Pistons Mailbag - January 3, 2018

Jason Maynard
Jan 3, 2018 10:03 AM ET

Koja (@akoja703): What is Avery Bradley’s timetable to return? Langlois: The long version is right here . The short version is he expects to play tonight at Miami. The Pistons were 5-2 in his absence, so they survived quite nicely. But with Reggie Jackson and Stanley Johnson missing time, as well, it’s obviously great to get anybody back – and especially good to get an elite perimeter defender back. As the linked story states, though, Stan Van Gundy won’t have quite the same latitude to use Bradley in the most desired defensive matchup as long as Jackson is out. Ish Smith’s size puts him at too great a disadvantage against most shooting guard to allow Bradley to check point guards. Tyler (@T_Harb23): Do you think the Pistons regret not drafting Donovan Mitchell? I believe the Pistons drafted the wrong player between Mitchell and Luke Kennard. Langlois: Mitchell is certainly outperforming his draft slot. He looks like he could develop into a bona fide star. He might be one already. There will be a long list of teams picking in the top 12 going back and wondering if and how they missed on their evaluation of Mitchell. Seriously, if you’re the Philadelphia 76ers – who had the No. 3 pick but traded away a future and highly valuable No. 1 pick to be able to get the No. 1 pick from Boston and picked Markelle Fultz – you have to be wondering where you might be and where you might be headed with a Joel Embiid-Ben Simmons-Donovan Mitchell core. Would the Lakers with the No. 2 pick have been better served – and more attractive to the free agents they hope to woo next summer, one they’ve been poised to act on for a few years – with Mitchell or Lonzo Ball in the fold? Even Danny Ainge, no doubt thrilled with Jayson Tatum, has to have had a moment or two of introspection on Mitchell. The guy’s simply outperformed every estimation of his potential. It wasn’t until a few months after his college season – decent but nothing that screamed “future NBA franchise centerpiece” – that Mitchell was seriously considered as a lottery talent. The Pistons had him in for a draft workout and Stan Van Gundy all but said Mitchell was on the very short list under consideration with the No. 12 pick. Everybody missed on him. It happens. Not every year, for sure, but it happens. Kawhi Leoanrd is a reasonable analogy of a player who went in the same draft range after a solid but less-than-sensational two-year college career, as Mitchell had, and then almost immediately identified himself as a superior prospect. The Pistons are more than pleased with Luke Kennard. He’s shooting 44 percent from the 3-point line, remarkable for a rookie. Three-point shooting – the change to the greater distance and the need to get shots off much more quickly – is usually one of the tougher adjustments for college players. His feel for the game augurs well for his continued development. Kennard is likely to enjoy a long, productive NBA career. There’s no certainty that Mitchell will outperform him long term. But there’s no question Mitchell’s performance to date has every front office that picked ahead of Utah’s turn at 13 examining its scouting to see if there were clues that they all missed. Mark (Los Angeles): I think the perfect move should be to pick up Brandon Jennings, who is playing in China. He already knows some of the offense and defense. Langlois: I have zero knowledge of Jennings’ contract situation in China, but for the most part the guys who’ve gone there – where they’re paying better than most of the European leagues now – are obligated to stay until the season ends. But it ends before the NBA season so he’d be able to return for the stretch run and the playoffs. The question is what he offers. The Jennings I saw last season with the Knicks and later the Wizards didn’t look like a player who’d be an upgrade in any way, shape or form to Langston Galloway or Dwight Buycks behind Ish Smith. Is it possible that Jennings, now nearly three years removed from his Achilles tendon injury, is still progressing physically? Sure. Is it more likely that the injury robbed him of the quickness that was always needed for him to be a starting-caliber NBA point guard? I vote “yes.” And that’s a good deal more important than whatever knowledge he’d have of the offense and defense, which, it’s fair to guess, has changed enough since his departure from the Pistons two years ago to eliminate any benefit he’d have over any other candidate. Greg (@MrGregSombati): Does the emergence of Bullock and Kennard influence the decision to offer Bradley a large contract this summer? The Pistons have a lot of depth at the wing and Bradley will likely command $20 million plus per season. Plus, the Pistons will have to extend Harris soon, too. Langlois: The principle behind your question is sound. You can’t simply look at whether a player makes a team better or not in deciding to pursue him because the Pistons, of course, are a better team with Avery Bradley than without him. He’s one of the top two-way guards in the league. But if letting Bradley go meant being able to replace him with perhaps a less expensive player but one who would fill a more glaring need – on the assumption that the Pistons could fill Bradley’s void adequately with Bullock and Kennard – then, sure, it’s worth deep consideration. But as it regards the Pistons in the summer of 2018, the reality is