Pistons Mailbag - March 5, 2014

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

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.

Joseph (Saginaw, Mich.): What is your honest take on whether the Pistons have a chance to make the playoffs?

Langlois: Less than 50-50 but better than a long shot, Joseph. They’re four games behind Atlanta in the loss column with only 22 games left to play, but that’s not the only problem. To gain ground even on a team that’s taking on water as the Hawks are, the Pistons are going to have to start winning games at a much higher rate than they’ve been able to do for the past three months. The Pistons were 10-10 after winning at Chicago in early December. They’ve got 14-26 since. And that means that before beating the Knicks on Monday night, they’d lost exactly two games for every win for nearly three full months. Even in a weakened Eastern Conference, that’s not going to be enough to make up the ground the Pistons need to cover. I’d say going 12-10 over their last 22 would probably do it for them, given the way Atlanta is fading. Cleveland is still lurking behind them, but after a six-game winning streak – including a very damaging win over the Pistons just before the All-Star break when the Cavs came back from 10 down with eight minutes to play – they’ve again faded. Atlanta has the most favorable schedule of the three coming down the stretch, though, and the Pistons have the toughest. While the Pistons have just eight home games vs. 14 road games remaining, Atlanta has 13 home games (including a big one vs. the Pistons, the makeup game, on April 8) and 11 road games; Cleveland has 10 home, 10 away. Atlanta has 13 remaining games vs. teams that are .500 or better to 12 for the Pistons and 10 for the Cavs. So, possible. But not unless they start winning games of the sort that they haven’t been able to win over the last three months.

Susan (Novi, Mich.): Can you explain the value of the Ben Gordon trade to me, which appears to be costing us our No. 1 draft pick this year and the low-cost quality player we would have gotten. How much money are the Pistons losing with low attendance vs. the Ben Gordon contract savings by not having fans attend the games. I’m a frustrated fan.

Langlois: It wasn’t about saving money, Susan. It was about clearing cap space to spend money on players the Pistons believed could help them win sooner. The trade wasn’t really about Corey Maggette and Ben Gordon as much as it was about Maggette’s contract expiring a year ahead of Gordon’s. That gave the Pistons about $20 million in cap space last summer, rather than a much smaller amount. The Pistons used that cap space to add Josh Smith, Chauncey Billups and Gigi Datome and to trade for Brandon Jennings and the new three-year contract he agreed to sign. There’s no question that the Pistons expected better than the 24-36 record they’ll take into tonight’s game against Chicago. They’re frustrated, as well. But, again, they didn’t send a No. 1 pick to Charlotte to save money, but rather to give them a chance to spend it to rebuild one year sooner than they otherwise would have been able to do. The cost of doing so was a No. 1 pick. When they executed the trade in June 2012, the Pistons clearly expected they would be a playoff team by no later than 2014-15 and, probably, by 2013-14. They are protected against sending the top pick to Charlotte this season if it falls in the top eight. If they keep the pick this season, they’ll owe it to Charlotte in 2015 unless it’s the No. 1 overall pick.

Justin (@RsquaredComicz): Do you see the possibility of any lineup changes during this final playoff push?

Langlois: I’d be surprised if they did anything with the starting lineup at this point, Justin. The move to Kyle Singler at shooting guard over Kentavious Caldwell-Pope came just before the Pistons fired Maurice Cheeks and replaced him with John Loyer, but Loyer made it clear upon assuming control that he was keeping Singler in the starting lineup. He’s been a big believer in Singler from the get-go, coaching him in Summer League before his rookie season. Loyer also reinstated Will Bynum to the rotation – he didn’t play in the last two games of the Cheeks regime – immediately and has come to use him and Rodney Stuckey as the two staples of the bench. The other two bench players Loyer has used pretty consistently are Jonas Jerebko and Caldwell-Pope. Cheeks’ rotation could vary from game to game. The lineup change that most fans ask about is the possibility of Singler at small forward to split up the big three – Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. I’d say that’s most unlikely. Loyer is playing all three pretty heavy minutes. Tougher to do that when they’re coming off the bench.

Fred (Michigamme, Mich.): I saw a story last week that said the NBA was considering adding a 4-point line that would be 28 feet from the basket. What do you think of that idea?

