The 3-8 start has Pistons Nation a little restless, fostering questions about what's next and what's possible. On with Mailbag ...
Jone (@JALaw_): Has anybody ever asked Josh Smith why he continues to shoot threes? Also, is Stan seeing he needs to make a trade to get more depth at two and three? Perimeter scoring shouldn't be left to two 6-foot-1 and under point guards.
Langlois: I saw a story last week that said most Americans thought the unemployment rate was some crazy high number, 40 percent or higher, when, in fact, it's now less than 6 percent. I think Josh Smith's 3-point shooting has risen to that level. He's shooting about half as many as he took last season, 1.9 every 36 minutes as opposed to 3.5 per 36 a year ago. When you play as many minutes as Smith plays, in most games you're going to get caught once or twice with the shot clock going down and need to shoot it from somewhere. He admitted taking an ill-advised triple in last week's loss at Chicago with the Pistons trailing by four points and a few minutes left. It wasn't so much the shot, as is often the case, as the shot as it related to the shot clock and other circumstances. Chicago had just scored to double its lead after the Pistons had come back from 19 down and – seconds after Smith's miss – Jimmy Butler hit a triple for Chicago. There was about 14 seconds left on the shot clock when Smith launched his triple. He said later that he was looking to hit the home run to counter Chicago's momentum and understood he should have tried for a single – swinging the ball to get Chicago's defense on the move or driving it to the rom. When he's playing small forward as he is now – largely out of necessity due to injuries elsewhere –more often than not those situations where he has to rush a shot to beat the clock will find him within a few steps on either side of the 3-point line. As for making a trade for perimeter depth, I don't think they'd see that as an issue if they had everybody available. They expect Jodie Meeks back by mid-December unless he has any setbacks in his rehabilitation. Stan Van Gundy said that it might truly be more like Jan. 1 before they have the Meeks they expected to have, somebody who can play 30-plus minutes a game. When he's healthy, Van Gundy will have the flexibility to use Smith more at power forward. He'd then have Kyle Singler and Caron Butler to split minutes at small forward when Smith isn't there, Meeks and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at shooting guard – with Cartier Martin a No. 3 at both spots – and Brandon Jennings and D.J. Augustin at point guard with Spencer Dinwiddie in the wings. That's plenty of depth. There might come a day when Van Gundy aims to upgrade the quality at those positions, but I don't view that as a realistic possibility until the off-season.
Dwayne (Clinton Twp., Mich.): Do you see any chance we go after Corey Brewer? I would love to turn Josh Smith into a good three. Josh isn't nor hasn't been cutting it.
Langlois: He's been linked to two contending teams, Houston and Cleveland, each with a trade exception big enough to absorb his contract without having to send a key piece back in return. The Pistons don't fit that profile. They would be unlikely to be willing with the future No. 1 pick that Minnesota would no doubt ask of Houston and Cleveland. Minnesota is in a similar position to the Pistons – a team that wants to win games now but is at least as determined to build a better future. That makes them unlikely trade partners. If you're proposing a Josh Smith for Corey Brewer trade, Minnesota is well over the cap and couldn't do it. The Timberwolves have a trade exception of less than $500,000 from last year's trade of Derrick Williams to Sacramento, but it's about to expire and wouldn't be enough, on its own, to accommodate a Smith-Brewer swap, regardless.
Schuyler (@mreclipse91): Is there any way we could get rid of Josh Smith in order to keep Greg Monroe?
Langlois: Unrelated, except for the fact that any decision on Smith – who is under team control for two seasons behind this one – will naturally be in part dependent on the uncertainty of Monroe's future. The Pistons have no mechanism available to keep Monroe until next July 1, when he becomes a free agent. They can't negotiate a long-term deal with him now and they cannot extend his contract. Because the ball is in Monroe'sl court, there would be some element of risk in trading Smith. Of course, if they were to trade him for a player with an expiring contract or draft choices, they would have that much more in cap space next summer to pursue free agents to address whatever roster holes exist at the time.
Brett (@bfirlik): When do we get concerned that Stan Van Gundy continues to start all three bigs despite the proven failure of that throughout last season?
Langlois: He's going to judge that lineup based on how it performs in his system, not on what it did in a markedly different system a season ago. That said, he's maintained all along that he never envisioned it as a staple of the rotation. He's using it now because Jodie Meeks hasn't played yet (and won't for several more weeks) and Cartier Martin has barely practiced since being afflicted with plantar fasciitis three weeks ago. That leaves him with three players to man shooting guard and small forward – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Caron Butler and Kyle Singler – with Gigi Datome another possibility, though he's not a likely candidate to log any time at shooting guard, which is where the void really exists. When Meeks returns, we'll see how much Van Gundy plays the three together. It's pretty clear he'd rather play with at least three perimeter shooting threats on the floor. But that's not the hand he's been dealt at present.
Jonathan (@theoriginalkep): Do you feel our team is missing a true veteran leader?
