Pistons Mailbag - February 13, 2019

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

The trade deadline has passed, the Pistons have three new players to incorporate and how that plays out – and what it means for next roster steps – are among the items on the menu for this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Darrell (Detroit): Now that the dust is settled, what are the chances of re-signing Ish Smith as a free agent? For the sake of chemistry and continuity, are the Pistons in position to re-sign Smith, Zaza Pachulia and Jose Calderon?

Langlois: Pachulia and Calderon are on veteran minimum deals. All teams, no matter their cap situation, can sign as many minimum deals as they’d like (up to the roster limit, at least). It’s possible Pachulia could squeeze more than a minimum deal out of some team looking for a reliable backup big man. Calderon will be 38 when next season opens, which is really challenging Father Time for a point guard. His production has dipped this year. Smith is the player who’ll have the most pursuers when free agency opens. Because he relies so heavily on his speed and quickness and will be 31 when next season opens, it might come down to how many years he can negotiate on his deal as much as the average annual value of the deal. I’d be surprised if the Pistons weren’t one of the teams who’ll check in with Smith early in free agency.

Oliver (Tartu, Estonia): Any thoughts on who could be the Pistons 2019-20 backup point guard? Ish Smith? Are there long-term better fits in free agency? T.J. McConnell or Tyus Jones? Or can Bruce Brown fill this task?

Langlois: Yes, Smith should be in the mix. How Reggie Jackson finishes the season probably will influence how the Pistons prioritize their off-season needs. With both Smith and Jose Calderon hitting free agency, it’s imperative the Pistons add another point guard to the roster. Even if they think Bruce Brown is capable of playing the position in something more than emergency or mop-up situations, they’ll need a competent backup. Maybe they’ll be able to fill that role in the draft, though the point guard crop is not portrayed as especially strong this year. McConnell might wind up a casualty of Philadelphia’s need to get things settled with Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris first and he could be a guy that another team moves on quickly with that in mind. The Pistons improved their off-season flexibility with the two trade-deadline deals and they might try to be a little more aggressive as free agency opens in July. The mid-level exception will be their primary means of getting in on rotation-quality players. It will be interesting to see what they do out of the gate. Point guard would be my best guess at this time. But the draft could alter the equation.

Caleb (@CalebsFacts): The best centers in the league (Anthony Davis, Kristaps Porzingis) are on losing teams despite numbers because the NBA has transitioned into a backcourt-dominant game. Would the Pistons consider moving Andre Drummond and concentrating talent at the shooting guard or small forward positions?

Langlois: Joel Embiid would like a word. (Though, really, Kristaps Porzingis? Tremendous, intriguing talent, but the guy hasn’t played in over a year, so I don’t think he’s had much impact on the records of the Knicks or Mavs. And while center might well be his best position going forward, he’s played very little of it so far in his NBA career.) No one has ever declared Drummond (or anyone else, for that matter) untouchable, but the Pistons, from all appearances, are committed at least for the moment to see where a Blake Griffin-Andre Drummond nucleus takes them. I couldn’t begin to speculate what type of trade package the Pistons would consider for Drummond, but the notion that you can plug in any old big body and expect the same results – and there seems to be a thread of that running through the fan base – is fake news of the first order.

Dan (Birmingham, Ala.): When Luke Kennard has at least 10 field-goal attempts in a game he is shooting 50 percent from the field and averaging 16 points a game. When he doesn’t, he has half that production. Why will Dwane Casey not just start Luke permanently and leave him at a steady 30 minutes per game? Tell him to shoot 15 shots. We will get 20 points from the guy. Stats are quite clear. His inconsistency follows his playing time and shot attempts. He needs to get comfortable and confident and he could be All-Star caliber like Chris Mullin.

Langlois: So you’re connecting the dots to conclude that when Kennard plays more, he plays well. I would contend it’s more the case that when he plays well, he plays more. Dwane Casey inserts Kennard at more or less the same juncture in every game. If Kennard is passive, he gets him out of there after four or five minutes. If he’s active – creating scoring opportunities or launching open shots without hesitation – he’ll play 10 or more minutes each half. So of course when he plays more, he gets his 10 or so shot attempts. It’s Kennard who dictates his playing time to a much greater degree than Casey. He hasn’t been a beacon of consistency, but – hey, he’s 22 and in his second NBA season. The upset would be if he were a metronome, giving the Pistons the same level of production every time out.

