Pistons Mailbag - January 9, 2019
How Blake Griffin’s amazing season affects his potential trade value, the impact of Ish Smith’s injury and how to fix the Pistons’ shooting woes lead off this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Tyler (@Tyler_Thomas): Has Blake Griffin’s amazing season raised his trade value? Or do organizations still fear the length/money on the contract with him moving into his 30s soon?
Langlois: The fact he’s putting up some of the best numbers of an extraordinary career certainly couldn’t hurt his trade value. But at least as important is the fact he’s dispelling fears that the seemingly random and unrelated injuries which had interrupted each of his past four seasons aren’t destined to escalate in frequency as he ages. Were the Pistons to shop Griffin, it wouldn’t be difficult to stir up interest. I suspect it’s a moot point, regardless. Owner Tom Gores was an enthusiastic supporter of the trade that brought him to the Pistons. It would be unlikely that less than a year later they’d be looking to go in another direction. I don’t think anybody believes they’ve given a team built around Griffin time to prove itself, especially since a new front office didn’t have much latitude, given its cap constraints, to remake the roster around him in the off-season. Put another way, it’s far more likely the Pistons make any other conceivable move than trading Griffin.
Dan (Austin, Texas): I’m of the opinion that you can blame a large part of the Pistons’ shortcomings on Ish Smith’s injury and the waterfall effect it has created. There has been little news on his return/rehab. Back soon? Quick D-League stop? He’s well worth signing to another contract and I would imagine he has enjoyed a bit of stability in his career.
Langlois: I don’t know what percentage you’d put on the Smith injury as it relates to their record reversal, but it was a damaging blow for certain. Reggie Jackson clearly hasn’t hit his stride yet and if it hasn’t happened at nearly the midway point of the season, it’s reasonable to fear that it might not come at all this season – or come so gradually that it still leaves him far short of the player he was before the knee and ankle injuries or the player Dwane Casey hoped to have as his starting point guard. Jackson, in fairness, hasn’t had anything approaching a typical off-season for two years running. The focus of each summer was rest and rehabilitation of leg injuries, preventing him from doing any meaningful on-court work. Without Smith, a diminished Jackson and 37-year-old Jose Calderon have to carry the load at point guard. As for Smith’s return, there is no precise timetable, only news that he’s progressing. Dwane Casey said several weeks ago that the Pistons would probably be without Smith for another dozen games or so, which at the time put him on track to return at some point on the four-game road trip the Pistons open tonight against the Lakers. But that was a loose target. Casey said after Tuesday’s practice on UCLA’s campus that Smith was “getting closer,” but he didn’t anticipate him playing against the Lakers. Bottom line, I think we’ll see him relatively soon – but whether that’s this week or next of the one after that is anyone’s guess at this point. Once he’s cleared to resume practice, a more definitive timetable can be determined.
Eric (@e_costantini): Other than Blake Griffin (and his albatross contract), this is getting painful to support as a fan. At what point does this finally get blown up for a full-scale rebuild? This off-season? Trade deadline? Or next season?
Langlois: Blake Griffin’s contract is substantial, but “albatross” is a gross mischaracterization. There is always a challenge in finding a trade partner when you have a contract of that size, but Griffin’s production is in line with the dollars and that, ultimately, is what enables deals. If you were to list the NBA’s most unmovable contracts, Griffin’s wouldn’t be on it – or get honorable mention. As for what point the Pistons go to a full-scale rebuild, we’d have to define the term. They are unquestionably open for business now, but if “full-scale” implies for you including Griffin then there is little likelihood that’s in the plans at any foreseeable point. Keep in mind that “foreseeable” in the NBA when it comes to personnel decisions rarely goes beyond months ahead, not years.
Dakoda (Hudsonville, Mich.): On paper, the Pistons have at least a top-six team in the East but have yet to come anywhere close to playing like it this season after a hot start. What needs to be done for this team to start playing like we had hoped at the beginning of the season and how can they fix their 3-point shooting and Reggie Jackson’s inefficiency?
