Pistons Mailbag - November 5, 2014

A little bit of everything – injuries, shooting woes, trade possibilities – crammed into the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag...

Isasc (Irvine, Calif.): What will be the deal with Aaron Gray'’s second year that was a guaranteed player option? Will it stay on the books unless he signs with another team for that time? It seems he wouldn'’t be able to find a team to pay him more, so he would take the option and do something else until after next season.

Langlois: Gray will stay on the books for the Pistons--assuming he picks up his player option--unless he were to sign with another team, Isaac. He first needs medical clearance and, at last check, there was no clarity on that issue yet. Stan Van Gundy made an off-hand reference to that possibility happening late this season after Gray was waived last month. Should Gray be declared medically unable to continue his playing career, it wouldn’'t give the Pistons any cap relief. It'’s a veteran’s minimum contract, so we’re not talking about any particular hardship with their cap structure. But because the Pistons are under the salary cap and will be well under it next July 1--meaning they wouldn'’t be able to use any cap exceptions--it is something they’'ll have to reconcile when they go into the market. One thing they could do to create a little bit more cap space--about $900,000 more space--would be to use the “stretch” provision made possible by the 2011 collective bargaining agreement. That means they could spread Gray’'s 2015-16 salary out over three years for cap purposes.

Gee (Clinton Twp., Mich.): What do you think about picking up Quincy Miller now that Denver has waived him? You can never have enough skilled bigs.

Langlois: The Pistons already have 15 guaranteed contracts, Gee. They'’re already paying one player--Aaron Gray--not to play for them, though that was forced by his medical situation. Miller might be 6-foot-9, but he’'s more of a finesse player--a stretch four perhaps, but more likely a small forward. He entered Baylor amid much fanfare in 2011, a top 10 recruit according to every major scouting service and even the No. 1 player in some circles. He was compared to Kevin Durant. A knee injury suffered midway through his senior year of high school set him back some, but he recovered in time to log a full season at Baylor. He didn'’t set the world on fire as a freshman, averaging 10 points a game, but entered the 2012 draft anyway and was picked 38th--one spot ahead of where the Pistons selected Khris Middleton. I suspect Miller will need to play in the D-League, or perhaps overseas, and find his niche if he is to make a go of it in the NBA.

Brian (@RobinsinBrianC): What is the probability of trading Jennings, Monroe and Smith in a package deal or just trading two of the three?

Langlois: What’'s less than minute? Infinitesimal, maybe? You'’re talking about three of their top six players by any reasonable estimation, Brian. It would be an upset if any of the three were to be traded during the season, let alone a package involving all three of them. It gets further complicated by the fact that Greg Monroe--because he signed a qualifying offer that will make him an unrestricted free agent on July 1--cannot be traded without his consent, and complicated further by the fact that there is very little incentive for Monroe to agree to a trade given that the team which were to acquire him would not hold his Bird rights and, therefore, could not exceed the salary cap to re-sign him. Take Monroe out of the equation and you have two players in Smith and Jennings making roughly $22 million combined. Unless there’'s a unique situation--think Carmelo Anthony a few years ago when Denver was aggressively looking to trade him before he hit free agency--it'’s unusual to see packages the size of a Smith-Jennings combination traded during the season when rosters are set and teams have less payroll flexibility.

David (@DavidFromDTown): What'’s Cartier Martin'’s status? Will he be able to play against the Knicks?

Langlois: Very doubtful, David. He didn'’t practice again on Tuesday, so it'’s been more than a week since he'’s participated in practice now. He said after Tuesday’'s practice that he'’s improving and considers himself day to day, but he'’ll probably have to go through at least one practice before he can go. If he doesn'’t practice Thursday, it’'s unlikely he’d be able to play before the end of next week, given the heavy game schedule ahead of the Pistons for the next several days.

De-Von (Indianapolis): What are the chances of us keeping D.J. Augustin for a while an maybe getting a decent small forward next year? I think if we keep D.J., Moose and the core we’ll be good but we need a better small forward and more veterans like Caron Butler for mentoring.

Langlois: Augustin is under contract through next season, De-Von. Stan Van Gundy was surprised he was able to afford him, he said, after getting him as a free agent. Augustin was a player he remembered playing very well against his Orlando teams when he was with Charlotte early in his career. As for keeping Monroe, the ball'’s in his court on that score as a free agent. But Van Gundy has clearly stated he would like Monroe in a Pistons uniform for a long time. As for small forward, I think on a stable team with good scoring punch from other positions, Kyle Singler is a solid complementary starter. The Pistons have the makings to put that type of team around him, too, once Jodie Meeks returns and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s play levels off at shooting guard, and Brandon Jennings and D.J. Augustin get settled into a groove running Van Gundy'’s offense. You pretty much know what you'’re going to get from Greg Monroe, Josh Smith and even Andre Drummond, at least as far as his offensive rebounding and finishing of lobs is concerned. But, sure, if the Pistons are in position to land an athletic player who can knock down 3-pointers at small forward-- either in the draft or otherwise--they'’d love to do it.

