Questions about the two hot European prospects – Kristaps Porzingis and Mario Hezonja – take center stage in this week's edition of Pistons Mailbag with the NBA draft just 22 days away.
Ronnie (@Ronnie_Harter): Better fit: Hezonja or Porzingis?
Langlois: Better player: Hezonja or Porzingis? Whatever the answer to that is doubles as the answer to your question, Ronnie. They're different players, to be sure, but the Pistons (and all teams, pretty much) have a need for what they're supposed to be good at. If Porzingis really is an athletic, 3-point shooting power forward with the ability to block shots, too, that's hard to pass. (And, spoiler alert, I talked to one of Porzingis' teammates this week who gave me glowing reports on both his talent and his character. I'll share more when we profile Porzingis as our NBA draft preview series continues to roll out.) A power forward with offensive versatility operating alongside a point guard-center tandem that does that whole pick-and-roll thing well in Stan Van Gundy's hands? Yes, please. As for Hezonja, you'll find plenty who think he and D'Angelo Russell are the two guys who have the skills and makeup to be No. 1 scoring options down the road. Hezonja, many feel, is not only a major scoring threat but also the top shooter in this draft. That obviously fits alongside the Drummond-Jackson pick and roll. But the history of the draft tells us that the likelihood of both players hitting their mark isn't great. If one turns out to be an All-Star and the other a journeyman, then the Pistons getting it right – and that's only if we're limiting their options to those two, which of course isn't the case – is critical to their future. That's why they spend thousands of man hours dissecting this issue to infinite detail.
Rev. Romail (@THESTEWARDOFGOD): How much of a priority is it to get a small forward that can defend, score and stretch defenses nightly?
Langlois: Probably about the same as getting a point guard who hits threes at a 40 percent clip, has a 4:1 assist-to-turnover ratio and plays shut-down defense or a center who blocks two-plus shots per game, scores on 50 percent of postups and grabs more than 10 rebounds a game. The Pistons need to get a good small forward, Rev, someone who at the very least can complement what Caron Butler gives them – assuming the Pistons pick up his contract option, which isn't yet clear. Whether it's via the draft or free agency, a guy who checks off all the boxes you suggest isn't easy to find. Trade is another matter, but to get someone of that quality means they'd have to part with a major asset, as well. I think Stan Van Gundy feels really good about three positions right now and he's got the assets – the No. 8 pick and at least $20 million in cap space above Reggie Jackson's cap hold – to find answers at small forward and power forward. Those don't have to be perfect answers – guys who are above-average starters at both ends of the floor – but they have to be competent and complementary ones.
Neil (@neilcameron): Is Porzingis Darko 2.0?
Langlois: Not if he's Dirk 2.0. News flash: All European 7-footers are not cranked out of the same mold. All North Carolina shooting guards are not Michael Jordan. All left-handers are not James Harden ... or Darko Milicic, for that matter. Planet Earth has spun around the sun a few times since the Pistons drafted Darko 12 years ago. It's time to let this go, people. Porzingis has had pretty impressive individual success at a very tender age – 11 points, five boards a game on 53 percent shooting at 19 – in the world's second-best league. Milicic didn't have anything close to that type of a track record in 2003. He was drafted on faith and potential. And despite the way perception has been skewed over the years, there's not much doubt that most NBA teams would have taken him at No. 2 – and some would have considered him at No. 1 over LeBron James, such was the excitement he stirred with the handful of workouts he held that NBA teams got to see. Personnel evaluation has gotten much more sophisticated in those 12 years, driven by the technology that's made it possible and the rising stakes of the game that make it prudent. And despite all of that, mistakes on players drafted in the top five or top 10 are still made every year. There are some things that are more difficult to project than others, inner drive among the toughest, and projection is needed more than ever when you're drafting teenagers instead of 22-year-old men. If Porzingis turns out to be the pick, the Pistons will make it based on thorough vetting of every conceivable category of influence. And the failure of Darko Milicic 12 years ago will be relevant only in the lessons all teams have learned in the interim.
Sam (Ann Arbor, Mich.): The Warriors are approximately $10 million over the salary cap as it stands today. Klay Thompson is set to get a $12 million per year raise starting next season and Iguodala and Lee are still on the books. My question is with them being around $20 million over the cap for next season how would they be able to sign Draymond Green to a max offer without making a trade for cap flexibility?
Langlois: I'm no expert on Golden State's cap situation, Sam, or on the cap's complexities as a whole, but BasketballInsiders.com says they have $77 million in guaranteed contracts next season with the luxury tax projected to kick in at about $81 million. That assumes they decline the team option on Marresse Speights and don't make a qualifying offer to Draymond Green (among a few other lesser players). They of course will make Green the qualifying offer, so that automatically puts them in tax territory. But, regardless of what the numbers say, because Golden State has Green's full Bird rights, they can sign him to any contract no matter how far above the cap (or tax line) it puts them. It probably will have the Warriors flirting with being hard capped – going $4 million over the tax line, or "the apron" – and that might give Golden State's front office some pause for the way it limits their ability to make other personnel moves they might deem necessary. But I suspect they would find other ways to reduce their cap number in order to stay below the apron if that becomes a priority. Each Golden State milestone this season made the odds that Green would go anywhere more remote. I think we passed the point where it would even be a possibility some time ago.
