Stanley Johnson got tongues wagging with his performance earlier this month in Orlando’s Summer League and he dominates the conversation in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Jairo (@Alfredo1931): Does Stanley Johnson have a good chance to move into the starting lineup?
Langlois: Smart money would be on Marcus Morris to start at small forward, Jairo. But Stanley Johnson gave Stan Van Gundy enough of a glimpse in Summer League to make him feel confident that Johnson will play a significant role for the Pistons at some point this season. He expects Johnson to come to camp intent on winning the starter’s job. Keep in mind that it might not be based solely on the individual performances of those two but on how Van Gundy feels they best fit with the other starters. If I had to rank the probability of Pistons starters in order, I’d go (1) Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond (tie); (3) Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and (4) Ersan Ilyasova. So who starts at small forward might well be about who fits best. On paper, I’d say Morris – as a proven NBA 3-point shooter – has the edge. Especially since Johnson’s all-around game might mesh better with a second unit that will have shooters in Jodie Meeks and Anthony Tolliver and a versatile center in Aron Baynes. But that’s on paper. You can’t be sure how it fits together until you see the evidence.
B.J.A. (@noSymPathy): Stanley Johnson is a specimen. Do you think he reaches star level in his rookie contract with the Pistons?
Langlois: He’s got a chance. BJA. He appears to have the mental makeup common to star players. Will his game allow him to ascend to that level? That’s yet to be determined. But one of the reasons the Pistons identified Johnson as a player worthy of their pick at No. 8 was the “it” factor he radiates. It’s dangerous to talk in any absolutes about rookies before their first game, but Johnson’s floor appears to be “solid NBA rotation player” and his ceiling is … exciting. If his skills continue to evolve, he has the stuff to be an alpha dog.
Alex (@AlHinton23): Could you see Johnson and Morris playing together a lot at the three and four positions?
Langlois: I can. Not saying it’s going to happen, Alex, but I’m sure it’s one of many, many combinations Stan Van Gundy would like to get a look at. I think it’s an especially likely option at the end of games when many teams practically disregard positions and get their five best players on the floor. You’d have a lot of versatility – both offensive and defensive – with a perimeter group of Morris, Johnson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Reggie Jackson. Plenty of potential there to just switch on all dribble handoffs and screens not involving the opposing center. If it’s not an every-game rotation feature, at the very least I see it as something to keep in mind for matchups against certain teams with the tendency to go small late in games.
Ken (Battle Creek, Mich.): What would you say are the personal traits of Van Gundy and Bower that make them as effective as they are in their respective roles?
Langlois: Intelligence, hard work, honesty and open lines of communication off the top, Ken. I’ll add one other key ingredient of Van Gundy’s makeup: his ego doesn’t get in the way. That sounds simple but it’s something that topples regimes in all lines of work. Van Gundy hires good, smart people and lets them do their job. He encourages input from his coaches and his front-office staffers. They respect him because they know he’s working every bit as hard or harder than anyone else. They take initiative because it’s encouraged. Bower’s organizational skills and diligence are extraordinary. Together, they’ve displayed vision and discipline – coming up with a plan and sticking to it – while also showing the ability to pivot when necessary. The trade for Reggie Jackson is perhaps an example of all of those traits coming together. It starts with Bower’s tenacity in working his relationships to know that was even an opportunity. It goes to the organizational skills he infused to have a working knowledge of Jackson that made everyone comfortable he was the right player to pursue. It goes to their discipline that they set a ceiling of what they were comfortable giving up and sticking to it when Oklahoma City first insisted on a first-round pick in return. It goes to their vision that they anticipated how to build out the rest of the team around the Jackson-Andre Drummond dynamic. We saw more evidence of these traits in the way the Pistons responded to the opening hours of free agency when they had to quickly move from one target to another and collaboratively decided to pause in their pursuit of free agents to wait on trade possibilities, resulting in the bargain acquisition of Marcus Morris.
Patti (@Iowagal46): What is the status of Tayshaun Prince?
Langlois: Haven’t seen his name linked to any teams since very early in free agency when it was reported that both Cleveland and San Antonio had interest in him, Patti. Those are obviously two of the leading contenders for the 2016 title, which fits what Prince said after the Pistons acquired him in February – he was looking to land with a contender for next season. The Cavs and Spurs both have luxury tax implications to consider, though it’s very likely Prince – should he land at either spot – would be playing on a veteran’s minimum contract, which lessens the hit. The Spurs also have a numbers crunch with their roster at this point. There were rumblings last winter that Prince might have been destined to sign with the Clippers if Boston had bought out his contract, which had been raised as a possibility. He could sign at any time with one of those teams or wait until closer to training camp when he might have a clearer picture of his role with his new team.
Gee (Clinton Twp., Mich.): Do you have any insight as to why Quincy Miller was traded? He had such a great off-season and I was looking forward to seeing him play as a Piston.
