Pistons Mailbag - January 8, 2020

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

No more questions about when the Pistons will give Sekou Doumbouya playing time. With Blake Griffin out indefinitely after knee surgery and Doumbouya now a starter, the calculus has changed from the first Pistons Mailbag of 2020 to the second.

Nicholas Kaufman (@NicholasKaufm19): What’s the roster plan looking like right now for the Pistons? Can you give us information about Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond’s situations?

Langlois: Blake Griffin underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee this week – the same left knee that was hurt and underwent surgery last spring – that was described as a debridement, essentially cleaning up fragments or tissue causing aggravation. Drummond’s situation is that of many players: We’re a month away from the trade deadline and his name, among many others around the league, is involved in rumors. For the Pistons, the relevant question becomes if or how Griffin’s situation motivates them to alter course. They’ve been clear about their intention to compete for a playoff berth every season under owner Tom Gores. The injury situation – not just to Griffin, but to Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Markieff Morris currently and to Derrick Rose earlier in the season – has dampened playoff hopes for this season. But if they believe Griffin, who has two years remaining on his contract, will be full go for next season then my expectation is that they’ll build a roster good enough to contend for a playoff spot without sacrificing future assets or crippling roster flexibility to do so.

Charles (Redford Twp., Mich.): If Blake Griffin has season-ending knee surgery, will or can the Pistons get an exception that would allow them to trade or sign a player this season?

Langlois: They could apply for a disabled player exception and would have to do so by Jan. 15. The amount would be the greater of 50 percent of the disabled player’s salary or the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, so it would be the latter in the case of a DPE for someone making as much as Griffin is, or about $9.25 million. Keep in mind that the Pistons are a few thousand dollars under the tax threshold and adding a player at any salary, even a 10-day contract if they were to have a roster opening to allow one of those, would push them past it. Tom Gores has said he’s willing – eager, in fact – to pay luxury tax, but the implication is that it would be to bankroll a championship bid. You don’t find NBA organizations paying luxury tax when they’re double-digits games under .500 less than halfway through the season. I would be surprised if the Pistons were to exercise the DPE, though not if they were to go through the process of application just to have it at their disposal.

All things Pistons (@AllPistons): Any chance Jordan Bone gets called up?

Langlois: Bone just returned from a knee contusion that kept him out a few weeks. The Pistons really hope to give Bone as much playing time as he can handle in Grand Rapids and the G League this season to further his education as an NBA point guard. They want him to become a more instinctive playmaker and become familiar and comfortable with directing an offense. He’s got scoring ability – good mid-range and 3-point strokes and the quickness to get into the paint – and only needs to refine his point guard skills to become a legitimate depth chart option for 2020-21. As the season winds down, I would expect the Pistons – as long as they’re pleased with Bone’s progress in the G League – to give him a little bit of run here and there with the parent team and use up his 45 allowable days as a two-way player. But they might be just as keen to use that portion of the season to give Bruce Brown more time at point guard with an eye toward cementing his role for next season. They’ll have Derrick Rose under contract for 2020-21 but no other point guard on the current roster. Will they look at Brown as one of the their top two point guards for next season or slot him on the wing and pursue other point guard options? That’s something they’ll need to have an answer for by the time free agency rolls around.

Debbie (@mammafouts): Any update on Luke Kennard?

Langlois: Dwane Casey said that he hadn’t been apprised of any updates as of Tuesday just prior to tipoff of the game at Cleveland. “Have to talk to medical people about that,” Casey said. “Hopefully, this would be a good time for him if he’s available to come back to be a part of the youth movement, so to speak.” Kennard is dealing with tendinitis in both knees. All players, it seems, experience periodic bouts of tendinitis. Kennard’s have become a little more persistent and they’re giving him a few weeks to address the issue so it doesn’t spiral into something more serious.

Aleksandra Lindstrom (@al3ksandramaria): When will Blake Griffin play again?

Langlois: The statement the Pistons released on Tuesday said “Griffin will undergo an extended rehabilitation period and there is no timetable set for his return.” They’re not saying he won’t return this season explicitly, though “extended rehabilitation period” when the season is essentially at the halfway point and ends in three months makes it tough to squeeze much time in before the April 14 season finale. The clear goal here is for Griffin to be fully healthy to allow for an all-encompassing off-season regimen to put him in the best possible position for the 2020-21 season. That doesn’t preclude him returning this season, of course, but they’re going to exercise extreme caution, you can expect, to make sure he’s as close to 100 percent as possible.

J Roze (@Det2UP): Will Reggie Jackson play in a Pistons uniform again?

