Pistons Mailbag - January 3, 2013

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.

Eric (Raleigh, N.C.): There is a lot of talk about the Pistons’ interest in DeMarcus Cousins. If there is any truth to this, who would the Pistons give back to the Kings?

Langlois: Even acknowledging the wacky nature of how rumors spread in this day and age, it still surprises me that this came close to passing the smell test with people who should have known better. Yes, it was widely known at the time of the 2010 draft that the Pistons were aggressive in looking to move up from No. 7 and that they brought in Cousins for a then-secret meeting and brief workout the week before the draft. But had the Pistons known in the days leading to the draft that Greg Monroe would fall to them at No. 7 – no one expected that would be the case until the night before the draft, when eyebrows were raised across the league as word spread that Golden State was likely to pick Ekpe Udoh – my hunch is they would have been perfectly content to stand pat and take Monroe, which is how it turned out. The Pistons had three big men – Monroe, Cousins and Derrick Favors – rated in their top tier of players for that draft. Since then, look what’s happened. Monroe has been every bit as productive as Cousins without the drama. He’s embraced the responsibility of carrying the franchise back to prominence. And the Pistons have added Andre Drummond, the increasingly rare true center. Even if Joe Dumars and his staff still hold Cousins in high regard – and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they did; he’s a monstrous talent – would they really be willing to part with one of Monroe or Drummond for him? I am skeptical to the extreme. Could they get him without giving up one of those two players. Again, skeptical to the extreme. And even if they could? How many resources can one franchise really afford to expend at the two power positions? Why give up Drummond, with several more seasons under team control, for Cousins as he nears free agency with a tough decision on him looming given his behavioral issues? Why give up Monroe, when he seems the better personnel fit next to Drummond than Cousins would be? All three players are going to command big contracts – perhaps even max deals. Put that much money into power forward and center, you’ll wind up skimping most everywhere else. The logic of the Pistons as a primary suitor for Cousins should the Kings decide to trade him is paper thin.

Ryan (Grand Rapids, Mich.): The Pistons are really starting to play good, entertaining basketball again. But now all of our expiring contracts are becoming important players. Could the Pistons trade Tayshaun Prince and Jonas Jerebko to San Antonio for Stephen Jackson’s expiring contract and a No. 1 pick? The No. 1 pick would allow some more flexibility with trades and the extra $11 million in cap space would allow Detroit to bring back some of these guys without affecting what players they might bring in.

Langlois: Let’s start with this: The players currently in the rotation with expiring contracts are Will Bynum, Austin Daye and Jason Maxiell. (Corey Maggette also has an expiring contract.) It’s fair to assume that those players will be the subject of trade speculation as the deadline approaches because they’re playing effectively at the moment and could help a title contender without committing them to long-term obligations. Similarly, Charlie Villanueva, it would seem, has made himself into an attractive trade target with his play over the last month, rebounding well and battling on defense in addition to providing elite perimeter shooting. I’m not wild about trading Prince and Jerebko for cap space and a No. 1 pick certain to be in the bottom 25 percent, though the value to the Pistons of acquiring a No. 1 pick is magnified for the trade flexibility it would allow them due to restrictions on trading No. 1 picks in consecutive drafts when they already have one owed to Charlotte. It would be one thing if those players carried outsized contracts, but they’re both very reasonable deals and Jerebko – though out of the rotation at the moment – figures to get back into it no later than next season given Maxiell’s status. The real takeaway here is that the last month has not only seen the Pistons play good and entertaining basketball, as you said, but also that the rehabilitation of so many players has given Joe Dumars a wealth of trade options.

Ram (Essexville, Mich.): What could be the real reason why Jonas Jerebko has been out of the rotation for weeks now? Is he being held out for trade purposes or what?

Langlois: No mystery here, Ram. Lawrence Frank said from the first day of training camp that the glut of players at power forward – Jason Maxiell, Jonas Jerebko, Charlie Villanueva and Austin Daye – likely meant that two of them would be out of the rotation. He said at the time that would make it a tough call because while they had different skill sets, there wasn’t much separating them in ability from one through four. When Jerebko hit a stretch where his shots weren’t falling and the team was sputtering with a second unit that struggled to provide anything resembling consistent scoring, Frank gave Villanueva a shot. When Corey Maggette hit a similar ineffective patch, Frank decided to give Daye a shot at backup small forward minutes, the position where he has spent the bulk of his time dating to high school. Both players have seized opportunity and the second unit is firing on all cylinders. The only time a player might be held out for trade purposes is if a deal was in place and only an injury would scuttle it. You do that for a game, maybe, not a month or more.

