Pistons Mailbag - Monday, April 23, 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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David (Troy, Mich.): The Pistons just don’t get it. I don’t want to hear that “they are competitors.” When you are out of the playoff race, play your rookies and lose games. Joe D will end up picking in the 8-10 range like he does every year and pick a middle-of-the-pack player, keep bringing the band back together and we’ll be talking about this again next season. It’s clear he doesn’t have a plan for this team.

Langlois: Like he does every year? Did you forget the seven straight 50-win seasons and six straight trips to the conference finals? When that streak was snapped two years ago, only two teams – San Antonio and Dallas – had playoff streaks as long as the Pistons did and both, obviously, had the benefit of a no-brainer Hall of Famer at the core of their teams. In their two trips to the lottery, the Pistons, I would argue, have done significantly better than “middle of the pack” players in getting Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight. If they can get another one at that level out of this draft – and, though there are no guarantees, it’s regarded as a strong draft and picking in the top 10 should get them a player of similar impact – they’ll be well on their way to another extended playoff run. That’s the plan – add another really good young player to a core that includes Monroe, 21, Knight, 20, and Rodney Stuckey, who just turned 26 last week. I get that fans accustomed to the Pistons playing deep into the spring are disappointed at not making the playoffs, but anybody who paid attention to them this year can see the promise that took form under Lawrence Frank. Success in the NBA is cyclical. The Pistons are not far removed from a great run. When those run their course, it takes time to build it back up. In some cases, it takes a generation. But Joe D nailed it with his lottery picks the last two years and that’s the surest way to lessen the term of transition. He’s 2 for 2. If he goes 3 for 3, the playoffs will be very much in play next season. As for your suggestion they should lose games, I’m not a fan. When do you start tanking? Should they have started that two weeks ago when they were officially eliminated from the playoffs? Doing so might have increased their chances at getting the No. 1 pick from the 2 percent to the 4 percent range. Many scouts believe that in his draft, if you’re not drafting No. 1 – Anthony Davis – you’re better off picking lower in the lottery than up high. There’s a decent chance you’ll get the same type of player at far less of a cap commitment. Then there’s the larger issue: the value of winning. Winning the type of game they won Sunday night – beating Toronto when they scrapped to score 29 first-half points – are the humble stepping stones that turn lottery teams into playoff teams and playoff teams into title contenders.


Johnny (@johnmstanley): If the Pistons can’t unload both Charlie V and Ben Gordon, which player do you think Joe D is more likely to amnesty?

Langlois: I don’t think that’s a decision the front office has come to yet, Johnny, and my best guess is that they will not be exercising the amnesty clause. The Pistons aren’t flirting with the luxury tax and both players have just two years remaining on their contracts. Though it’s true that neither has fulfilled expectations during their first three years, Gordon clearly has a role and Villanueva likely would have had a similar one if not for the ankle injury that kept him out for a half-season; when he was ready to return, the Pistons had turned a corner and Lawrence Frank was reluctant to mess with the rotation. If Villanueva maintains the level of conditioning he achieved while rehabbing into next season, I fully expect he’ll have a role. If those two are reasonably productive next season, they will repair at least some of their trade value and – with their contracts that much closer to expiration – they would become appealing to a broader range of trade partners. Now, if the Pistons were convinced there was a great free agent sitting out there who was inclined to play for them, and using the amnesty clause would be a way to make it work, then the front office would of course consider that avenue. It seems unlikely to happen this summer, though.


John (Hexham, England): Do you think if the Pistons draft as well in 2012 as they have the past two years in picking up Monroe and Knight, and also having Stuckey and Jerebko as young core players, this might have a strong influence on persuading Singler to return from Europe? Does having the potential to reach the playoffs and compete for an NBA championship help offset the money he might give up by coming to the NBA?

Langlois: Only Singler can really answer that question, John, but my guess would be that the only way the draft might weigh on Singler’s decision would be if the Pistons wind up drafting a small forward. Say, for example, that Harrison Barnes would fall to them and the Pistons – perhaps then in a similar spot as a year ago, when they were expecting to draft a big man but couldn’t pass on the value Brandon Knight represented at No. 8 – decided he was the best pure basketball player on the board. Then he might have some second thoughts about coming to a team with an entrenched veteran, Tayshaun Prince, plus a lottery pick waiting in the wings – with Austin Daye still in the picture, as well. By and large, I think the biggest factors influencing Singler’s decision will be his desire to play in the NBA and the amount of money he might have to leave on the table in Europe by doing so.


Erges (Tirana, Albania): Another Jared Sullinger question. His body and rebounding remind me of Kevin Love. What I don’t remember is whether Love faced the same questions about his lack of athleticism and getting his shot off. Do you think the analysts are making a mistake with Sullinger. After all, Greg Monroe had difficulty getting his shots off in the first few months of his rookie season, too.

Langlois: I had a personnel executive scoff at the notion last week that scouts are holding up Love as an example of why Sullinger would succeed. He didn’t think the comparison held much credence, though there were significant questions about Love’s below-the-rim qualities when he was coming out of UCLA. But scouts thought Love just needed to shed baby fat and get in shape, which he’s done. Sullinger lost a ton of weight between his freshman and sophomore seasons but it didn’t seem to make much difference for him. Their basic stats from college are strikingly similar – Love averaged 17.5 points and 10.6 rebounds as a UCLA freshman, Sullinger 17.2 and 10.2 as an Ohio State sophomore – but scouts have serious questions about Sullinger’s ability to move his feet defensively, especially on the pick and roll. Another personnel executive told me that he thinks predraft workouts for Sullinger will be more critical than usual for a lottery pick. Teams will want to match him up against athletic big men in workouts to see how he responds, he said.


Paul (Essexville, Mich.): With so many lottery teams either tied or within a game of each other, if more than two teams finish with the same record how is draft order determined? I know if two teams are tied they flip a coin, but what about when multiple teams are tied.

Langlois: Tim Frank of the NBA told me that it’s the same procedure regardless of the number of teams that own the same record – a drawing will be held within a day or two after the regular season ends. In cases where the teams are dividing up a sum of combinations not divisible by three, the drawing will determine who gets the extra picks. For instance, if the sixth, seventh and eighth spots need to be determined by tiebreaker, those three teams would have a total of 134 lottery combinations – or a combined 13.4 percent shot at the No. 1 pick. But two teams would get 45 four-digit combinations and one would get 44. That’s what the drawing prior to the lottery would determine, as well as the order those teams would draft should they not draw a top-three pick.


Stephen (Den Haag, Netherlands): What happened in the Atlanta and Cleveland games? I wasn’t able to watch, but the box scores looked absolutely horrible. We were really seeing improvement and it was fun to watch and read about the team the past few months. Are we tanking?

Langlois: If the Pistons were tanking, they started a few weeks too late, Stephen. No, they weren’t tanking. Joe Dumars has been perfectly clear on this going back to 2009-10 when the Pistons’ playoff streak was snapped. He simply can’t fathom the thinking behind tanking and if he did, he’s got the wrong coach in Lawrence Frank, whose face twists in disbelief when the subject is broached. What happened in the Atlanta and Cleveland games was a team running on empty. Those were the final two games in a stretch that saw the Pistons play six games in eight nights. They were gassed, pure and simple.


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