Pistons Mailbag - June 27, 2018

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Summer League starts next week and free agency is around the corner, so the off-season is heating up – quite literally, since the forecast says it’ll be triple digits all next week in Las Vegas when rookies Khyri Thomas and Bruce Brown launch their Pistons careers in the desert. Here’s another smoking hot Pistons Mailbag.

Jericho (@13rain5torm): How much of a leash do Dwane Casey and Ed Stefanski give Stan Van Gundy’s roster until they make a major move to shake it up to their liking?

Langlois: I would expect Stefanski’s front office to go about their business this summer and a part of that – always – is having your antenna up for ways to improve the talent base. I don’t think he feels any influence to make a trade just to put his stamp on the roster, though. Stefanski and Casey both lauded the core of the roster at Casey’s introductory press conference last week and if your response to that is “what would you expect them to say?,” well, there are plenty of ways they could have addressed the issue without going where they went. Casey emphatically said “our time is now.” Stefanski, who’s worked for four other front offices, said it’s not often you start in a new organization and have three players of the caliber of Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson. If they felt less enthusiastic about the potential of the roster they inherited, they would have found ways to downplay expectations. If I had to bet on whether there’ll be a trade or not this summer, I’d guess yes. But will it involve a starter? I’d guess no.

Buk (Bangkok, Thailand): Could the Pistons take advantage of a team like Houston that is desperate to shed salary to make a run at LeBron? It would obviously take a third team, but the Pistons should target Eric Gordon.

Langlois: It makes my head hurt to ponder the machinations Houston would need to undertake to bring in LeBron James. I know that it becomes even more difficult if James chooses to opt out of his contract late this week when his decision must be made. Gordon is one of the salaries Houston would likely need to move. Ryan Anderson’s seems the contract that would be imperative for the Rockets to move and there is no conceivable way the Pistons would be a part of that deal. Gordon? Meh. He can be a dynamic scorer, but he’s probably best suited for a role off the bench at this point and the Pistons might decide that if they’re going to take on a guy who’ll make $27 million-plus over the next two seasons that they need more than a bench scorer. And, let’s be clear: It’s not that the Pistons wouldn’t love to add a bench scorer of that quality, but their resources are tapped out now and they’d have to part with something of value in order to absorb Gordon’s money. I don’t see much likelihood of a tradeoff that benefits the Pistons. The easiest way to become a facilitator in a trade the likes of which you’re proposing is to have some meaningful contracts with non-guaranteed options. The Pistons have a few low-end contracts, Eric Moreland and Dwight Buycks’, that fit the description, but not enough in aggregate to move the needle on a trade the magnitude of the one you’re proposing. Then again, Ed Stefanski might have a path to such a deal figured out and is waiting to spring it on the basketball world.

Joseph (@JosephDandronMI): What is your expectation for Khyri Thomas for this summer and in the early regular season?

Langlois: I expect that we’ll see a lot of him in Summer League and that will be a starting point for expectations. He and Bruce Brown, Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard will be the priority for the newly assembled coaching staff because those four will have roster spots this season. It’s not so much about seeing what they do and how it will fit in the big picture – though it’s about that, certainly – as it is about the two newly drafted rookies putting something on tape as a starting point to determine how the rest of their summer development will be focused. Pistons scouts have dissected their performances in college, so they already have an idea of their strengths and the areas where they’ll need to show progress in order to put themselves in position to contend for a meaningful role. They’ll be put in situations to approximate how they’ll be used with the Pistons and to see how they respond. I think for both Thomas and Brown, Dwane Casey and his staff will be looking to see if their defensive ability and their competitive juices are as Ed Stefanski projected them to be on draft night.

Mike (@Mike81362581): Do you think we have a chance of trading for Kemba Walker? I’m thinking Reggie Jackson and Reggie Bullock plus an unprotected 2020 first-round pick for Kemba and Jeremy Lamb. Also, Dennis Schroder, who has a higher ceiling than Jackson.

Langlois: Mixed signals out of Charlotte regarding intentions with Walker long term, but last week’s trade of Dwight Howard at least relieved immediate pressure on the Hornets to do something to get below the tax line for the 2018-19 season. I would be inclined to think Charlotte will hang on to him until at least the trade deadline and then act accordingly based on how the season is going and what the market is for Walker at that time. Also, making that deal for Walker – who’ll be a free agent after the season – would necessitate another move to replace Bullock unless the Pistons are prepared to not only make Kennard a 30-minutes-plus starter but use at least one of the rookies, Khyri Thomas or Bruce Brown, in the rotation as his backup. Bullock is a pretty valuable trade chip given his modest salary and elite 3-point shooting. And to add a No. 1 pick – unprotected, no less – makes it a very risky deal, in my view. A healthy Reggie Jackson isn’t that far off of Walker’s level to give up your best 3-point shooter plus a No. 1 pick. With no No. 1 pick this season, giving up another one in 2020 would leave the Pistons with very few assets under control for the future beyond 2020. I don’t think that’s a route most front offices would want to go.

Michael (@elchapojr20003): Do you think we can sign Lance Stephenson?

Langlois: Stephenson’s record away from Indiana is less than inspiring. And if Indiana didn’t see fit to bring him back, I can’t imagine that having anything but a chilling effect on Stephenson’s market value. So, yes, the Pistons almost certainly can sign Lance Stephenson. I don’t see any signs that’s a direction they’ll go. Never say never, but I’d expect someone with a less spotty track record than Stephenson to be the veteran the Pistons add via free agency.

