Pistons Mailbag - May 10, 2017

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Lots of talk about big guys – Andre Drummond, Aron Baynes, Boban Marjanovic...and Joakim Noah and Kristaps Porzingis? Yup. A couple of Knicks find their way into the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Clark (Santa Cruz, Calif.): If Aron Baynes opts in, do you think Stan Van Bower should move one of them? That would leave us with three pure centers for next season, plus Henry Ellenson and Jon Leuer who can play center. That seems like a little much. But I also don’t think any of them have huge trade value. Would it be better to trade them for cap savings and a roster spot or hold on to them?

Langlois: That’s a mighty big “if.” I can’t see the logic behind opting in from Baynes’ side. The Pistons signed Boban Marjanovic last summer – a year before they really needed him – because they fully expected Baynes would not only opt out of the final year of a deal in which he’ll make $6.5 million but that he would draw offers beyond their ability to retain him. To be clear, the Pistons can’t offer Baynes more than 175 percent of what he earned last year, or $11.375 million, and it has nothing to do with whether they have that much in cap space or not. Because they’ve had him only two years and not three, they hold his early Bird rights, not full Bird rights which would essentially give them the ability to sign him at any cost. So to recap: Less than a year ago, the Pistons felt it likely that Baynes would draw offers starting north of $11.4 million this summer and Baynes had another solid year with no injury issues to cloud his future. To think he wouldn’t want to land the security of a multiyear contract – never mind likely earn more than double his annual average salary – seems absurd on the face of it. I know Baynes truly enjoys his role here, had a mutually respectful relationship with Stan Van Gundy (Stan Van Bower: cute) and, in a perfect world, would prefer to stay put. But the circumstances make it an extreme long shot. But to your question, yes, I agree that they’d have too much invested in big men – both from a percentage of the salary cap and in roster spots – to carry all five of Andre Drummond, Baynes, Marjanovic, Ellenson and Leuer next season, at least when Van Gundy almost surely feels he needs to add some perimeter scoring options.

Luke (@WolthuisLuke): Do you think Drummond’s free-throw shooting will get any better/worse?

Langlois: Yes. One or the other, since things rarely remain static in sports. Which way it goes is anyone’s guess. Drummond showed clear signs of promise with his foray into virtual reality technology to boost his free-throw percentage after he shot a career-worst .355 from the line in 2015-16. He hit .439 over the first 57 games going into the All-Star game, but slumped to .266 over the last 25 games. The .439 would have been a career high for a season and the .266, obviously, a career low. (Further, his percentage declined month over month, from .473 in October-November to .438 in December to .379 in January to .377 in February to .278 in March-April. The farther he got from his summer work with virtual tech, the worse his shooting.) One way or another – whether he doubles down on virtual reality or explores another avenue – he’s got to get it back to the .439 days and go north from there. Stan Van Gundy and his staff aren’t going to just ignore the issue over the off-season and hope it resolves itself. They’ll be active in working with Drummond on finding a means to improved foul shooting.

Aidan (@Fienderino): Will Beno return this season? He seems to be interested.

Langlois: That probably won’t be buttoned up until the dust settles on free agency, Aidan. Teams build their rosters from the top down. The only way Udrih will sign early in free agency is if there’s a team that identifies him as a sure No. 2 point guard and offers him a multiyear contract. The more likely scenario, given his age – Udrih will be 35 in July – and career path is that he’ll be considered for the No. 3 spot by various teams. Stan Van Gundy had nothing but glowing appraisals of Udrih last season and certainly left the door open for his return next season. But what if the draft steers a point guard to the Pistons with their lottery pick? It’s possible that the Pistons come to an agreement quickly in free agency with Udrih in July, but more likely that they tend to their more urgent needs – improved perimeter shooting seems the clear priority – before filling the No. 3 point guard spot.

Bladerush (@bladerusher97): Sign Joakim Noah.

Langlois: Good idea; not a great idea. A few problems with your suggestion to “sign Joakim Noah.” One, he’s not a free agent. In fact, he’s got three years remaining – and about $55 million due him – on the contract he signed just last summer with the Knicks. It was one that raised eyebrows across the NBA given Noah’s significant injury history. And that’s the big one. Noah played a combined 96 games over his last two seasons in Chicago and had well-documented injuries to his ankles, knees and shoulders. Noah was one of the most admired players in the NBA for several seasons. There isn’t a coach in the league who wouldn’t have wanted peak Joakim Noah – I’m talking about a five-year period, from 2009-14 – on his side. Nobody played harder, nobody sacrificed his body more. But it took a palpable toll. He only played 46 games for the Knicks last season and averaged backup minutes (22). He can still rebound and set picks and hustle, but he’d be defying history’s long odds if he managed to reverse course and again become the impact player he was for the Bulls. And even if you believe he can give you 20 quality minutes a night for, say, 65 or 70 games, the Pistons – and virtually every other team – are in no position to pay $55 million over the next three seasons for that level of contribution. One more thing: Unless Joakim Noah has morphed into a 40-plus percent 3-point shooter, he doesn’t exactly fit the roster.

Aaron (@ahs22): Any sense the Pistons would engage on Porzingis because of Phil Jackson? I think they would be more open to adding Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond than most.

