Pistons Mailbag - February 18, 2015

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

The All-Star break is almost over, the trade deadline is Thursday and the final 28 Pistons games of the season start with Friday's hosting of the Chicago Bulls. Plenty of grist for the mill, so ... on with Mailbag.

Isaac (Flint, Mich.): I just read an article on Bleacher Report which cites an ESPN reporter that says we are looking at Joe Johnson and Brandon Jennings might be part of the deal. Please tell me this is garbage and second, since when can you trade away an injured player? I thought they had to pass a team physical or something?

Langlois: You can trade players regardless of their medical condition – the other team simply has to be aware of the condition. If they think they're getting a hale and healthy player and he shows up with a slipped disc, the deal's off. There's no secret that Brandon Jennings has a ruptured Achilles and is gone for the year. The Nets' primary goal, it appears, is to shed money – especially so if reports that Mikhail Prokhorov is looking to sell are true – and freeing themselves of Johnson's whopper $25 million 2015-16 obligation is one great way to do so. In the abstract – taking on a soon-to-be 34-year-old for a team whose president talks about the future – doesn't come close to passing the smell test. Dig a layer or two beneath the surface and you can see the shred of a sound foundation to the idea. One, it obviously helps the Pistons this season, giving them a go-to scorer at a position they likely will be looking to shore up in the off-season otherwise. Two, while it crimps their off-season cap space this year, they'd have a $25 million deal coming off the books a year from now and it's quite possible the 2016 free-agent crop will be viewed as more attractive than '15's. Three, maybe – no idea, just sayin' – the Pistons believe, or even have reason to believe, that the prospect of a go-to scorer at small forward next season would have Greg Monroe viewing the prospect of staying with the Pistons in an entirely different light. I think the chances of such a deal getting done are small, only because the chances of any particular deal getting done when talks are in their infancy are small. All I'm saying is it's not hard to make a reasonable case for checking out what it might take to acquire a player of that ilk. That's what front offices do – float ideas and consider the possibilities. A fraction of those ideas make it into public forum. A fraction of those come to fruition.

Kumar (Troy, Mich.): As per the CBA, what is the max contract we can offer Monroe so that it doesn't affect a max deal for Drummond/ Can we give Monroe a five-year contract? Also, it is rumored that Draymond Green wants to play for Detroit. What is the max we can offer him after being able to retain Monroe as per the above question and paying Drummond the max deal?

Langlois: As free agents with less than six years of NBA service time, both Monroe and Green would be eligible for the same "max" deal – 25 percent of the salary cap. The cap is expected to come in at $66 million this summer – after that, it's expected to go up, and dramatically over the next five years or so, estimated to $90 million. Because of that future escalation, there is uncertainty over what type of offers will get tossed around this summer. Some believe we've already seen the salary escalation begin with deals like the four-year, $44 million contract Utah gave Alec Burks before this season began. The theory is that those players will become bargains. So a max contract this summer, that gets quickly bypassed in value by future max contracts, won't be nearly as burdensome as past and present realities would have made it. A max deal for a player with Monroe and Green's service time would have a first-year value of roughly $16.5 million. The Pistons could not offer Green a five-year deal – they don't have his Bird rights. They could offer a five-year deal to Monroe for the max without it affecting their ability to offer the same to Drummond. (Note: This contradicts my earlier understanding of the situation. Pistons assistant GM Ken Catanella clarified for me. Teams are prohibited from extending two rookie contracts into five-year max deals. But because Monroe will be a free agent, that no longer applies. That could be an important factor in the Pistons' favor because it gives them the ability to give Monroe an additional year that others couldn't.) I think it's a moot point whether the Pistons could afford both Monroe and Green – they could probably get to $33 million in cap space without much heavy lifting – because I can't see either player committing to play for the same team with Drummond and creating an uncertain logjam. Green is capable of playing small forward, sure, but part of what makes him worthy of consideration for a contract that large is his versatility and the mismatches he can create as a power forward. (In essence, you'd be back in a situation not far removed from the one the Pistons experienced after adding Josh Smith to a Monroe-Drummond frontcourt.)

Andy (@andy_miller30): Rumors that the Kings are interested in Jonas Jerebko and want to deal Nik Stauskas. Any possibility of a deal between those two?

