Two weeks from the draft and three weeks from the start of free agency, guess what’s on the minds of Pistons fans? On with Mailbag …
Clark (Santa Cruz, Calif.): A few months ago, you sent me a link via Twitter that said Lance Stephenson was going to be a restricted free agent and not unrestricted. But now it seems it’s the other way around. Which one is it and any ideas on Stan Van Gundy’s thoughts on Lance?
Langlois: I keep a link to ESPN.com’s list of pending free agents in my favorites bar, Clark, and ESPN simply had it wrong. Apologies for passing along bad information. Stephenson, because he was a second-round pick, is not subject to the same set of rules that govern first-round picks who are under team control for the first four years as long as the team continues to pick up their options. Stephenson will be an unrestricted free agent. As for Van Gundy’s thoughts, you know he won’t be tipping his hand until July 1 rolls around.
Kobina (Decatur, Ga.): I sincerely doubt Kobe Bryant wants to spend the last year of his contract mentoring a future star instead of chasing Jordan. What would the Lakers want in return for their draft pick?
Langlois: They’re a real wild card, Kobina. It’s unclear how much influence Kobe has over front-office decisions. If Phil Jackson really wanted to come back as coach when Mike Brown was fired early in the 2012-13 season and that didn’t happen, I wouldn’t expect Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak to allow Kobe to start calling any shots now as he’s about to end his career. But it’s also a stretch to believe the Lakers are going to fully commit to a rebuilding effort with young players at the core of it. They’re the Lakers. I have to believe they’ll hold their chips until they can go all in for the biggest names out there. The Lakers have a ton of cap space right now – and also very few players of consequence under contract. Theoretically, the Pistons could send them a highly paid player or two without having to take any salary back in return for the No. 7 pick. My guess is the Lakers keep the pick and don’t do anything dramatic this summer – unless some prominent free agents exercise outs in their contracts and hit the market – but wait for the summer of 2015. The story that was advanced this week – the one that said the Lakers are holding off on naming a coach because they hope to use the chance for a prominent free agent or two to indicate to them which coach they’d like hired as a means of drawing them to Los Angeles – was evidence of what the league believes about the Lakers. It almost doesn’t matter if the story is true or not. The fact that people find it a plausible theory speaks to the lore and the lure of Lakers mystique.
Marcus (Kalamazoo, Mich.): Dear Pistons, could you please bring back “The Final Countdown” for the pregame introductions? I grew up watching the “Goin’ to Work” Pistons teams and that song added extra dramatic value to the games. Also, bring back those flamethrowers behind the shot clocks. That would be the greatest thing to ever happen.
Langlois: I imagine Sweden’s own Jonas Jerebko would approve of “The Final Countdown” by Swedish band Europe being employed as the intro song again. It was a powerful experience that began in the Silverdome days and served the Pistons well for a lot of years. In my completely partisan estimation, only the Chicago Bulls and their use of the Alan Parsons instrumental “Sirius” was its rival in the NBA. When Bulls public address announcer Ray Clay used to introduce the Bulls in the old Chicago Stadium, the building would get so loud by the time he’d get to the third introduction … “the man in the middle, Bill Cartwright” … that in the arena you would never hear him utter Michael Jordan’s name for the final intro. You can hear it now if you go to YouTube because they’re taking the feed right off of Clay’s microphone. But if you were sitting anywhere in the old Madhouse on Madison, it was just one long guttural roar with the pulsing beat of “Sirius” ringing in your ears. That noise rendered my laptop inoperable once. It worked just fine after the game, but produced only hieroglyphics with every keystroke while the in-game din persisted. At any rate, Mailbag has given a voice to your wish. You’re not the first to reminisce about “The Final Countdown.” But there’s a time for everything and maybe its time has passed. A new generation of fans will find an intro they hold just as dear.
James (Plantation, Fla.): Do you think the Pistons would consider bringing back fan favorite Kim English from two seasons ago? He is playing overseas. Stan Van Gundy likes good defenders and 3-point shooters, which English had coming here two seasons ago. I think if given more of an opportunity, he could thrive in Detroit.
Langlois: English began last season in Italy and finished it in France, James. He was scheduled to participate in a recent Brooklyn Nets minicamp that had 32 players on the invitation list, including several, like English, with recent NBA experience. English proved a very intelligent and aware player during his rookie season with the Pistons. The question with him was if he would be athletic enough to defend NBA wing players and whether he had much room to improve considering he arrived in the NBA as a 24-year-old rookie. I wouldn’t put it past English to figure out how to adapt to the speed and athleticism at this level if he finds the right fit and a coach who believes in him. That’s the tricky part for hundreds of players. As I’ve long maintained, you could take the last four or five spots on the bench of all 30 teams – that’s 100 to 150 players or so – and swap them out with the next 500 or so next-best players in the world and you wouldn’t see much, if any, of a dropoff in overall talent. English is certainly somewhere in that larger group, meaning he could still have a long stint in the NBA if he finds the right niche. Stan Van Gundy has said he’s looking for players who are tough, smart and can shoot. English certainly has those qualities. It will be interesting to see English get a shot in Summer League with somebody and see if he’s taken something from his European experiences to expand and hone his game.