Langlois: Let’s start with the Knicks and admit up front that almost nobody – and, in fact, perhaps exactly nobody – can predict with any degree of certainty what they’re thinking or what path they would like to charge (stumble?) down next. But it still would come as a significant surprise if the Knicks are seriously going to engage teams in trade talks for Kristaps Porzingis. Players with his combination of size and skill just don’t come around more than once in a generation. He’s not there yet, but he could be one of the top 10 players in the league someday very soon. Every decision the Knicks make should be with Porzingis front and center in mind. So, yeah, I am fairly confident in asserting that the Pistons – and probably 28 other teams – would certainly not hang up if the Knicks called to explore the market for Porzingis. Realistically, I don’t know what would move the needle for the Knicks. Surely Andre Drummond would be the starting point in a potential trade with those two as the centerpiece, but the fact Drummond is on a maximum contract and Porzingis is still on his rookie deal complicates the route to a trade. The Knicks would have to add players to the deal to make the contracts work. The Pistons would have to counter with draft picks, one would imagine. They seem an unlikely match. Your proposal to add Jackson to the deal further complicates the math. The Pistons would be shipping New York about $40 million in contracts and Porzingis is due to make $4.5 million next year. I suppose the Knicks could clear some cap space to absorb more than they’re sending out – renouncing their rights to Derrick Rose and his $30 million cap hold would be an obvious place to start – but, again, predicting what the Knicks might do is futile. I’m sure @bladerush97 would advocate for Joakim Noah and his $17.8 million 2017-18 salary helping to balance the deal.

Adell (North Hollywood, Calif.): SVG has no idea about talent. He is a great talker but has always come up short when he had talent. Let’s get some talent in the front office.

Langlois: His Orlando teams had Dwight Howard and … I mean, in an era of championship teams loaded with All-Stars and future Hall of Famers, Howard was the only player on his Orlando teams who’ll sniff the Hall of Fame. Only Rashard Lewis, in addition to Howard, made the All-Star team in 2009 when the Magic went to the ’09 Finals and he was borderline, likely voted in by coaches prone to rewarding winning teams with All-Star berths. Jameer Nelson and Rafer Alston were the point guards on that team. Rookie Courtney Lee was the starter at shooting guard. You want to discount the accomplishment of getting that team to the Finals – beating both Boston with its three Hall of Fame locks and Cleveland during LeBron James’ first tour of duty? As for the talent in the front office, the guy Van Gundy plucked from relative obscurity in Orlando to head his college scouting, Brian Wright, was tabbed to be No. 2 to R.C. Buford in San Antonio last summer and a second Van Gundy assistant GM, Ken Catanella, was hired to be No. 2 in Sacramento. Pat Garrity, who was promoted to Pistons associate GM as a result of those departures, is someone to watch over the next few years as GM openings occur. J.R. Holden and Adam Glessner are other highly regarded young executives in Van Gundy’s front office. Jeff Nix, assistant GM, has long been well regarded among NBA insiders. Compare today’s roster – three years after Van Gundy was hired by Pistons owner Tom Gores – to what Van Gundy inherited. I’d say the facts rebut your contention on both counts. He’s taken lesser talented teams deep into the playoffs and he’s vastly upgraded the Pistons talent base when given his first shot at personnel direction.

Jhoni (@Jpcveinti2): Since Mike Budenholzer stepped down as president of basketball operations in Atlanta, is that something you think SVG thought about?

Langlois: No, and I’m pretty sure Mike Budenholzer didn’t think about it, either, until ownership came to him and indicated its preference. Remember, Budenholzer didn’t come to the Hawks as president and coach but stepped in during a crisis situation after Danny Ferry’s comments regarding Luol Deng ahead of free agency became public. One of the reasons Van Gundy pursued the Pistons job was the vision owner Tom Gores had for unifying the front office and coaching staff by placing one voice at the top of both areas. Neither is ready to abandon that vision. Why would they be, given the direction of the franchise since Van Gundy came on board three years ago?

Ryan (@Handyrya): Do you think a sign-and-trade deal is a possibility with KCP?

Langlois: A possibility? Sure. But it’s not likely. The teams that will go after Caldwell-Pope will have cap space and will have very little incentive to engage the Pistons in sign-and-trade scenarios. What teams that have signed restricted free agents to offer sheets in the past have done is structure the deal to make it as uncomfortable as possible for the home team to match. Every team that considers signing Caldwell-Pope will be familiar with the Pistons’ cap situation and will conjure ways to make the Pistons hurt by matching. It’s fair to say the Pistons have considered every possibility and won’t engage in any hand-wringing if and when an offer sheet comes to them. If there’s a team without cap space interested in pursuing Caldwell-Pope, the Pistons won’t have much incentive to engage them in trade talks unless they’re offering a legitimate compensation package in return which … doubtful. There’s a reason you never hear about a sign and trade for a restricted free agent.

Marcus (@CaptainMarc95): Are the Pistons getting a new logo this off-season? It’s been heavily teased within promotional material and you guys just updated the court.

Langlois: Asked and answered in last week’s Mailbag, Marcus. Best advice: Stay tuned.

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