Langlois: Let’s play basketball underwater. I’d like that idea better, Fred. You’re probably asking the wrong guy, because I’m not a fan of the disproportionate (my opinion, admittedly) influence the 3-point line has on today’s NBA, and that view has nothing to do with the fact that the Pistons have consistently ranked at or near the bottom of the 3-point shooting statistics all season while simultaneously ranking in the bottom third for 3-point percentage defense. How about we move the 3-point line back to the proposed 28-foot 4-point line? I could live with that. It’s remarkable to recall that the 1988-89 NBA championship Pistons took a total of 400 3-point shots in the regular season, about 4.9 per game. As of Monday, there were 28 individual players taking more than that this season. The average team takes 21.2 3-point shots a game now, almost exactly a quarter of all shot attempts. That has changed the game dramatically, and whether that’s for the better or worse is simply a matter of taste. I’m not a fan. Thankfully, the NBA rather forcefully denied it was considering any such thing as a 4-point line.

Joel (Windsor, Mich.): I think the Pistons need to free up their frontcourt logjam and have Andre Drummond operate in a lineup much like Houston’s with Dwight Howard. If the Pistons are looking to move Monroe this summer, do you think a sign-and-trade for someone like, say, Trevor Ariza would work?

Langlois: Monroe is a better player than Ariza, Joel, so I wouldn’t do that specific deal. He’ll be a free agent, 29 when free agency opens, and coming off a very strong season where he’s averaging about 15 points and knocking down better than 40 percent of his 3-point attempts. He’ll certainly have appeal to teams with a hole at small forward looking to add a 3-point shooter. I’m not sure the Pistons would see him as an upgrade over Kyle Singler, though. Singler is playing shooting guard now and the Pistons are comfortable with him there, but I don’t think the long-range plan calls for him to stay there.

Sabbir (@SabbirNoor): What does Will Bynum have to do to gain more minutes in the rotation?

Langlois: He has a believer in John Loyer, Sabbir. Bynum hadn’t played in the last two games of Mo Cheeks’ tenure. That changed as soon as Loyer took over for Cheeks. Bynum has played 20 or more minutes in seven of 10 games under Loyer. I’m not sure he’s going to be able to grab many more than that as long as Brandon Jennings is healthy and playing at his normal level. Before Jennings shut it down at halftime in San Antonio last week with a sore toe, he had been on a pretty good run in his first seven games under Loyer with a preposterous 7.3:1 assists-to-turnovers ratio. To be at his best, Bynum really has to expend a ton of energy – being a pesky on-the-ball defender and attacking the rim require an enormous amount of work – and if you get past 25 or 30 minutes consistently there could be diminishing returns.

Pablo (Argentina): Why did the Pistons not trade Greg Monroe? He’s a talented offensive player who will demand a big paycheck, near the max, next season. We have a lot of money committed to Josh Smith and it wouldn’t make sense to pay that much for another big man who can’t play defense.

Langlois: Well, let’s start with this: We have no idea if anyone made a credible offer, Pablo. Monroe’s a 23-year-old big man with a remarkable record of durability – and let’s not overlook the fact that since sitting out the first two games of his NBA career due to a coach’s decision, Monroe has played in 287 of 288 games – and productivity. We don’t know if the front office has concluded that there aren’t enough minutes to go around for Smith, Monroe and Andre Drummond to provide enough productivity to justify the financial commitment required to keep all of them on the payroll. But Drummond will be on his rookie deal for two more seasons, so I’d be surprised if that was their determination. They have the luxury of time on their side in that respect.

Christopher (@roman0471): As the playoffs become more unrealistic, what are the chances we see increased roles for the rookies?

Langlois: If it gets to the last week, the final few games, and the Pistons have no mathematical possibility of making the playoffs, sure, it’s possible Kentavious Caldwell-Pope gets a start and it’s possible that Tony Mitchell, Gigi Datome and Peyton Siva get some minutes. Until that point, I don’t think John Loyer is going to alter the rotation due to any motivation other than what he believes gives the team the best chance to win games. That makes him like almost every other coach the NBA has ever employed. I get it. I don’t think you do young players any favors by giving them playing time they haven’t earned or given strong indications they’re ready to handle.

Deiter (Chicago): Where do you rank Andre Drummond’s performance against New York with his 17 points and 26 rebounds?

Langlois: Considering the competition, right up there, Deiter. The benchmark production line for Drummond probably is his 31-point, 19-rebound, six-steal, two-block game against Philadelphia last Dec. 1. But the 76ers have no one close to the caliber of Tyson Chandler, either. His 21-point, 20-rebound game against New Orleans is another one that deserves consideration. There are a handful of others, too. And that’s really the encouraging thing for Drummond and the Pistons. Monday’s dominant performance against the Knicks is in the discussion to be among his best games, but it was hardly out of left field. He’s 20. If you polled NBA experts on the subject of which players should be expected to compile the most 20-20 games, for instance, over the next five years, I can’t imagine Drummond wouldn’t be in the top two or three with the likes of Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard and maybe Anthony Davis the only other obvious candidates.