Langlois: Pretty sure it had everything to do with his contract and the need Stan Van Gundy saw at point guard, given the uncertainty over Brandon Jennings’ status. If Jennings isn’t ready to go at the start of the season, then the Pistons would have been putting a lot on the shoulders of Spencer Dinwiddie to play major minutes as the backup point guard. The Nets had a spare point guard, veteran Steve Blake, and the Pistons had something the Nets coveted – a non-guaranteed contract, Miller’s. The Nets needed a tool to allow them to minimize or eliminate their luxury tax bill and the Pistons had one to offer in return for filling one of their needs – their last real roster need, in effect. Miller is probably best suited to play as a power forward, at least until he develops a more consistent perimeter shot and refines his ball skills. When the Pistons traded for Ersan Ilyasova on top of Anthony Tolliver, I’m not sure Miller offered enough diversity at the position to make it worthwhile to save a roster spot for him at that point. And when the Pistons made the trade for Marcus Morris that brought along two other guaranteed contracts (Danny Granger, Reggie Bullock), a roster crunch was created, as well. Miller was going to have a fight on his hands to crack the 15-man roster. The Pistons found a way to get something potentially very useful before faced with the decision to cut him with no net gain.
Glenn (East Troy, Wis.): Are there any Pistons attending the upcoming Team USA camp?
Langlois: Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski made it pretty clear last summer that they see Andre Drummond as being a piece of USA Basketball going forward. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be a part of the 2016 Olympic team, of course. If Dwight Howard wants to be a part of the team, he’s likely to be the front-runner for the center spot. If they go with more than one true center, Drummond will be in the thick of it. USA Basketball kept both Drummond and Mason Plumlee as backup big men to DeMarcus Cousins – who also will be a favorite to secure a roster spot – a year ago when they decided they needed more size. Most assumed it was in the event that the United States ran into host Spain in the 2014 World Cup. We’ll see what officials decide roster needs might be in ’16.
Samuel (Ann Arbor, Mich.): Should the Pistons get a nicer visitor’s locker room? I know it sounds silly, but I’ve heard they have one of the worst ones which I would imagine leaves a poor association with possible future free agents. They spent a lot of effort this summer trying to leave a good impression with the rookie draft class. Why not extend that logic to active NBA players?
Langlois: It’s on the small side, but it’s not lacking in amenities to any significant degree more than the vast majority of visiting locker rooms. I can’t think of one I would describe as “spacious” or “luxurious.” They’re intended to be utilitarian – a place for the visiting team to change, shower and hold very brief pregame and halftime meetings. Nobody expects anything more than that. Besides, if any free agents are put off by it, there’s one way to avoid the visiting locker room at The Palace – come play for the Pistons! The home locker room is among the nicest in the league.
James (Kirkland, Wash.): With the supposed alternate jersey for the Pistons being updated and leaked recently, I’m wondering how the Pistons go through the process of exploring and ultimately locking in on a proposed alternate. With all the players bringing back the Bad Boys hats, I’m wondering if we could see a “Bad Boys” alternate at some point in the future. (Please say yes!)
Langlois: Teams keep the lid on their new alternate jerseys or uniform redesigns until they’re ready to unveil them, James, and they keep the circle of those aware of the changes on a need-to-know basis. I’m outside that circle, so the first I heard of the supposed coming alternates was when they were leaked, as well. We’ll see if they turn out to be something that eventually gets used or not. As for a “Bad Boys” alternate down the road, I’ve not heard of any such plans – but, then again, I wouldn’t. There was a significant milestone for the Bad Boys at the end of the 2013-14 season for the 25th anniversary of their first title – the first for the franchise, as well. If a Bad Boys alternate is in the offing, maybe they’d wait for another significant milestone, the next possibility being the 30th anniversary in 2018-19. I wonder if there would be any pushback from the NBA given its sensitivity today to the type of physical play that became synonymous with the Bad Boys, even though that was always an overblown aspect of their greatness. Not that they weren’t a tough, intimidating team – they were the epitome of that – but that it always obscured the other qualities even more integral to their success, namely their mental toughness, commitment to defense and scoring depth.
Oliver (Tartu, Estonia): It’s pretty clear that Stan Van Gundy’s potential winning team includes Reggie Jackson, KCP, Stanley Johnson and Andre Drummond. It seems power forward is still open. Maybe you have some ideas who should be the next Pistons power forward to have a chance for a title in 2019-20. Should or can the Pistons go after an All-Star type of player like Kevin Durant or Blake Griffin. Would Terrence Jones be a bad choice?
Langlois: Tough to look four years ahead, Oliver. (Estonia? Not sure in Mailbag’s nine-year history we’ve had a contribution from Estonia, so congratulations for that!) I think it’s right to say the four names you’ve mentioned constitute the core of Van Gundy’s future – at least as it stands today. But Marcus Morris, with four years left on his contract, might play himself into that status, as well. The Pistons have Ersan Ilyasova under team control for two more seasons. It’s possible, if the Pistons make advances over those two seasons and he’s a part of it that Ilyasova could stay in the mix beyond the term of his deal. Maybe Darrun Hilliard or Spencer Dinwiddie establishes himself as part of the core over the next two seasons, as well. Surely the Pistons will have opportunities before 2019-20 to add a power forward to the core, whether it’s in the draft or via trade or even in free agency. If all four you identify firmly establish themselves as not just NBA starters but better than average ones, then it stands to reason they’d make power forward a priority. And if they are that firmly established and the Pistons have put themselves solidly in the postseason mix, then the other starting position they have to offer would be attractive to high-level free agents.