Pistons Mailbag - May 16, 2018
Now that the draft lottery yielded the expected results – meaning the Pistons lost their No. 1 pick to the Clippers – what’s ahead this summer? That tops the docket for the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Jacob (@jake_sall40): What is the best or even most realistic route for the Pistons to take this summer – possible trades, free agents, the new management signings, etc.?
Langlois: The most realistic outcome for the off-season is that it’s pretty quiet aside from the major hirings of a new front-office leader and a head coach and then the filling out of their staffs. There won’t be any immediate urgency for the new front office to put a roster together given the fact that the Pistons have 12 players under contract for next season already. Free agency won’t consist of much aside from the possibility of using some or all of the mid-level exception and maybe a veteran minimum signing. Trades are far and away the most likely means of creating news, but with a depth issue only at small forward – where Stanley Johnson figures to spend the majority of his minutes but no one else naturally fits the position – there isn’t any pressing urgency to execute trades merely to fill out a compatible roster.
Tom (@skinsbeatdown): What do you see for the 42nd pick of the draft?
Langlois: As I recently argued, the overriding priority when you’re drafting at 42 – where history suggests you have maybe a 25 or 30 percent chance to land a player who’ll have anything approaching a meaningful NBA career – is to take someone you think belongs in the league. You can’t really consider roster needs to any significant degree. That said, if I had to guess, I’d say a point guard – or someone who can play there in a pinch, at least – would be the most likely grab. And with Ish Smith entering the final year of his contract and Reggie Jackson two years away from free agency, it would be a propitious time to add a developmental project who can grow as Toronto’s (undrafted free agent) Fred Van Vleet did, for one example. Among the possibilities from those who’ll be at the NBA draft combine this week are NCAA finals hero Donte DiVincenzo, Shake Milton, Jerome Robinson, Devonte Graham, Jevon Carter, Tony Carr, Trevon Duval, Shamorie Ponds and Carsen Edwards.
Don (Delray Beach, Fla.): Greetings from Tel Aviv! What do you think of David Blatt as a candidate for head coach? He had success as an NBA coach and a track record of success here in Tel Aviv with Maccabi as well as in Europe, winning championships with the Russian national team and in Turkey this past season.
Langlois: Blatt has very recently expressed a desire to return to the NBA and it was reported that he interviewed with the Knicks before they hired David Fizdale and also that was scheduled to meet with the Bucks, though it appears Milwaukee is more focused on Mike Budenholzer and perhaps Ettore Messina. There have been no reports yet of the Pistons meeting with or scheduling meetings with any coaching candidates, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if Blatt were to come under some consideration. There was nothing in his record with Cleveland that would be disqualifying. It was pretty widely accepted that he was dismissed midway through his second season with the Cavs – at a point when Cleveland had the best record in the East – mainly because of LeBron James’ wishes. There have been stories circulated from Cavs insiders about the environment that existed at the time and I’m sure those same stories, in greater amplification, are known to teams looking at Blatt. How much stock they put in them and whether they actively work against Blatt now or whether other teams are more likely to chalk it up to isolated bad chemistry remains to be seen. There might also be some strain of thinking that Blatt’s magic in Euroleague situations doesn’t necessarily translate to the NBA.
Charles (Redford Twp., Mich.): If I’m the next Pistons general manager, the first call I make is to the Boston Celtics to offer Andre Drummond, Ish Smith and Henry Ellenson for Jayson Tatum, Terry Rozier and Aron Baynes. I think it would make both teams better.
Langlois: Tatum’s on a rookie contract and is the leading scorer (18.1 points a game) for a team with a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals. You can’t overestimate the value of that type of production for a guy who still has three years left of severe underpayment – the sort of thing that can allow the Celtics to carry big contracts for Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving and Al Horford without having to trade one of them to avoid massive tax bills or other consequences of the salary cap. I suggested a month or so ago that if the Spurs come to the decision that their rift with Kawhi Leonard is irreparable, Boston – with Tatum as the primary trade chip – would be the most obvious trade partner. But if there’s any lingering concern about the severity of a mysterious injury to Leonard, is that a risk Boston is willing to take at this point? That’s a long way of saying that while a Drummond trade package would get the Pistons in a lot of doors, I’m not sure it’s one Boston would entertain for Tatum. Given his production and his contract, he’s likely one of the 10 or 12 best trade assets in the NBA right now.
Ken (Dharamsala, India): There are some young Pistons that could/should benefit greatly from the personal attention they get from Pistons coach in the off-season. Will they get the attention they need with the SVG firing?
