Pistons Mailbag - Thursday, September 27, 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.

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

Matt (Onekama, Mich.): I was wondering with the additions of Terrence Williams and Jonny Flynn to the training camp roster and the roster already full with 15 players under contract, if either Williams or Flynn impressed what would have to be done to make room for them? Would someone have to be traded or could they just be cut?

Langlois: Lots of questions on this issue, Matt, and we’ll start with yours. Let’s clear one thing up right off the bat: Williams and Flynn have signed nothing yet and it’s not in their interests to do so until the last moment since the Pistons are only inviting them to camp with no money guaranteed. It’s always possible, if improbable, that another team with current roster openings would offer them a partially or even a fully guaranteed one-year contract, in which case they would be likely to take the offer. As for their possibilities with the Pistons, no one would have to be traded, necessarily, but it isn’t very often that teams cut players with guaranteed money to make room for players with non-guaranteed contracts. If it were to happen, it would be more likely that the player(s) cut would be those on minimum deals. But the Pistons really don’t have any such players other than second-round rookies Kim English and Khris Middleton, and they’re high on the futures of both players, obviously, or they wouldn’t have drafted them in June and subsequently signed them to guaranteed deals. So if we were just looking at years of service and salary commitments and didn’t know the roster or the names of the players, you would say as a general statement that a player on a non-guaranteed deal would have to significantly outplay a player with guaranteed money for a coach and a general manager to go to ownership and suggest they swallow a chunk of money – money that not only must be paid, but also counts against the salary cap and luxury tax threshold – so they can turn around and spend another chunk of money to fill the same roster spot. The coach and GM would have to be extremely confident that not only were they right about the worth of one player vs. the other, but also that the player they’re making room for is going to play. In other words, they’re not going to cut guaranteed money to clear space for a guy who figures to be their 12th or 13th man and outside the rotation. So if either Williams or Flynn makes the team, it’s far more likely to happen due to a trade that clears a roster spot, in my view.


Matt (Marion, N.Y.): A two-part question on the signing of Terrence Williams – what can he bring to the Pistons and whose job could he take?

Langlois: Lawrence Frank was in New Jersey and a part of the predraft process in 2009 when the Nets took Williams, Matt. He worked with him throughout that summer, training camp and the first 16 games of the season before being fired by the Nets, so he knows Williams pretty well. Williams brings great size, plus athleticism and terrific vision to the backcourt. He was considered more of a shooting guard/swingman coming out of Louisville, but Frank felt his vision made him more naturally a facilitator/point guard. The Pistons could use a third point guard with the type of size Williams offers behind Brandon Knight and Will Bynum. As for whose job he could take, that gets tricky when you factor in the cap implications. But the Pistons have seven players on the depth chart at either small forward or power forward. That would be the logical place to look, but there is no single logical candidate.


Rickey (Toledo, Ohio): With the recent signing of Terrence Williams and such an overload at small forward, could the Pistons be looking to run more of a spaced offense with just one big man in the middle?

Langlois: Good question, but I don’t think it will be possible to answer it until we know what the rotation looks like. Lawrence Frank is eminently flexible. (And, again, Williams hasn’t signed anything, only tentatively agreed to accept an invitation to come to camp with the Pistons.) He’ll design an offense that plays to the strengths of the combinations he puts out. Which sets are selected and plays run out of the breadth of his playbook can vary from night to night based on matchups and playing combinations he selects. I don’t think it happens very often that every player coming to camp has a shot to be in the rotation on opening night, but that – remarkably enough – appears to legitimately be the case with the Pistons as they head to training camp. If Andre Drummond or Slava Kravtsov are good enough to force their way into the rotation and if that in turn means minutes at power forward for Greg Monroe, then adopting a one-in, four-out offense is pretty unlikely. But Monroe is certainly comfortable operating from elbow to elbow or at the top of the key. The roster this year at least appears to give Frank great flexibility to go really big or go small with one of his power forwards matching up with some of the league’s other perimeter-oriented centers.


Adam (Seattle): I asked about the idea of trading for Terrence Williams in the Feb. 2 Mailbag. Has Terrence always been on Joe’s radar?

Langlois: I can’t speak to their level of enthusiasm for Williams going into the 2009 draft, Adam, but I do know they were not at all surprised when Williams went to New Jersey with the 11th pick, four spots ahead of Detroit’s call for Austin Daye. I know they thought he was supremely talented and an intriguing prospect, and I would guess they didn’t disagree with the widely held consensus: that Williams’ quirky character would make him an iffy fit in some NBA locker rooms. It’s fair to extrapolate that after three years and as many stops in the NBA, now agreeing to come to camp on a make-good basis after being a lottery pick, that those questions remain attached to Williams. But he sought out Frank, based on their brief time together in New Jersey, on his belief he would get a fair shot in Detroit.


Steve (Livonia, Mich.): I think the Pistons should find a way to keep both Williams and Flynn this year. We should move Bynum for a future draft pick and send Middleton to Europe for a year to make room. I think Flynn can provide the same as Bynum at backup point guard but is younger, cheaper and with more room for improvement. Williams should be able to make more of an impact than Middleton this year, too.

