Pistons Mailbag - August 2, 2017

A little smattering of everything: Stanley Johnson and Reggie Bullock at small forward, the long-range plan for the Pistons, trade possibilities for the Pistons and Kyrie Irving and even a little Hollywood analysis in the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Joseph (Philippines): Do you agree that Golden State and maybe Cleveland, if the Cavaliers stay intact, will rule both conferences in the next five years? And the Pistons should consider laying low and think of the future after these teams slow down instead of hoping for something unreachable?

Langlois: Five years is an eternity in a league where the majority of contracts are three years or less. Golden State could be poised for a run that long, I suppose, if everyone stays healthy and ownership signs off on the prospect of enormous luxury tax bills. With a new arena in the pipeline and a thriving economy, the Warriors probably can absorb those enormous costs as well as any franchise and better than the great majority of them. But, still, that’s a long time to keep it humming at the highest level. Cleveland’s outlook isn’t nearly that certain. LeBron James is the key, of course. If he sticks around, not only does his presence virtually assure relevance for the franchise, it holds ownership accountable to go to the mat to outfit the team around him to contend for championships. But James isn’t committed to the Cavs beyond this season. And the season is in some peril now with Kyrie Irving’s request to be traded. Even if they somehow manage to push that off, there’s an underlying cause for tension with Irving’s reported declaration of dissatisfaction over playing with James. As for how the Pistons should approach things, perhaps you could argue for a different tack if they were in the West given Golden State’s five-year projection. But I doubt it. It’s not as if the Pistons have made moves to imperil their future. All Stan Van Gundy has done is identify players the franchise values and sign them to long-term deals. He hasn’t parted with a single first-round pick. If the Pistons were in a different place – if they had won 50 games the past few seasons, gotten to the second round or the conference finals, and felt they were a player away from overtaking the Cavs, then maybe they’d have a monumental decision to make. I don’t think they’re going to “lay low” – that sounds vaguely like an endorsement for tanking. But they’re not going to make reckless decisions, either.

Josh (Ferndale, Mich.): Does Van Gundy really feel like Stanley Johnson is ready to start at small forward? I hope Johnson is working on his set shot.

Langlois: It’s not quite right to say that Johnson was a luxury last season, but the Pistons had options if Johnson didn’t play to expectations. With Marcus Morris out of the forward rotation this season, Johnson is first in line to assume a similar role. I doubt Stan Van Gundy expects Johnson to consume all of Morris’ 33 to 36 minutes a game he’d averaged in his two seasons with the Pistons. But he does expect Johnson to rebound from his second season, in part, because he feels he’ll be better suited to playing against other small forwards more than he was against the variety of players he was matched against last season when the bulk of his minutes came at shooting guard. Van Gundy expects Johnson to draw the toughest defensive assignment at forward, just as he expects Avery Bradley to guard the opposition’s top backcourt player. Defense is Johnson’s carrying tool as of today. Once he settles into that role – demanding minutes based on elite or above average defensive play – then the expectation is that he’ll find his niche offensively.

Paul (Phoenix): I was thinking Reggie Bullock should start at small forward, setting the pace of movement, cutting and driving to the hoop so Stanley Johnson can learn to play the small forward position. I have been watching video of him and he just stands around mostly and stagnates offensive movement.

Langlois: Bullock, far and away, is the team’s best at movement off the ball. He made a mark when Stan Van Gundy went to him down the stretch in the 2015-16 season as the Pistons made their playoff push and was part of the rotation to start their playoff series against Cleveland before a leg injury knocked him out. Bullock’s challenge has been to avoid nagging injuries. That’s why he, too, went to the P3 training facility in Santa Barbara, Calif., where Andre Drummond and Stanley Johnson have been regulars over the years, with his emphasis on strength and flexibility and a goal of better injury prevention. Bullock probably will be in competition with rookie Luke Kennard for a role as a perimeter shooter. Both have the sort of game that encourages offensive flow, Bullock with his off-the-ball movement and quick decision making and Kennard with his ability to pass and make plays off the dribble. And both can shoot, though Kennard doesn’t yet have an NBA history. Starting might be a stretch – and also a sign that Stanley Johnson didn’t make the leap the Pistons expect and, really, need him to make this season.

Kevin (@Kevinjdd): Who is the best character in the movie “Airplane?”

Langlois: Throw a dart at the cast list. You can’t go wrong. Peter Graves was really good as the captain. Lloyd Bridges was classic. Robert Hays, Robert Stack, Julie Hagerty, all superb. Leslie Nielsen steals every scene. And special mention to Kareem, especially for the “tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the floor for 48 minutes” line. And the kid was pretty good, too. An all-time great movie.

Ken (Dharamsala, India): What’s the word on Reggie Jackson? Tendinitis is aggravated by joint usage, but if you don’t practice you are done as a player. I hope Reggie is reinventing himself from diet to close consultation with doctors and coaches. So much depends on him being healthy.

Langlois: He’s nearing the end of a 16-week protocol designed to increase strength and flexibility as a safeguard against a recurrence of the tendinosis (chronic tendinitis) that knocked him out for the season’s first 21 games and cast a shadow over his entire season. Whatever the cost to him of limiting his on-court work might be, it’s certainly worth it to have him at full speed. That’s where it all starts for Jackson. He didn’t attack the basket with the same frequency, explosion or efficiency last season and it had everything to do with his physical state – or to his confidence in his physical state, at least. That’s what this summer is about – not only getting him back to 100 percent healthy physically, but 100 percent confident mentally in his physical state. He’ll have plenty of time left between the end of the 16-week protocol and the start of training camp in late September to gear up on the court and hit the ground running when camp opens.