Langlois: It starts with staying healthy long enough for players to seize and settle into roles so Dwane Casey can establish a starting lineup and a rotation that works. Between a run of injuries – Reggie Bullock, Luke Kennard, Stanley Johnson, Ish Smith, Glenn Robinson III and Zaza Pachulia are all rotation players who’ve missed stretches of games – and the shooting inconsistencies that have dogged the Pistons, it’s still hard to say, nearly halfway through the season, what the best lineup combinations are with any certainty. It would help if young players, Stanley Johnson and Luke Kennard most notably, could find more settled roles that would hopefully draw out more consistency. Their injuries and all the tumult around them due to other injuries have resulted in them being used in a variety of roles. That’s tough for young players, in particular. Ideally, they’d know when they were to be used and in what manner and be comfortable with the same set of players grouped in lineups around them. That also helps fix 3-point shooting. With Jackson, as I wrote above, it’s a process that only time can address. He missed so much time with the knee and ankle injuries that he’s still clearly not the player he was. Whether that happens this season or he requires a normal off-season of training and conditioning – ask Blake Griffin how much having that last summer, after not having it the previous three off-seasons, has meant to his play this year – is unknowable.
Johnathan (@Johnathon_Hill): Are the Pistons actively shopping any players or are they trying to grin and bear it with Reggie Jackson until the end of next season and Andre Drummond for all of eternity? It would take multiple trades, but Robin Lopez for Reggie Jackson appeals as an expiring and then trade Andre Drummond plus picks for Mike Conley.
Langlois: There is zero reason to believe the Bulls would want the additional year of Jackson’s contract. If the situation were reversed – Lopez with a year left after this season, Jackson expiring – you might have the kernel of a trade possibility. The Bulls are all in on creating cap space, even though last summer that strategy led them to a half-hearted contract for Jabari Parker that they’re trying to move already. Mike Conley has enjoyed a remarkable career after a slow start, but he’s 31 and due $67 million in the next two seasons. For a point guard who’s relied heavily on quickness (and savvy) and has suffered a few consequential injuries of late, that would be a heavy gamble on the part of any team that trades for him. If you’re going to include “picks” in addition to the NBA’s best rebounder – and “picks” implies something other than a random second-rounder, of which the Pistons are already short three over the next four drafts – that’s a heavy price for two years of a point guard who probably has, maybe, two high-end years left. All of that doesn’t even consider Memphis’ perspective. Conley is beloved there. I don’t know that there’s any tolerance for trading Conley unless the return is a no-brainer win for the Grizzlies. And the Grizzlies have Marc Gasol. They’re not trading a player so readily identified with the franchise for a player who’d have to share minutes with the other player of Conley’s stature on the roster.
Kumar (Troy, Mich.): The Pistons have become plain boring. Apart from Blake Griffin and Reggie Bullock, the rest just don’t seem to have it. The Bad Boys, the 2004 team all had a chip on their shoulder. They couldn’t accept being second and were on a mission. The current team on paper may claim more talent but don’t have that chip. They seem OK with losing.
Langlois: The current team, not on paper nor anywhere else, does not possess more talent than those two teams. The Bad Boys had three Hall of Fame players (Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Dennis Rodman), another (Bill Laimbeer) who had a case, the greatest sixth man in franchise history (Vinnie Johnson) and mind-boggling depth. The ’04 team had a four-time Defensive Player of the Year (Ben Wallace), the NBA’s best backcourt of its era (Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton) and an elite talent in Rasheed Wallace who transformed them from a very good to an all-time great defensive team. All five starters were arguably among the league’s top 40 players at the time they went to consecutive NBA Finals. Teams have to be in the ballpark of a title contender for “chip on the shoulder” to have any meaning. It would be hollow for these Pistons, who have to set making the playoffs as a reasonable initial goal, to project a “we can’t accept being second best” aura. I’ve been around a lot of teams. This one doesn’t accept losing any more readily than most.