Lawrence (@hardinpistons96): Does Tom Gores want to “win now” badly enough to pay luxury tax?

Langlois: Front offices typically are wary of venturing into tax territory unless a team needs one more piece to either make a run at the playoffs or bolster the roster for a title run. Gores has never said he would prevent his front office from going over the tax line and, in fact, has indicated he’d be willing to sign off on that under the right circumstances. Stan Van Gundy basically gave the same message during his tenure under Gores. It hasn’t really been tested to date. The Pistons made moves at the trade deadline during their playoff appearance under Gores, 2016, but it wasn’t anything that required going over the tax line because they weren’t that close to it at the time to have it come into play. So let’s see where the Pistons are in February and whether there’s one obvious need on the roster and what happens. Until then, there’s no reason to doubt what the message has been for several years.

Charles (Redford, Mich.): During the Dwane Casey press conference, an interesting question was asked about the Pistons practice facility and they answered by explaining that most NBA players do their summer training in Los Angeles. My question is wouldn’t it be beneficial for Tom Gores to either build or buy a top practice facility in L.A.? It might even help when it comes time for recruiting free agents.

Langlois: It’s true that a great many NBA players make Los Angeles their off-season home. And because of that, a cottage industry of personal trainers has migrated to that area. As you probably are aware, Southern California is sprawling. If one player makes his base in Manhattan Beach, south of Los Angeles, and another makes his in Malibu, west of the city, they can be more than two hours (or more) away from each other if they’re driving at the wrong time of day. So to try to pick out a central location for a practice facility in that area would be tough. But even if you got over that hurdle, players like the freedom to work with the personal trainers of their choosing in the off-seasons and the trainers don’t go from one gym to another. They either open their own shops or lease space and have clients come to them. This is a growing trend but hardly a new one. Chauncey Billups and Tayshaun Prince, for example, trained in Las Vegas at the facility of a renowned trainer for many years during the Goin’ to Work Pistons era. But it’s not typical that teammates train together, either. So the idea that Gores should build a Pistons practice facility in Los Angeles – or anywhere, for that matter – isn’t one that would bear fruit. Even if a handful of players on today’s roster would be inclined to use it – and had personal trainers they favored who would be amenable to working out of that base – what happens when the roster turns over by a third next summer, as it often does, and another third the summer after that? Two years after Stan Van Gundy took the Pistons job, he had two players – Andre Drummond and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – from the roster he inherited. I would expect the Pistons to have a little more roster stability under this regime simply because the roster they inherit is of significantly higher quality than the one Van Gundy was handed.

Hugo (@mrhugojones): What is Ish Smith’s trade value? It would be good to clear his contract so we can use our full mid-level exception for someone like Mario Hezonja.

Langlois: A team that needs a durable (Smith has missed one game in two seasons with the Pistons and that was because Stan Van Gundy thought he was pressing and needed a mental break), consistent and productive point guard would naturally be interested in Smith given his contract status – one year at $6 million – and reliability. If the Pistons decide they need another legitimate option at small forward beyond Stanley Johnson, Smith would be a means to obtain one. But you’d create a more dire need, perhaps, unless Ed Stefanski and Dwane Casey see Langston Galloway as capable of sliding into Smith’s role as backup point guard or believe Dwight Buycks could fill that role.

Blake (@BlakeAn97677349): Do you think Dwane Casey will allow Andre Drummond to experiment with shooting jumpers? Is there any possible way we’ll see Drummond out at the corner 3-point line this year?

Langlois: Casey spoke at his introductory press conference of the discussions he’d already had with Pistons players about how he envisions them playing offensively and he mentioned shooting more 3-pointers than last year’s team. I doubt he views Drummond as one of the players who’ll help the Pistons get there. He also said he spoke with them about the “shot spectrum” with an emphasis on seeking the most efficient shots. For Drummond, that is undeniably put-backs, lob dunks and post attempts that start with both feet in the paint. Casey, however, did allow Jonas Valanciunas to shoot 3-pointers in Toronto and Valanciunas – who attempted 74 last season after shooting a total of four in his first five NBA seasons – wound up hitting 40 percent. If Drummond knocks a few down early, I’d expect Casey to follow a similar path. But I’d take the under if 74 is the over/under bet for Drummond’s 3-point tries next season.

Johnny (@itsreallyjohnny): I know the Pistons don’t have any cap room to maneuver, but do you think the Pistons will be able to somehow find a sixth or seventh man to come off of the bench other than Ish Smith that makes an impact?

Langlois: That would be the optimal scenario, Johnny. The Pistons aren’t going to hand Stanley Johnson anything, but Dwane Casey made it pretty clear he has high expectations for Johnson. It would be an upset if he’s not the starter at small forward and someone who plays nearly 30 minutes a game or more. That still leaves a good chunk of important minutes for somebody else at that position. Luke Kennard and Reggie Bullock are going to do more than split the 48 minutes at shooting guard, but the Pistons could buy minutes for Kennard at point guard – something last year’s staff debated and probably something Casey’s staff will explore. Having a legitimate alternative to Johnson at small forward – ideally, a solid defender who is a more consistent 3-point shooter than Johnson – would seem to be the obvious target for the Pistons in free agency. They’ll sit out the first wave of free agency and hope a player who fits that description finds the certainty of the role – and the appeal of playing for Dwane Casey, as I wrote this week – attractive.

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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