Pistons Mailbag - Thursday, October 11, 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.

Editor’s note: You can now 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.

Nathan (Medford, Ore.): Do you think Kyle Singler has what it takes to make the starting lineup eventually during this season?

Langlois: Since you’re from Kyle’s hometown, Nathan, you get the honor of being first today. The two players who by far lead the Pistons in NBA tenure – Tayshaun Prince and Corey Maggette – stand between Singler and the starting job at small forward. That makes it unlikely that Singler will be a starter this season, injuries aside. That said, the Pistons haven’t seen anything from Singler that makes them believe there is anything about his game that won’t translate to NBA starter eventually. In other words, some players – even some very effective players – aren’t well suited to be starters. Maybe they’re a little undersized for their position, or maybe they’re a scoring or defensive specialist. That’s not Singler; at least, that’s not what we’ve seen from him so far. He’s much like Prince in this regard: Singler might not have one overwhelming strength unless it’s the fact that he doesn’t seem to have any holes in his game. He can do something of everything and he seems like an extremely intuitive basketball player. Bright future, but with both Prince and Maggette in front of him for this season – Maggette, on a one-year contract and not committing to continuing his career beyond this season, is likely here for just this season – there’s no clear path to playing time for Singler in 2012-13.

Irene (Grand Rapids, Mich.): What a treat it was to see the Pistons play in the preseason opener on TV. Can we keep expecting more of the same from Andre Drummond? That was impressive!

Langlois: Drummond is going to make obvious improvement year over year, likely month over month and hopefully week over week. But day to day, it’s important to keep in mind that not only is he barely 19 but he didn’t come to the Pistons with nearly the fundamental skill set that Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight, for two recent examples, did before him. Drummond will experience his share of ups and downs, Irene. What the Pistons are looking to see in him is the spirit to fight through the days when he’s not getting lob dunks or making game-changing plays defensively. Drummond was impressive after the game, too. He talked about the advice his teammates gave him before the game, including this line: “Do what the coaches tell you and everything will fall in line for you.” Then he said, “That’s what I did today. Tomorrow, I’ve got to get better. Today is over.” As those become more than just words to him, as he takes such advice to heart and lives it, he’ll have a solid shot at realizing his enormous potential. And that will be really impressive.

Benjamin (Melbourne, Australia): With the logjam at power forward, what’s happening with Vernon Macklin? I thought he showed some promise toward the end of last season when he got some minutes.

Langlois: When the Pistons signed Slava Kravtsov and drafted Andre Drummond, they were full up front, Benjamin. Macklin went to Summer League with them knowing the situation on the hope that he would get a guaranteed contract from some NBA team. When that didn’t happen, he accepted an offer to sign in Turkey. That’s where he is now. I think Macklin has a shot to play in the NBA someday even though he was an unusually old rookie – Macklin turned 25 before playing his first NBA game. He changed both his body and his game during his rookie year. He weighed 227 going into the draft but was a little over 250 by season’s end last year and it was good weight. As importantly, he learned – he says Ben Wallace was instrumental – to concentrate on rebounding the basketball to the point he became a dominant D-League rebounder, a stat that scouts believe translates reliably from level to level. If he can adapt to European basketball and make his mark there, as well, he’ll have NBA suitors down the road.

Tom (Kalamazoo, Mich.): The Pistons have a lot of very young, raw and talented players. Do you think this year will be better now that these players are buying into Frank’s system? When will we see them in the playoffs again?

Langlois: It sets up as a fascinating season on any number of levels, Tom. The Pistons go into the season feeling like they’re light years ahead of where they were at this point a season ago. They went .500 over the season’s final 42 games last season. If they can survive a very tough early schedule – a six-game road trip follows the Halloween home opener against Houston – and can come out of the first 20 games somewhere close to even, they can start thinking about playoff possibilities. Making the playoffs would be nice, but as I’ve written recently, making the playoffs can’t get in the way of the larger objective of positioning themselves to compete for championships. I really see the 2013-14 season as this team’s takeoff point. After one full season under Lawrence Frank, with another year of development for young players like Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight, and then the hoped-for contributions of Andre Drummond and the four other rookies behind them, and a summer in which the Pistons will have cap space to undergo further roster bolstering, a big leap forward is within reach next season.

Rickey (Toledo, Ohio): Do you have an idea what the starting lineup will look like? What rookie(s), if any, do you think will have a chance to crack the starting lineup at some point this year?

Langlois: I don’t expect any rookie to start, Rickey. Kim English has Rodney Stuckey ahead of him, Kyle Singler and Khris Middleton have Tayshaun Prince and Corey Maggette ahead of them, and Andre Drummond and Slava Kravtsov have Greg Monroe ahead of them. If I had to pick one who might have the clearest path to a starting job this season, it would be Kravtsov. I think it’s possible – certainly not probable – that Kravtsov, who in the very early going appears eminently capable of protecting the paint, could make enough of an impression that Lawrence Frank tinkers with the possibility of moving Greg Monroe to power forward and going big, if not as a starting unit then in small doses to assess the broader possibilities of that pairing. Kravtsov, 25 and with several seasons of pro experience in Europe, is logically closer to a finished product than his fellow rookies, as well. But Andre Drummond’s opening-night statement suggests that he, too, could make a push for a spot in the rotation.