Jazel (@bugsick25): What are the chances for second-year players like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Peyton Siva and Tony Mitchell to get some playing time or does Stan Van Gundy prefer to play veterans?
Langlois: When Van Gundy took the 2008-09 Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals, he leaned pretty heavily on rookie shooting guard Courtney Lee. Lee wound up starting for him and performed really well for Van Gundy. His career really never took that next step after one season under Van Gundy. Coaches appreciate consistency and veterans usually have an easier time maintaining consistency than young players. But a well-coached team with a disciplined system in place also draws out consistency in players and that’s what I expect to happen under Van Gundy. Caldwell-Pope, I have to think, will go into the season with a real shot at a significant role. Whether that’s starting or coming off the bench will depend, in large measure, on what moves Van Gundy makes in free agency or trade. But if Van Gundy’s coaching can help KCP get to a place where he’s a more consistent producer, the Pistons could have something pretty special there. You never want to make too much of one game, but the rookie’s 31-point finale at Oklahoma City – where he was every bit as good on the defensive end – is pretty hard to ignore. The former Pistons coaching staff loved Siva and it was easy to see why – ideal temperament, great teammate. He’s worked extremely hard on his shooting and ended the season flashing some impressive perimeter potential. I think Siva will have a shot at forcing his way into the mix, again depending on roster moves. Mitchell’s a little harder to project. The raw tools are undeniable. It will be a very big summer for him. I’ll be interested to see what he can do in Summer League next month.
Adam (@adamburkitt1): Any way the Pistons try to climb into the first round of the draft? Have they worked anyone out yet?
Langlois: The Pistons have conducted numerous multiplayer workouts already, Adam. They have more scheduled before the draft. The Pistons generally do not announce their workout schedules, unlike some teams. In recent years, they’ve released a partial list of players who have worked out for them. We’ll see how they handle it under Van Gundy going forward. As for getting into the first round, they’ll weigh the possibilities but I wouldn’t bank on it coming to pass. If there is a team picking in the 20s that has designs on being a player in free agency and needs the extra cap space that shedding a first-round pick can provide, that team might be open to selling the pick. The maximum a team can spend to acquire a first-round pick is $3 million. If the Pistons were to buy a pick, the $3 million price tag does not count against their own salary cap space, but the salary slot for the pick they purchase would. This is pure conjecture, but Houston holds the 25th pick and the Rockets are a team that many have speculated would like to be active in free agency but must do some maneuvering to have any appreciable space. The salary slot for the 25th pick is a little under $1 million ($991,000). If the Rockets – a team that no doubt hopes to be a title contender in 2015 – believe that extra $1 million will be much better spent in free agency than on a rookie uncertain to provide immediate help, it’s conceivable they’ll look to sell it off. So that’s the most likely way the Pistons get into the first round, but it’s not all that likely, either.
Dennis (Stuttgart, Germany): Guys who fit the profile? Since SVG arrived, there should be no doubt about what the Pistons should look like next season. They will most likely keep the Drummond-Monroe-Smith rotation and hopefully perfect it. Other than that, everything seems to be a construction area. The core needs to be surrounded by a pick-and-roll point guard and multiple 3-point shooters at the two and three who are able and willing to play lock-down defense. Considering the frontcourt is kept together, which players could be acquired via trade who would fit the profile?
Langlois: Virtually no one is untouchable, Dennis. Pretty much every team in the league can be motivated to trade almost anyone on their roster. Some teams fall into the category of the Pistons, who are coming off disappointing seasons and eager to make moves. Those who’ve made front-office changes are often even more willing to deal because there is no stigma attached to trading away players for an executive who wasn’t responsible for bringing them to town in the first place. Other teams coming off satisfactory seasons are motivated to trade by deals they see as helping them take the next step. You can bet that Van Gundy and newly hired general manager Jeff Bower will be networking with their peers around the league to get a sense of what potential trade partners are interested in acquiring and what they’re willing to sacrifice to make it happen. But I wouldn’t expect a significant move until the Pistons have some clarity as to Greg Monroe’s future. Once they know if he’s coming back to them, it will shape what follows.
Zachh (Glen Allen, Va.): If the Pistons re-sign Greg Monroe and don’t trade away Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings or Andre Drummond, will they still have enough money to pick up another great player in free agency?
Langlois: “Great” might be a stretch, Zachh. They’ll have somewhere around $12 million or $13 million in cap space, accounting for Monroe’s $10 million cap hold. There is some wiggle room in there depending on team options on the contracts of Chauncey Billups, Peyton Siva and Josh Harrellson. But they’ll have at least low eight figures to work with. And while that doesn’t buy you an acknowledged superstar, it’s definitely enough to upgrade the roster. If it’s dropped all on one player, it would be someone they would view as a starter or someone who would command major minutes. If it’s split over two or three players (before the Pistons fill out the roster with veteran’s minimum deals), you would anticipate that they would come to camp with the expectation of being in the playing rotation, at minimum.