Pistons Mailbag - March 4, 2020

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

With the Pistons continuing to deal with a wave of injuries as they enter a rebuilding phase, Pistons Mailbag addresses plenty of questions about their future – short term and long term.

Henry Saadi (@henrysaadi): When will the Pistons be formidable again?

Langlois: That depends on a million unknowable things – starting with the luck of the draw in the lottery and the hit rate with draft picks – but let’s start with this: What’s your definition of formidable? Do you mean a team that can finish .500 and make the playoffs? Because if that qualifies, then next season shouldn’t be ruled out. It would require Blake Griffin to come back healthy and performing reasonably close to the level he reached last season and Luke Kennard continuing on the upward trajectory he established before knee tendinitis shelved him in December, for starters. I don’t think that making the playoffs next season in and of itself is going to be the guiding principle of off-season roster construction, necessarily. They’ll make trades that might not further the cause of winning next season as much as enhancing their viability as contenders farther down the road – taking on a contract in exchange for adding draft-pick compensation, for example – but if such a deal also comes attached to a useful player, a la Tony Snell this season, then the Pistons can be a competitive, playoff-worthy team as soon as next season. If you’re talking about a 50-win team, that might be a stretch for next season, but by 2021-22 – if Sekou Doumbouya has blossomed by then and the lottery pick they’ll add this season is ready to contribute and other young players already in the pipeline have improved markedly – then that can’t be ruled out. If you’re talking about a full-blown, no-doubt title contender, it’s impossible to project that far out with any certainty. They’ll have to make a series of shrewd decisions and be blessed with better fortune on the health front to put themselves in position for that consideration.

Derek (@SportsLunatic_): When is Luke Kennard returning?

Langlois: He says soon.

Patrick (Ludington, Mich.): Against the Phoenix Suns, Derrick Rose played 30 minutes, shot the ball 24 times and had only four assists. Tony Snell played 30 minutes. Brandon Knight played 25 minutes and had 14 shots. How is this good for the Pistons? Playing veterans big minutes to get meaningless wins that hurt the chances to get a top pick.

Langlois: You should ask the young players you’re intent on developing if, you know, they like to win a game once a while. The Pistons have lost 14 of their last 17 games. The dream of going 0-82 comes at a heavy organizational cost. Christian Wood played 35 minutes in that game, Svi Mykhailiuk 30, Sekou Doumbouya 20 and Donta Hall 13. Jordan Bone and Louis King were on G League assignment because they’re bumping up against their 45-day cap. Of all the things to be concerned about with this year’s Pistons, not playing their young guys isn’t one of them. Khyri Thomas only played two minutes in that game, but it was his second game back from a broken foot. There weren’t any young players being held back because the Pistons played the veterans you’re citing. The roster they have is the roster they have right now. You need to line up with a point guard on the floor and there is no young player being held back because Rose – now injured, so out of the equation – or Knight is playing. If you want to argue that Doumbouya should have played 30 and Snell 20, I’d counter that Doumbouya is probably playing as much as is prudent right now given the results. There’s such a thing as actively hurting a young player’s development by force feeding minutes on him. Doumbouya has played almost 700 minutes, which is about 600 more than I expected him to get in the NBA this season. There are pluses and minuses in Doumbouya getting NBA minutes before he was really ready for them. He needs more skills development and more strength and conditioning development. It only goes so far to have that development come in the heat of the battle.

Lucero (Hamtramck, Mich.): Many people, including athletes, shared their favorite Kobe Bryant story. Can you please share your favorite Kobe Bryant story or moment? How did he impact the game of basketball especially to the younger generation?

Langlois: I wrote about Kobe here.

Lisa Perry (@lisaperry0727): Whom do you see the Pistons going after this summer with their cap space?

Langlois: I don’t want to give the impression that the “who” doesn’t matter, but the reality is that when teams enter rebuilding phases they usually wind up making an acquisition or two that is designed more to enhance the future than the present. After the trade of Andre Drummond, front office leader Ed Stefanski acknowledged that one tool at the team’s disposal was to use their cap space to park the contracts teams looking to create cap space want to expunge from their cap. In that case, what comes with the contract is more attractive than the player that comes with the contract. In the best case, it comes with a player that can also be helpful, at least in the short term. I think the Pistons are likely to make a mix of moves this summer, some for players they see as undervalued and could help in the transition phase, some for players they’d perhaps like to move later for other assets, some for players they believe might be good long-term fits. If you were hoping this answer would include a big-name free agent, that’s the least likely aisle in which they’ll be shopping this off-season.

Kristofer Klein (@ktwice6): The Pistons finally embraced tanking and it’s in a year where the draft seems as weak as ever. Why is there never light at the end of the tunnel with this team since 2007?

Langlois: The Pistons didn’t embrace tanking so much as injuries pushed a new reality on them. They didn’t get to choose the quality of the draft class to match up the season in which injuries would decimate the roster with a generational crop of amateurs. And, pro tip: Don’t be so fatalistic. Life’s too short.

Ahmed (San Antonio): Does the NBA train young players how to use social media and how to respond to certain questions during media sessions?

Langlois: The entire draft class goes to New York before training camps open for several days of orientation on a variety of subjects, that being one of them. Every team undergoes a media training session every season, as well.

Joseph (Manila, Philippines): Can a team buy out a player when he has more than the remainder of the current season left on his contract? As an example, could the Pistons buy out Derrick Rose, whose contract runs through the 2020-21 season? If the answer is yes, what is the difference of Josh Smith being waived and getting paid as opposed to potentially buying out Blake Griffin?

Langlois: There’s a few different issues at play here, the first being the difference between being bought out and waived as opposed to being stretched and waived. The Pistons bought out Reggie Jackson and Markieff Morris. As to the first part of your question about players with more than the current season remaining on their contract, that essentially was the case with Markieff Morris. He had a player option for 2020-21. He reportedly agreed to leave that money on the table, an unusual path to say the least. But a buyout is a classic negotiation in which all things are possible – the player doesn’t have to accept anything less than the full value of his contract or he can walk away from every cent owed to him. The stretch provision spells out in specific terms what the terms of separation will be. A player gets the full value of his contract when his contract is stretched but he gets it spread over a longer term – twice the length of the remaining years on the contract plus one. So to use your example of Blake Griffin, if the Pistons were to invoke the option on him during this season, he would be owed all of his 2019-20 salary as scheduled, but the final two years of the obligation would be spread over the next five seasons – two times two plus one. To be clear, there is zero indication the Pistons have pondered that option.

Charles (Redford Twp., Mich.): I believe a player’s maximum contract has something to do with their draft position. What is the maximum contract Christian Wood can be offered this summer?

Langlois: There are three tiers of “maximum” contracts – the first for players with less than six years of service time, the second for players with seven to nine years, the third for players with 10 or more. Wood would be in the first tier with four years of service time, even though his first three were only small partials. The projected first-year salary is $29 million. Wood is likely due for a significant pay increase over the minimum, but he’s not a realistic candidate for a maximum contract. A maximum contract has nothing to do with where a player was drafted. (Wood went undrafted.) It has to do purely with service time. You might be thinking about rookie contracts for first-round draft picks, which are dictated by draft slot. The No. 1 picks makes more than the No. 2 pick and so on. Every first-round pick has a predetermined value assigned to the 30 draft slots. The sides can they agree on a figure that is anywhere from 80 to 120 percent of that value, but it is typical for rookies to sign for the maximum end, 120 percent. That dictates the first four years of their NBA income, though only the first two years are guaranteed.

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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