Pistons Mailbag - November 16, 2016

Reg-gie! Reg-gie! Reg-gie! Lots of Reggie Jackson talk tops the list of topics in the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.

C.J. (@cjhudd): Could Reggie Jackson be back by Thanksgiving?

Langlois: Could be. Wouldn’t bet big on it. Wouldn’t bet big against it. Stan Van Gundy said after Tuesday’s practice, in which Jackson was a participant in the non-contact portions, that “I’d say that would be really, really optimistic at this point to think he could be back on Monday of night week. I don’t see that.” Monday of next week is significant because it marks six weeks since he underwent platelet-rich plasma treatment on his left knee – and the original estimate for his return was six to eight weeks. Thanksgiving comes three days later, so … not out of the question, probably less than likely. But the fact he’s making progress without any indication of residual issues or setbacks is encouraging.

Kevin (@KevinTroub): Will Reggie be on a minutes restriction when he does get back?

Langlois: I don’t know that it will be a strict minutes limit based on his injury, but Stan Van Gundy might play him less than his customary 30-32 minutes initially as he gets his conditioning back, I suppose. Jackson was limited in how much he could do to keep his conditioning level up. He’s able to run now, so his legs should start coming back – but there’s only so far you can push yourself in running drills to simulate the stop-start-change direction movements that are a part of every NBA possession. My guess is when he’s cleared to return, he’s back – but that Van Gundy will use him based on what his eyes tell him during games or as Jackson informs him of any issues with his knee or physical limitations during games.

Stand With Stan (@Stand_With_Stan): Do we expect to see the same old Reggie from day one or is he going to be eased back into the lineup?

Langlois: As I wrote in response to Kevin’s question, I think he’ll play as many minutes as he can handle as soon he’s ready. Whether he’s rust-free on day one, well, that’s another matter. Nobody knows. Jackson’s going to have to be confident in his knee, for starters. If he’s pushing off without pain or fear of recurrence, I don’t think it will be long before he finds his stride. If he comes back and his body’s response gives him pause, it could undermine his play until he’s physically beyond any residual issues with the original injury and the effects of treatment and rehabilitation.

Jeff (Coldwater, Mich.): You’ve said several times that there’s just about no way the Pistons can keep Baynes next season since he’s bound to leave in free agency. He’s playing really well. I can’t see losing him. What scenario would it take to keep him? Who would we need to get rid of to make room or what trades would it take to keep him?

Langlois: As far as I can discern, there’s simply no loophole that will help the Pistons retain Baynes so long as he opts out of his contract and another team offers him more than $11.375 million. That’s their ceiling. And it’s not because of the salary cap or luxury tax, per se. It’s because they will only have his partial Bird rights, not his full Bird rights, and that limits them to offering him a contract of no greater value in its first year than 175 percent of his 2016-17 salary for a reported $6.5 million. The Pistons looked at the market for centers last summer – when Bismack Biyombo got a reported four-year, $72 million deal ($18 million annual average) and Ian Mahinmi got four years, $64 million ($16 million average) – and determined there was better than a 50-50 chance Baynes would get a deal that precluded them from retaining him. That’s why they signed Bobn Marjanovic instead of waiting to find their backup center next summer when they would have no cap space. So there’s no scenario where they could dump players and create more cap space. They’re almost certainly going to be well over the salary cap going into next summer and will be flirting with paying luxury taxes if they are able to retain Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. But, again, it’s not as if it comes down to a decision on their end of whether to pay Baynes or not; the collective bargaining agreement prevents them from offering Baynes the type of salary they believe he will command on the market. Of course, Baynes is free to sign for a lesser amount and maintain a presumably lesser role as Andre Drummond’s backup than he almost surely will be able to attract from other teams. Even if he isn’t signed to be someone’s starter, it’s all but a lock that he’ll be courted by teams without a center of Drummond’s stature and minutes allocation.

Jonathan (@sjcchoops): As a fan on the outside, I’m happy with the start. How do you feel being closer to the team?

Langlois: Every opportunity to win a game while the Pistons are without Reggie Jackson needs to be seized, so you look over the first 11 games and lament two in particular – the losses at Brooklyn and Phoenix. They had chances to win both games. An 8-3 record would feel a lot more satisfying than 6-5 right now. With even something approaching normal shooting, they might have won at San Antonio, too. On the other hand, 6-5 has the Pistons in playoff position and firmly in the mix. They’re approaching what’s likely to be their most challenging portion of the schedule – nine consecutive games against 2016 playoff teams, all but Miami favored to return, six of those games on the road, starting with Friday’s date at Cleveland – and Jackson could miss a number of them or still be finding his legs and his rhythm whenever he does return. If they emerge from that stretch still at or within a few games of .500, I think they’ll breathe a sigh of relief and go from there.

