Pistons Mailbag - July 11, 2018

How does free agency change the Pistons? Who starts between Reggie Bullock and Luke Kennard – or between Stanley Johnson and Glenn Robinson III? After a one-week moratorium, Pistons Mailbag is back to tackle those topics and more.

Anthony (@colombo_anthony): Who starts at shooting guard this year? Will it be Reggie Bullock or Luke Kennard?

Langlois: I’d bet on Bullock, though I think there will be open competition in training camp at that spot. The new staff is very high on Kennard, but Bullock’s elite 3-point shooting, the way his off-the-ball movement helps grease the cogs of the half-court offense and his underrated defense all argue for Bullock in the starting lineup. A few other factors at play, too: one, Bullock very quickly developed strong chemistry with Blake Griffin, who we know will start; and, two, Kennard’s ability to handle the ball and make plays off the dribble might be too integral to the second unit to take him away from that situation. Whether Kennard starts or come off the bench, I think it’s very likely he winds up getting more than the 20 minutes a game he got last season. If the Pistons are going to put their best five-man offensive unit out there, Kennard probably will be on the floor.

Jon (@Jon_post88): Do you think Glenn Robinson III could start at the three?

Langlois: If Stanley Johnson is healthy, my expectation is that he’ll start. Physically, he’s the best matchup for the elite small forwards. But Robinson is in the same ZIP code, at least, with regard to size and athleticism at that spot, though Johnson remains a more physically imposing and stronger option. Robinson’s edge would be his 3-point consistency, but as Pistons player development coach D.J. Bakker told me last week, the staff’s expectation is that Johnson will show an improved 3-point shot. And I would not be surprised in the least if those two are on the floor together as a matter of routine late in games where the Pistons are protecting a lead and want rangy and mobile defenders on the floor to limit a 3-point barrage that could propel a comeback. Either player can comfortably guard up or down a position – shooting guard to power forward – and that gives Dwane Casey a lot of flexibility to manipulate his lineup to the team’s best advantage.

Badboysremix (@badboysremix): Is there a plan to eventually hire a general manager? Were the interviews even in good faith?

Langlois: Not sure what interviews you reference, but they weren’t interested in wasting anyone’s time – theirs or the interviewees. If the Pistons talked to job candidates, it was for a reason. As I’ve written a few times, don’t get caught up in titles. When Ed Stefanski was hired, the team announced that it was a three-year contract – it’s unusual for a team to publicly announce the term of a contract – and that Stefanski would report directly to owner Tom Gores. Whatever you want to call him – and his title at present is “senior adviser” – Ed Stefanski is the de facto chief executive of Pistons basketball operations. He’s hired Malik Rose as assistant general manager and Rose has said he’ll be part of Stefanski’s decision-making team as a senior executive. Pat Garrity, who was No. 2 to GM Jeff Bower in the Stan Van Gundy administration, was in Las Vegas and all indications are his role remains largely the same as it was under Van Gundy-Bower, where he was instrumental in plans for the new team headquarters and practice facility and was a go-to guy on salary cap issues while also streamlining the processes the front office used in day-to-day operations. Rose expects to be deeply involved in personnel. Gregg Polinsky was hired to oversee the scouting staffs – that’s pro, college and international. Stefanski indicated last week that the front office is pretty well staffed. It’s been reported that the Pistons are looking to add another assistant GM-level position to head up the analytics staff.

Joseph (Manila, Philippines): One of the reasons the Pistons underachieved in past seasons is because of injury to key players like Reggie Jackson, who mostly gets his points on drives to the basket. Do you think getting spot-up shooters at the one and two could be a smart thing to do? Blake Griffin, like Jackson, also drives to the basket most often. I think the team needs to trade for a stretch four and teach Andre Drummond to at least shoot from the perimeter.