Jlambb (@jlambb): The Pistons just traded away two of their best wing defenders. How will they reorganize their defense? If they were to make the bottom of the playoff bracket, there are a lot of good twos and threes on the top-four East teams.

Langlois: Reggie Bullock had grown into a competent defender, someone who did some cross-matching at points this season. The Pistons can replace what he gave them at that end, though, with some combination of Bruce Brown and Khyri Thomas. Replacing Stanley Johnson’s defense is the more problematic, I would think, simply because the Pistons don’t really have another guy with his size and strength to handle guys like Kawhi Leonard, Jayson Tatum or Jimmy Butler if it comes to that. But when you’re fighting for a playoff berth, you can’t let something like a problematic playoff matchup that might not happen stand in the way of a trade that helps your long-term outlook. The Pistons were going to be hard-pressed to sign Bullock or Johnson, let alone both, and they replaced them with young players they like, young players who have a chance to grow into solid contributors on cheap contracts for a team that needed some production on lesser deals.

Dishon (Westland, Mich.): Is there any way the Pistons can get an All-Star or potential All-Star without getting rid of Blake Griffin or Andre Drummond?

Langlois: That’s a formula that always consists of some or all of the following elements: a good young player or two, draft picks and cap relief. The Pistons are in no position to offer cap relief at this point – they’re over the salary cap and will be, in all likelihood, to start free agency on July 1 – and the only young players they have on rookie contracts are Luke Kennard and second-round rookies Khyri Thomas, Bruce Brown and Svi Mykhailiuk. They have all of their future first-round draft picks, but without having ample cap space to absorb a bad contract another team would demand be taken in addition to the All-Star you’re fantasizing about it’s highly unlikely they’d be able to pull off your caper. A “potential” All-Star could be another story. If the Pistons see latent ability in a player who has yet to express it – or to convince a preponderance of NBA personnel people of it – then, by all means, they could acquire such a player without emptying their assets drawer.

Sports Betting Picks (@threedailypicks): Best-case scenario is the Pistons get up to the sixth seed in the East. With the star power they have and the recent improved play of their stars (Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson), do you think we will be a tough out for the Celtics, 76ers or Pacers?

Langlois: Milwaukee and Philadelphia seem the most problematic matchups for the Pistons. Not that they’d be favored against the Celtics, Pacers or Toronto Raptors, but the matchups wouldn’t be outrageously tilted against them. This is a problem the Pistons would love to encounter. They’re very much in day-to-day, game-to-game mode at this point. They have 16 of their last 27 games on the road, including a tough West Coast road trip in March. It will be a challenge to get to the postseason. They’ll worry about the matchup when they learn what it is.

Bob (Albany, Ore.): As much as I liked Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson, the Pistons were not going to retain them. So the trades were good. What will they do at small forward now?

Langlois: There’s not much difference any more between small forward and shooting guard. Luke Kennard is effectively more small forward than shooting guard these days. He’ll face some tough matchups potentially, but more often than not he’ll be guarding someone more similar than dissimilar to him. Svi Mykhailiuk is 6-foot-8. Not sure he’ll crack the rotation this year, but he’s got good size for that spot. Glenn Robinson III is still around and gives them more than enough size for small forwards. Dwane Casey wouldn’t hesitate to put Bruce Brown, Khyri Thomas or Langston Galloway against most small forwards even though they’ll give up some size, probably, to many. And Wayne Ellington has pretty good size, too. There will be nights Casey will wish he still had Stanley Johnson to guard the more physical small forwards, but more and more those guys are today playing power forward as teams opt to put more shooters on the floor – and those guys tend to be more in the Kennard-Ellington mold than even a few years ago. Remember way back, three years ago, when the Pistons traded for Tobias Harris and people wondered how Harris and Marcus Morris would handle the physicality of power forwards? Today, those guys don’t play a second at small forward. They’re power forwards all the way, pretty much.

