Pistons Mailbag - November 28, 2018

What moves do the Pistons look to make if they’re in the playoff hunt but see an opening to move up in the East’s pecking order? That kicks us off for this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Mitchell (@MitchyMitch9): If the Pistons maintain this stance of being around the 5-8 seed, do you anticipate them making a major move to make a bigger push toward the top of the East?

Langlois: Major in-season moves don’t come around all that often, though the Pistons have made them three times in the last four years with trades for Reggie Jackson (2015), Tobias Harris (2016) and Blake Griffin (2018). It would be purely guesswork to speculate what the Pistons will be looking to do at the February trade deadline, two-plus months away, only 18 games into a season where they’ve more or less met expectations. Ed Stefanski’s only trade to date came on draft night when he swapped two future second-round picks for the 38th pick he used on Khyri Thomas. The guts of the team – all but free agents Glenn Robinson III, Jose Calderon and Zaza Pachulia plus draft picks Thomas and Bruce Brown – were inherited from the Van Gundy administration. Is a “major move” that doesn’t include breaking up the Griffin-Andre Drummond nucleus possible? It would almost have to include future draft picks. Tom Gores’ marching orders since becoming Pistons owner seven years ago have been to win now without imperiling the future. So I don’t think you’ll see an overreach to add players that almost surely help in the short term but risk long-term pain. But if they can add a piece that fits the Griffin-Drummond dynamic without making 2020 and beyond look bleak, sure, they’ll push very hard for that.

Charles (Redford, Mich.): A good, even trade: Ish Smith for Markelle Fultz. That’s what I would offer. I’ve seen people with the yips in bowling, golf, darts – five people in all – and only one was able to overcome it. The rest had to live with it. So be careful, Pistons.

Jason (Troy, Mich.): Would the Pistons be interested in trading for Markelle Fultz? An offer of either Langston Galloway or Jon Leuer for Fultz if Philly finds it agreeable.

Feed Kerryon (@FeedKerryon): Philly doesn’t have Markelle Fultz in any future plans – any chance the Pistons have interest in him? I feel like a change of scenery and some help from Casey can make him into that player we know he can be. And he shouldn’t be expensive.

Josh (@ThatGuyGayle): With Markelle Fultz looking for a new start, do you see the Pistons making an attempt at acquiring him. If so, what would be the price?

Langlois: I suppose I should have seen this coming … but, no, I didn’t see an avalanche of “the Pistons should trade for Markelle Fultz” Mailbag suggestions coming. It was conveniently leaked last week that the Fultz camp would like a fresh start – sort of denied by his agent – then leaked that the 76ers no longer include Fultz in their long-term blueprint. This is a little different than Cleveland punting so soon on Anthony Bennett, the No. 1 overall pick in 2013. He was included in the trade package Minnesota accepted for Kevin Love and it was the same summer that LeBron James returned to the Cavs in free agency. Bennett wasn’t even the central piece Minnesota required; that was Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 pick of the just-completed 2014 draft. Cavs fans wouldn’t have cared who was going to Minnesota as long as it wasn’t LeBron himself. The fact Cleveland completely botched the No. 1 pick 12 months earlier was easy to ignore. The fact Philadelphia hit on Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons – and, beyond that, the recent trade for Jimmy Butler – gives Philly some cover here. But it would still represent a huge organizational admission of failure to bail on the No. 1 pick made 17 months ago – especially when the 76ers gave up another No. 1 pick, very likely to be Sacramento’s lottery pick in 2019, and extra especially because they could have sat at No. 3 and had their choice of any number of players, Donovan Mitchell among them – and that’s assuming Boston would have taken Jayson Tatum, who wound up going in Philly’s original trade slot at No. 3, with the No. 1 pick. So, as to specific questions, can the 76ers afford to give up Fultz for a half-season of Ish Smith? Brett Brown loves Smith and he’d be an upgrade off the bench at point guard. Still don’t think it’s an offer Philly would take. (And, let’s be real: As important as Smith is to this season for the Pistons, I’m not sure it’s a deal the Pistons would pursue.) Langston Galloway might interest them with 1½ years of team control on a reasonable salary. Leuer will have to flash his 2016 form to stir trade interest given the relative heft of the annual average value of his deal. Ultimately, I have a hard time seeing Philadelphia parting with Fultz this season unless somebody who really believes in him is willing to offer a (heavily protected, no doubt) first-round draft pick. The 76ers have to save some face here and dealing the overall No. 1 pick – a guy still six months shy of his 21st birthday – for an off-the-bench journeyman is the opposite of saving face. No idea how Ed Stefanski and his front office feel about Fultz, but giving up a No. 1 – even fully lottery protected for multiple years – would be a major roll of the dice.

Jesse (@JesseAbbey): Any truth to the rumors on Bradley Beal or John Wall?

