Pistons Mailbag - March 2, 2016
Will the Pistons add a waived veteran free agent? What will they be looking for in the off-season? What did Stan Van Gundy say about Donatas Motiejunas’ assertion the Pistons got cold feet about trading for him? Check out the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag for those answers and plenty more.
Kenneth (@kenMbaltazar): Any chance the Pistons sign free agents like Ty Lawson, Michael Beasley or Andray Blatche?
Langlois: Until Justin Harper’s 10-day deal expires later this week, the Pistons don’t have an open roster spot. They could waive someone to create a spot, I suppose, but Stan Van Gundy said Tuesday there is no plan to do so at this time. There is no question they’ve discussed the roster fit of virtually every player who’s been waived since the trade deadline passed. All three players you mentioned carry some significant character red flags. I’m not suggesting that automatically disqualifies them, but Stan Van Gundy and Jeff Bower have been emphatic about character being one of the major factors in personnel decisions. Even though they’d only be talking about bringing someone in for less than a quarter of the season, I’m not sure they want to send that message to the locker room. They’ll evaluate each player on a case-by-case basis, of course, but in weighing risk vs. reward the “reward” half of the equation has to be pretty clear to take on the “risk” half. Not sure any of those players would move the needle sufficiently.
Jason (@jog2ls): Why not sign Marcus Thornton? I understand the big man was the key to the trade, but Thornton is a pretty good scorer.
Langlois: He is, Jason. But when it looked like Thornton was set to be part of the team – before the trade with Houston was rescinded – Stan Van Gundy indicated that the only way Thornton could work his way into the rotation would be at the expense of Stanley Johnson’s minutes. And he was reluctant to make that move. Now, granted, Johnson has since incurred a shoulder injury and has missed the last three games with no guarantee he’ll be available by the end of this week. But if the Pistons were to make any move for a current free agent – either someone waived by another team, a D-League player or somebody returning from an international stint – my hunch is it would either be a point guard or a power forward. Van Gundy likes Darrun Hilliard and Reggie Bullock has recaptured some of his preseason mojo since injuries opened the door for him. If Bullock’s knocking down open shots, he gives you more in other areas – positional versatility, size, defense – than Thornton. And if there’s any chance Jodie Meeks can return – keep reading for more on that count – then he and Thornton are duplicative.
Cody (@NikePolo123): Do you think there’s any truth to what D-Mo has been saying about the voided trade?
Langlois: The most incendiary thing Motiejunas said, according to a report published in his native tongue and translated to English, is that the Pistons used the 72-hour window to rethink the trade and that their decision to rescind it wasn’t tied to his back issues. That … well, that’s ludicrous. Stan Van Gundy wasn’t looking for reasons to void a trade for a guy he clearly coveted. Van Gundy thought Motiejunas’ skill set and age were ideal – and that’s not a word tossed around lightly – for what the Pistons needed. Motiejunas gave them two huge things: a stretch four with great size to provide the ability to match up with teams that play big while also presenting unique matchup problems at the other end for those opponents; and the ability to play at center and give the Pistons a lineup with outside shooting threats at all five spots. To suggest that Van Gundy – who has made clear his regard for the value of No. 1 picks consistently – suddenly got cold feet about the fit with Motiejunas holds no water. I can guarantee you he needed to see and hear compelling evidence contained within the medical consensus reached to dissuade him from signing off on the trade. Given the stakes involved – the surrendering of their No. 1 pick plus the contract the Pistons estimated would be required to retain Motiejunas as a restricted free agent – Van Gundy and his cabinet assessed the risk too great. Now, at some point, the risk would be acceptable. With no No. 1 pick in the mix, maybe the Pistons weigh presenting an offer sheet to Motiejunas in July. Van Gundy, by the way, understands perfectly why Motiejunas was upset. “We went through a process and we made the decision we made for the reasons that we thought it was too much risk. I feel bad for him, though. I understand his points in terms of his (market) value and everything else. Guys are going to have negative reactions to things like that and I think you have to give them the room to have that. He’s got the right to have whatever reaction he wants to have. I’m not resentful of that at all. He was in a tough situation.”
Darrell (Detroit): A healthy Donatas Motiejunas would have been ideal for the Pistons. But since that deal fell through, how about the Pistons try to acquire Pau Gasol via free agency. I know the Pistons are looking for young talent, but even at 35 years old Gasol is still very productive. I still envision two to three years of productivity and it wouldn’t hurt the Pistons to have one seasoned vet with championship experience trying to win another title. Tobias Harris could slide over to the three and Marcus Morris could come off the bench. If they draft a capable backup point guard, the Pistons would be set at every position for the next several years.
Langlois: The Pistons are probably going to have less than $15 million in cap room. It’s wildly speculative to guess where salaries will go this summer, but that probably isn’t going to be enough to earn Gasol’s services – unless he’s of a mood to give somebody a discount. And if does that, it probably means he’s headed to one of the handful of teams that looks as if it’s a legitimate title contender as of July 1. The Pistons are on an upward arc with a handful or more of solid young building blocks, but it would be a stretch for them to sell themselves as a title contender to a veteran with Gasol’s career clock ticking loudly. But, you’re right on one count: His skill set would be an ideal fit for … well, virtually any team, but the Pistons’ roster in particular. He’s Motiejunas carried out to anyone’s wildest expectation for his ceiling.
