Pistons Mailbag - July 10, 2019

How Dwane Casey might use free agents Derrick Rose and Markieff Morris, the most surprising thing about NBA free agency and , yup, questions about Russell Westbrook’s destiny if he’s traded from Oklahoma City.

Quinn (@Huddle_10): I’ve not heard you mention anything on the Russ situation. Do we have any reason to believe we have a chance to get him?

Langlois: Like a lot of big decisions, it’s not nearly as black-or-white as the talk-radio mentality would lead you to accept. Unless you don’t want Russell Westbrook on your team at any cost – even if Oklahoma City wanted nothing more than an exchange of contracts without any attachment of a young prospect (Sekou Doumbouya? Luke Kennard?) or future first-round draft picks – then it comes down to what the compensation package might look like. Let’s say OKC was OK with just taking back salary. Well, you’ve got to put together significant salaries to get close to Westbrook’s $38.15 million. Reggie Jackson, Tony Snell and Langston Galloway add up to $36.7 million. That moves all but Snell’s $11.4 million off of OKC’s cap next summer when Jackson and Galloway’s deals expire. It also leaves the Pistons with the same hole in their lineup at small forward they had before the trade for Snell and without any easy way to address it now that they’ve used their cap exceptions for Derrick Rose and Markieff Morris. That’s a real problem and would necessitate other moves. Before the Pistons would even contemplate a trade like that – one that would be many times more painful if it required forking over Doumbouya, Kennard or future picks – they’d need to sit down as a staff, both Ed Stefanski’s front office and Dwane Casey’s coaching staffs, and figure out the compatibility of a lineup centered around Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Westbrook and what it would mean for the rest of the roster in acquisition cost. As much as Casey admires Westbrook’s take-no-prisoners approach, a coach dedicated to analytics might be less enthusiastic about Westbrook’s 29 percent 3-point shooting (31 percent career) on high volume (5.6 per game) or his 50.1 true shooting percentage. Beyond that, there’s the matter of Westbrook’s desires. That can’t be sussed out by pontification from a studio or office cubicle. It requires a hard conversation with the agent or asking permission from OKC to talk to the player. So there’s no absolutes here. It requires heavy contemplation and much investigation. Then the decision makes itself.

Ian (Westland, Mich.): We should stay focused and go after Bradley Beal, not Russell Westbrook. When do you think the Wizards will trade him? And what would you offer them?

Langlois: There is no evidence – zero – that the Pistons are pursuing Russell Westbrook. Doesn’t mean they won’t inquire to see what the sticker price is while they’re pondering what they’d be willing to pay or what the fit might look like when he’s added and the parts sent away are subtracted. The Wizards have been pretty adamant that they aren’t interested in trading Beal now. He’s got two years remaining on his contract, so the urgency isn’t overwhelming for them. (Although that’s what New Orleans thought about Anthony Davis last season, too, and here we are.) I suspect Beal will be traded, not before the season perhaps but sooner rather than later. I don’t think the Pistons will have enough in the assets drawer to make a serious bid unless they’re willing to surrender multiple first-round picks. There are going to be a ton of bidders for Beal and teams with a greater array of proven young players plus excess draft picks will have a leg up. Now, if the Beal trade doesn’t happen until the trade deadline and Bruce Brown, Khyri Thomas and Svi Mykhailiuk have shown great promise by then, maybe it changes. The Wizards probably start with Luke Kennard. They could have drafted Sekou Doumbouya with the No. 9 pick – a lot of mock drafts had him landing there – and passed for Rui Hachimura, though it’s certainly possible they still had Doumbouya rated very highly. The Pistons have put themselves in position to go from assets-poor to fairly well situated in the 14 months under Ed Stefanski’s watch in the front office. They could be on the cusp of having enough of a war chest to make a deal for a player of Beal’s stature without gutting their future. But it will take a little more time for their young players to prove themselves as certifiable assets.

Jason (Chicago): Which frontcourt bench player do you see pairing with Blake Griffin when Andre Drummond takes a break and vice versa? Do you think Casey will decide more often based on whom is most compatible with that starter or choose replacements based on the opposing roster or on a game-by-game basis?

Langlois: Of the options – Markieff Morris, Thon Maker, Sekou Doumbouya and the likely acquisition of a veteran big man, whether via free agency or trade – Morris is the surest thing. Morris will log the most minutes, almost surely. Casey didn’t play Griffin much at all as the backup five last season in part because he needed him for so many minutes at power forward. It’s possible next season against the growing number of smaller lineups that Morris and Griffin play together, giving the Pistons the potential to put five average or better 3-point shooters on the court at the same time. Maker still has plenty of development potential and he can play center with Griffin or power forward with Drummond as he did after coming over from Milwaukee at mid-season. The Pistons leaned on him a little too much, probably, with Zaza Pachulia’s effectiveness waning as the season went on. Adding Morris enables the Pistons to use Maker a little more selectively. So back to your question: I think Morris is so clearly the No. 3 big man that he trumps matchup questions. The pecking order after him will depend on Doumbouya’s readiness, Maker’s improvement and the identity of the big man the Pistons pick up.