Langlois: If you mean the rumors that Washington is open to dealing anyone on the roster, I suspect the answer is “yes.” But let’s put an asterisk on that. The Wizards aren’t looking at a tear down as much as an overhaul. If they’re trading Wall or Beal, they want talent in return. With Wall, the enormity of his contract – the four-year, $171 million extension starts next season – means the Wizards have to expect a far different return of assets than they could demand for Beal. If the Pistons were to ask about Beal, as I wrote last week, I would expect the Wizards to start with a request for one of Stanley Johnson or Reggie Bullock, plus Luke Kennard and, probably, two No. 1 picks. That’s a pain-inducing package, but Beal is 25 and comes with two-plus seasons of team control. You’d have to think about that. I wouldn’t expect anything to happen in a hurry because Washington will need to canvas the entire league to solicit best offers – look how long it took Minnesota to trade Jimmy Butler and he was making life very uncomfortable for all there – and, in the meantime, the Wizards have actually started to play better. I don’t know if it’s possible for the whole thing to blow over, but winning is the best remedy to the corner the Wizards have maneuvered themselves into.

Wickstafly (@wickstafly): Any shot at landing a good point guard or shooting guard? What do you think it would take to land Kemba Walker or Bradley Beal? I’ll hang up and listen.

Langlois: Sure seems like the Kemba ship has passed. He’s indicated he wants to stay in Charlotte for the long haul and he’s thriving under first-year coach James Borrego. Beal, see above.

Jeremy (@jbeauregard13): What would we have to give up to get John Wall and would it be worth it?

Langlois: A smart aleck might say “the future,” but lucky for you there’s not an ounce of smart aleck in me. If you trade for Wall – and somehow do it without relinquishing Blake Griffin or Andre Drummond – then you’d be paying a few bucks short of $100 million to those three players next season. Lotsa luck putting the rest of your team together. And if Drummond opts out of his contract after the 2019-20 season – which has to be the expectation as long as he’s healthy at the time – then that figure would jump up by about $10 million every subsequent season. I don’t know how that’s sustainable, but maybe somebody smarter than me could figure it out.

Anthony (Henrico, Va.): The more minutes Reggie Jackson plays, the better chances the Pistons have to win. Cut Ish Smith’s minutes.

Peter (Coldwater, Mich.): Ish Smith needs to play more and Reggie Jackson less.

Langlois: Well, there you go. The truth is, the Pistons need both of them at the moment. Dwane Casey has said many times that Jackson is still fighting his way back through the injuries of the past two seasons that robbed him of virtually all of his off-season work and dozens of games each year. If that proves true, then I would expect Jackson’s minutes to tick up – but not necessarily at Smith’s expense. Interestingly, Casey said before Wednesday’s win over New York that it wasn’t as much the fear of mounting minutes for Jackson and Smith that has led to him using them in tandem less frequently of late as much as it was Jackson beginning to play at the faster pace Casey desires. He said in the win over Houston last week, the Pistons had 85 possessions that saw them get the ball across half-court with 21 seconds or more. Casey interprets that as a sign that Jackson is starting to inch closer to full capacity.

Bob (Albany, Oregon): Reggie Jackson closing out Houston was beautiful. Stan Van Gundy built a solid roster, Ed Stefanski added on to it shrewedly and Dwane Casey is manna from heaven. The bench is impressive and versatile. I love Langston Galloway and Bruce Brown keeps showing up.

Langlois: When any team’s bench plays well, the odds they win obviously go up. For the Pistons, it’s striking that the performances of Ish Smith and Stanley Johnson are so markedly different in wins than losses. Those two are really the keys to the bench unit. Langston Galloway’s shot might be streaky, but he’s otherwise a remarkably consistent performer. Zaza Pachulia, too. The bench goes as Smith and Johnson go and when they’re good – and they’ve been good more often than not – then the Pistons are a tough out for anybody.

Ian (Westland, Mich.): So far Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond are playing at an All-Star level, but if we remain hovering at .500 we might only get one of them in. What are your thoughts and where is the help going to come from?

Langlois: It probably would help to get both to the All-Star game if one of them wins the vote – a combination of fan, player and media voting – and the other is put to a vote of the coaches to fill out the reserves. It will be interesting to see how the move to Detroit and the fact he’s no longer in the glare of Los Angeles has affected Griffin’s immense popularity. They both have strong cases at this point. But, yeah, much will depend on what the record looks like in late January and early February when coaches pay a little attention to filling out their ballots.

Brenden (@BrendenWelper): Has Bruce Brown shown enough in the last two games to earn a regular spot in the rotation? Or do you expect more DNPs to follow?

Langlois: Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson, Reggie Bullock, Ish Smith and Stanley Johnson are the only six players I’d say have cemented a spot in the regular rotation – with the caveat that permanence in the NBA lasts as long as the next three-game losing streak. Yes, I realize Glenn Robinson III has started the last 10 games, but I don’t necessarily think it’s a lineup Dwane Casey is wedded to. It’s worked and Robinson has filled his role well, but when Luke Kennard comes back I think he becomes the seventh sure thing in the rotation. I would expect him to come off the bench initially and get eased into the rotation without it affecting anyone else’s status, though minutes will have to come from somewhere. Would I be surprised if by Christmas Bullock and Kennard are the starters alongside Griffin, Drummond and Jackson? Not even a little bit. Johnson’s played so well since being moved to the bench that I think he’ll stay in his role. I think Brown’s role is in flux. Casey will use him when he sees the need to throw off the rhythm of a hot opposing perimeter scorer. Brown held up admirably in his matchup with James Harden in last week’s overtime win and Casey trusts him – that’s already saying something for a guy picked 42nd. But I’m not ready to write him down in permanent marker for a rotation spot.