Paul (Phoenix): Do you think Stan Van Gundy will stick with this current rotation for a while? For a change, Detroit has some scorers on the floor and they’re playing defense. The ball movement seems to flow better when Reggie Jackson doesn’t dominate the ball. He can still get his points within the flow of the game and Reggie Bullock can flat-out score when given playing time. I think Stanley Johnson and Darrun Hilliard should not be first options off the bench. They are going to be good, but are still rookies.
Langlois: He’ll stick with the starting lineup, for certain. After that, it really depends on the return to health of Stanley Johnson and Anthony Tolliver. When they’re back, I don’t think there’s much question that Johnson will resume his role as primary backup to both Marcus Morris at small forward and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at shooting guard. And Tolliver surely will resume his role as the backup at power forward, where the Pistons are dangerously thin with him out and Ersan Ilyasova dealt to Orlando in the deal for Tobias Harris. Hilliard might revert to a 10th man role – meaning some games he’ll play, some games he won’t. He and Reggie Bullock have given the Pistons a pretty good shot in the arm, though, in helping them to wins over Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Toronto.
Kyle (@KRemenap0424): How do you see the bench playing out once Tolliver returns? Does Tobias remain a starter?
Langlois: No way Stan Van Gundy will mess with the chemistry the Pistons have exhibited since Tobias Harris moved into the starting lineup, Kyle. He planned on transitioning Harris to the starting lineup anyway; the injury to Tolliver meant he did it one game sooner than anticipated. But Tolliver surely will be welcomed back to his prior role, probably getting 15 to 20 minutes a game off the bench. He’s a solid defender with a little more size to offer at power forward in addition to being an above-average 3-point shooter.
Adam (Niles, Mich.): With the first-round pick, do you think the Pistons could potentially draft Denzel Valentine?
Langlois: They would have to think he was clearly the best player on the board, Adam, and maybe they will. But Valentine probably best projects to shooting guard in the NBA and the Pistons already have four of them (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jodie Meeks, Reggie Bullock, Darrun Hilliard) under contract for next season – and that doesn’t count Stanley Johnson, who in fact has been the primary backup shooting guard since Meeks went down in the season’s second game. I get that Valentine is an extraordinarily versatile offensive player and could be dropped into any number of lineup combinations effectively, but he’s still got to guard somebody on defense and I don’t think he’ll be quite as flexible at that end. All of that said, I go back to my original point. If the Pistons see him as clearly the best value on the board when it’s their turn to pick, I have no doubt they’d grab him and then sort the roster out later.
Bob (Albany, Oregon): I’m hoping Stan Van Gundy takes a look at Stanley Johnson as the backup point guard next year. His size in the backcourt is a huge advantage and four years as a high school point guard should count for something. The draft should bring a power forward (or Denzel Valentine), making Johnson more valuable at combo guard on a roster loaded with wing players.
Langlois: I still think his best position is destined to be small forward, Bob, and after that I think he’ll be able to swing from shooting guard to power forward. Point guard? I don’t see that as an NBA fit for him. He’s 6-foot-7 and 245 pounds. He’s a unique player, but if he was a legitimate point guard with that physique he’d be beyond unique. He’d be more Magic Johnson than Stanley Johnson. He dabbled at point guard for his high school team, Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, but that’s a tougher assignment for him when the talent advantage isn’t so heavily tilted in his favor as is the case against NBA players.
Nick (@NickSpencer45): What’s the word on Jodie Meeks? Will he be back soon?
Langlois: Meeks is scheduled to see his surgeon, Dr. Martin O’Malley, in New York when the Pistons visit later this week. That’s been the plan since he saw him in early February when the Pistons were last in New York and the determination was made to back him off until March 1. He hasn’t gone through a full-court practice since then and won’t be able to until next Tuesday at the earliest. If he returns then, it’s possible he could be back in uniform by perhaps the middle of the month. But whether Stan Van Gundy would see enough from him to give him a spot in the rotation when the Pistons are in a position where every win is crucial remains to be seen. It really depends on how emphatically Meeks can show he’s got his timing and his shot in the limited practice time available to teams at this point of the season.
Andrew (@andrewkeck): With a presumptive core of Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris, Tobias Harris, Andre Drummond and Stanley Johnson, what should or will the Pistons be seeking with their first-round pick?
Langlois: There isn’t a glaring weakness on the roster, Andrew. And that means the Pistons will have the luxury of taking the best player, almost regardless of position. If they’re picking somewhere in the middle of the first round, as appears likely, they can’t afford to target a position, anyway. When you’re picking there, you probably hope to get someone who could be an NBA starter at some point or at least a solid rotation player. They only have one point guard under contract for next season, though they have the option to pick up Spencer Dinwiddie’s third season. But they won’t force a fit at point guard if they don’t see somebody they believe can be an NBA rotation player. The other need would be a power forward with size, ideally a player who can also serve as a backup or No. 3 center in a pinch. But the chances are pretty strong that the Pistons are going to be looking to fill both of those needs – point guard and bigger power forward – in free agency or trade rather than relying on the draft for help in 2016-17. And that gets back to simply picking the player they believe has the brightest NBA future, regardless of position.