Pistons Mailbag - January 24, 2018

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

The Pistons are in the midst of a five-game losing streak and fans have trade ideas. Oh, do they have trade ideas. On with the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag...

Dave (@dcolombo81): The Pistons want to get a couple of top-five draft picks and build from there. Stan Van Gundy should not trade Luke Kennard or first-round picks for Kemba Walker. Why can’t Tom Gores and SVG understand that we fans want a rebuild? They need a real GM who can build through the draft and develop young players.

Langlois: The first problem I have with that is your expectation that you could easily find a consensus of what fans want besides to root for a winning team. Ask fans how to accomplish winning and you’ll get any number of responses. Surely there is a faction that would vote for your “rebuild” – whatever that really means – but there would be just as sizable a faction urging combining assets now to trade for a star player and skip the retrenching – “tanking,” if you prefer – if that’s what your meaning of “rebuild” is. Fans want the Pistons to trade for a superstar? Sure. What about the fans of the team expected to shed their superstar to satisfy Pistons fans? Fans want the team to tank and get draft picks? OK, how hard do you need to tank to ensure you get a 25 percent chance at the No. 1 pick ahead of other fan bases who want their teams to tank, too? You say the Pistons “want” to get a couple of top-five draft picks, which … yeah, I think every team would love to have top-five draft picks. The cost to a franchise of enduring the losses necessary to put yourself in position to get one can cause great long-term damage, though, and you don’t have to look very far around the league to find examples. I understand fans becoming frustrated, but Tom Gores has been pretty clear since buying the team what his goal is: to win and win the right way. He’s never given anyone reason to expect that tanking will ever be part of his blueprint. As for trading Luke Kennard or No. 1 picks for Kemba Walker, I don’t know that you have any grounds for concern. The Pistons, like the vast majority of teams, almost certainly will listen to Charlotte if the Hornets are willing to deal Walker. When All-Stars are made available, of course teams listen. I remain skeptical the Pistons are a likely trade partner on that front.

Stedman (@RISEto20): Put Reggie Jackson and Stanley Johnson on the market for Kemba Walker and see what we can work out?

Langlois: Michael Jordan, as Charlotte’s owner, has made it clear that he’s not trading Walker without getting something valuable in return. The initial reports of Charlotte’s willingness to deal Walker stressed that the Hornets are primarily motivated by getting off of some onerous long-term contracts. If that’s the case, the Pistons seem like a bad fit. They’re not a team with much at all in the way of expiring contracts. Avery Bradley is the only player among their core with an expiring deal and he isn’t making enough to move the needle for Charlotte. In other words, Bradley’s contract doesn’t come close to matching those the Hornets would like to dump. Jackson makes more than Walker and is hurt so it’s tough to see him as appealing at this point to Charlotte. But your question at least proves the point raised in my answer to Dave, who doesn’t want assets dealt for Kemba Walker but wants Pistons ownership to listen to fans’ wants – as if fans are close to of one mind on anything except their desire for a winner.

Chuck (@ChuckD7280): First we need to trade for Damian Lillard. There are many NBA players at home who can make this team more exciting like Monta Ellis. Stan Van Gundy’s time is up. Milwaukee fired its coach. What are we waiting on?

Langlois: And here’s one fan who believes the right course of action for the Pistons is to sign out-of-work players like Monta Ellis. This “rebuild” is going to get pretty messy, it seems. So we have one “trade for Kemba Walker,” one “don’t trade for Kemba Walker” and one “trade for Damian Lillard.” How are we ever going to break the tie?

Buk (Bangkok, Thailand): It seems this core has peaked and that its ceiling is a middling playoff team in the East while their floor is the playoffs. That being said, isn’t it time to blow this up? If I’m Stan Van Gundy, I offer Cleveland Andre Drummond and Avery Bradley for Channing Frye and Kevin Love and hit the reset button.

Langlois: And still another direction. I think Bradley would hold appeal to Cleveland for his ability to hound the ball on the perimeter and knock down open 3-point shots. The way the Cavs are constructed – and assuming their expectation is that they’ll be facing Golden State with its bevy of outstanding perimeter scorers – those are appealing attributes. Drummond would also be appealing to the Cavs, I assume, but they’ve got Tristan Thompson in place now to do many of the things – not at the same level – Drummond does. Any deal for Drummond has to either include Thompson from Cleveland’s perspective or come with an accompanying Cavs trade that sends out Thompson. That’s probably not realistic at the trade deadline with so many moving parts. As for your assertion that the core has peaked and its ceiling is middling playoff team, that’s a question that Stan Van Gundy and his cabinet surely will have in mind as they approach the trade deadline while also being mindful of not overreacting to the plight of the team since losing Reggie Jackson to injury. The way the Pistons had played to that point, would it have been unreasonable to conclude that with expected improvement of young players like Luke Kennard and Stanley Johnson staying healthy that they could push for a top-four playoff berth and have room for growth from there with assets on hand to give them roster flexibility in trade? That’s at least worthy of debate.