A.J. (Detroit): Do you think the Pistons could make a move for a shooting guard to play next to Brandon Knight for the long term? I know players like Monta Ellis and Tyreke Evans could be available at the deadline and the Pistons could use an athletic guard who can get to the basket. If they do land either Cousins or a guard, would that eliminate the chance to make a trade for the other?

Langlois: The Pistons have two relatively young players, Rodney Stuckey and Kyle Singler, currently taking up all the minutes at shooting guard. They have Kim English in the pipeline. Would Joe Dumars entertain offers if he saw a chance to upgrade at that spot? Of course. When he goes to the marketplace now, he’ll be dealing from his greatest position of strength in several years. The Pistons have several desirable trade assets. And while they still have needs, of course, there isn’t necessarily one glaring area of weakness. Frontcourt size and athleticism, wing size and athleticism and perimeter shooting have been their bugaboos in the recent past. Andre Drummond alone goes a long way toward remedying the first problem and the Pistons feel Slava Kravtsov is also part of the solution. Their perimeter shooting is significantly improved with Brandon Knight emerging as a consistent 3-point threat and the recent reintegration of Charlie Villanueva and Austin Daye to the rotation. Singler’s size and athleticism gives the Pistons a measure of wing versatility they didn’t have before he arrived. That’s a long way of saying Joe D can focus more on how he sees a specific player he likes fitting rather than targeting a particular need and then scratching to find a player who could be squeezed into that box. As for how landing one player would then affect the pursuit of another, it all depends – how does the new player fit, what assets were sacrificed to get him and what tradable assets remain that could be used in another deal?

Nate (FOB Salerno, Afghanistan): Does it seem that coach Frank is finally getting a better grasp on the talents and abilities of certain players on this team? I wonder why Charlie V, Will the Thrill and All Daye were constantly getting DNP-CDs all season long? Especially with offense being so, well, offensive.

Langlois: Frank’s job was more complicated than that of many coaches coming into the season, Nate. Title contenders or veteran teams likely had clearly defined lines of demarcation between starters and bench, between those in the rotation and those out of it with the exception, perhaps, of one or two players. The situation at power forward with the Pistons is illustrative of the challenge Frank faced: Jason Maxiell starts and Jonas Jerebko doesn’t play, yet you could make a reasonable case for flipping their roles. How the players fit together is more likely the more relevant determinant in who plays and who doesn’t than individual ability. And right now, the second unit – with Daye and Villanueva providing shooting to spread the floor, Bynum and Rodney Stuckey attacking the basket and Andre Drummond covering up defensively and finishing at the rim on the other end – as composed has really clicked. When the product is dependent on finding the right mix from a menu of like parts, it’s probably going to take more time to strike the right recipe than merely looking for the right complementary pieces around one or two All-Stars.

Doug (Richardson, Texas): How about a contest to find a nickname for the bench? My submission would be the Jumpstarters.

Langlois: First prize is free access to content on Pistons.com. Let the suggestions roll.

Joe (Port Huron, Mich.): If the Pistons stay healthy and keep playing as effectively as they are now, do you think it’s still possible to compete for a playoff berth?

Langlois: Philadelphia is currently sitting in the No. 8 spot in the East with a sub-.500 record, Joe, so it’s not out of the question. Ordinarily, I’d say being 10 games under .500 after 34 games would make the playoffs a pipe dream, but combine the upswing in Pistons play, the weakness of the back end of the East’s playoff field and the letup on the horizon in the Pistons’ schedule, and, yeah, I’d say there is still a reasonable chance this team can put itself in position to make a run. They don’t have much margin for error, though. They have to start winning more than their share of home games and knocking off non-playoff teams on the road, then stealing other games along the way. As I’ve been writing, point differential is usually a pretty good predictor of record and the Pistons’ differential of minus-1.5 should have them closer to .500 than minus-10. Boston, for example, is 14-17 with a differential of minus-2.5; Philadelphia is 15-18 at minus-2.5; and Portland is 16-15 at minus-2.5.