Pistons Mailbag - May 21, 2014

Trying to figure out Stan Van Gundy’s first moves, the disappointment of losing their lottery pick and what the Pistons might look for with their second-round pick top the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Steven (West Bloomfield, Mich.): I won’t say good morning, because there’s nothing good about it. I’m not going to talk about the lottery last night, lest I start to cry. Instead, I’ve seen many people interpret Stan Van Gundy’s comments on Greg Monroe as a firm commitment to building around him as well as Drummond, but that’s not now I interpreted his statements. What I took away is he’s not going to let Monroe walk for nothing, as some have speculated. He said Monroe had great value, which sounds like he’s talking about a commodity rather than a cornerstone. Did Van Gundy say something specific that I missed that indicated that Greg is as much a part of the future as Andre or is everybody reading too much into some predictable praise for a valuable free agent?

Langlois: The safest bet in all of this is that the Pistons are not going to allow Greg Monroe to walk for nothing, Steven. I’d put that dead last on the list of possibilities for how Monroe’s restricted free agency plays out. Beyond that, I’d be very careful about parsing his words from last week’s press conference to that degree. But I will say that the first mention Van Gundy made of any players came in response to a question that didn’t ask about any specific player, only about if he had considered the scope of the job he had just accepted. And, in part, here’s what he said, “… there��s talent here. When you’re talking Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, you’re talking – in a league where it is getting increasingly hard to find quality big guys – you’ve got two of the elite big guys in the NBA.” I don’t think anything Van Gundy said or didn’t say about Monroe at the press conference was going to affect by one dollar the amount potential Monroe suitors were willing to offer him, so I don’t know that your theory that he was talking up Monroe to, presumably, scare away offer sheets or drive up the return in a sign-and-trade package carries much weight. Is it possible Van Gundy will conclude he must trade one of his big three up front (Drummond, Monroe, Josh Smith) in order to add roster elements he deems necessary? Sure. But I’ll take him at his word that he views Drummond and Monroe as two of the NBA’s elite big men until we see evidence he believes otherwise.

Michael (Ferndale, Mich.): Instead of trading Ben Gordon, if the Pistons would have used the amnesty on him could they still have signed Josh Smith? And if the answer to that is yes, why didn’t they do that instead?

Langlois: Apologies for an earlier answer, in which I mangled the interpretation of the question. Short answer: Yes, if the Pistons had used the amnesty on Ben Gordon instead of trading him, they would have been able to sign Josh Smith. In fact, using the amnesty on him in 2012, when they traded him, would have gotten them cap space a year earlier than they did, just not as much of it. I originally answered the question based on something you didn’t ask: What if the Pistons had merely hung on to Ben Gordon instead of trading him at the price of a No. 1 pick. Sorry for the confusion. As it was, it was an easy trade for Charlotte to make because the then-Bobcats – they’re the Hornets again, as of yesterday – had to spend more money just to get to the CBA-mandated minimum. It was a tougher call for the Pistons and a calculated gamble. They were betting that the improvements they would make as young players like Greg Monroe matured, in tandem with the additions made possible by the 2013 cap space they had created, would put them in the playoffs by 2014. The way it turned out was the worst possible outcome – finishing one spot out of where they needed to be to keep the pick, and that by virtue of some incredible luck by a team slotted behind them – but, as Stan Van Gundy said last night, it’s disappointing but not disastrous. As I wrote, the likelier courses of improvement for next season all along were (1) the impact of Van Gundy’s coaching on the chemistry that was so missing a year ago; (2) internal improvement from the likes of Monroe and Andre Drummond and (3) the veteran free agents they’ll get in free agency or other veterans acquired via trade. By the way, the sliver of silver lining to the dark lottery cloud is the Pistons will have $2.3 million more in salary cap space because they won’t have a lottery pick. I’m estimating their cap space now at about $13 million, which provides enough flexibility for Van Gundy to do more than cosmetic roster shuffling.

Al (Wolverine Lake, Mich.): So, who do they take 38th?

Langlois: Long list of players who will be under consideration, Al. But when you look at their recent history, they’ve had good success with players in that range. Kyle Singler came at 33 and both Jonas Jerebko and Khris Middleton at 39. Most people believe this draft has better quality in the 30s than last year’s, when the Pistons took Tony Mitchell 37th. It will be interesting to see if the two Michigan sophomores who declared in addition to Nik Stauskas, a likely lottery pick, make it out of the first round. I think either Glenn Robinson III or Mitch McGary would be high on the list should they last to 38. Another set of teammates, Missouri’s Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson, are other considerations. There will be a few Europeans in play at that spot, including Bogan Bogdanovich. Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie, Isaiah Austin, Jordan Adams, Devyn Marble, Shabazz Napier … there’ll be 15 to 20 guys, I would guess, who will be considered as possibilities to be there even on draft night that the Pistons have identified as potentially solid NBA players. They fully expect to get a player who will help them at that spot, though I don’t think there will be an expectation that he’ll play a significant role as a rookie.