John (Pinckney, Mich.): I’ve heard rumors of Tyreke Evans possibly not being with Sacramento by next season. How do you think he would fit as a third guard for the Pistons and do you think they would be interested?

Langlois: A little early to be considering trade possibilities, John. Evans has played everything from point guard to small forward for Sacramento, but he seems most suited to being a wing attacker. With the current composition of their roster, the element the Pistons likely would be most interested in adding to their perimeter would be a consistent 3-point shooting threat. Rodney Stuckey gives them the element Evans would provide. He’s a talented enough player that any team in the league would be interested in him at the right price.

Chris (Canton, Mich.): Will Greg Monroe and Rodney Stuckey ever change their numbers? The No. 10 is already retired for Dennis Rodman and the No. 3 should be retired in honor of Ben Wallace.

Langlois: Monroe was given No. 10 before Rodman’s number was retired. He told Rodman he would change numbers if Rodman wished. Rodman told him it was his call – wearing it didn’t dim the honor of having his uniform retired, Rodman told him. Stuckey took No. 3, of course, when Wallace had moved on as a free agent. Wallace never broached the possibility of taking his number back when he returned, choosing instead to wear six – two times three, he said at the time. Should the Pistons choose to retire Wallace’s number – and that seems like a fairly obvious choice – I would expect Wallace will tell Stuckey to wear No. 3 as long as he likes and then it will be retired. The honor is having the uniform with your name on it hanging from the rafters.

Roger (Troy, Mich.): I saw a report that Khris Middleton was signed using part of the mid-level exception. Why wouldn’t the Pistons just sign him to a minimum contract as a second-round pick?

Langlois: I can’t speak specifically to the terms of Middleton’s contract – as usual, terms of the deal were not made public – but the same report also said Middleton agreed to a three-year deal, the first two of which were guaranteed. If that is the case, then it explains why he was signed using the MLE. Minimum contracts can be no longer than two years in length if the mechanism used to sign them is the minimum player exception. Even if that portion of the contract that extends past two years is not guaranteed, the minimum player exception cannot be used for contracts longer than two years.

Raffi (New York): Who is going to be the backup center, Andre Drummond or big Slava?

Langlois: Too soon to tell, Raffi. Drummond was superb in his debut. Kravtsov, who we anticipate will get his chance at Toronto on Friday night, certainly looks like he is capable of handling NBA minutes based on my limited viewing, but he has an adjustment ahead of him, too. Lawrence Frank can go in any number of directions. He has four players at power forward – Jason Maxiell, Jonas Jerebko, Charlie Villanueva and Austin Daye, who has played that spot exclusively in training camp – who have all been part of NBA rotations. We have seen Maxiell play center and Jerebko play small forward in camp – Jerebko played mostly small forward in Wednesday’s preseason opener, too – so that is an option he can pursue to thin out the crowd at power forward.

Joe (Birmingham, Mich.): I’ve read where the Pistons will have cap space next summer? Why will that be the case and which free agents do you see them targeting?

Langlois: A number of Pistons players are in the final year of their contracts, Joe, including Corey Maggette, Austin Daye, Will Bynum and Jason Maxiell. As of now, the Pistons look like they will be approximately $16 million or so under the cap, with the potential to create even more cap space due to the amnesty provision. You can scan the list of potential free agents easily found with a Google search, but my hunch is it will be more likely that the Pistons use their cap space in other ways.

Cam (Melbourne, Australia): I recently saw David Aldridge’s preview of the Central Division and he had the Pistons last. When I look at the Pistons, they are on par or better than Cleveland and Milwaukee as both have no frontcourt to speak of. Do you agree?

Langlois: Perhaps a Mailbag record – two questions from Melbourne in the same edition. I didn’t see it and I can’t speak for Aldridge, but I would be surprised if he sees a big gap between any of those three teams. I’m not as pessimistic about those teams’ frontcourts as you seem to be, Cam. Both have the potential to be strong defensive frontcourt teams. Milwaukee has pretty impressive depth and a wealth of shot-blockers up front (Dalembert, Henson, Udoh, Sanders, Przybilla, plus Gooden, Ilyasova) and Cleveland will be solid if Varejao is back at full strength to go with promising second-year power forward Tristan Thompson and NBA-ready rookie Tyler Zeller. Indiana and Chicago are solid playoff teams, so somebody has to finish last among the other three. It wouldn’t surprise many if one of those three challenges for a lower playoff seed, either.