Pistons Mailbag - April 2, 2014

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.

Ed (@GOODmusicCody8): What are the conditions for the Bobcats to receive our first-round pick?

Langlois: If it’s a top-eight pick, the Pistons keep it. If it’s anything but a top-eight pick, it goes to the Bobcats this year. (If not, it goes to Charlotte next year unless it’s the No. 1 pick.) Bottom line, we won’t know until May 20 when the lottery order is determined. If the Pistons take the No. 8 spot into the lottery, they’d have an 82.4 percent chance to keep the pick. If they take the No. 7 spot into the lottery, they’d have a 98.2 percent chance to keep the pick. If they take the No. 9 spot into the lottery, they’d have about a 13 percent chance to keep the pick by pulling a top-three pick.

Johan (@JohanCornellius): Why is Smith allowed to shoot, at all, from outside the paint?

Langlois: He’s shooting .248 from the 3-point line, Johan, which obviously isn’t efficient. In general, the Pistons have taken fewer 3-point shots under John Loyer than they did under Mo Cheeks and been a more efficient 3-point shooting team. The differences aren’t dramatic – they averaged 19.4 3-point attempts per game under Cheeks and shot .312; 18.5 tries per game under Loyer at .328 accuracy. But that difference of .014 essentially is about one-third of the difference between their average under Cheeks and the league norm, so it’s not insignificant, either. As for Smith specifically, when you line up at small forward in the NBA – and especially when you’re playing small forward opposite a power forward who’s much more of a scoring threat around the rim than he is at the 3-point line, which describes Greg Monroe – the 3-point shot is going to present itself. Teams formulate, distribute and study scouting reports. Opponents back off of Smith and Monroe when they’re on the perimeter to invite outside shooting, eliminate driving lanes and put themselves in position to keep Andre Drummond, Monroe and Smith off the offensive glass. After Monday’s win over Milwaukee, Loyer was asked if he’d like to see Smith drive to the basket more often. Well, sure – but as he said, when Smith is playing small forward there just isn’t the room to do so all that often. All of that said, the Pistons average nearly 101 points a game – right in the middle of the league. Given the mediocrity of the East this year, league average would have been enough to get them into the playoffs had they performed to that standard at both ends. It’s been their defense that’s prevented a run at the playoffs.

Benjamin (Struer, Denmark): I think the best thing for the Pistons now is to tank to make sure they keep their pick in a draft that’s been talked about being the best since 2004. But I feel the Pistons need to make some moves this off-season and one I think would help both teams would be to sign and trade Greg Monroe for Kevin Love. The Timberwolves get a center/power forward they can build around and the Pistons get a superstar and one to two years to make him believe in the Pistons. What are your thoughts on that scenario?

Langlois: The Timberwolves might well decide to trade Love this off-season Benjamin, if he convinces them he will leave following the 2014-15 season as a free agent, as many have speculated will happen. But will any team run the risk of trading for Love knowing that he can opt out of his contract after next season? Would Love be willing to do what Chris Paul did in 2011 when he gave the Clippers a guarantee that he wouldn’t opt out of his contract after the 2011-12 season? The Timberwolves have Nikola Pekovic installed as their center. Flip Saunders would have to believe that Pekovic and Monroe would form a potent frontcourt combination and be able to play alongside each other at both ends to consider such a deal. It can’t help perception that the Pistons failed to achieve the level of success they expected this season with Monroe and Andre Drummond playing together, though perhaps a team that could surround Monroe and Pekovic with better shooting wouldn’t have those concerns. At any rate, Love probably is one of the 10 best players in the game today and Minnesota is in a tough spot. There would be a long list of teams interested in feeling out Love, but how many of them would be willing to trade roughly equal assets without having any assurances of Love staying put long term? Probably not many. Love would be a phenomenal fit next to Andre Drummond, of course, and maybe that would be enough to give him reason to consider Detroit as a potential destination if and when he forces the hand of Timberwolves management. But there is a widespread perception that Love, should he leave Minnesota, would like to end up in Los Angeles or, at the least, on the West Coast.

Phil (Waterford, Mich.): How much cap space will the Pistons have this off-season if Monroe, Villanueva, Jerebko and Stuckey are all gone? Will we have enough money for any of the top free agents this summer?

Langlois: There are a lot of variables, Phil. The Pistons could retain all three of Chauncey Billups, Josh Harrellson and Peyton Siva, but they could clear about $4.5 million in cap space by not bringing any of them back. Jerebko won’t be a free agent unless he opts out of the final year of his contract at a reported $4.5 million. Monroe’s cap hold will be $10 million. There is no chance the Pistons would rescind their rights to him to free up that money. If the cap comes in at $62 million, which is what some are projecting, the Pistons could have about $13 million in cap space, accounting for Monroe’s cap hold, or $17.5 million if Jerebko opted out. Many teams are projected to have cap space this summer, unlike the pre-lockout norm when there usually was no more than a handful that took eight figures worth of cap space into July 1.

