Pistons Mailbag - Monday, March 12, 2012

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. Return to the Mailbag homepage.

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Nikola (Belgrade, Serbia): What team do you think has the best chance to go to the playoffs in the East’s No. 8 position? I think the Pistons have a very tough schedule, but if they can win six of the nine road games coming up we are headed for a run.

Langlois: New York, Milwaukee, Cleveland and New Jersey – perhaps even Toronto – all will have a say, Nikola. Of that group, only Cleveland has as many road games remaining (15) as the Pistons. New Jersey has only nine, Milwaukee 11 and the Knicks 13. The Pistons, thanks in part to a home-heavy schedule, have won six of their last 10 games. But New Jersey is 5-5 and Milwaukee and Cleveland 4-6 and the Cavs racked up eye-opening road wins at Denver and Oklahoma City last week. So the odds are stacked against the Pistons. But all they can do, as Lawrence Frank reminds us daily, is to focus on the next game and go from there.

George (Riverside, Calif.): Huge fan and longtime Mailbag reader and I’m wondering now that the Pistons are playing well and with Charlie V back from his injury, could a playoff spot be within their grasp? Given that they’ve played the supposed “top tier” teams to the wire in most cases, could a first-round upset be possible?

Langlois: Lots of playoff chatter all of a sudden. The Pistons are three games out of the last playoff spot in the East going into tonight’s game at Utah, George. And that doesn’t sound like a lot, but with 25 games to play and four or five other teams in roughly the same or slightly better shape, a lot would have to go right. Also, don’t forget, the Pistons play 13 of their next 17 games on the road and they’re 3-15 in road games this season. With the Knicks, currently sitting in the No. 8 spot, struggling again, it’s possible that the last Eastern Conference berth will go to a team with somewhere around 30 to 32 wins. But even to get to 30 wins would mean the Pistons would have to go 15-10 in their final 25 games. That’s a tall order when 15 of those games will come away from The Palace.

Jeremy (Kewadin, Mich.): The trade deadline is fast approaching. What sort of trade value do you think Ben Gordon has?

Langlois: It will be interesting to see what happens in free agency this off-season, Jeremy, to gauge the effects on salaries that the recent collective bargaining agreement will have. There’s the sense, at least, that there won’t be as many multiyear deals given out at salaries significantly above the mid-level exception. What does that have to do with Ben Gordon, you’re wondering? Well, Gordon’s contract is a sizable one and for a variety of reasons he hasn’t produced at a level commensurate with his salary. So no matter what type of player you’re talking about, if his production is less than his salary his trade value suffers accordingly. If a player was making half of what Gordon earns but was having trouble cracking his team’s rotation, it would be a similar story. On the other hand, if Gordon were scoring 18 to 20 points a game and shooting a consistent 40 percent from the 3-point arc – the numbers he hit routinely during his five seasons in Chicago – he would have significant trade value right now. As it is, if the Pistons trade him, they’re probably going to be taking back a similar contract with more than a year remaining.

Larry (Gray Court, S. Car.): Thanks for your insights – I can’t wait to read Pistons Mailbag each week. I’m interested in your thoughts on Arnett Moultrie. He seems to have all the tools needed to pair with Monroe. If they fall as far as No. 8, is there any chance the Pistons reach for him or are there still others available to fill the need?

Langlois: I’ve seen him a couple of times this season, Larry, and in one game he lost his temper and picked up a silly technical foul at a critical point. But he’s long and active, if not particularly polished offensively, and if he enters the draft – as a junior who sat out a season due to his transfer from UTEP to Mississippi State, he’s expected to be in the 2012 draft – he’ll be a first-rounder, most likely, perhaps even a late lottery pick. Could he push up even higher than that and get into the top 10? It would take some eye-opening individual workouts and a big draft combine performance, I would have to think, but it’s not out of the question.

Osai (Grand Rapids, Mich.): I hear rumors the Pistons are trying to get an extra late first-round pick. If so, C.J. Leslie from North Carolina State would be my pick. I think he has all the tools to be a star small forward. What do you think?

Langlois: I don’t think you’d find any unanimity among NBA scouts about where Leslie best projects, Osai. He’s sort of a tweener, a terrific athlete who doesn’t have the polish to play the perimeter consistently or the strength or low-post game to play with his back to the basket and be effective in the NBA right now. Not sure his frame will ever allow him to be a prototypical power forward, but in today’s NBA I think that’s where he’ll land. All of that said, he’s made some strides as a sophomore after a somewhat disappointing freshman season and is playing his best basketball heading into the NCAA tournament. I don’t know that he’ll enter the draft because, as it stands now, he might not be a lock to crack the first round. And with the very limited window that college players now have after the Final Four to decide whether to stay in the draft or not – it’s an NCAA rule, not an NBA deadline – Leslie might not have much of an opportunity to determine his draft status.

Mack (Shelby Twp., Mich.): With the trade deadline approaching and rumors of Josh Smith wanting to be traded, what do you think the chances are of the Pistons landing Smith and what will they have to give up? I was thinking something like Charlie V, Austin Daye and a 2012 No. 1 pick for Smith and Atlanta’s No. 1 pick.

Langlois: If Villanueva and Daye were playing and producing at the levels the Pistons had hoped of them, that would be a credible offer – depending on where the Pistons wind up picking. Which is why the deal has no realistic chance of being consummated by the trade deadline. I think Atlanta would have interest if the Hawks thought it would be a likely top-five pick; the Pistons would want some protection on the pick, at least, even if they were interested in Smith. The way the Pistons are playing now, though, it doesn’t look likely they would have a top-five pick unless they would pull a top-three pick during the May 30 lottery drawing, should they be a part of it. On paper, yeah, Smith is a nice fit with Greg Monroe for his athleticism. Smith also has a trade kicker, though its impact is diminished from what it would have been earlier in the term of the contract; still, it could be a complicating factor.

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