Pistons Mailbag - June 24, 2015

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

The draft, cap space, free agency … all the topics dominating the attention of Stan Van Gundy and his cabinet head the list of topics in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Kevin (Farmington Hills, Mich.): If the Pistons find themselves with more cap space than they thought they would have, could they spend the money to accelerate the stretch provision they used to pay off the amount owed to Josh Smith quicker? Hope that makes sense.

Langlois: I think I get what you’re asking, Kevin. If the Pistons fill their needs in free agency and still have some room under the cap, could they spend that money to decrease future obligations to Smith? My understanding is, no, that wouldn’t be possible. But I don’t think they would go that route even if they could. I would guess that they’ll use up all of their cap space, especially because after they address needs at small forward (not just a starter, but a backup) and backup center (two, most likely, though one of them, as at small forward, could come out of the draft) they’ll officially sign Reggie Jackson – and Jackson’s cap number is going to wind up being more, probably by a significant amount, than his cap hold of about $5.5 million. The Jackson signing probably will put them over the 2016 cap. But even if it didn’t, they would more than likely hold on to cap space in the event they would need room for a deal sometime before the February trade deadline. Also, because the cap is going to go up dramatically next season, the Pistons have very little motivation to take on the additional expense now when it would represent a much greater percentage of their cap than it would in future seasons. Smith’s cap hit will be $5.4 million going into each season, though it will be adjusted downward as the season unfolds based on compensation in his next contract. That’s going to be a relatively small hit on an expanding cap. And, like you, I hope that makes sense.

Omi (Warren, Mich.): There are rumors circulating the Pistons are looking to acquire Tim Hardaway Jr. Would it be possible that the Pistons are looking to deal Greg Monroe to the Knicks in a sign-and-trade and by doing so trade up in the draft?

Langlois: The timing makes that one impossible, Omi. The Pistons and Knicks could get together on a sign-and-trade deal but Monroe, but can’t agree to a draft-night trade involving a free agent when the Knicks are technically barred from even talking to Monroe until June 30 becomes July 1. The rumor was that the Knicks might be interested in Brandon Jennings for Hardaway. It didn’t make a lot of sense on the face of it – the Knicks committing cap space to a player who’ll need to prove he’s healthy and the Pistons acquiring a young shooting guard at a position where they already have Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Jodie Meeks. Doesn’t mean they don’t like Hardaway, but the Pistons have to address small forward before anything else. Hardaway is no more capable of handling more than situational minutes at small forward than Caldwell-Pope would be. Stan Van Gundy shot down the rumor emphatically on Monday when he said neither he nor general manager Jeff Bower has ever discussed that deal with the Knicks even in passing.

Fetty (@ItsJustSad): Who are likely free agents you think the Pistons will target?

Langlois: If there was any doubt about their list of priorities in free agency, Stan Van Gundy erased it on Monday when he said the Pistons will address their need at small forward before they spend elsewhere in free agency. For the most part, the most attractive free agent small forwards are restricted – Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, Tobias Harris (though in my opinion, Harris is better suited to power forward), Khris Middleton (some prefer him at shooting guard), even Jae Crowder. It’s not likely the Pistons will tie up the majority of their cap space for 72 hours for a player the home team is almost certainly going to retain by matching, so I’d do a Google search for “best unrestricted free agent small forwards” and focus on that list.

Sam (@SamMoceri81): Is Ilyasova the current and future power forward or is this a short-term fill?

Langlois: Things can change in a minute in the NBA, Sam. Stan Van Gundy has Ilyasova penciled in as the starter at power forward, but nothing gets written in pen in the NBA beyond the top 15 or 20 players in the game. The Pistons have control of Ilyasova for the next two seasons (a team option on his 2016-17 season, which has a minimal guarantee), so that’s as far into the future as you can look in this case. Injury, unexpected trade proposals, the emergence of other players … so many moving parts, so much impact that developments at one position can have on another. Unless you’re a team at the top – where tweaks to the fringes of the rotation are the priority – change is a likelier bet than the status quo for most NBA starting fives from year to year. The Pistons will decide after the 2015-16 season whether they want to pick up Ilyasova’s deal for 2016-17 – right now, I’d say the odds are very strong that they will – and then Ilyasova will have the ability to pick his team after that.

Darrell (Detroit): With the Ilyasova trade, how much money will the Pistons now have for free agency, assuming Monroe won’t return? Would signing a player before locking up Jackson to a long-term deal benefit the Pistons? And if it’s true Jackson turned down $48 million for four years with Oklahoma City, what will it take for the Pistons to sign him?