Jason (@sault_det_fan): Are the Pistons looking to add a center or do they prefer to keep a roster spot open?

Langlois: My bet would be they add a center. All they have left is a minimum exception. One reason to hold off on using it to sign someone to guaranteed money, though, is it leaves open the possibility that they could address that roster spot via trade. If the Pistons leave Summer League confident – or optimistic, at least – that both Khyri Thomas and Svi Mykhailiuk are ready to be entrusted with broader roles, then they’ll suddenly have a lot of rotation-worthy wings. (Tony Snell, Luke Kennard, Langston Galloway, Bruce Brown, Thomas, Mykahiliuk with Sekou Doumbouya possibly working his way to the status.) Maybe it liberates them to explore the trade market as another way to balance the roster. Just a thought. At any rate, yeah, I would think they’ll come to training camp with another big man under contract by one means or another. It’s possible that they go into the season without a clearly defined No. 2 center, though. Thon Maker and Markieff Morris are capable of giving them minutes behind Andre Drummond. Though neither is a conventional physical low-post presence – and they’ll probably want one of those on the bench or to start should Drummond, incredibly durable, miss any time – there isn’t as much of a need, especially on second units, as there would have been five or 10 years ago.

Paul (Phoenix): I find it interesting that the Pistons said they would go over the cap if it would make a difference yet they could have gotten a giveaway from Phoenix for T.J. Warren and signed DeMarcus Cousins at a really reasonable price and have an outstanding bench with Derrick Rose. So much for going for it.

Langlois: With all due respect, huh? First, the Pistons executed a very similar trade in dealing one year of Jon Leuer for two of Tony Snell with the carrot of the No. 30 pick from Milwaukee. (Indiana got the No. 32 pick for taking on Warren’s deal.) Snell fit a clear need while Leuer was outside the rotation nearly all of last season and clearing his roster spot enabled the signing of Markieff Morris, by any reasonable assessment a better player, for a little more than a third of the money. What makes you think Cousins was going to sign with the Pistons to play behind a big man, Andre Drummond, who never misses a game and plays 30-plus minutes a night? Especially when he was offered the showcase of likely starting for a Lakers team that will go off as one of 2020’s title favorites?

Darrell (Detroit): Do you envision both Reggie Jackson and Derrick Rose on the floor to close games?

Langlois: Good question and we’ll see how it plays out, but, yeah, I think that is going to happen. Maybe not every game, but I suspect there will be plenty of games that get to the five-minute mark up for grabs where Dwane Casey will utilize both Jackson and Rose. Both can play off of the ball, both can be very effective as pick-and-roll ballhandlers and both – at least if Rose’s 2018-19 3-point shooting is a true representation of the player he’s become – are 3-point threats off of the ball. Putting Rose, Jackson and Blake Griffin on the floor at the end of games gives the Pistons three players who can get their own shot – a critical advantage in late-game situations. The likelihood of Casey using Jackson and Rose together is also why I liked the signing of Tim Frazier, especially given the limitations the Pistons had with the cap. Frazier started 19 games last season and he’s averaged 18 minutes a game over his five-year career. He’s a credible backup point guard.

Ahmed (San Antonio): What was the most surprising news for you in NBA free agency?

Langlois: The speed at which it unfolded. There are always contracts that make you raise your eyebrows. There are always players who wind up signing for less after the majority of teams with cap space exhaust their cache and those players don’t fit with the few remaining teams still with space. But the overall takeaway from this season was that free agency has gotten very compressed even relative to what it was three or four years ago. It used to be you’d get a handful of those early-morning deals struck when it was a midnight start time, but for the most part you’d get meetings that night with teams circling back the next day while the midnight-meeting folks took other meetings. This time around, almost every big chip – with the notable exception of Kawhi Leonard – had fallen within the first six hours.

Kumar (Troy, Mich.): There are articles over the net that mentioned players already committing to teams before free agency even started. For example, Kyrie Irving with the Nets, Kemba Walker with Boston, etc. Wouldn’t this be tampering and against league rules? If yes, how is it that the league is silent about it and doesn’t take any action on it? Or is the free-agent starting date just another sham?

Langlois: There’s a school of thought that free agency today starts with the NBA draft combine, a place where every league executive and every agent of consequence gathers for very legitimate purposes – the executives are there to scout amateur talent and the agents are there either as their representative or in hopes of recruiting them to become their clients. People talk. There’s nothing the NBA can do to legislate against that. In the case of the premier free agents where it is universally assumed that a max contract is their destiny, there is really no need to even discuss contract terms. So it probably skirts the technical definition of tampering – especially for players whose seasons have already ended by then, which encompasses more than two-thirds of the league. The NBA would come down hard on teams engineering deals before a player’s season ends, but it’s going to be a little more tolerant of (impossible to prove) informal discussions between agents and executives who have every legitimate reason to be talking about many matters at that point of the NBA calendar.

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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