Lee (Los Angeles): Stan Van Gundy talks about inconsistency on defense, but who exactly is he talking about? While so many Pistons contribute to the defensive inconsistency, wouldn’t you say that Andre Drummond is the source of the problem? As a rebounding big man with a limited offense game, he has to anchor the defense. He has the athletic skills to do so, but apparently not the will or the concentration. Can the Pistons be a good defensive team without Drummond being an elite defender? Is there any hope of Drummond becoming an elite defender?

Langlois: I think Drummond, by and large, is having clearly his best season yet as a defender. That doesn’t mean he’s flawless. But his pick-and-roll defense is more consistently effective – often bordering on suffocating – this season than it’s ever been. He challenges shots more consistently this season than in the past. When Van Gundy talks about inconsistency on offense, he’s almost always talking about collective focus and intensity and communication. He rarely singles out an individual or even gives the impression that a single player or pair of players was the source for defensive deficiencies. Can Andre Drummond be an elite defender? First we’d have to define what an elite defender looks like. For a big man, I’d suggest that maybe two guys – Rudy Gobert and DeAndre Jordan – are elite defenders. Can Drummond get to that level? He’s got the physical tools – great lateral quickness, strong and quick hands and plus length, foremost – to do so. He’s adopted a higher level of defensive focus this season. Those are great and necessary steps. With him, the Pistons are and have been a top-10 defense all season. Even during their five-game losing streak, the Pistons have remained a top-10 defense. It’s their offense causing most of their difficulties.

Bob (Albany, Oregon): What happened to Dwight Buycks? With the current situation, I suspect Avery Bradley, Ish Smith and Boban Marjanovic are available. Bullock, Kennard and Johnson seem to be developing a nice chemistry. The right point guard in a trade would be nice but a more important piece would be a forward to complement Tobias Harris. Any chance they will play Ellenson?

Langlois: Buycks’ tendency to force the ball into congested areas leading to turnovers caused Stan Van Gundy to go back to Langston Galloway as his backup point guard. The Pistons could live with a few more turnovers than you’d like when Buycks was scoring with above-average efficiency, but when that fell off for a few games and the turnovers persisted, it was back to Galloway. Doesn’t mean the move is permanent. Especially with the Pistons struggling to generate offense, everything is game to game. As for Ellenson – at least as a potential complement to Harris – I think Van Gundy would have to pick his spots for such a pairing. Harris matches up better defensively with more power forwards than small forwards. If he were matched against a small forward who’s not a major part of the other team’s offense – say, O.G. Anunoby in Toronto or P.J. Tucker in Houston or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in Brooklyn to cite three examples of recent Pistons opponents – then Ellenson and Harris might be a pairing worth exploring. The next step for Ellenson will be backup minutes as a regular rotation member. Right now, Anthony Tolliver has that spot and isn’t likely to lose it any time soon because he’s as trustworthy as it gets defensively and he’s been good from the 3-point line.

Ken (Dharamsala, India): Stanley Johnson had a really nice game against the Nets. He made some moves on both sides of the ball in the fourth quarter of that game that were flat-out scintillating and very, very physical. Do you have any idea how the Pistons coaching staff is working with this very young man?

Langlois: “Diligently” would be the best answer. Yeah, they’ve worked with Johnson extensively and throughout his off-seasons, as well. Associate head coach Bob Beyer has spent big chunks of his off-seasons in Southern California with Johnson, who makes Santa Barbara his off-season base and last summer resumed his workouts at the P3 training facility there. Injuries this season have thrown his development off track. Coming off a frustrating second season in which Johnson admitted to being too unwilling to bend to coaching, he looked primed for a big season and was playing very well early before his first stint on the injured list. It’s been especially encouraging that he’s played so well in the past two games after missing eight of the previous nine to injury. Let’s see if he can put together a strong second half. Knowing what they have in Johnson would be an important piece of information to take into off-season planning for 2018-19.

Charles (Redford, Mich.): I applaud Stan Van Gundy for admitting his faults. “I didn’t have our guys prepared.” “This one’s on me.” “I didn’t do my job.” But his most truthful quote is, “I can’t figure it out.” There is more to coaching than standing on the sidelines yelling at players. And if he was any kind of a GM he would have fired the coach. And finally, can you give me any good reasons to keep SVG in any capacity?

Langlois: I’m going to assume you’re referring to his remark after Sunday’s one-point loss to Brooklyn when he said after the game, “I don’t know what’s with us right now. We’re not playing hard enough consistently enough. We played hard at times. I thought we fought our way back and really gave it a good fight from being down 15, but we’re just not consistent enough at the defensive end and that I don’t understand.” Van Gundy is more open and frank in self-assessments than perhaps any coach I’ve been around. He says what other coaches think about such things. Why keep him around? That will be Tom Gores’ call, not mine, but there aren’t a ton of coaches around who’ve coached nearly 900 games and won almost 60 percent of them. Injuries to Reggie Jackson have undermined two straight seasons. Not much he can do about that. There’s still time to make something of this season. It’s easy to suggest firing the coach. Got any slam-dunk fixes that will ensure firing Van Gundy will turn out positively instead of negatively?

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