Langlois: If you count Jackson’s cap hold (and you have to, because the Pistons are heavy favorites to retain him) and don’t count Monroe’s (it will come off as soon as he signs with another team, if that indeed is what happens), the Pistons will have about $19 million in cap space. That allows for the cap hold for the No. 8 pick. The Pistons and Jackson could agree to contract terms on the first day of free agency but they’ll time his signing so that they take care of other business first. As soon as Jackson signs, his first-year salary replaces his cap hold on their books. So let’s throw a figure out, a $12 million first-year salary. It would be in their best interests, obviously, to count Jackson at $5.5 million and have an additional $6.5 million in cap space. That, at the very least, will buy them a great backup center to Andre Drummond (and maybe another frontcourt reserve) after they’ve spent their first chunk of free-agent change on a starting small forward. As for what it will take to sign Jackson, the Pistons surely had an idea, based on what Jackson was reported to have turned down, and what recent players with similar backgrounds (Eric Bledsoe’s a pretty relevant example) have received, of what it would take when they traded for him.

Gary (Middlebury, Ind.): As an avid Notre Dame and Pistons fan, I feel the need to ask if it works out where the Pistons take a big man with the eighth pick is there any way you could see them going with Pat Connaughton in the second round? He’s definitely a shooter coming from a Mike Brey-coached team. I don’t recall him having any major defensive deficiencies. He seems like a guy who could play backup minutes at either small forward or shooting guard in the NBA and spot start if need be.

Langlois: He wasn’t a player the Pistons worked out, Gary. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have deemed him not worthy of their second-round pick. There could have been conflicts in Connaughton’s workout schedule that didn’t allow him to make it to Auburn Hills. But the Pistons are definitely looking for shooting and wings, so you would have expected Connaughton to make the Pistons a priority workout if they had expressed interest in getting him to town. He was an extremely productive college player and whether he makes an NBA roster or not next season, I would expect him to be a guy who makes a pretty good living playing basketball somewhere. Now, as you probably know, Connaughton is also a very good baseball prospect, a pitcher with a mid-90s fastball who played in the Baltimore Orioles system last summer. He’s going to get extremely high marks for character, too, and his athletic testing at the combine was a wow moment. His vertical leap of 44 inches was not only the best at this year’s combine, it was the second best in combine history.

Christopher (Pontiac, Mich.): Branden Dawson in the second round? After playing four years under Tom Izzo, he’s strong, physical and mature. He will be a great role player when rebounding and defense are needed.

Langlois: Interesting that Dawson flashed big-time athleticism at Michigan State but his vertical leap at the combine measured at 34½ inches – nearly 10 full inches under what Pat Connaughton recorded. You’d have made yourself a ton of money if you’d have bet on that result before the combine. Dawson has the skill set of a power forward but measured under 6-foot-7 in shoes at the combine. That’s a tough set of numbers to overcome on draft night. But if he goes undrafted, which is a possibility, he’ll probably be a guy whose phone rings every 30 seconds for the next 30 minutes fielding offers from teams to join their Summer League roster. His Michigan State pedigree and the athleticism that leaps off the TV screen make him worth a look.

ThatGuyGayle (@ThatGuyGayle): If we pull the trigger on Stanley Johnson, would that decrease our interest to acquire Carroll in free agency?

Langlois: To be clear: DeMarre Carroll’s name has been linked to the Pistons only in media speculation based on roster need and his standing as one of the best – arguably the No. 1 – unrestricted free agent at small forward. The best way to answer that is that no matter which player the Pistons draft – whether it’s Stanley Johnson or another small forward or a player at another position – I would expect them to make a small forward their top priority in free agency. Van Gundy said almost exactly that on Monday. They’re not counting on their No. 1 pick as a starter. If he comes in and wins the job, as Van Gundy said, more power to him. The more minutes the No. 8 pick can command next season, the better the signs for the team’s future. But the plan as of late June is that the opening night starter at small forward will be an NBA free agent with something of a track record as a starter or high-quality backup.

Luke (Holland, Mich.): Why is Stan Van Gundy reluctant to get a backup center in the draft? Even if we can’t retain Joel Anthony for less?

Langlois: I don’t think he’s said that specifically. If you’re referring to his comment that it would be tough to use the No. 8 pick on a backup center when the starter is a 21-year-old who happens to be the guy around whom they’re building the team, I take that at face value. As I’ve written, I think the Pistons would take Willie Cauley-Stein if they felt he was clearly the best player available at No. 8. There are worse ways to spend that pick than ensuring you’ll get high-quality play for the 15 minutes a game Andre Drummond has to sit. But the likelihood is that the Pistons draft a perimeter player – even more specifically, a small forward – with the No. 8 pick. So if you mean why wouldn’t the Pistons want to entrust their backup center spot to a player they could draft at 38 in the second round, well, that probably starts off as a flawed plan. If a physically mature player – somebody like Rakeem Christmas, for instance, or an international player with experience – is available at 38, my guess is Van Gundy would be comfortable considering that player the No. 3 center next season. But he’s going to want a little more of a sure thing as the backup center.

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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