Langlois: There is no possibility of sending Middleton to Europe this year, Steve. He’s signed to a Pistons contract. The only way he could get to Europe is for the Pistons to cut him and pay off his contract. Teams can draft players and then retain their rights if they sign contracts to play in Europe, but once they sign an NBA contract that option ends. The Pistons made it clear on draft night they intended to keep Middleton here this season. Because Bynum has had trouble staying healthy the past few seasons, it’s questionable whether another team would surrender a draft pick for him at this point when they could have signed free agent point guards – Flynn, for example, who could still be signed by a team willing to guarantee him some money – to fill a backup role at any time without surrendering an asset. Maybe if a few point guards are lost to injury during the preseason, the market will change. That doesn’t mean the Pistons would eagerly shop Bynum, either, only that a lot of pretty good players are still looking for deals and teams looking to add players have that leverage in dealing with other teams for players they might be looking to move.


Randy (Waukesha, Wis.): I see that Jonny Flynn has been invited to Pistons training camp. Why did he not have a contract with somebody? Is he a threat to make the roster?

Langlois: After a pretty decent rookie season, Flynn had to undergo a hip operation in July 2010 that appears to have really set him back. He finished last season with Portland after Houston included him in the trade to get Marcus Camby. Because his fourth-year option had not been tendered, he became a free agent at season’s end. Flynn gets high marks for character and he was a dynamic player in his two years at Syracuse. He’s only 23. Tough to believe Flynn won’t land somewhere. I’m not sure the fit is here as long as Will Bynum is on the roster. It would surprise me if the Pistons kept two smaller point guards behind Brandon Knight. But the Pistons didn’t invite Flynn to camp just to have another body around, either. He’ll get a shot to show why he should stick.


Jan (North Branch, Mich.): Are the Pistons having an open practice for fans this year?

Langlois: Yes. It’s set for a week from Saturday, Jan, on Oct. 6 at Oakland University. You can find the details here on the Pistons’ official Facebook page. OU has proven a great setting for the open practice in the past, but make sure you arrive a little early as space is obviously not as abundant as at The Palace.


Doug (Dallas): I’m going crazy waiting for the season. Would you mind posting a schedule on “when players report” so we can follow along with the team?

Langlois: There’s only one player I haven’t seen working out at the team’s practice facility this off-season, Doug, and he’s the guy Arnie Kander is probably most certain will maintain a peerless year-round conditioning program, Tayshaun Prince. Prince has long been a devotee of noted NBA workout guru Joe Abunassar and spends the bulk of his off-season training under him in Las Vegas. Arnie told me this week that he’s been in weekly contact with Prince all summer and had a long talk with Abunassar about him just this week, hearing rave reviews for Prince’s diligence all off-season. Teammates Austin Daye and Corey Maggette also are Abunassar disciples and they worked out with Prince this off-season. Lawrence Frank visited Prince in Las Vegas, as well. Training camp starts Tuesday and everybody is due to report for Media Day on Monday, but mandatory participation before then is prohibited by the CBA. For more on Kander’s observations about the off-season, check out the most recent True Blue Pistons blog. There will be more coming on Friday, too.


Ryan (Grand Rapids, Mich.): Any chance Joe D will make a run at Josh Smith? Prince, Jerebko and Daye for Smith would ease the logjam at small forward and give Detroit a more stable frontcourt with Monroe and Smith being safe bets to contribute. It also would give Detroit more financial flexibility if Smith leaves (more than $30 million in cap space). Atlanta would get a solid power forward at a way cheaper price and a veteran presence at small forward.

Langlois: Atlanta is at something of a crossroads and nobody is really sure what tack new GM Danny Ferry is going to take. Smith is in the last year of his contract and he’s a guy a lot of teams would like to get their hands on, Ryan. Ferry was quoted this week as saying he doesn’t expect any resolution on an extension for Smith during the season, which I interpret to mean that he and his agent are focused on testing free agency. I don’t know that the Hawks are looking to move him any more, not on an expiring deal when Ferry has already managed to unload Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams. Smith has been a better power forward than a small forward, but with Williams gone it’s possible Larry Drew will ask Smith to give him more minutes at small forward this season. If not, the options there are slim: Kyle Korver, Damian James, maybe DeShawn Stevenson. I don’t see this is a likely fit for the Pistons, but you never know.


Milton (Richmond, Va.): What is the outlook for Khris Middleton? He was picked ahead of Kim English, but Kim seems to be more NBA ready. Does Joe Dumars believe Middleton will have a legitimate shot at being a future contributor seeing Khris was the last one to be signed?

Langlois: It’s fair to say English is likelier to be a challenger for rotation minutes early in their rookie seasons, Milton, but it’s also not a surprise. Middleton is 3 years younger and nine months removed from a knee injury that required surgery. The Pistons knew all of that going into the draft. I don’t believe they had expectations that Middleton was going to be counted on for minutes this season, but they did see in him tremendous value at the 39th pick as a pure shooter and scorer with great size for his position. Middleton has made some dramatic gains over the past few months working out at the team’s practice facility, too. The timing of their signings had no bearing on the organization’s feelings for any of their draft picks. Middleton, in fact, came to terms ahead of several other second-round picks.