Langlois: The Atlanta Hawks just got a protected No. 1 pick from Minnesota for Adreian Payne, drafted seven spots lower than Stauskas, a mid-lottery selection at No. 8. Getting a two-month rental on Jonas Jerebko for a team hopelessly out of playoff contention would be the type of deal that would have the commissioner's office swooping in to spike it, Andy. The Kings aren't doing that deal for any player on an expiring contract – unless it comes with a first-round pick with only limited lottery protection on it, no matter how much Stauskas might be struggling as a rookie.

Matt (@MatSwrzntrb): If Greg Monroe leaves, do we replace him with a stretch four and then pursue a dynamite small forward?

Langlois: That's one possibility, Matt, though I don't know that the front office would adhere to a plan that rigid. They'll have a lot of cap space this off-season. But so will plenty of teams and it's not considered a bountiful free-agent crop. Stan Van Gundy, Jeff Bower and their inner circle and scouts will have completed a thorough vetting of the free-agent crop and ranked the players they will choose to pursue in free agency before July 1 rolls around. The draft, remember, comes first and that will affect their free-agent pursuit to some degree – perhaps to a large degree. They'll also have Anthony Tolliver back – on the fairly safe assumption that they pick up his 2015-16 player option at a relatively modest $3 million, at least – and maybe they will choose a power forward who isn't considered as much of a "stretch four" as a versatile player capable of giving them backup minutes at center, as well. If they land a capable backup big man in the draft, though – for the sake of argument, let's say they draft Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky, a 7-footer who projects as a power forward but probably can defend backup centers – then maybe the focus of free agency will be on acquiring a small forward first and making do with Tolliver, the No. 1 pick and another mid-tier free agent in the mix at power forward. They're going to have to be flexible. Van Gundy wound up pleasantly surprised a year ago that he was able to do as much with about $13 million in cap space as he did. They'll target some players that others might not pursue as quickly or intently and maybe come to agreements before the market shakes out, as they did last year with Jodie Meeks and Caron Butler. But there is one significant difference between 2015 and '14 free agency with regard to the Pistons. This year, they'll have more than twice as much money and not as many holes to fill. They'll be disciplined – they won't be doling out eight-figure annual deals unless they believe they're getting a player worthy of the contract – but they'll be shopping in a different aisle than they were a year ago.

Steven (West Bloomfield, Mich.): Recently, Stan Van Gundy told Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News that he wouldn't trade Greg Monroe for a pick because he couldn't then go into the locker room and tell the guys they were trying to make the playoffs. However, just last month he said that when you're 10 or 11 games under .500, talk of the playoffs is "absurd." Well, this team is 12 games under .500. I don't think Monroe would accept a trade, but the idea that Stan would balk at the chance to get something for him is troubling. What's been keeping the Pistons from being a playoff team all this time has been the insistence on always trying to make the playoffs and predictably falling short instead of focusing on righting the ship. I don't care if they're two games out, they're tied for 11th place and all but destined for another trip to the lottery. At some point, Stan is going to have to sell assets at the deadline in order to load up for the future if he ever wants to build a contender.

Langlois: In the abstract, you make a fair point, Steven. But the reality is that (a) Monroe, as you suggested, is almost surely unlikely to OK a trade for reasons we've outlined here several times and (b) the likelihood that any team would be offering anything close to an appropriate asset is slim. Let's circle back to the previous question and answer. Unless Van Gundy is 100 percent convinced of the route he wants to take with regard to Monroe and Andre Drummond and the franchise's future, giving up Monroe now (for, at best, a heavily protected first-round pick or a couple of seconds) while ceding whatever advantage they would have to pursue him in free agency as the "home" team seems like more risk than reward from my perspective. Monroe put the ball in his court – at considerable risk to him – by signing the qualifying offer before the season started. I also would quibble with your assertion that they're "all but destined" for another trip to the lottery. There are six teams vying for two spots. That's a lot better than the odds they'll face in the lottery, even if you ignore the fact they've played the best basketball of all (about equal to Charlotte) since the decision to waive Josh Smith. (Also, do we really want to debate the virtues of getting the 14th pick in the draft as opposed to the 16th and weigh that against the benefits of making the playoffs to a franchise that could use the psyche boost at all levels?) Van Gundy has said he'd leave the door open to a trade that might compromise the present if the benefit for the future was too great to ignore, so if somebody bowls him over with an offer for Monroe and he OK'd the deal, I'm pretty sure it would get done. Teams know the circumstances. Before they'd even bother calling the Pistons, they'd probably call Monroe's agent to gauge his receptiveness to a future beyond July 1. But it remains the longest of long shots.