that even if Bradley leaves in free agency it’s not going to create cap space enough to matter. Now, that doesn’t mean you abandon all principles with regard to asset allocation. The cap situation would look different in 2019 and maybe the front office decides to hold off and make a move then. But my guess is they’re going to do as much within reasonable parameters as possible to keep Bradley. If a pressing need develops elsewhere, having Bradley would at least give them one more asset from which to deal to address other concerns. Sridhar (San Francisco): If Avery Bradley walks for whatever reason during free agency, what are the chances of re-signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope? Langlois: Slim to none. Mostly because the Pistons won’t have cap space, as addressed above. They’d be able to exceed the cap to sign Bradley because they have his Bird rights. They wouldn’t have them for Caldwell-Pope. The best they could offer him should Bradley sign elsewhere – assuming the Pistons don’t make any other deals that clear significant cap space – would be the mid-level exception. Is it possible Caldwell-Pope’s market value declines that much? Very doubtful. Oren (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.): I have only seen Boban Marjanovic play in one game this year and he looked real good. So I looked at his stats for the whole season. It looks like he can easily score in double digits and grab rebounds when he gets minutes. So why does he not play more often? Langlois: It essentially comes down to matchups. And in an NBA when most teams feature second units with more perimeter-oriented big men and 3-point shooting with spread floors in general, Marjanovic’s challenge to guard out to the 3-point line becomes a tradeoff. And when the tradeoff is their three points for your two points, the percentages aren’t in your favor. Stan Van Gundy picks his spots for him and, yes, he’s remarkably productive on a per-minute basis. There is a place for him, just not as prominent as it would have been in a different era. Derek (@0000Derek): What are the chances of signing another point guard while Reggie is out? Langlois: It’s been two games since Reggie Jackson was injured. My guess is that the Pistons are going to gauge how things go with Langston Galloway and Dwight Buycks sharing backup point guard duties behind Ish Smith for a minute. Maybe one seizes the job full time or maybe Stan Van Gundy goes with the hot hand or the one he feels is right for the situation and the opponent from game to game or even half to half. The Pistons have an open roster spot, so they can afford to exercise a little patience. If there’s somebody not under contract or free to opt out in the case of certain international players they feel provides a clear upgrade, I’m sure they’d dive in. But what is the likelihood such a player exists? Keep in mind, they already went through this exercise last summer, which is how they came to sign Galloway and Buycks. If there was somebody they liked better and was available at that time, he’d be here already. If they want another look at someone, they also will be able to sign a point guard to a 10-day contract when that option becomes available starting Friday. The trade deadline is more than a month away. Holding an open roster spot gives them a little more flexibility with trade partners. Bottom line, I wouldn’t expect they sign anyone – save the unlikely no-brainer – over the next few weeks. After that, it will depend on what they’ve experienced. Jordan (@jmacmcgrady): With so many wings being injured recently, is now a good time to look at wing depth on the trade block? Luke Kennard and Reggie Bullock can only do so much. Langlois: Avery Bradley is expected to return against Miami tonight. That alleviates a good chunk of urgency. Unless Stanley Johnson’s injury lingers longer than anyone anticipates, he should be back soon, as well. They signed Luis Montero to a two-way contract for just such contingencies. As with the situation at point guard, there doesn’t seem to be enough motivation in place to signal a signing or a trade. Nick (@NickBaum18): When are the Pistons going to give Henry Ellenson a chance to prove himself? And is Stanley Johnson officially a bust yet or not? Langlois: Probably not until Anthony Tolliver gives Stan Van Gundy a compelling reason to yank him from the rotation. I’ve written a small encyclopedia about the battle for minutes at that position dating to training camp. Tobias Harris is going to get the majority of minutes at power forward. Until Jon Leuer got hurt, he was going to be next in line. Ellenson and Tolliver was a 50-50 call coming out of training camp and Van Gundy decided Ellenson’s youth, earnestness and ceiling was the tiebreaker so he got first call. He had two really good outings in the season’s first week and two shaky ones. He’s not as advanced – nor would you expect him to be, as a 20-year-old with one season of college basketball under his belt – defensively as Tolliver. Tolliver, not unlike Reggie Bullock, does plenty of subtle things to help teammates and teams function at a high level. And he’s a proven 3-point threat. The margin that separates Tolliver and Ellenson is thin, but there’s only room for one in the rotation at that position and right now it’s Tolliver’s job. The short answer to your second question: no, not close.

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