Pistons Mailbag - February 7, 2018

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

A week after the Blake Griffin trade, there’s still plenty of buzz about that deal and its ripple effects. Let’s dive in to the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Ari (@AriHoopsWagner): When will Reggie Jackson realistically return? When he does return what attributes of his will complement Blake Griffin and what ones will either player have to work on to make sure they have a long-term, successful relationship?

Langlois: Stan Van Gundy said this week the hope is that Reggie Jackson is ready to start running during the All-Star break, which starts Feb. 15. When he’s ready, he’ll start on an anti-gravity treadmill. How long it takes from starting to run at less than full body weight to graduating to full body weight to running and cutting to being cleared for practice all depends on how he responds to each step of the progression. Two weeks might be a reasonable guess, which would put his return somewhere around the first week of March. Putting their best penetrator and a guy who makes plays in the paint on the floor should help everyone. Jackson is a better 3-point shooter than Ish Smith and floor spacing is a concern with Griffin and Andre Drummond playing together. I’m sure Van Gundy will look for ways to use Jackson and Griffin together in pick and rolls while also using the threat of Andre Drummond at the rim to keep defenses honest. They won’t have much time to experiment, so they’ll probably keep it fairly simple for however many games are left this season and use what they learn to shape the off-season playbook.

Ben (Moreland Hills, Ohio): Brandon Jennings says that he is looking to get back into the NBA after spending some time in China. Any speculation on if the Pistons would have interest in him? For a moment I think he had the best stretch of his career here. Obviously, he won’t be the player he was after the Achilles injury, but still we could use some bench help, a shot creator and someone who can stretch the floor. He would probably be hungry and SVG could probably put him in position to succeed. Any thoughts?

Langlois: Just a nagging one. Brandon Jennings isn’t exactly an unknown commodity and 30 NBA teams haven’t seen fit to create an opportunity for him. I haven’t seen him play since last season – he didn’t look anything like the pre-Achilles Brandon Jennings – but you can bet NBA teams have. If no one’s giving him a job, there’s a pretty compelling reason for it. Maybe he just needs to get farther removed from his Achilles rehab. Maybe he’ll get another shot over the summer and catch somebody’s eye. But he’s not going to get any bigger, so it’s imperative Jennings recaptures the quickness and change-of-direction ability that was always his edge in order to get back to the player he was.

Kerry (Sutherland, Australia): With the trade for Blake Griffin, is Stan Van Gundy thinking of possibly trading Reggie Jackson and Jon Leuer for another point guard?

Langlois: When you’re shipping out $26 million in salary for two guys who aren’t ready to play now – one of whom is already out for the season – it’s unreasonable to assume you’re going to get back a productive player without some real baggage attached. Either that means a long-term contract for an unproductive player coming back or including a No. 1 pick or a valuable young player going out. I don’t see that type of trade coming.

Corey (@WolverineCPA): Do you foresee Stanley Johnson getting traded? What significant players are the Pistons potentially after?

Langlois: I don’t anticipate Johnson being traded. He became a more valuable player to the Pistons with the Blake Griffin trade since it cost the Pistons two players at positions where Johnson can play – shooting guard and small forward, which Harris would play on nights Stan Van Gundy went big and started Anthony Tolliver, as he did in Harris’ last game on the roster at Cleveland. And with Bradley leaving, Johnson became Van Gundy’s best perimeter defender and one of the NBA’s most versatile, at that. How many guys can you name who held their own over the course of seven days against the likes of LeBron James and C.J. McCollum, a wildly diverse pair of offensive dynamos? As for what other “significant” players the Pistons might pursue, I think that the realistic chances of adding another player good enough to step into the rotation are slim. I’m not sure what they have to trade to accomplish that unless they’re willing to put another No. 1 pick on the table and the odds of that are low.

Darrell (Detroit): With the addition of Blake Griffin, acquiring Evan Fournier for the right price would make the Pistons Eastern Conference contenders. Do you think Orlando would be willing to accept Luke Kennard, Henry Ellenson, Jon Leuer and an unconditional first-round pick in 2020 for Fournier?

Langlois: If that’s the right price, I’d hate to see what an overpay might look like. Heavens, you think well of Fournier. It’s clear Stan Van Gundy does, too – he’s always spoken very highly of him when the Pistons have played Orlando the past few years. But that’s an awful lot to pay for a guy who’s never sniffed the All-Star game. Are we sure that two years from now Kennard won’t be Fournier’s equal? Or close enough that you’d approach the 2020 draft wondering why on Earth you don’t have a first-round pick? I have a tough time seeing the Pistons parting with another No. 1 pick for anything less than another bona fide All-Star in the prime of his career, as they did for Griffin. The reality is that it would be tough to take on another salary of that magnitude, as well.

Bob (Albany, Oregon): My analysis of the Pistons in the aftermath of the Blake Griffin trade is that Griffin is much better than Tobias Harris at power forward, Stanley Johnson is a better small forward than Reggie Bullock and Bullock is a better shooting guard than Avery Bradley. This group of starters likes to run, which makes Ish Smith better. If Dwight Buycks can continue his aggressive play without turnovers, the bench is set except for who claims the backup big spot. How many Griffin jerseys do you think they will sell?