Nicholas (Hudsonville, Mich.): What do you think the chances are Stan decides to hire Tom Thibodeau and just work as president of basketball operations? Seems like the right time if Stan doesn't want to do both jobs.
Langlois: Something south of 1 percent, Nicholas. In his heart of hearts, Stan Van Gundy is a coach. The reason the offer to serve the Pistons as both coach and president of basketball ops appealed to him is he felt it gave him – and the organization – the very best chance to succeed as the coach. He was more concerned about environment than control, but he knew serving as president allowed him to establish that environment. All of that said, he holds Thibodeau in extreme high regard. Thibodeau became a hot assistant coaching property while serving on the staff of his brother, Jeff. There is deep mutual admiration between Thibodeau and the brothers.
Mario (@mariopetriti86): If we got Justise Winslow in the draft, would we still keep Monroe even if he says he still wants to stay in Detroit?
Langlois: I'm not sure there's any real impact on Monroe's thinking based on the identity of the No. 8 pick, Mario. I'm a little less certain of the effect from the Pistons' perspective. Stan Van Gundy has made clear his No. 1 off-season priority is to retain Greg Monroe, but he also acknowledges that it's Monroe's decision to make and has the organization prepared to act if Monroe chooses to go elsewhere. If the Pistons were to draft someone like Kristaps Porzingis or Frank Kaminsky – players who project as power forwards with the potential to play some backup center, at least down the road, would that make them any less inclined to want Monroe back? Maybe, but I wouldn't bet on it. I think they're going to draft without much consideration for the consequences of Monroe's decision. In other words, if they think Porzingis (if he's there) or Kaminsky is the best player available to them, they'll choose him on that basis. If they draft Winslow or another small forward, it won't be because they think it tells Monroe they're still saving power forward for him. Whom they draft might (and probably will) influence their pecking order for free agency, but I would still expect Monroe to be at or near the top of their list.
Sam (@SamMoceri81): Thoughts on trading down and taking Bobby Portis? Who is a good trade partner looking to move up to 8?
Langlois: Not going to exhaustively research this hunch, Sam, but my instinct says that in many, perhaps most drafts you could find someone taken three or four spots below the No. 8 pick who turned out to be a better player. So, sure, it's possible. I've already written what Stan Van Gundy told Pistons season ticketholders at the May 19 event at The Palace held during the NBA draft lottery – that assistant GM Brian Wright told him consistently this season that he felt good about the draft if the Pistons were picking anywhere in the top 12. So extrapolate from that and you could see the Pistons trading back three or four spots. But who might be willing to trade up depends entirely on who is taken in the first seven picks. I'd be really surprised if the Pistons and any team were to agree to a trade without knowing who'd be available at eight. As for Portis, what I wrote about him in our draft profile stands: He looks like a guy who'll have a long career in the NBA, but at what level – above-average starter, pedestrian starter, rotation player, fringe contributor – I have no real idea. It's all in play for him, as it is for most players. You'll find players who fit each of those descriptions taken in every lottery since its inception.
Donovan (Oak Park, Mich.): I think Willie Cauley-Stein has the best defense out of any of the bigs we have the potential to get. Do you think he's a good fit for the Pistons?
Langlois: Talked about that a little bit earlier this week, Donovan, and we'll be profiling Cauley-Stein in more detail on Friday as our draft preview series continues. I think it would be very difficult at this point to play Cauley-Stein and Drummond together, which means you're spending the No. 8 pick on a guy who is destined to be a backup. Nothing wrong with that – those 15 minutes a game Drummond sits are still important ones – but it's not something you'd do unless you felt the talent gap between Cauley-Stein and everybody else available was stark.
Barron (Detroit): With free agency approaching, do you think the Pistons will try to upgrade shooting guard and go after Jimmy Butler or a cheaper Wesley Matthews? Stan Van Gundy did not seem impressed with KCP this year, so trying to upgrade that position might not be so bad.
Langlois: If the Pistons got Butler – and they're not; Chicago almost certainly would match any offer their restricted free agent gets – he'd fill the void at small forward. Not sure where you got the impression Van Gundy wasn't impressed with Caldwell-Pope. He didn't praise anyone more often than or as consistently as he did KCP. He did express his desire to see the gap in his home-road split narrowed, but in his next breath he would acknowledge that he was speaking out of impatience and needs to remind himself that Caldwell-Pope only turned 22 during the season and made a huge leap from first to second year. He told me this week that he's exceptionally pleased with the way Caldwell-Pope (and several other young Pistons, including Andre Drummond, Quincy Miller, Reggie Jackson and Spencer Dinwiddie) are attacking the off-season. Behind Caldwell-Pope, the Pistons have Jodie Meeks, who finished strong last season and should help make shooting guard the most stable position on the roster heading into free agency.