Rokell (El Paso, Texas): I asked some time ago about the Pistons getting their own D-League team and now it appears they have one. Do you know if the Pistons will be responsible for the coaching hires, type of preferred play, etc.? I think it would be better if the team was to play at Van Andel Arena, personally.

Langlois: There have been reports, not yet confirmed by the team, that the Pistons will operate their own D-League team in Grand Rapids next season. It seemed inevitable this would happen eventually simply because as more NBA teams adopted that model it forced the teams without an exclusive affiliate relationship to gang up on the few remaining D-League teams that weren’t affiliated. The Pistons this season, for instance, were sharing the Fort Wayne franchise with five other NBA teams. That made assured playing time for NBA players sent to Fort Wayne problematic if two or three other teams had prospects stashed there at the same time. There are different models for relationships between the NBA parent and D-League affiliate, but in most cases the NBA team chooses and pays the coaches and is responsible for the player payroll, which naturally means that in most cases they’ll be running a similar style of offense and adhering to the same defensive tenets as the parent club. There are some D-League affiliates that are outright owned by the NBA team, but the more frequent arrangement is for local ownership – meaning the D-League owners are responsible for paying for the arena lease and hiring marketing and sales staffs while also profiting, perhaps, from ticket sales, concessions, parking, rights fees and sponsorships. If and when the Pistons come to a formal agreement with Grand Rapids local ownership, we’ll have a better idea of their particular arrangement. As for Van Andel vs. the DeltaPlex Arena, Van Andel undoubtedly would be a more expensive place to lease and the seating capacity is much greater than D-League crowds average. If the D-League team ever outgrows the DeltaPlex, that would be a happy surprise.

Eric (Virginia Beach, Va.): What’s up, Keith? With the Pistons most likely headed to the lottery again and with teams loaded with point guards, do you see the Pistons taking either Smart or Ennis and, if so, what would happen to Peyton Siva who still has a year left?

Langlois: Getting that question quite a bit these days. Dante Exum is the other point guard who’s a likely top-10 pick, though he’s been scouted precious little and, if he doesn’t agree to work out for teams (as is suspected) it’s going to require a leap of faith to take him in the top five, as projections deem possible or even likely, in a draft with attractive options. I wouldn’t rule out point guard as a Pistons possibility, should they keep their first-round pick. They like Brandon Jennings and don’t believe he’s nearly done growing as a player, but I think there would be appeal in diversifying at the position – namely, getting bigger to help improve the team defensively. John Loyer, and Mo Cheeks before him, consistently cited the need to improve defensively on the perimeter as a key to overall defensive improvement. Jennings, because of his slight frame, faces some daunting matchup challenges. Exum has great size for the position and Smart has the frame of an NFL linebacker had he chosen that route.

Alphonse (Dearborn Heights, Mich.): Do we know yet what players are coming out?

Langlois: Nope. Some prominent players – Andrew Wiggins of Kansas, Noah Vonleh of Indiana and Tyler Ennis of Syracuse – have announced they were entering the draft, Alphonse. But there are still a number of likely lottery picks yet to declare. At least one of them, Kentucky’s Julius Randle, is still playing. Duke’s Jabari Parker, a potential No. 1 pick, has yet to declare his intentions. Certain top-three picks usually enter the draft, but there seems to be legitimate uncertainty where Parker is concerned. Joel Embiid’s back injury complicates his situation. Almost each year, it seems, one or two top-10 picks decide to stay. Marcus Smart was the prime example a year ago. Cody Zeller the year before that. John Henson and Harrison Barnes of North Carolina both stayed three years ago. Greg Monroe and Ed Davis in 2010 were surprise choices to stick around for sophomore seasons.

Vincent (@Go_Blue33): Which player is more likely to be on next year’s Pistons roster, Josh Smith or Greg Monroe?

Langlois: Have to go with Smith simply because of Monroe’s status as a restricted free agent. Even though we all know the history of restricted free agency is that player movement is fairly rare, it’s still an avenue that could lead to Monroe being elsewhere next season. The good news for the Pistons, though, is that the cap space they have makes it extremely unlikely that they’ll lose him because they can’t justify matching any offer sheet Monroe might elicit. (There has been some suggestion that a team could offer Monroe a “poison pill” deal, similar to how Houston pried Omer Asik away from Chicago and Jeremy Lin from New York two off-seasons ago by loading the deals to make matching prohibitive. Those contracts can only be offered to players if they start below the mid-level exception; Monroe’s contract surely will not.) If Pistons management decides the most prudent course to better balance the roster is to move one of Monroe or Smith via trade, it really will depend on the marketplace and what suitors need more – a player like Monroe, more of a center-power forward, or one like Smith, more of a power forward-small forward – and how what’s being offered matches Pistons needs.