Langlois: Teams are seeking shooters at every position, though Jackson is certainly a solid enough 3-point shooter and, in any case, is clearly their best point guard. They’ve got plenty of shooting at shooting guard with Reggie Bullock, Luke Kennard and Langston Galloway. They’ve added Jose Calderon, who shot better than 46 percent from the 3-point arc last season and can play in tandem with Jackson. Griffin took 5.4 triples a game for the Pistons last season and hit 35 percent, nearly league average. It sure sounds like he’s going to get at least that many attempts next season based on everything Dwane Casey has said and the tenets Pistons coaches preached to their Summer League team about the shots they look to produce. Drummond said in Las Vegas last week that he expects to shoot the occasional corner three next season. Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas took nearly one triple a game last season after attempting a total of four over his first five NBA seasons.

Ian (Westland, Mich.): Golden State is going to win this year’s championship but might not be able to bring their team back next year. Even though the East is up for grabs and I project a healthy Pistons team to earn home-court advantage in the first round, I hope the front office is looking toward next year when Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Khris Middleton, Tobias Harris and Harrison Barnes will be on the market. The addition of one of those players would put us at a championship-caliber team. What are your thoughts on the likelihood of us clearing cap space and signing one of those players?

Langlois: I haven’t looked ahead to the summer of 2019 with regard to the number of teams with cap space, but I know it’s going to many more than the handful that weren’t essentially capped out and using only cap exceptions this summer. The Pistons do not figure to be one of the many teams with cap space next summer unless they were to make some significant moves between now and then. My thoughts on the likelihood of clearing cap space with an eye toward getting a premier free agent? Clearing cap space isn’t easy unless you’re giving up something of value – draft picks or good players. Teams that clear cap space thinking they’re going to land a premier free agent have generally been disappointed. It worked for the Lakers this year when they got LeBron James, but the Lakers and Knicks – who call the NBA’s two most glamorous markets home, franchises steeped in history – have been found it challenging to attrack premier free agents in other years. I doubt that’s a blueprint new Pistons management thinks will work for them.

Jub.Cul (@jpcveinti2): Do you think a trade of significance is coming? Bye-bye Ish Smith or Jon Leuer or maybe both? Any word on a new jersey for next year, like the reds?

Langlois: Before the Pistons satisfied their need to add a small forward – and did so with a higher quality of player than I anticipated them getting, Glenn Robinson III – I would have guessed the odds of a trade that added a rotation player at better than 50-50. I would now peg those odds at less than 50-50 – perhaps significantly less. I’m not expecting a trade at this point, though sometimes things arise that make too much sense to pass on. I have not heard anything about red jerseys and don’t expect that to happen.

Caleb (Myrtle Beach, S.C.): I’m a bit confused at why some Pistons fans are so outraged at Ed Stefanski. Many fans expected the team to go after the biggest free agents this season when there just isn’t enough money for it. I personally like the addition of Jose Calderon. Do you believe the lack of fan approval of moves such as this is justified or not?

Langlois: If Pistons fans are outraged at Ed Stefanski, it’s been lost on me. Then again, I’ve had my head in the desert sand in Las Vegas for the past 10 days and – unless it’s shown up on my Twitter timeline – have not been aware of much else going on in the world. I’m not sure how any fan who was vaguely aware of the cap reality and the thinness of the free-agent market at their position of need, small forward, could be reasonably upset with the result of landing Glenn Robinson III or at the front office for what it did (or did not) do so far. I also think the addition of Jose Calderon was underrated for a few reasons – his 3-point shooting which is still elite; his ability to act as Dwane Casey’s proxy in the locker room; and his presence alone as Calderon has always been regarded as a terrific teammate.

Buk (Bangkok, Thailand): Since the cost was the same, why Jose Calderon over Dwight Buycks? I get the veteran presence, but Buycks is better at this point and at least has some upside. The same with Eric Moreland and Zaza Pachulia. Are these guys Casey specifically wanted?

Langlois: See above. Dwane Casey has a trusting relationship with Jose Calderon. That’s probably reason enough. (It should be noted that Buycks, too, spent time under Casey in Toronto in 2013-14, so Casey had about as informed an opinion on their relative merits as any coach could have.) Pachulia hasn’t officially been announced, but he’s also been a beloved teammate everywhere he’s been. The guy sets screens that leave bruises and knows how to play. I suspect Casey is going to use Blake Griffin at center when Andre Drummond sits and that means more time at power forward for Jon Leuer and Henry Ellenson. I’d be surprised if Pachulia is a rotation mainstay, though Casey makes use of pretty much everyone on his roster at various points.