Langlois: Leadership is an organic deal, Jonathan. It's the rare player who has the force of personality or the reputation to be embraced for his leadership from day one. Stan Van Gundy signed Caron Butler to serve in a leadership role, but he can't do it alone. Van Gundy met with Josh Smith soon after taking the job and came away satisfied that Smith could be a forceful part of the leadership team. You always prefer your best players set examples worth following. Van Gundy has praised the work ethic of Brandon Jennings and the no-nonsense approach of Greg Monroe on many occasions. Andre Drummond has the stuff to eventually lead, but he's 21 and right now struggling to put all of his vast abilities together. One of the reasons Van Gundy wanted to bring in multiple free agents as opposed to spending a ton on one or two was to change the dynamic of leadership with multiple high-character players. D.J. Augustin is very quiet but leaves no doubt about his focus or intent. Jodie Meeks was a big part of that, but he got shut down after one preseason game with a back injury. Cartier Martin was also valued for the toughness he exudes, but he, too, has been unavailable for all regular-season games before being activated (but not used) in Monday's game. Van Gundy has prioritized character. Once he's been on the job for two off-season cycles and has had a chance for his daily preachings to be fully imbued, I don't think leadership will be in question in his organization or his locker room.
Adam (@AdamMonroe10): With the slow start to the season, does SVG have any changes in mind to get the team going?
Langlois: When things aren't going as hoped or planned, it's a tough line to straddle, Adam. You don't want to stand pat and keep repeating elements that have led to failure, but you also don't want to jump all over the place with things you believe can work but haven't yet had the chance to be fully tested or implemented. I think Van Gundy is steadfast in his belief in his principles, but perfectly willing and eager to be flexible with lineup combinations and tactics within his larger strategies. What he strongly believes is that a team that doesn't let early failures discourage it will eventually see the results it wants. He has cited his first NBA team, the 2002-03 Miami Heat, which started the season 5-15, went 20-21 in the middle half of the schedule and then finished 17-4. I'd think he'd tell you they didn't really make radical changes in the way they carried out their business, just that they got better and better at it because they hung together and never wavered in their commitment to the process or the belief in their potential.
Nick (Grand Rapids, Mich.): Augustin isn't getting the 30 minutes a game he got in Chicago. This would normally make sense, considering his shooting woes, but the backcourt is currently depleted. Has SVG hinted at playing D.J. alongside Jennings more often? I think it makes sense when you consider the smaller backcourts other teams in our division play – Chicago with combinations of Rose/Brooks/Hinrich, Milwaukee with Knight/Bayless/Marshall and Cleveland with Irving/Waiters/Dellavedova.
Langlois: If you lined those players up, you'd see the challenge in your plan, Nick. Jennings and Augustin are not only shorter than almost everyone on your list but also very slight players. You have to pick your spots to use them. Guys like Brandon Knight, Kirk Hinrich and Jerryd Bayless can legitimately guard all but the biggest shooting guards – think guys like Joe Johnson – but it would make the Pistons vulnerable to stick Jennings on someone like Dion Waiters, for example. You'll see it tonight against Phoenix, which starts the muscular Eric Bledsoe at shooting guard and sometimes uses all three of Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas in the same lineup. Van Gundy, as I wrote this week, would like to use them simultaneously for the boost it gives penetration and ball movement. It would be a lot easier to do if one were 6-foot-5. When Spencer Dinwiddie is ready to shoulder a bigger role, look for Van Gundy to make more frequent use of his two-point guard lineup.
Neil (Georgetown, Texas): How has Spencer Dinwiddie been doing? We have not heard anything about him since the first game.
Langlois: Well, glad you asked, Neil. You might just see him in tonight's game against Phoenix, for the reasons stated above. Van Gundy likes him – he is, after all, his first and only draft choice to date. But he's behind two veteran point guards both playing well at the moment, so he'll have to pick his spots. It will be interesting to see how he responds if, in fact, he gets to play against the Suns.
Isaac (Irvine, Calif.): Just spit-balling here. I've noticed that Steve Novak is hardly getting any minutes for the Jazz. Do you think they might give him up for small expiring contracts?
Langlois: Based on results the last few years, is there any reason to believe Novak would give the Pistons more than what they already have in Gigi Datome? On the surface, they're pretty much the same guy. Datome doesn't have Novak's NBA history of success, but it might be telling that Toronto dumped him for a player it waived days later and Utah isn't playing him, acquiring him only for the second-round draft pick that came in the trade. He'd also add $3.5 million to next year's salary cap. That matters because the Pistons will be well under the cap going into free agency and would prefer all the flexibility they can muster.
Ken (Dharamsala, India): Greg Monroe appears to have upped his game this year, especially defensively. He blocks out beautifully and plays nice positional defense in the paint, using his upper body strength, a la Bill Laimbeer. Could the Pistons renegotiate Monroe's contract, keep him, bite the bullet and trade Drummond for an All-Star caliber small forward who can play defense and shoot? And who might that small forward be?
Langlois: Sounds like you're describing Kawhi Leonard. He'll be a restricted free agent next summer, but nobody believes San Antonio has any intention of letting him get away. (He could, as Greg Monroe did, sign the qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent in 2016, except because of his draft position he would be playing for much less next season than Monroe is this time around.) I was asked by Detroit Sports 105.1 morning co-host Ryan Ermani the same basic question last week, but the problem is, no, the Pistons cannot negotiate with Monroe until next July 1 and they would have no guarantee even then that they can keep him even if they were to offer a maximum contract. Trade Drummond now – perhaps not preposterous on its face, but not far off – and you'd run the real risk of losing both under-25 big men going into next season. I'd run from that idea.