Pistons Mailbag - April 16, 2014
Change at the top fosters a slew of questions about the direction of the franchise, as you might expect. Pistons fans were busy the past few days firing up their questions. On with Mailbag...
Nick (Grand Rapids, Mich.): So Joe D is stepping down. Who is his replacement? How does this affect the future direction of the team? Are the Pistons still eyeing another splash this summer in free agency? What does this mean for John Loyer? Lastly, does Mr. Dumars stick around with the team?
Langlois: I’d say you have a future in reporting, Nick, but I just saw something that said “reporter” was the 199th most desirable job on a list of 200. I’m not sure what 200 was, but my guess is “elephant proctologist.” Those are all great questions. Alas, the best response to most right now is either “I don’t know” or “we’ll find out.” Fair to guess the search is already under way. Who gets chosen will give us the first significant clues as to the rest of your questions. Ideally, you’d like to have somebody in place in a month to six weeks or so, which should give the new executive a decent amount of time to feel comfortable – leading into the June draft and July’s free agency – that he/she has a handle on the current personnel and the needs they perceive. Obviously, the first decision in free agency will concern Greg Monroe. It’s clear he’s a major asset, so it would be pretty surprising if the decision to let him sign an offer sheet without matching or negotiating a sign-and-trade agreement was reached. (Technically, the first decision will be to make a qualifying offer to Monroe, which essentially guarantees him a fifth-year salary of about $10 million but would make him a restricted free agent; no qualifying offer would make him an unrestricted free agent. That isn’t happening. The Pistons have until the day after the completion of the NBA Finals and June 30 to make that qualifying offer.) Even if the new executive is uncertain how Monroe meshes in a frontcourt that already includes Andre Drummond or Josh Smith, allowing an asset of Monroe’s stature to get away with nothing more to show for it than the cap space he vacates would be, generously, a novel approach. If the Pistons retain their lottery pick, draft preparation would take on a new urgency. It might be too ambitious to expect the new executive would be on board in time for the Chicago draft combine in mid-May – for the second consecutive year, the combine precedes the lottery draw, so Pistons front-office representatives will be in Chicago without knowing the dispensation of their lottery pick – but that wouldn’t be a major setback. Chances are whoever gets chosen will be at that combine, in some capacity, in his current job or on the expectation he/she will be a candidate for the Detroit or other openings. It’ll be an intriguing, busy summer. Stay tuned.
Jazel (@bugsick25): What qualifications to be Pistons GM does one need? Any potential candidates?
Langlois: Previous front-office experience is probably the No. 1 must, Jazel. That doesn’t necessarily mean a former or current general manager, but someone who’s had a hand in all of the aspects of running a team, in all likelihood. That includes player evaluation – both NBA and amateur – as well as intimate knowledge of the collective bargaining agreement and salary cap, familiarity with agents and dealings with them, experience in dealing with peers in rival front offices, understanding staffing levels and needs, a working knowledge of NBA front-office personnel to target for hiring and a grasp of running the department on a day-to-day basis. There are probably a half-dozen or so obvious candidates that would be on most teams’ lists and, beyond that, the process likely will produce another group of potential candidates. There will be no shortage of people qualified for the job who express interest, either. There are only 30 of these jobs in the world, after all.
Joshua (@joshuavalenti): If the Pistons and Kings wind up with the same record, who holds the tiebreaker?
Langlois: Unlike ties among playoff teams, there is no “tiebreaker” used to determine lottery order. So the fact the Pistons beat the Kings 2-0 in their season series, for this purpose, is meaningless. A draw would be held (usually on the Friday following the regular season as part of the regularly scheduled Board of Governors meetings) to determine which team would enter the lottery in the No. 7 slot. But they would not get the number of lottery combinations assigned to them that the seventh and eighth spots would get had there been no tie. Put another way, there are 1,000 four-digit lottery combinations possible and the No. 7 team would have 43 combinations assigned to it without a tie. But because the teams would have the same record, they would add the 43 combinations for the No. 7 team and the 28 combinations for the No. 8 team and divide by two. You get an odd number, 71. So the tiebreaker winner would wind up with 36 combinations to 35 for the tiebreaker loser. That would be essentially meaningless to the Pistons. Even picking one spot ahead of Sacramento would be a minor victory. But the real significance of winning the tiebreaker for the Pistons would be the increased likelihood that they would get to keep their lottery pick. (If they don’t hold a top-eight pick, their No. 1 pick goes to Charlotte this year as a condition of the 2012 Ben Gordon-Corey Maggette deal.) As the No. 7 team, they would have to be jumped by two teams behind them. There would be about a 2 percent chance of that happening. As the No. 8 team, they would have to be jumped by only one team to lose their pick. The odds of that: 17.6 percent.