Langlois: One byproduct of the Griffin trade is that the Pistons went from a team undersized at four positions to one with plus-size in the starting lineup everywhere but point guard, which will change when Reggie Jackson returns. It’s not fair to say Bullock is a better player than Avery Bradley based on their resumes, though Bradley’s play since early December – when he began to be bothered by a groin strain – tailed off after an impressive first 20 games or so. And it’s possible Bullock winds up a better complement to the group with his ability to play and be effective without many touches. We came into the season saying the Pistons needed a breakout year from Stanley Johnson to cement themselves as a playoff team and that’s even more true after the trade thinned out the wing ranks further. If he continues to play at the level he’s performed at over the past week, the Pistons will be that much better off for all the ways he can affect a game without scoring – though, it should be noted, a Stanley Johnson who can make 3-point shots at or near the league average becomes a dangerous weapon. As for how many Griffin jerseys the Pistons have and will sell, I believe the technical answer is “lots.”

Jay (@jayjaymilan): Are the Pistons considering Tyreke Evans?

Langlois: An attractive rental, to be sure, but – again – where’s the bait? Without putting Luke Kennard, Stanley Johnson or a No. 1 pick on the table, is Memphis interested. Henry Ellenson, theoretically, could be a trade chip given that the Pistons have invested heavily in his position in the person of Griffin and also have Anthony Tolliver behind him. But has Ellenson shown enough in his 1½ seasons to have that sort of trade value? I’m sure there are people who still value him as highly as Stan Van Gundy has expressed, but is there a match on any of those rosters?

Mike (@mven20): Do you believe the Pistons will make a move to get a starting wing? And besides Stanley who else would be mostly likely to be moved?

Langlois: Well, Stanley Johnson is a starting wing, he’s 21 and has another season on a rookie contract for a team flirting with the luxury tax. If they traded him, it would have to be for a player on a fairly similar contract. I’m not sure who’d be solving their problems in such a scenario and, besides, for what the Pistons look like post-Griffin trade Johnson – at least the way he’s played for the past five games – is a pretty ideal fit.

Tyrell (@TyrellNick): Does losing Tobias Harris cripple the Pistons ability to spread the floor due to Blake Griffin’s paint-dominant style of play?

Langlois: The sample size is small so far, but they’ve scored 111 points in consecutive games against Miami and Portland, two top-10 defenses. Griffin’s ability to step out and make plays off the dribble and show the threat of a 3-point shot means he’s not exactly an old-school power forward even if he’s much more of a force at the rim than the modern-day stretch four. Reggie Jackson’s return will give the Pistons another shooter with the starting unit. Reggie Bullock has been the best 3-point shooter in the NBA the past few months. And keep in mind that Griffin – at least the way it appears Stan Van Gundy is going to use him – is going to spend a good chunk of his night playing as the center with a second unit that is going to include some or all of Bullock, Luke Kennard, Anthony Tolliver and Langston Galloway, all very real 3-point threats.

Drew (PittMich12): What moves do the Pistons still have available to them? Seems like they’re in a tough spot with no expiring contracts.

Langlois: They’ve got a few tools to help facilitate deals, though the odds they’ll get used by the trade deadline are probably pretty small. They have a trade exception and a disabled player exception, the latter being granted by the NBA on Tuesday according to reports for about $5 million for Jon Leuer’s absence. Other than that, they can still do regular old trades until 3 p.m. Thursday. I’m not expecting anything after last week’s blockbuster, but stay tuned.

Paul (Phoenix): Do you think Stan Van Gundy will start Reggie Jackson when he comes off the injured list? The last time this team went on a roll and he started right away instead of coming off the bench, team chemistry was destroyed and the Pistons went into a tailspin. It took a month before he acknowledged a mistake by starting Reggie. Any way the bench could use a scoring point guard?

Langlois: He talked about it last week. Bottom line, he’s not going to force the issue. It will depend on Jackson’s physical readiness but also on his psychological frame of mind. If he displays any lack of confidence in his ankle or his readiness to shoulder the responsibility of the starting point guard, he’ll adjust accordingly.

Byron (Detroit): What does Stan Van Gundy do with his abundance of power forwards and centers – Jon Leuer, Eric Moreland, Willie Reed, Brice Johnson? Do they make a trade? Also, what has gotten into Stanley Johnson the last few games?

Langlois: Brice Johnson is playing with the Grand Rapids Drive of the G League tonight. The Pistons don’t have a lot on him other than what they saw from scouting for the 2016 NBA draft over his four years at North Carolina and his infrequent cameos with the Clippers the past 1½ seasons. I’m sure Van Gundy would feel better with one more wing player of some experience available to him, but the roster is still remarkably well balanced given the magnitude of last week’s trade. Often when teams go all in to land a player of Blake Griffin’s caliber, it requires leaving holes in the roster until they can be addressed – often in the off-season. But the depth chart isn’t any more lopsided than it was before with four players whose primary position is power forward. The Pistons began the season with Tobias Harris, Jon Leuer, Henry Ellenson and Anthony Tolliver at power forward and now they have Tolliver, Ellenson, Griffin and Johnson. Tolliver and Johnson will be free agents at season’s end.

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