Pistons Mailbag - January 10, 2018

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

How the Pistons approach Avery Bradley’s free agency, trade rumors involving the Pistons and whether the replay system needs tweaking are among the topics tackled in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Ken (Dharamsala, India): I thought just from YouTube clips Donovan Mitchell was superior. And my last name is not Popovich or Auerbach. Who are the players, past and present, that stand out as real gym rats who put in the extra time and effort to be better or excel?

Langlois: YouTube clips probably aren’t the optimal scouting tool. I’m sure there are tens of thousands of high school players who can make themselves into McDonald’s All-Americans based off of a YouTube highlight reel. The truth is nobody who watched Donovan Mitchell in his sophomore season at Louisville predicted this. Nobody. I watched Louisville a half-dozen times last season and Mitchell didn’t flash anything that suggested “instant NBA star.” He didn’t jump off the screen. He averaged 15.6 points and shot about 35 percent from the college 3-point line. He was probably the most impressive interview, for what that’s worth, when the Pistons brought players through their practice facility last spring in advance of the draft. And Mitchell, as we know, tested very well athletically at the NBA draft combine in May. That’s when he began to be viewed as a likely lottery pick. The Pistons, by all indications, had Mitchell among a very small group – no more than three players, I’d guess – under consideration with the 12th pick. Stan Van Gundy said that they drafted Kennard exactly where they had him ranked – 12th – and that the players who went ahead of the Pistons were the 11 they had rated higher than Kennard. He spoke very highly of Mitchell and Bam Adebayo, who went 14th, right after Mitchell. There was, no doubt, a segment of Pistons fans pulling for Mitchell as the pick because guys who test athletically as Mitchell did are always the sexy pick. But for every Mitchell, there are a dozen guys with his background who flame out. Kennard seemed, on draft night, the likelier to have a long and productive NBA career. And the Pistons expect exactly that from him. He’s already an advanced offensive player with the expectation that he’ll become even more effective as he learns the NBA way and league personnel. As for players who stand out as gym rats, wow, there are a ton of them. Pretty much every player who makes the NBA without screaming talent is, of necessity, a gym rat. It’s how they win the race to even crack the door to the best basketball league on the planet. When you combine great talent with great passion for the game is when you get to superstar level. I don’t think there’s any question that the greatest Piston ever was Isiah Thomas. He was also as thorough a gym rat as you’ll find.

Lukaku (@LukaKneevi4): How much would be too much regarding a possible Bradley extension? Would it be better to sign Bullock for four years at $32 million to $36 million than $80 million over four years for Bradley? He is a former first-rounder, excellent shooter and cutter and doesn’t need plays run for him.

Langlois: When deciding what a player is worth, there are two numbers to consider: consensus value and value to any individual team. And the only one that really matters is how much a player is worth to the team that wants him most. It’s an agent’s job to assess the marketplace as best he can. A year ago at this time, it was widely assumed Aron Baynes was going to get a salary not much out of whack with what the top-tier backup centers got in free agency the previous summer when guys like Bismack Biyombo (four years, $18 million annual average value), Timofey Mozgov (four, $16 million aav) and Ian Mahinmi (four years, $16 million aav) all broke the bank. The Pistons were barred from offering Baynes more than 175 percent of his previous salary, a figure of $11.375 million, and in July 2015 – after the Biyombo, Mozgov and Mahinmi contracts came in – they were sure enough they’d lose Baynes that they spent what they had left under the cap to get Boban Marjanovic, a nod to not just their expectation of losing Baynes but to the reality that they wouldn’t have enough cap space in July 2016 to bid for any other capable backup center. If you were to poll the NBA for how much Avery Bradley is worth, let’s say they’d come back with a composite number of $15 million a year for the purposes of this exercise. But maybe he’s worth $10 million to one team and $20 million to another. And if the team with a need at his position has that much cap space – and it ranks Bradley as the best available player to fill the need – then they have to assess how high they’d have to go to beat any other bid. So the first wave of free agents to sign almost always beat the composite number. And when teams with cap space expend their money and the only thing left is teams using mid-level and other exceptions, then a lot of pretty good players – and, in some cases, comparable players to those who sign for much more – can be had for relative bargains. The Pistons have to weigh all of that as they go to market next summer with regard to Bradley. To a large extent, it will depend on how the final 43 games of this season play out for Bradley. But it will also depend on how much of their future the Pistons feel comfortable staking on the in-house options they’d have to fill his minutes: Bullock (whose team option for next year is $2.5 million, so they don’t have to gauge how much they’re willing to tie up in him for another year-plus), Stanley Johnson, Luke Kennard and Langston Galloway.