Brian (@SmithBrianA): Does Stan Van Gundy have any idea why the team struggles so much on the road so far?

Langlois: Yes and no. Yes, he’s identified the problem: defense. The Pistons have been really good defensively at home this season, holding their five opponents/victims to 85.6 points a game and 37 percent shooting. Five games represent a fairly small sample size, but not all that small – it’s 12 percent of the home schedule. On the road, the numbers are 105 points and 48 percent. Those numbers are so wildly divergent you’d wonder how they could be produced by the same team. Now, why has the defense that’s been so stout at home not traveled? If he had the answer to that, he’d have pulled it out of his back pocket on last week’s four-game road trip. “The defense has been incredibly different,” he said Tuesday. “It’s been bigger than anything I’ve seen. When you’re going on 100 possessions, we have about 22 points per 100 possessions difference in our defense. Even for a small sample size, that’s remarkable. We talked about that today and the need to bring what we bring at home on the road with us. I just think we don’t have the same readiness and part of that is a mental focus. We’re late on plays; we’re late on calls; we’re late on our rotations. We’re much more on it at home. We’re not late as much; we don’t make as many mistakes.”

Nick (Brisbane, Australia): When does Stan Van Gundy look to get Reggie Bullock some minutes providing he is truly fit at shooting guard? Everyone is high on Stanley Johnson, but I really think Bullock deserves some minutes at backup shooting guard at the moment as we are basically getting nothing out of Stanley. Small forward is his best position. Unfortunately, there are no minutes available.

Langlois: The rotation is at nine and isn’t likely to go up as a matter of routine. Bullock is back in practice, but it was always a close call whether he’d be in or out of the rotation. Missing about two weeks with various injuries made Van Gundy’s decision pretty easy. Once Jon Leuer started contributing at a high level, the die was cast. Bullock’s best shot at playing time now isn’t to be added to the rotation as a 10th man, but to assume Johnson’s role as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s backup. I don’t think we’re all that close to that happening as long as Johnson is playing defense and making sound decisions with the ball.

De (@DTL84): What’s up with the sluggish start for Stanley Johnson? He’s only getting 15 minutes per game.

Langlois: He had about five rough games to open the season, but he’s been contributing positively since. That he’s not playing as much is almost wholly the result of the addition of Jon Leuer and Stan Van Gundy’s desire to put his size and offensive skills at power forward to best use. Because Leuer is playing about 27 minutes a game – about eight more minutes than Anthony Tolliver averaged last season as the backup power forward – Johnson has seen his minutes decline by about six per game. Van Gundy is going with Marcus Morris, Tobias Harris and Leuer almost exclusively in a three-man rotation at the two forward spots. That’s limited Johnson’s minutes, largely, to backing up Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Van Gundy feels no less enthusiastic about Johnson’s potential than he did a year ago. But he’s 20 and he faced a considerable adjustment in going from a player who was always vastly physically superior to the competition to one where that’s not quite as decided an edge for him any longer.

Tyler (@T_Harb23): What happens to Beno when Reggie comes back?

Langlois: He’ll revert to No. 3 point guard. That’s a pretty nice security blanket. The way he stepped in to the rotation after one practice in late October shows he has the stuff you need for the role of third point guard – the ability to step into the fray with short notice and give your team a chance to win games.

Jason (Sacramento): What are the chances we get to see another NBA Finals matchup between Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James? Any chance for the Sacramento Kings to make the playoffs?

Langlois: Dirk and LeBron … something less than 3 percent? Sounds right. LeBron’s got a very good chance to return, but it’s a leap of faith to believe Dallas is going to compete at a level with Golden State and the Los Angeles Clippers. There’s a much better chance the Mavs miss the playoffs altogether. I’d give the Kings about a 33 percent shot at the playoffs this season.

Ryan (Aliso Viejo, Calif.): Is Henry Ellenson the best shooter on the team?

Langlois: If it’s a shooting drill? He’d be in the discussion, though I’d bet on Reggie Bullock. In game action, players with his lack of experience take some time to adjust to the speed of the game and the physicality of defenders. But if you ask that question again in a few years, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Ellenson was the right answer. Stan Van Gundy is legitimately enthused about his scoring potential, which requires dimensions beyond pure shooting stroke.

Carly (Wayne, N.J.): Where can I find Detroit Pistons jerseys online?

Langlois: Right here.

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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