Jenny (Royal Oak, Mich.): I understand trading Reggie Bullock for a future investment and to increase our odds of landing a better pick this year, but why did we let the Lakers – a team of haves – swindle us for pennies on the dollar? Sure, Bullock is on an expiring deal and there’s no guarantee he’d want to re-sign with the LeBron-led, high-potential Lakers (insert laugh here), but Bullock was certainly worth more than a rookie who’s barely making a dent in playing time and what’s almost guaranteed to be a very late second-round pick. Please explain the rationale behind this trade to your sane readers.

Langlois: Not sure that getting a guy who can shoot like Svi Mykhailiuk at his size for two months of Reggie Bullock, plus a second-round draft pick of any sort, counts as pennies on the dollar. You can assume that Ed Stefanski and his front office had a very clear idea of what teams were willing to part with for Bullock. Bullock turned himself into a capable starter and he was a tremendous bargain for the Pistons the past two seasons, but keep in mind there’s a reason he signed for just two years at a relatively modest $2.5 million a season two years ago. He’d had injury issues and missed games three different times this season, in fact. He has a decent chance to land an eight-figure average annual value deal this off-season – would anybody be surprised if Bullock got four years and $40 million or three years and $32 million, something like that? – this off-season. Given the Pistons cap structure, that was going to be next to impossible and likely imprudent for them. Stefanski began to prepare for this day when he drafted Khyri Thomas and Bruce Brown last summer. That’s the rationale. It had zero to do with trying to land a better pick this year and, in fact, there’s no evidence that will be the case. The fact the Pistons turned around and signed Wayne Ellington off of the buyout market tells you that going backward was never part of their motivation for trading Bullock. It was all about making sure they had more options to fill the void his near-certain summer departure would create.

Brenden (@BrendenWelper): What in your opinion has been the key to Reggie Jackson’s resurgence of late?

Langlois: Some of it is his growing familiarity and comfort with a new offensive system that required a change in mindset for him. Jackson has always been a guy, back to his Boston College days, given the freedom to pound the ball until he found an opening and exploit it. That’s not Dwane Casey’s system. I can only imagine that requires a considerable mental adjustment for a point guard. More of it, I expect – and Jackson said the same a little less than two weeks ago when we talked about it – is that he’s begun to feel like he’s over the effects of the two injuries (knee, ankle) that not only undermined his last two seasons but cost him two summers of skills work and repetitions. And, I suspect, the mental adjustment helped compound the drag effect of the physical challenges he faced. If the Pistons get the Reggie Jackson they’ve had for the past three weeks for the rest of the season, they’re a lot different team – a significantly better team.

Kumar (Troy, Mich.): Philly trading for Jimmy Butler hasn’t really moved the needle for them. As a matter of fact, there are rumors of chemistry issues. I guess all trades, no matter how good a player you believe he is, aren’t guaranteed a success. Also, is Butler actually that good or a bit overhyped?

Langlois: Butler is really good. Also really competitive. Also headstrong, by all accounts, and I wondered when the 76ers traded for Tobias Harris if the 76ers weren’t hedging their bets on retaining Butler every bit as much as they were trying to beef up for an all-in shot at winning the East and challenging Golden State this season. I know Philly’s public stance is they’re fully intent on signing both players as free agents this summer, but how the playoffs unfold will go a long way toward shaping their plans. If they have a long run and everybody seems optimistic about the future, sure, that could happen. It could just as easily turn out that friction ensues as Butler jockeys for his place in the Joel Embiid-Ben Simmons orbit and he decides he’d rather be a more certain alpha male elsewhere. I think Harris’ personality is far more amenable to being a strong No. 3 option to Embiid-Simmons and even a No. 4 should Butler re-up. The trade deadline created some fascinating scenarios, none more intriguing than Philadelphia’s.

Pistons.com editor Keith Langlois answers your questions about the Pistons and NBA. To have your question considered, submit it along with your name, email address and city/state using the form below.

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