Lazarus (@lazchance): If we see bench lineups with Leuer at the five, will the four next to him be Tolliver or Ellenson?

Langlois: Harris. Harris? Hey, it could be any of those three. It could be Stanley Johnson, as well. Several teams are using guys who would have been viewed as strictly or largely small forwards at the four these days. (Brooklyn, for instance, is expected to use DeMarre Carroll as its power forward this season. Marcus Morris is probably ticketed to play power forward for Boston. Heck, the Pistons use Tobias Harris there and no one saw him as a pure power forward at any point in his career.) Johnson is likely going to be the best defensive matchup in those instances. Stan Van Gundy is enthused about the depth and lineup flexibility he’ll have this season, but the reason I mention Harris first is I half expect Van Gundy to use Harris similarly to how he used Morris last season, starting but coming out first so he could return to start the second and fourth quarters and serve as the scoring anchor for the bench. Van Gundy even mentioned the possibility of Tolliver playing the five when teams put big men whose comfort zone is the 3-point line at center against them. He told me he’s looking at Leuer and Boban Marjanovic as a “two-headed monster” as the backup center this season and the intent is to play Leuer more at the five than the Pistons did last season when Van Gundy was so comfortable with Aron Baynes in virtually all circumstances.

Shameek (@shamshammgod): SVG mentioned that Stanley will get a chance to guard fours. Based on what you’ve seen in practice, how do you think he’ll fare?

Langlois: See above. He’ll fare just fine because in 90 percent of the instances the Pistons use him at power forward, he’ll be guarding guys like Carroll, Morris or Harris.

Harry (Farmington Hills, MIch.): When is the 2017-18 NBA schedule coming out? Dee-troit Basket-ball!

Langlois: Should be in another week or so, Harry. The league office waits for the first big wave of free agency to see which teams hold the most appeal to the national TV carriers and then it takes a month or so to put it all together, get feedback from teams and amend the first draft. The schedule is usually out somewhere around August 10, give or take a few days on either side. If it’s not next week, it’ll almost certainly be the following.

Deviare (Pontiac, Mich.): Reggie Jackson and a few picks for Kyrie Irving? Have we tried to call to see what the Cavaliers want?

Langlois: Stan Van Gundy told me last week that, yes, the Pistons have had some level of conversation with the Cavs, but that’s hardly news. Just as Van Gundy said that all 29 teams engaged Indiana when it became common knowledge that Paul George was on the trade market, so it should be expected that every team will throw a hook in the water to see if it gets a bite. If the Cavs are trading Irving, it stands to reason they’ll be looking for a point guard in return even after signing Derrick Rose. Reggie Jackson would be attractive – if the Cavs were confident he was the Jackson of 2015-16. But they can’t take that risk given the absolute organizational imperative to contend for a championship this season. Avery Bradley would be an obviously desirable trade target for the Cavs with an eye toward his ability to defend on the perimeter in the assumed rematch with Golden State in the NBA Finals. Bradley can’t be aggregated in trade until Sept. 7, so no deal involving multiple Pistons with Bradley a part of the package could be completed until then. I think Tobias Harris would be a player that would also hold appeal to Cleveland. If the Cavs wait on an Irving deal until after the season starts – not only to put Bradley in play but also to see where Jackson stands in his return – the Pistons would be a potential trade partner. As it stands today, I don’t see a match.

George (Riverside, Calif.): I’m a big fan of Andre Drummond and think he’s going to earn that contract in the long run. But I can’t help wonder how this same team would do with Greg Monroe in the middle. I know the subsequent roster moves wouldn’t have happened the same, but his passing and arsenal of moves from the post would make this offense hum.

Langlois: It wasn’t entirely in the Pistons’ hands to make the decision, George. When Stan Van Gundy came to Detroit, he wasn’t ready to commit long term to playing Monroe and Drummond together. And Monroe wasn’t ready to commit to staying in Detroit, either. His agent, David Falk, made that abundantly clear. But it’s fair to wonder how different the Pistons would be with Monroe in the middle instead of Drummond. Milwaukee rather quickly came to the decision that Monroe was best served coming off its bench, primarily because of issues with rim protection. Monroe is a good passer and offensive rebounder with sophisticated footwork and low-post scoring ability. He’s not the athlete, physical presence or the equal of Drummond as a rebounding force. Drummond’s defensive ceiling is considerably higher. He obviously needs to become a more consistent rim protector. But he’s been an All-Star already and surely has it within him to become one again and for a very long time. I don’t think Van Gundy second guesses himself on how he handled the big men he inherited to the extent that was within his control. The fact Monroe almost immediately opted in to the final year of his contract – before it became apparent that the market for big men had dried up – indicates pretty clearly how he and Falk perceived his standing among NBA teams. It was widely assumed before last season and even during the season that Monroe would opt out and sign a lucrative long-term deal. Now he’ll have to hope he has a big season and the market for big men – backup big men, especially – is better than the one this summer that saw Aron Baynes opt out of a $6.5 million deal on the expectation he’d sign a long-term contract starting at eight figures and wind up settling for a one-year, $4.3 million deal.