon – just as Jerebko did four years ago in the first preseason game – in a game at The Palace last season.

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