Wilbert (New Orleans): I am a big-time Rodney Stuckey fan and do you agree with me that Coach Van Gundy would be a great fit for Stuckey and with the right coach this guy can reach his potential as best sixth man in the league?

Langlois: Stuckey’s played for six head coaches – Flip Saunders, Michael Curry, John Kuester, Lawrence Frank, Maurice Cheeks and John Loyer – in seven seasons and I think it’s probably fair to say the upheaval hasn’t had a positive effect on his career. How much it’s held him back is impossible to know. Stuckey’s had periods of great productivity but has always struggled to maintain consistency. At his best, he’s one of the very best in the game at attacking the basket and getting to the rim and, subsequently, to the foul line. That’s a commodity every coach would love to have. Van Gundy comes to the Pistons with better credentials than all of the others who’ve coached Stuckey, with the possible exception of Saunders though he had only coached in one place and had always had Kevin Garnett on his team, and his reputation is in line with his winning percentage and the string of winning seasons without every finishing below .500. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Van Gundy would do as well or better than any of Stuckey’s other coaches at figuring out the best ways to exploit his talents. We’ll see how seriously the Pistons pursue Stuckey on July 1. The team Orlando built around Dwight Howard was filled with shooters. It wouldn’t be hard to see Van Gundy choosing to invest his cap space in acquiring perimeter players with more 3-point range than Stuckey provides. And, keep in mind, the ball is in Stuckey’s court as an unrestricted free agent. And even if there would be a logical argument for him to stay in Detroit with the best coach he’ll have had, human nature might be tugging at him to make a change after five straight seasons of missing the playoffs. I expect the market for Stuckey to be pretty strong and I’ve heard of some strong interest in him from a few Western Conference teams. We’ll see what happens.

Jason (Warner Robbins, Ga.): What are the chances that Rasheed Wallace sticks with the team in some capacity?

Langlois: It’s a sure bet that Van Gundy has complete autonomy in filling out his coaching staff, Jason. You asked a question that a ton of other readers asked – so, hey, you won the lottery, at least, by having yours chosen to appear in Pistons Mailbag – and I don’t think we’ll have to wait too long to have an answer. Surely, Van Gundy can’t help but be impressed by the way Wallace played against Howard and his Orlando teams over the years. As a coach, I’m sure he appreciated more than most the subtleties Rasheed brought to the game at both ends – the things that don’t show up in box scores or even in obscure advanced analytics. And when he talks at length to Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, it’s certainly possible that he’ll detect in their words and in their tone the respect they had for the insights Wallace provided them over the past year. On the other hand, Van Gundy has been in the NBA for nearly two decades and has a vast network of coaching contacts. He might have a prior relationship with an assistant he trusts and values. Putting a coaching staff together is a puzzle that requires consideration of how the various pieces fit. In that respect, it’s not like putting together a team. You can’t take all rebounders or all shooters or all defensive aces. You need a little of everything and it might be that the coach Van Gundy has in mind to handle the big guys brings something to the equation that Van Gundy deems indispensable.

Omid (Ann Arbor, Mich.): Is there any indication the Pistons will be looking to snag Kevin Love from the Timberwolves in a sign and trade?

Langlois: Love still has another year to go on his contract and that assumes he chooses to opt out following the 2014-15 season. Any team that takes him on in trade likely would press for a commitment to not opt out, at a minimum. So the sign and trade is not in play with Love. There is speculation that Minnesota is resigned to the fact that Love will opt out and leave as a free agent next summer and thus is looking to be active in seeking a trade partner this summer, which really means that draft night is in play. If the Pistons had any chance to put together a trade package for Love, it more than likely evaporated when they were kicked out of the lottery last night. Love and Andre Drummond would seem to be wonderful complements to the other up front. But I don’t know if there’s a real trade fit there. Without Love, the Timberwolves would be left with Nikola Pekovic as their frontcourt centerpiece. Do either Josh Smith or Greg Monroe fit with him? That’s a question Flip Saunders would have to answer. As for the Pistons, without assurances from Love that he’d stay beyond next season, it would be a tremendously risky move to give up the multiple valuable assets likely required to win a bidding war for Love.

Ethan (Radford, Va.): What do you think about using one of our second-round picks on Joe Harris from Virginia? He’s an amazing shooter and defender, which is what we are looking for. He might be a little slow but could be an efficient second-round player.

Langlois: Harris was invited to the NBA draft combine last week, which generally means the consensus opinion is that he’s viewed as a likely draft pick. Right now, he’s projected as a relatively high second-rounder by ESPN.com (35th) and a low second-rounder (60th) by Draftexpress.com. That’s a pretty wide range, but probably representative of the varying opinions you’d get on many players at this point in the draft process. The Pistons don’t have multiple second-rounders this season; they have the 38th pick, so there’s probably a decent chance Harris is available to them. I talked to Harris in Chicago last week and he’s very aware that Stan Van Gundy is now in charge in Detroit and the teams he coached in Orlando always had a number of players like Harris. He told me he sees himself as a “3 and D” player – a 3-point shooter who can play solid defense on the other end. I’d certainly put him on the list of second-round possibilities, but it’s a long list at this point.

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