Langlois: There was a Jackson update on Tuesday night. Jackson saw his specialist while in Los Angeles with the Pistons over the past week and it was determined that he’s making satisfactory progress and can continue basketball-related activity toward his return. When that return will be is yet to be determined. There wasn’t a timetable given for Jackson. Until one is given, it remains unknown when we’ll see him. No one has ever suggested the back injury he suffered in training camp, diagnosed as a lower-back stress reaction after two games of the regular season, would be season ending. Unless and until that changes, I still expect to see him before the end of the season.

Parker (@PDub358): I’ve loved what I’ve seen out of Sekou Doumbouya so far. I know it’s early, but where do you think his ceiling is? He certainly appears to be ahead of where his comparisons (Giannis Antetokounmpo and Pascal Siakam) were at his age. What do you think?

Langlois: To extend the analogy, there’s not enough of the framework in place to determine where the ceiling might be yet. As dramatically as Siakam has improved since being drafted in 2016, he was 22 at the time and much closer to a finished product than Doumbouya was at 18. In that regard, Doumbouya is more alike Antetokounmpo – which is not to say his career arc will mirror the reigning MVP’s. To the contrary, Antetokounmpo is an extreme outlier. But his path suggests that it’s at least possible for someone to emerge from relative obscurity to NBA stardom. Doumbouya was on the NBA radar for two to three years before the 2019 draft whereas Antetokounmpo might have been on it for closer to three months, so the Pistons and other teams probably felt they had a better idea of Doumbouya’s NBA gifts than they did with Antetokounmpo in 2013. But there is a similar amount of projection required to figure out what they can become. Doumbouya has a tantalizing resume given his size, shooting touch and athleticism. There’s a lot to like there. He needs to refine his skills, ballhandling especially, in order to put himself in position to even contemplate whether he can approach Siakam’s heights or – dare we say it? – Antetokounmpo’s. Now that he’s virtually assured a significant role this season – the Blake Griffin injury opens that door – it will be instructive to see how much progress he makes between now and mid-April. I think what he’s done already is remarkable given how he looked in limited sightings during the preseason. That’s the biggest takeaway for the rest of this season: how quickly he shows progress. You can bet than whenever the season ends for the Pistons, Dwane Casey’s development coaches – strength and conditioning staff, too – will be attached to Doumbouya’s hip for the entirety of the off-season. I always thought it would be 2020-21 before we saw extended glimpses of Doumbouya, but circumstances have changed. It’ll be a big off-season for him, but he can move the starting line ahead a few yards with the experience he’ll get for the rest of the 2019-20 season.

Wyso (@detroit_wyso): If Andre Drummond does get traded a bit before the deadline, do you believe the Pistons would be making calls shopping Derrick Rose, Langston Galloway and Markieff Morris to contenders?

Langlois: That’s a big if, first of all. I maintain that it’s no easy feat to trade a contract of that size during the season, and especially during a season where cap space among NBA teams is at a premium. But to accept your premise, if Drummond is traded it clearly means the organization is open to big moves. There would be no obstacles to any and all trades in that case. Galloway would be the most likely target simply because he’s got a clear-cut expiring deal and brings a few coveted qualities: he’s healthy, he’s a proven volume 3-point shooter and he defends. Morris’ player option for next season is at least something of a drawback to teams looking only for immediate help without obligations to their 2020-21 cap. He also needs to get back from his foot injury and show he’s still the scoring threat he was before he went out. Rose has a two-year deal, so the same applies as to Morris, though his high level of productivity relative to his contract would surely mitigate that concern for some potential suitors. Because of that productivity, though, Rose has appeal to the Pistons for 2020-21, as well. As in all trade scenarios, there is a value threshold beyond which it becomes hard to say no.

Bill Blasky (@bill_blasky): Would you say that Blake Griffin’s gigantic contract is one of the main reasons that Andre Drummond will probably be traded? It seems a shame given Drummond is young enough to be part of the rebuild and I think Christian Wood and Sekou Doumbouya on either side of him would be pretty exciting.

Langlois: I think Drummond’s situation is independent of Griffin’s contract. Griffin, for practical purposes, cannot be traded at this point, given the $90 million-plus still owed him over the next 2½ seasons. He’ll be back with the Pistons next season and the hope is that this week’s knee surgery – and the ample time he’ll have to rehabilitate it – will have him back at 2018-19 All-NBA form. If the Pistons decide to trade Drummond, it would reflect a level of interest in him befitting his production and durability. Drummond has proven himself over seven-plus seasons as an elite rebounder who plays every night. That’s valuable to any team, the Pistons included. You can assume they’ve gauged exactly how much value it has to them and weighed that against what Drummond’s player option for next season calls for him to earn – and then weigh that against the value of trade offers, if there are any to consider. Griffin is baked in at this point. It’s all the other factors outside of that certainty that will determine the direction the Pistons decide to take with regard to Andre Drummond.

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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