Bob (Albany, Oregon): This guy Mirotic in Chicago reminds me of Bill Laimbeer. Any chance Stan Van Gundy can get him? I would give up Stanley Johnson, Langston Galloway and a first-round pick. The Pistons are doing great in spite of injuries. The bench is stepping up nicely.

Langlois: Mirotic plays with a little edge, but when it comes to playing with edge, Bill Laimbeer is best in show and the gap between him and second place is oceanic. I think the Bulls would jump all over your offer. Mirotic will be a nice pickup for some team, for certain. Reports from ESPN and the Chicago Tribune on Tuesday – reports that came after your question, for what it’s worth – indicated the Pistons are a team that has expressed interest in Mirotic, whom the Bulls are likely to deal before the Feb. 8 deadline for a number of reasons, starting with his publicly stated desire to be dealt after the broken facial bones he suffered when punched by teammate Bobby Portis in practice and continuing with the emergence of rookie Laurie Markkanen. With the possibility that Jon Leuer will need surgery to correct an ankle injury and miss much if not all of what remains of the season, the Pistons could use a bigger power forward. Mirotic would make sense for a contender with a strong foundation in place for the next two or three seasons – a team fairly certain it will be picking in the late teens or 20s over that time frame – and such a team might well consider tossing a No. 1 pick onto a pile of more fungible assets. The Pistons? I’m not sure Stan Van Gundy is yet to a point where he thinks they’re one player away from such a run. But it is worth noting the Pistons have shown they’re willing to trade a No. 1. They put one on the table for Donatas Motiejunas two years ago, remember, in a deal that was eventually rescinded. (And a bullet dodged there, from all indications. Motiejunas is now playing in China and there’s every reason to believe the back injury that gave the Pistons pause when administering the physical to complete the trade process is at the root of it.) Do they view Mirotic in a similar light? To be determined.

Jim (@JimBordeau): There are a couple of rumors of players the Pistons are interested in acquiring. Who do you think they should target and who are you willing to give up?

Langlois: They’re in a tough spot because they’ve had injuries affecting every position. The most serious are at point guard and power forward. The type of power forward they’d need is a bigger one capable of guarding guys like Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge or Anthony Davis. They have a 15th roster spot open, so they could sign a current free agent without going the trade route. The likelihood that they’d find someone of that status via that means who’d be good enough to come in and play? Not great. If the Pistons were to deem point guard the greater need, the likelihood is they’d be looking at someone who’d be an upgrade to Dwight Buycks because the cost of getting an upgrade to Ish Smith, allowing Smith to return to his role as the backup, figures to be prohibitive. And if the Pistons were somehow able to acquire such a player – unless part of the price was Reggie Jackson – then what do they do when Jackson returns?

Arthur (@Detcookieman74): I’m hoping they stick to their guns, maybe add a down-the-bench player. But it looks like somebody will be traded, maybe a second-tier player.

Langlois: The hallmark of Stan Van Gundy’s front office is its activity, so while the odds of any individual team making a deal at the trade deadline are typically well less than 50-50, I’m not sure I wouldn’t take the over on the Pistons. Van Gundy said Tuesday in a general response to a question about the validity of their rumored interest in Nikola Mirotic that “we like our guys, so we’re looking to supplement more than we’re looking to change. So that makes it tough.” The only way to interpret that is that the Pistons aren’t pursuing a major trade that will reshape the roster but something that bridges the gap while players like Reggie Jackson and Jon Leuer recover from injury.