Langlois: This wasn’t a thing even a decade ago. But it’s standard operating procedure now for NBA coaching staffs to fan out across the country in their off-seasons to work with their players for a week or two or longer. But that process doesn’t usually start until later in the summer. Players take time off when the season ends. If there’s any coordination with the coaching staff this early in the off-season, it’s more likely to be with the strength coaches on setting up an off-season weight-lifting and conditioning regimen. If the Pistons have a head coach in place by mid- or late June and he fairly quickly hires two or three assistants, you can bet they’ll be in contact with players almost immediately and set up meetings with them at the players’ convenience, at which time they’ll set up a schedule for monitored workouts. In the meantime, if there are any Pistons players who desire monitored workouts, the Pistons have a staff of coaches and trainers under contract through the end of June to assist them. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for the new head coach to at least grant courtesy interviews to existing staffers with the possibility of retaining one or more in the interest of continuity.
Brenden (@BrendenWelper): Are there any dark horse candidates for the general manager job?
Langlois: If we learned anything from the 2014 search that resulted in Stan Van Gundy taking over as both president of basketball operations and coach, it’s that the Pistons guard their business closely. There were virtually no leaks about Van Gundy’s candidacy until his hiring was imminent – like, almost official. So we’re probably not going to get a bunch of stories weeks or even days before the Pistons release a statement naming their next leaders. That said, “dark horse” implies that the person hired will be someone who’ll send hard-core fans scrambling to Google searches. I don’t think that will be the case, either. GM candidates tend to be more obscure than coaching candidates by the nature of their jobs. But to anyone remotely familiar with the top tier of NBA staff directories, chances are the next Pistons front-office executive will be a recognizable name.
Lenon (Detroit): There is very little information on who will replace Stan Van Gundy as coach as well as in the front office. Who are the candidates and where are we in the process?
Langlois: See above. The Pistons are good at keeping their secrets. If there were any benefit to them in having information regarding their searches made public, the information would be out there.
Alex (@AlexBrosaen): Are the Pistons considered an attractive coaching destination? On one hand, we’re capped out with no superstar. On the other hand, we’re young and might have two All-Stars.
Langlois: The Pistons have 12 players under contract for next season, all of whom at one point or another had a foothold in the rotation. To an extraordinary degree, there is certainty with what you’re getting with this roster. Coaching candidates should be able to enunciate their vision for how they’d utilize the roster to an explicit degree during the interview process. I’d think that sort of clarity would be attractive to coaches. What a coach wants more than anything is knowing he or she will have the support of ownership. The fact that Stan Van Gundy had a four-year run should speak to a level of stability here that also would be attractive to candidates. Let’s face it: There are only 30 of these jobs in the world. There aren’t going to be many coaches not intrigued by the chance to coach a roster that starts with Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson. The whole “capped out” thing is overstated. There are less than 10 teams that will take cap space into July. If there’s a coach who’d rule out taking a job with a team without cap space, they’re going to have a hard time ever finding a job. Teams that have tons of cap space almost always also have lots of open roster spots. If they’ve just fired the coach, it also probably means they’re not coming off of rousing success. Open roster spots and a history of lottery appearances probably mean they’re going to be fishing in the shallow end of the free-agent pool. That wouldn’t be extraordinarily attractive to most coaches in search of a job. Toronto and Milwaukee, coming off playoff appearances, are notable exceptions to the rule that most teams looking for coaches aren’t coming off of (relatively) successful seasons.
Detroitdavid (@davidgadaskin): Assuming we lose our first-round pick, is there a guy who comes out next year you’d like to draft? I say we could use a guy off the bench (a Vinnie Johnson type). I thought our bench was very streaky last year.
Langlois: It’s a little early for 2019 draft speculation. General rule of thumb a year before the draft: Peruse the commitment lists of Kentucky and Duke and you’ve got a pretty good guess as to 40 percent of the lottery. Every time I see someone talking about landing an impact bench player and the reference is to Vinnie Johnson, it’s a reminder of how rare it is to have a bench player as good as Vinnie Johnson. That’s 30 years ago. There’s a reason the Pistons haven’t had anyone quite like him since then; he was the rare truly unique player. He was also coming off the bench behind two Hall of Famers. Canadian R.J. Barrett, headed to Duke, is the presumptive No. 1 pick next season. There could be two or three more Duke frosh in the top 10, including Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson.
Mike (@mikevp100): Will the new regime actually think beyond the current year or will we continue to miss on draft picks and contracts? No offense to Blake Griffin, but I’d be shocked if he was a maximum player four years from now on.
Langlois: I don’t think undue focus on the present at the expense of the future is a valid criticism of the Van Gundy regime. They traded away one first-round pick in four years and that was for Blake Griffin – and he was the polar opposite of a one-year rental. The Pistons got him with four-plus years left on his contract, as you referenced. Van Gundy said at the time of the deal he felt it was more about the next two seasons than what remained of the 2017-18 season, given the spot they were in with Reggie Jackson’s ankle injury still lingering at the time of the trade.