Pistons Mailbag - February 21, 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.

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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.

Rod (Nashville, Tenn.): I heard “Mike & Mike” on ESPN radio reference a Jerry Buss heart-to-heart talk with Kobe Bryant back when Kobe was looking to be traded some years ago. They said there was a deal in principle with the Pistons. Can you shed some light on this and the particulars as you understood them back then?

Langlois: There were reports in 2007, when Bryant was disillusioned with the direction of the Lakers – he seemed particularly incensed that the organization was opting to be patient with Andrew Bynum’s development while Bryant’s prime years, in his mind, were being wasted – and pushed for a trade. A deal with the Bulls was most discussed since it was a team Bryant had OK’d as a preferred destination. Since he had a no-trade clause – at the time, the only NBA player with such a stipulation – he could veto any deal. One of the rumored deals had Bryant coming to Detroit for Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Amir Johnson and at least one future No. 1 pick, though there’s no evidence that was the package the teams ultimately agreed to deal. There’s a lot of smoke with this one and enough reason to believe it is essentially accurate.

Karl (Port Huron, Mich.): Let’s say the reports about Kobe Bryant being traded to the Pistons in 2007 were true. How do you think the Pistons would have done in the years since then?

Langlois: Tough to say they would have won more championships, Karl, but they certainly would have been built for runs. If the parameters of the reported deal are close to the reality, the Pistons would have been left with a nucleus of Bryant, Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess, Jason Maxiell and a rookie Rodney Stuckey. Another report suggested Grant Hill was prepared to return to the Pistons as a free agent to take Prince’s spot at small forward, though it’s unclear that Prince was part of the package headed to LA. That would have made for a formidable team, certainly one that on paper would have been the steepest hurdle in the East for the team Boston eventually put together with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joining Paul Pierce and the developing Rajon Rondo. But where would the Pistons be today as Wallace and McDyess declined and retired and Billups and Hill became largely situational players? There would have been much work to do to keep the team from a hard fall and a challenging cap structure. Recall, also, that the team went through a transition of ownership in the interim and, often, team sales rarely allow management to make the moves necessary to augment a championship core in the pursuit of title runs. As painful as the past few seasons have been, the Pistons have Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Brandon Knight to show for it from the lottery and will be armed with enough cap space this off-season to add substantially to the mix. So, bottom line, the last few years of the previous decade would have been intriguing; after that, it would have gotten murky; and today, the Pistons are probably far better positioned than they would have been if that deal had gone down.

Dwayne (Clinton Twp., Mich.): With the trade deadline Thursday, what moves if any do you expect the Pistons to make?

Langlois: I’m on standby, Dwayne, but I think it’s more likely that the Pistons stand pat than make a deal. They’ve already made one significant trade within the past month. It’s possible a playoff or title contender will offer a draft pick for an expiring contract, I suppose – those are common trade-deadline deals – but it has to be something that benefits the Pistons in the future without compromising their cap position headed into the summer. The Pistons are also bumping up close to the luxury tax threshold, so it’s unlikely they will be parking somebody else’s big contracts for the rest of the season to help another team avoid taxes, either.

James (San Marcos, Texas): What happens when it’s our turn in the draft and the best available player is Michael Carter-Williams?

Langlois: Not sure what you’re suggesting, James, but if he’s the best player available he’ll get strong consideration if he meets the other qualifications with regard to character, coachability, likelihood of improvement, etc. If you’re wondering how the pending free agency of both Jose Calderon and Will Bynum will affect Pistons draft strategy, that’s hard to say at this point. After the season ends and as the draft process plays out through May and June, Joe Dumars and his staff will get a better feel for what will happen when July 1 hits. They might not know definitively, but they’ll have an idea whether Calderon is more than just open to a return but willing to accept a competitive offer to stay. If they are comfortable that he’ll be back, would they be less likely to take a young point guard? Not necessarily. I think their first preference would be to add a dynamic wing player, but they won’t reach to fill that need. The Pistons won’t go into this draft focused on one position as they have in recent years, when their clear need for a big man took precedence. Also keep in mind that in the past three off-seasons, the Pistons weren’t in position to be significant players in free agency and they weren’t armed with an abundance of tradeable assets. On both counts, the tables have been turned. The Pistons almost certainly are looking at the free agent market and the trade market as their most likely means of improvement this summer. Extend that logic another step and it tells me they’ll truly be looking for the best player, almost regardless of position, in this draft. I say “almost” because it would be tough to see them taking a natural center when they already are looking at moving Greg Monroe to power forward, but even that wouldn’t be a shocker.

Ryan (Grand Rapids, Mich.): I love the way Brandon Knight went right back at Kyrie Irving this weekend. Irving is probably the best ballhandler in the NBA and Knight was up to the challenge. I think Dumars needs to move Calderon or Bynum at the trade deadline and keep Knight as the starting point guard. Any chance we see a Calderon-to-Indy-for-Granger type of deal?

