The 9-1 record the Pistons have put together over their past 10 games leads to questions about Greg Monroe's future, how to continue improving the roster and, yes, even the "p" word. On with Mailbag ...
Butch (@B22A): If the Pistons keep playing hard and win playing team basketball, do you know what it will take for Monroe to re-sign with Detroit?
Langlois: This one's verging onto the status of a Pistons Mailbag FAQ query, Butch. Lots of people wondering about this right now, but it's pointless to try to figure out what Monroe will be thinking on July 1. There are 44 games remaining and three more months of the regular season to go. Monroe clearly wanted to get to unrestricted free agency to explore all of his options and he left a lot of money on the table – and took a significant risk, betting he wouldn't suffer a long-term injury – to do so. The more success the Pistons have over the course of the season, it stands to reason the more favorable view both sides will have of the other – Monroe of the Pistons and the front office of the viability of a Monroe-Andre Drummond frontcourt. My guess is that even if Monroe's agent, David Falk, has an idea before July 1 arrives of which teams will show the most interest in his client, Monroe is going to want to hear from management and the coaching staffs what their plans are for him and how he fits. In Detroit, he'll know that the big picture includes him playing alongside Drummond and he'll have a full season to get a glimpse into how Stan Van Gundy will use him. To that end, it's another facet of the decision to waive Josh Smith. It brought Monroe's role more sharply into focus when Van Gundy didn't have to worry any longer about getting frontcourt minutes for all three of Monroe, Drummond and Smith.
Max (Albuquerque, N.M.): It looks like the Pistons are a true small forward away from contending. Seriously, if they keep Monroe (big if) and find a way to land a true small forward who can get to the hole, things are looking bright. Also, what do you do with the rookie point guard going forward? Do you trade Jennings or Augustin? Tough, but great problems to have.
Langlois: The Pistons will have a lot of cap room this summer, Max. If Stan Van Gundy prioritizes small forward, it stands to reason he can find someone who can do for that spot what Jodie Meeks has done at shooting guard this season – be, at minimum, somebody who can job share with Kyle Singler. Caron Butler has another year left on his contract, but it's a team option. The Pistons will have a decision on their hands once the season ends and they plot their off-season strategy regarding Butler's status. He's been a consistent performer for them this season and an even more important influence in the locker room. As for the point guard picture, that's intriguing. When Stan Van Gundy talked about prioritizing the future once Josh Smith was waived, he mentioned Dinwiddie prominently – said they needed to find out about him over the second half of the season. Last week, he admitted that plan was now on hold. I thought that a trade of one of their two veteran point guards was a reasonable possibility, but now ... well, tough to say. D.J. Augustin is on such a value contract – two years, $6 million – that he would be desirable to any contender looking for one more extra perimeter hand. But unless Van Gundy is convinced Dinwiddie would be ready to handle backup minutes behind Brandon Jennings next season – when, it's fair to assume, he will expect a team good enough to contend for a playoff berth and be capable of advancing – then trading Augustin would be a risk. (Though, admittedly, less of one considering their ability to address point guard again in free agency.) These things usually sort themselves out, though. Dinwiddie probably will find a way to get into the rotation at some point, even if it's via a simple sprained ankle that sidelines Augustin or Jennings for a week.
Esosa (Detroit): Do you think the Pistons would sign Quincy Miller before it's too late? Since the 76ers pilfered Grand Rapids Drive No. 1 pick Robert Covington, who is doing so well, I think the Pistons should snap up the top-ranked D-League player with their extra roster spot. He fits perfectly as a long, skilled, smart young shooter.
Langlois: Not sure how they would get a chance to evaluate him at the moment, Esosa, if they were to sign him. Since picking up Anthony Tolliver, the Pistons are pretty stocked at a position where Miller best fits at the moment. He's something of a three/four tweener, which in today's NBA really means you're more of a stretch four, a power forward who comes off the bench. The Pistons have both Jonas Jerebko and Anthony Tolliver to fill that role now. They could, in a pinch, even go with Gigi Datome there. If someone were to get hurt, then Miller probably would be on a list as a candidate for a 10-day contract or even a deal for the rest of the season. But I suspect the Pistons are going to be judicious with their open roster spot at least through the February trade deadline. Having that open spot allows them some flexibility if there's a trade target they really like but landing him would require them to take on a second player (read: contract) as well.
Tim (Battle Creek, Mich.): Now that we are on a roll, I just read that the Lakers are inquiring about Jennings and Monroe. Please say that the Pistons are not considering trading these guys. They are young talent, which is exactly what we would hope to get in the draft, assuming they would be shipped for a draft pick and some bums.