Jameson (@JamesonCollar): How long do you think Lucas will be staying with us?

Langlois: Seems likely he'll be here for the rest of the season, Jameson. Stan Van Gundy timed it so that his second 10-day contract would extend past the trade deadline. That way, the Pistons wouldn't have had to make the decision to sign him for the rest of the season until every trade possibility had been exhausted. So 3 p.m. Thursday is the magic hour that will determine Lucas' future. After Lucas' second 10-day deal expires on Saturday, and assuming no trade happens by the deadline, my expectation is the Pistons sign him for the remainder of 2014-15.

John (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.): Is a 10-day contract always just 10 days? Is there any adjustment made for the All-Star break, especially now that it is a longer break? Looks like John Lucas III's second 10-day contract gets the Pistons about two additional games worth of his services, not including practices held this week before playing Chicago.

Langlois: Ten days, cut and dried, John. But, as I mentioned in response to Jameson's question, the Pistons held off on signing a No. 3 point guard a few days, in part, so the timing would sync with the trade deadline. They're covered through the deadline and can choose to retain Lucas for the rest of the season in the event they do nothing else between now and 3 p.m. Thursday. Of course, once the trade deadline passes, there might be other options in that narrow window of time between the deadline and the expiration of Lucas' 10-day deal – players sitting on the sidelines waiting to see what teams still have needs once the dust settles. But Stan Van Gundy has been very pleased with what he's gotten out of Lucas so far. I think if no trade is made, odds are pretty good Lucas is the choice to finish the season as D.J. Augustin's backup.

Jason (Waterford, Mich.): Is there any chance of seeing Tayshaun Prince back in Pistons blue? Maybe it's just me being nostalgic, but I think he'd be a great addition off the bench with his defense and his experience.

Langlois: Not sure whose minutes he'd take at this point, Jason. The Tayshaun Prince of today, it appears, doesn't offer more than what Van Gundy gets out of the Kyle Singler-Caron Butler tandem at small forward. Van Gundy usually looks for ways to play Jodie Meeks and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope together at the wing positions for 10 minutes a game or so when the matchups make it tenable. Also, the speculation is Prince will take a buyout after the trade deadline. The Pistons have a full roster. They'd have to cut someone – or not sign Lucas or another backup point guard, which isn't happening – to create a roster spot and add a fifth small forward in addition to Singler, Butler, Cartier Martin and Gigi Datome. That's a lot of nostalgia.

Lennie (Auckland, New Zealand): Why won't Stan Van Gundy give Gigi Datome a chance? He played well in garbage minutes the other night and shot it well in his D-League stint, plus it's not like there's much risk of playing him. He'd either give you the same lackluster output Kyle Singler and Caron Butler provide or he could surprise you and shoot it well and bring energy to the team. Surely, there is no harm in trying. Thoughts?

Langlois: Your question assumes that Van Gundy doesn't watch practices and discern a difference in the level of contributions to be expected from his players. Cartier Martin, by all appearances, is ahead of Datome in the pecking order if there was a call for a third small forward behind Singler and Butler. I haven't made any sweeping conclusions about Datome's capacity to be a rotation-level contributor in the NBA because he hasn't had an extended look. But it has to mean something that three different head coaches – Mo Cheeks, John Loyer and now Van Gundy – haven't concluded Datome should be part of the rotation. And I'm pretty sure Van Gundy would have a lengthy and forceful response to your characterization of Singler and Butler's contributions as "lackluster." He's not delusional; he doesn't rate either of them as All-Stars. But Singler – as he had with three previous Pistons coaches – is unfailingly reliable and assignment sure and leads the Pistons in 3-point percentage at .406 while being a steady defender. Butler rebounds very well for his position, provides another ballhandler, knocks down big shots and has the universal respect of his teammates – a respect that becomes enhanced when he's part of the main playing group.

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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