Langlois: I don’t think it’s at all likely that Calderon is traded, Ryan, unless it’s for a player the Pistons want to keep around for the long term. But they’ve already expressed that interest in regard to Calderon. Does Granger fit that description? Well, he certainly is the consistent scorer that would benefit them. But it’s tough to see Indiana moving Granger for Calderon’s expiring contract unless Pacers management believes Calderon’s quarterbacking skills are the missing ingredient to a title run. The Pistons would have to be sold on Granger’s fit, too, because adding his salary will take a big bite out of their projected cap space this summer. Again, if he’s somebody they would want to keep around, then it’s an easy commitment to make. But if they believe they will be able to find better fits over the summer and still be able to keep Calderon, then it’s not so attractive.

Jason (Canton, Mich.): Why does Frank refuse to play Jerebko? He’s a high-energy guy who has shown a lot of promise but instead he is rotting away on the bench. John Kuester said Jerebko was one of the hardest workers he’d ever met so it seems unlikely he isn’t putting in the effort.

Langlois: The addition of Calderon and the obvious impact Will Bynum has had on so many games this season means Frank has four guards who command significant minutes. The way he’s found he can do that is to use Rodney Stuckey as the backup to Kyle Singler. That has been the factor that has recently squeezed Jerebko from the rotation, Jason. Prior to the trade, it came down to a choice of Jerebko or Charlie Villanueva behind Jason Maxiell. That Frank has stuck with Villanueva is more a commentary on the fit with the second unit than on anything else. Villanueva’s 3-point shooting undeniably helped create space for Bynum to attack the rim and Drummond to do what he does best in the paint. But Jerebko caught Frank’s attention with an outstanding fourth quarter in Tuesday’s loss to Memphis and it earned him a shot at minutes in Wednesday’s first half at Charlotte when he played some at each forward spot.

Blake (Orange County, Calif.): In the hypothetical, what happens if Calderon walks? Would they draft a point guard and leave Knight at shooting guard or move Knight back over to point?

Langlois: As I wrote above, it’s likely that Joe D will have an idea about Calderon’s leanings going into the draft in late June. But he can’t be certain. I don’t know if the Pistons will be able to find a starting-caliber point guard out of this year’s draft if they’re picking around the 10th spot and, given their cap space, should they lose Calderon I think it’s more likely they would target a veteran, either in free agency or in trade, before turning the team over to a rookie. Knight would, of course, be a strong option to return to his original position if that’s what the roster dictates.

Mel (St. Augustine, Fla.): When there is talk about “restructuring” a player’s contract, is it just spreading their contract payments over a longer period of time or is it more complicated than that?

Langlois: It’s a common practice in the NFL, Mel, but there is no similar “restructuring” of contracts in the NBA. Under certain conditions, some teams – depending on their cap situation – are able to extend a player’s existing contract. But there is no provision for two common practices in the NFL that enable teams to deal with its hard cap (as opposed to the NBA’s soft cap): (1) a star player, usually making eight figures annually, takes a lesser amount in annual salary for the year ahead and pushes it into future years while, usually, getting a lump-sum bonus that can be prorated and amortized over the life of the deal, thus giving the team more salary cap space without negatively affecting the ultimate payout to the player; and (2) a veteran in danger of being cut agrees to take a considerable pay cut in order to remain with the team. NBA teams below the cap but project to be well over the cap as young star players move toward second contracts can engage in some creative salary structuring. Oklahoma City did so a few years ago with Nick Collison, using all of its available cap space one year to ink Collision to an extension that then paid him relatively little in future years – when the Thunder knew Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook would be commanding max or near-max deals. But, again, that was an allowable extension, not the redoing of an existing contract.

Cal (Sterling Heights, Mich.): I’m a huge Pistons fan and always enjoy watching their games. I have really missed seeing them in the playoffs the past few years. Do the Pistons still have any shot at making the playoffs this year?

Langlois: The Pistons start the day seven games out of the final playoff spot in the loss column and with three teams ahead of them to get there, Cal. With just 26 games to go, that makes it a long shot. If it would require a .500 record to get there – Milwaukee, currently the No. 8 seed, is 26-27 – then the Pistons would need to go 19-7 to close the regular season. Tall order. They’re going to be well-positioned to add some talented players to the roster over the summer, which combined with the expected continued growth of young players like Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Brandon Knight makes next season one that’s ripe to see the Pistons back in the playoffs.

Robert (Kettering, Ohio): How has Slava Kravtsov looked to you in the brief time that he’s played lately?

Langlois: Hesitate to give an impression because he’s already evolved from the first appearance a few weeks ago against Brooklyn when he picked up four quick fouls. He hadn’t played in so long, and the adjustment to the speed of the NBA game was so dramatic, that it figures it will take him several more games to get settled in fully. He’s a very strong guy and he runs north and south extremely well for a 7-footer. He is a physical presence in the paint who had a really good run defensively when the Pistons came back to beat Washington before the All-Star break, going nine straight possessions without yielding a point. The biggest thing standing in the way of a more permanent role for him, based on limited exposure, is a greater ability to rebound the ball out of his area. Someone that big, with his hops and athleticism, should be a plus rebounder. He hasn’t shown that yet, but he’s been solid defensively and is showing that he can finish at the rim with good hands. He did grab four boards in 13 minutes against Charlotte and got his hands on a few other balls. He shows real potential as a solid screener, an underrated quality, but there again the speed of the game is his challenge; he’s been called a handful of times for moving screens.