Ryan (Pocatello, Idaho): If the Pistons keep their No. 1 pick and stay at eight how likely is it that we trade our pick to Chicago or Phoenix for their two picks? I could see us picking up Cleanthony Early to be our starting three and Markiel Brown or Nik Stauskas and really improving our team. What do you think?
Langlois: I think if you want to apply to succeed Joe Dumars, you’d better polish your sales pitch a little bit. I think it’s wildly optimistic to believe that plugging Early and Brown or Stauskas into any NBA team’s current starting lineup would represent an upgrade. That’s no slam on those players. Brown and Stauskas are marvelous college shooters. There have been dozens of marvelous college shooters that have had little to no impact on the NBA, however, and it would stun me if either player moves the needle much for his team next year. Early had a tremendous game in Wichita State’s NCAA tournament exit loss to Kentucky. I don’t pretend to know much about him – I’ve seen maybe four or five Wichita State games the past two years – but I gather he has a chance to stick around the NBA for a long and productive career. But the safest projection for him right now is rotation piece, role player. Starting three as a rookie? That would be an upset. If the Pistons keep their pick in the lottery, I suspect they’ll keep their pick in the draft.
Jonathan (Grand Rapids, Mich.): I was wondering if you received any news about the new D-League team that is coming to Grand Rapids. I would like to know if there was a name chosen or anything on the status of the team.
Langlois: Your question came in before Tuesday’s press conference in Grand Rapids to announce the new ownership group there and the transfer of the former Springfield, Mass., franchise to Grand Rapids. They have not yet chosen the team’s name. But you can help pick one. Go to grdleague.com and submit your entry. The team starts play next fall at the DeltaPlex Arena. It should benefit the Pistons in their efforts to develop young players. We’ll have more on that in the coming days on pistons.com.
Gladys (Waterford, Mich.): Which players in the draft do you think is the best fit for the current Pistons roster? A shooting guard or small forward who can flat-out shoot the rock would be ideal.
Langlois: Can’t argue with you, Gladys. The Pistons need to become a better shooting team. With the increasing importance of 3-point shooting, it’s practically imperative today to field a lineup that stretches defenses. The lack of 3-point shooting hurts in the obvious way – shooting 35 percent, league average, from the 3-point line is the equivalent of shooting 52.5 percent from inside the arc, well above league average – but in other ways, too. Without the threat of 3-point shooting, defenses contract and narrow passing and driving lanes on the interior, which limit opportunities for players like Greg Monroe and Josh Smith to take the ball from the elbows or wings to the basket, as they are both gifted at doing. But I don’t think the Pistons are going to solve their shooting issues in the draft, at least not with immediate effect. College shooters almost always take time to grow comfortable at the NBA 3-point line, both because of the greater distance and the need to get those shots off quicker than college competition required. It would be reasonable to expect, assuming the Pistons keep their lottery pick, that if a shooting guard is selected at No. 8 he would challenge Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for playing time at if the Pistons don’t address the position in trade or free agency. I’d be less inclined to expect a rookie could offer more next season than Kyle Singler, if he stays at that position. I’d throw point guard into your mix, too, not because Brandon Jennings isn’t a starting-quality NBA point guard but that’s another perimeter position that can offer shooting help. A player complementary to Jennings – a taller, more physical point guard, for instance, who could defend both backcourt spots – would figure to carry appeal, as well, to the new management team.
Ku (Detroit): Do you believe Josh Smith can and will fit in with the Pistons after a few touchups with the roster? I love Josh and I love the way he fills the stat sheet. I understand he forces shots sometimes, but so does Stuckey and he is supposedly our closer. I believe Josh is the most talented player with the team now and he should stay through his contract.
Langlois: I think the general consensus when the Pistons signed Smith last year to a reported four-year, $54 million deal was that it was generally a fair-market deal. The questioning came in whether Smith would be able to co-exist with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, who was penciled in as the starting center after an impressive rookie year coming off the bench. The new management team, led by whoever Tom Gores and his advisers choose to succeed Joe Dumars, will be tackling questions of roster balance not long after they sign their contracts, Ku. When you put a team together, you have to address the top of the roster first. I can’t imagine a more critical discussion on their priority list than how they envision the frontcourt coming together. That will inform all other roster decisions.