The Wanderer (@EDMLive): Does this team just not have the character necessary to win consistently or is it an issue of talent? If the latter, can we realistically expect to get much more talent than we have in a place like Detroit?
Langlois: There is no character issue leading to their inconsistencies. Just like money drives free agency in 99 percent of cases, talent drives success almost always. You need other ingredients, of course, but those other ingredients in abundance only get you so far in the NBA. The Pistons need to make incremental improvements in their roster and they need to do a better job of developing players than they’ve been able to do in the generation since the Goin’ to Work Pistons dissolved. It’s encouraging on the latter front that the Ed Stefanski-led front office and the Dwane Casey-led coaching staff are both as bullish as it gets on pouring resources into player development.
Jub.Cul (@Jpcveinti2): It’s time to make a move and build around Blake Griffin. Make Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson available. Do you think a team would bite?
Langlois: I think Drummond would have a fairly robust trade market given his obvious strengths and proven durability. Even at his salary, he brings value and productivity. The field would be limited to teams that need what Drummond does best and in today’s NBA that wouldn’t be as long a list as it would have been a decade ago, but there would be interest. Given Jackson’s contract – and you can never separate a player’s value to other franchises from his contract – it would be tough to find a trade that didn’t require the Pistons to attach another asset to it. Until Jackson shows more consistent flashes of the player he was a few years ago for longer stretches, teams are going to be hesitant to give up something of value for him. When you make $18 million (Jackson’s 2019-20 salary, the last year of his contract), that’s the reality. If he were making $4 million, different story.
John (@jmackcamj): Do you believe the Pistons will make a move at the deadline? If so, whom do you believe they’ll go after?
Langlois: Don’t know about who, but what is probably more easily identified: proven 3-point shooting. The Pistons are 28th in the NBA in 3-point shooting. The need for better 3-point shooting is pronounced. The problem is that teams closer to title contention than the Pistons will be in the market for the same thing and be willing to offer a No. 1 pick, perhaps, for a proven shooter. Would it be prudent for the Pistons to offer a No. 1 pick that might land in the lottery for a rental shooter? Or even a shooter with another year on his deal? You’d have to examine that on a case-by-case basis.
Nick (Brisbane, Australia): San Antonio is the hottest team in the NBA over the past month and they essentially have one all-NBA-level player in DeMar DeRozan and one All-Star-level player in LaMarcus Aldridge and the rest are role players. They had major injury problems this year yet are near the top of the West. This shows the greatness of Gregg Popovich as a coach and his system but also highlights issues with our coaching and game plans – the insistence on following analytics in continuing to shoot threes at all costs when we are the worst in the league. Do you see any flexibility in tinkering with our offense? In Blake Griffin, the Pistons have an all-NBA-level player and in Andre Drummond an All-Star-level player and essentially role players similar to San Antonio, yet look where we sit and look where they sit.
Langlois: This is a tough call for Dwane Casey. He believes in the value of implementing an offense that focuses on producing the most desirable 3-point shots and layups while eschewing most 2-point shots because he saw it work firsthand over the last three seasons in Toronto. Does he want to abandon it midway through the first year of a five-year contract and possibly delay the process of it becoming ingrained with the personnel on hand? That’s probably not happening. Is there a middle ground to be had? Can he modify his system enough? Is there a modification that even makes sense? I’m not sure there’s an obvious one. This isn’t something he’s going to announce, at any rate. If he tinkers here and there, it will go largely unnoticed. My hunch is he’s unconvinced it can’t work with this team even as constructed. He still hasn’t had much time with both Reggie Bullock and Luke Kennard – his two best shooters – healthy at the same time. The second unit had been a net plus before the Ish Smith injury dragged down its efficiency. Given the circumstances, I think Casey is going to want to see what happens with a healthy cast for a month or so before he’d consider pulling back on his vision for this offense. The Pistons hired Casey in large measure because of the success he had in Toronto implementing this system and developing players to maximize its tools. He’s going to get support for seeing it through. If he varies the blueprint to accommodate the realities of this season, the changes won’t be fundamental ones.