Langlois: Yeah, don't think you've got much to fret about there, Tim. I'm not sure what the Lakers would be realistically offering, given the draft choices they've already sent away and the relatively few talented young players on the roster. Monroe, as we've written virtually every week in Mailbag since October, cannot be traded without his consent and has little motivation to grant it. Jennings, playing at this level, is a bargain given his contract status. Stan Van Gundy isn't going to mortgage anything close to a significant part of the future for a playoff run this season, but neither is he going to start selling off good young players on reasonable contracts to risk impeding the progress the Pistons have begun to exhibit in the past three weeks.
Mike (@TheReal_MikeyT): What are the odds the Pistons trade for Wilson Chandler?
Langlois: The odds of Wilson Chandler being traded are probably pretty decent, given that Denver already has traded Timofey Mozgov – for two No. 1 picks, no less – and is reportedly listening hard to offers for Arron Afflalo. As for the Pistons, as I wrote last month, they have invested a great many resources into thoroughly scouting NBA personnel, so however they feel about Chandler is told in great detail by weekly scouting reports filed by their four dedicated pro scouts to assistant general manager Jeff Nix and general manager Jeff Bower. I think the public perception that the Pistons must upgrade at small forward isn't a view held quite as strongly by Stan Van Gundy, who – like Lawrence Frank, Mo Cheeks and John Loyer before him – has quickly come to be a fan of Singler's trustworthiness.
Byron (Detroit): Do you think coach Van Gundy can close out games with both Drummond and Monroe on the floor or is his offensive system just for the stretch four?
Langlois: He can. Sometimes he has. But most often he'll match up with the opposition to avoid having Monroe chasing a hybrid forward out at the 3-point line. The way the game has trended – teams make 3-pointers at rates that make it nearly impossible to stay even with them if all you're doing is making 2-pointers at or near the NBA average – you have to play with phenomenal efficiency on the offensive end to make it an even tradeoff. Put another way, the Pistons are going to have matchup advantages offensively with a Monroe-Drummond combination in most instances, but it at times, perhaps often, won't outweigh the risk of having one of them chasing a competent 3-point shooter. But as for the last part of your question, Van Gundy does not have a rigid offensive system. He's a coach who takes what he has and does his best to make it work. We saw graphic evidence of that in their most recent win, using lineups that included Kentavious Caldwell-Pope guarding both small forwards and point guards down the stretch at Toronto and finishing the game with Jonas Jerebko and Jodie Meeks scoring 19 combined points in the fourth quarter.
MBIV (@Gimme_SomeMO_): The Pistons have elevated their play. If we make the playoffs, are the conference finals truly an option? We've competed with Atlanta and Toronto.
Langlois: For some background, I suspect you're referring to a Tweet that I made Monday, quoting ESPN.com writer Tom Haberstroh's contention that they could, indeed, challenge for the conference finals. Here's a more extended version of Haberstroh's report: "With Toronto and Cleveland stumbling, the top of the East is as vulnerable as ever. If the Pistons keep playing like that, we'll have to consider them serious contenders for the conference finals even though they might not have a top-four seed. The Pistons' defense probably isn't this good (just 95.7 points allowed per 100 possessions since the Smith trade), but the Magic-oriented offense can't be ignored. They're putting up a '[expletive] wall' (if you watched the end of their game against the Spurs, you know what I'm talking about) and no one seems to know how to knock it down. These Pistons are legit." Let's start with this: Don't overlook the qualifier in his contention: "If the Pistons keep playing like that ..." There are 44 games to go and the season can – and almost surely will – continue to take twists and turns. I'd be surprised if it takes one as dramatic as we've seen since Dec. 26 – the Pistons aren't about to have a 3-19 stretch again – but they will hit some rough patches ahead, either via injury or shooting slump or something else. But, yeah, I get what he was saying. Right now, there's not a team in the conference that you'd say, no way the Pistons could win four of seven against THAT team. I think Chicago still has the stuff to be a dominant team, but there are a lot of ifs involved with the Bulls, starting with Derrick Rose's status – not just staying on the floor, but looking like something close to the pre-knee injury, MVP-level Derrick Rose. Washington is a tough matchup for the Pistons with their ability to both match their interior size/strength and shoot from the 3-point line with the dynamic John Wall at the heart of it. But there's nobody that makes you say the Pistons wouldn't have a shot – again, if they can continue to play with the enthusiasm and chemistry that have been constants for the past 10 games.
Johnathan (@Johnathan_Hill): How do you rate Andre Drummond's chances of earning an All-Star reserve place?
Langlois: Certainly much stronger than they were three weeks ago, Johnathan. Not just because Drummond has been putting up All-Star numbers for the past month-plus, but also because – mostly because, probably – of the recent success the team has enjoyed. Unless you're voted in by the fans (Drummond won't be), then it comes down to winning the vote of NBA coaches, who are almost universally inclined to vote for players from winning teams. The Pistons still won't be one of the top teams when it comes time to vote, and Stan Van Gundy sounded skeptical on Tuesday that it would happen, but continuing their recent surge between now and the voting deadline is bound to catch the attention of coaches and perhaps be ultimately rewarded.