Jess (@OhhhManItsJessy): Any word on Jonas’ future? Can you predict who is staying and who is leaving?
Langlois: That would be guesswork even if the person ultimately empowered to make those decisions was known, Jess. With Joe Dumars stepping aside and the search on to replace him as the head of basketball operations, it would just be throwing darts. Jonas Jerebko certainly re-established himself as a solid NBA rotation player with his play since John Loyer took over as interim head coach and Jerebko’s role solidified. He has a player option for next season, so the ball is in his court. If he wants, he can become an unrestricted free agent. His play over the past few months at least makes that a legitimate option at this point. Rodney Stuckey will be an unrestricted free agent who figures to draw significant interest for his ability to get to the basket and draw fouls. Greg Monroe, as mentioned earlier, will be a restricted free agent, which gives the Pistons an advantage. Charlie Villanueva will be unrestricted. The Pistons hold team options on Josh Harrellson, Chauncey Billups and Peyton Siva. Again, those are decisions that will fall to the new chief executive of basketball ops.
Tom (Watervliet, Mich.): I have the greatest respect for Joe Dumars. If he stays until July 1, will he select the draft pick? I hope so. I think he is best qualified to do this.
Langlois: He’s staying on as an adviser, Tom, with no indication there’s a timetable to step away from that role. I don’t think we really know in what capacity he’ll serve until the new management team is in place. But certainly Dumars had a very solid track record in the draft and especially over the last handful of years. Critics who suggest otherwise, I’ve found when pressed on the specifics of their criticism, have almost no feel for NBA draft context. In any given draft, you might have three or four top-10 picks who go on to have very little NBA impact. It drops off every 10 picks from there. When you get past 40, you’re lucky if you find someone who ever cracks an NBA rotation. Critics who bring up Darko Milicic undermine their own point. If you have to reach back 11 years in a business that’s usually a 50-50 proposition, your argument is thin. I fully expect that if the new general manager is in place in time to run the draft, it will be that person’s influence that determines the pick. I’m sure Joe D wouldn’t have it any other way. When you sit in that chair and take both the credit and the heat that inevitably comes with the job, the decisions must be your own. If Joe D is on the payroll as an adviser, I’d surely ask his opinion if it came down to splitting hairs between two or three players I felt offered roughly the same value, though.
Lawrence (Detroit): I’m kind of new to NBA rules but know a lot of other stuff about basketball. When can the Pistons sign players to their roster? Can they do it whenever or do they have to wait until a certain day? And when can the Pistons sign a new head coach? Do you think they are interested in Lionel Hollins?
Langlois: Depends on the status of the player, Lawrence. If he has a valid contract with another NBA team (even one whose season ends today with the conclusion of the regular season) or if another NBA team owns rights to a player not currently on their roster – typically, a draft choice playing internationally – then, no, the Pistons can’t sign that player. But if it’s a player with no formal ties to another NBA (or international) team, sure, the Pistons could sign them today for next season. Free agency opens on July 1, though there is a 10-day moratorium on signing contracts while teams (and agents) scramble to negotiate deals. International players under contract with teams in leagues that adhere to FIBA (basketball’s international governing body) regulations would also be off-limits. That’s virtually any league in the world these days. But every year there are international players who have no rights held by NBA teams and whose contracts with their current teams expire who wind up signing NBA contracts. The Pistons have signed one such player in each of the last two off-seasons, Slava Kravtsov from Ukraine in 2012 and Gigi Datome from Italy in 2013. As for a new coach, that, too, would most likely fall to the new chief executive. We can’t yet know if that person will consider Hollins, but we can safely assume Hollins would welcome the opportunity to interview. He said as much, unsolicited, when the Pistons fired Maurice Cheeks in February.
Jeremy (@Klumpp13): Any real discussion of Chauncey Billups retiring now and assuming a front office or coaching position with the Pistons?
Langlois: Not sure among whom that discussion would occur right now, Jeremy. Billups, for his part, has made it clear he’s not done with playing. He’s coming off minor knee surgery, which shouldn’t factor into his decision-making process. I suspect he’ll go through his normal off-season process as if he were coming back next season until his body tells him it’s had enough. The Pistons, as mentioned, hold a team option on him for next season. The new GM could have final say on whether to pick up that option, depending on the timing of that person’s hiring. Billups has consistently maintained he doesn’t see his future in coaching. He wants to be in the front office, eventually as a general manager. Whether he’s discussed that with ownership … well, you wouldn’t expect either side to disclose that type of thing in anything but the most general terms.
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