Mitch (@MitchRobinson7): Who has a better shot at meaningful minutes this year – Bruce Brown or Khyri Thomas?

Langlois: That likely will have more to do with team need than with any clear difference between Brown and Thomas as players. Right now, I don’t expect either to be part of the rotation if everyone is healthy. Both probably fit best at shooting guard, where Reggie Bullock and Luke Kennard are ahead of them. If either one shows the ability to play point guard, it’s hard to see them playing ahead of Reggie Jackson, Ish Smith or Jose Calderon. Brown has the size and strength to play small forward against many if not most who’ll play that position off the bench, but Stanley Johnson and Glenn Robinson III would be primary options and both Bullock and Kennard can swing to that spot, too. Thomas right now probably has a little more all-around polish to his game, but rookies often see the floor based on one specific strength in one area of need. So it could go either way.

Clark (@cknu22): What should fans take away from Henry Ellenson struggling so much against rookies and sophomores in Summer League. I’m discouraged.

Langlois: I wouldn’t put any stock in his cool 3-point shooting. Ellenson averaged eight 3-point attempts over the first three games and all but a handful of them were quality looks, the ones that didn’t qualify mostly coming when he wound up with the ball in his hands and the shot clock running down. Dwane Casey will encourage him to shoot those every time. Player development coach D.J. Bakker told me last week that based on his early work with Ellenson he considers him a “knock-down” shooter. Ellenson was victimized defensively a few times by Christian Wood, a physically strong player with two years of NBA experience under his belt, but other than that I thought he played well defensively the past two games. They put a lot on Ellenson’s plate with Luke Kennard missing, putting the ball in his hands a ton and letting him serve as a half-court facilitator. They’re looking to push his boundaries in Summer League. Ellenson, in limited opportunities early last season, showed that he can score and do so in a variety of ways. Summer League is about different things for different players. For rookies Khyri Thomas and Bruce Brown, it’s getting their feet wet, becoming familiar with their terminology and expectations for NBA players and finding out a little about their makeup and competitiveness. For a player like Ellenson, who is being groomed for a rotation spot, it’s about seeing how he handles a variety of situations. They’re putting him in some spots he’s not experienced in his first two go-arounds at Summer League. Of course there will be some rough edges. I see no reason for discouragement.

Mike (@DuanesWorldDET): Toronto appears willing to trade anyone on its roster. Do you see the Pistons kicking the tires on a Kyle Lowry deal? The contracts of Reggie Jackson and Ish Smith would be a pretty close salary match with possible draft-pick compensation changing hands.

Langlois: Stan Van Gundy, in response to criticism that the Blake Griffin trade was an attempt to make the playoffs to save his job, vigorously argued that the trade was more about the next two seasons. He expected it would be a rocky mid-season transition because Griffin’s addition meant the offense needed to be radically overhauled. If the new administration also sees the Pistons with a two-year window before virtually every contract other than Griffin’s potentially comes off the books then pursuing Lowry – who has two years and $64 million left on his deal – makes some sense, I suppose. Toronto has Fred Van Vleet, so I don’t imagine the Raptors would want two point guards coming back in the deal. There have been reports that Toronto is open to dealing and not making anyone off limits, but take that with a grain of salt. The Raptors won 59 games last season. I don’t think they’re about to take a deliberate step back. If your premise is that “draft-pick compensation” would be the thing that moves the needle for Toronto, I’d be surprised if Raptors management would deal Lowry at this point for a draft pick that can’t help next year’s team. I do think it’s not unreasonable that Toronto looks at Lowry, 32, and wonders if the drop in his scoring average last season, six points per game, presages a more sudden decline ahead. Dwane Casey would have great insight if it’s really something the Pistons and Raptors pursue.

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