Aaron (Quincy, Ill.): This season the Pistons have had great wins over good teams – Timberwolves, Warriors, Spurs, Pacers (three of four), Celtics. At the same time, they have suffered embarrassing losses to weak teams – Lakers, Nuggets, Magic, Mavericks, 76ers. What do you think? Are the Pistons a strong team that frequently loses to weaker teams or a weak team that often rises up to beat a strong team?

Langlois: I’d opt for Category C, which encompasses the vast middle class of the NBA. The greater trend is that the Pistons suddenly have become a very different team on the road than they are at home. They went 8-8 over their first 16 road games – and against a very challenging schedule – with wins at the Clippers (when they were really good and the last NBA unbeaten at the time), Warriors, Thunder, Timberwolves and Celtics. In their last five, it’s not only that they’ve lost but gotten soundly trounced by Dallas, Philadelphia (which, contrary to your assessment, is not a “weak” team) and Orlando. There were some extenuating circumstances in there: Dallas has been playing much better at home of late, with other impressive wins and some by big margins over Milwaukee (32 points), Oklahoma City (16), the Clippers (26), San Antonio (six) and Toronto (five); Orlando, having lost nine straight, played the Pistons on the night its two leading scorers (Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier) returned from injury; the Pistons played some games during that stretch with anywhere from two to four key players missing. But as for beating good teams and losing to teams with losing records, that’s pretty much all of the NBA. Outside of the top handful of teams, there is a small enough margin for error that less than your A game will get you beat sometimes by teams of roughly equal talent simply having a better night.

Charles (Redford, Mich.): Could you see the Pistons trading for my Mike Conley? What would it take? And at 30, is he too old for this group and/or too expensive?

Langlois: He’s missed 66 games (and counting) over the last two-plus seasons and he’s due to make almost $100 million over the next three seasons after this. He’s 30 and relies heavily, as a slight 6-foot-1 point guard, on speed and quickness. He’s meant a lot to Memphis, so the emotional ties might mean the Grizzlies are still staunchly against trading him (and Marc Gasol). But it’s hard to see this ending well for Memphis. Any team taking on that contract would understand it was taking an enormous risk that could hamstring the franchise for the next three seasons. And the Pistons would have to send back a lot of salary to make the deal work, meaning they’d be giving up a pretty good player themselves. Again, if they’re trading with Memphis and getting Conley, the only logical trade piece going back would be Reggie Jackson. Not sure what you’d be doing by dealing one injured point guard for another one – making about 50 percent more money.

Adam (Hamtramck, Mich.): Do you agree with Jeff Van Gundy who said all plays, including foul calls, should be reviewed? I agree.

Langlois: I’m not sure what you heard Van Gundy say, but my hunch is if he said that it was of a context that implied he wasn’t especially thrilled with the current replay system. I know Stan Van Gundy feels that way. His take is that the NBA reviews certain things at certain points in a game – under two minutes gets the heaviest scrutiny – but not at other times. And that calls not made are usually the ones that have a greater impact than the ones that are, so why not review that? But if you only reviewed all out-of-bounds plays or all fouls, you’d easily add another 45 minutes or so to each game. Nobody wants that. I’d wager that Jeff Van Gundy doesn’t really think reviewing every foul call is a good idea; my guess is his point was to ridicule the current system.

Fatima (@dwtsqueen): Do you think Dwight Buycks will be playing in every game from now on?

Langlois: I suspect he’ll remain the first point guard off the bench for tonight’s game at Brooklyn. I’d hesitate to go any farther than that with a guy on a two-way contract who still needs to play his way into the circle of trust. When Ish Smith was the backup point guard, he could afford a bad performance or two or three in a row without it threatening his role. Buycks, though he’s played well over the past five games, isn’t at that point yet.

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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