Johan (@JohanCorneliuss): When Greg Monroe came back against the Nets, Jonas Jerebko didn'’t play. Are there any minutes left for him or could Jerebko'’s minutes come from injuries to the guys ahead of him? Could he conceivably take Caron Butler'’s minutes?

Langlois: Stan Van Gundy doesn'’t see Jerebko playing small forward, so there wouldn'’t be any direct overlap with Jerebko playing over Butler or vice versa. But let’'s say Jerebko plays so well when he gets his shot that Van Gundy looks for ways to create a more permanent role for him and winds up choosing to play Josh Smith more at small forward than he had planned. That could affect Butler’s minutes, though for as long as both Jodie Meeks and Cartier Martin are out Butler is probably going to get minutes at shooting guard. Van Gundy said the day after that game that he regretted not finding minutes for Jerebko. "“Jonas gives us really good energy off the bench and with Greg back I didn'’t find minutes for him and I think that was a mistake,”" he said.

All Talk Garbinski (@grantg328): KCP potential ceiling player comparison?

Langlois: I think he'’s going to be a very good two-way player, All Talk. If you’'re old school enough, you might remember a few shooting guards from the ’80s, Sidney Moncrief and Rolando Blackman. That would be a pretty high ceiling for KCP--Moncrief was a five-time All-Star, Blackman made it four times--but in size and style, that’'s the type of player I think of. Both of those guys were very good perimeter shooters and it remains to be seen if KCP will become that, but I think he will, despite his struggles so far.

Kenneth (@KennyDalen): How is Jodie Meeks'’ recovery going? Will it take some time to get fluid with the offense or will it be quick? We need better shooting.

Langlois: He hit the three-week mark of his diagnosis of a stress reaction in his lower back on Monday, Kenneth. At three weeks, he’'s allowed to start doing more conditioning and movement. The Pistons typically don’'t announce time frames for injuries, but they said at the time of Meeks’ diagnosis that it would be eight weeks before he would be re-evaluated. That was the same time frame they gave two seasons ago when Andre Drummond had a cracked vertebra in his lower back and he came back very shortly after the eight-week window lifted. Meeks’ injury wasn'’t exactly the same, but it’'s probably a useful precedent. It'’s fair to guess that Meeks will be back sometime around mid-December--Dec. 8 would be eight weeks, then give him time to go through a few practices--but it'’s almost surely going to be another few weeks before he can handle the type of role Stan Van Gundy envisioned for him based on his outstanding first week-plus of training camp before he was injured. It probably won’t be until January before he can regularly play 30 minutes a game.

MK (@CityofKlompton): Is it time to start worrying about KCP'’s ability as a consistent shooting threat?

Langlois: My belief is that he’'ll prove himself an above-average 3-point shooter but perhaps not a 40-percent plus shooter, though keep in mind he’'s 21 and shooting is always the thing most likely to improve with young players. He probably needs a little refinement in shot selection and, like most young players, needs to be a little more consistent with his mechanics--making sure his feet are set, his shoulders are square and he doesn'’t drift on his shot, for instance. When he'’s in rhythm and taking shots within the flow of the offense, he’'ll be a very good shooter.

Jason (Chicago): I believe Greg Monroe would be an ideal candidate to come off the bench because of his basketball IQ and his ability to assess how he needs to contribute after watching the first few minutes of a game. I also believe he is an ideal candidate for sixth man because of his demeanor and maturity. Is there some truth to players being good sixth men due to qualities off the court?

Langlois: Demeanor, maturity, basketball IQ – all those things benefit a player in whatever role he'’s filling, Jason. To thrive in a reserve role, it takes the ability to look past the traditional status associated with being announced as a starter that dates to their elementary school team. Everybody wants to start and hear the cheerleaders yell their name when you'’re a young player. When you get to the NBA and--but for the top 30, 40 or 50 players, whatever the number might be--nobody is head and shoulders above the crowd and everybody has something to offer. Then it'’s about accepting that it'’s less about your individual skills and more about how those skills fit into the puzzle. Sometimes, the best solution for a team is to have a more talented player coming off the bench. Nobody would argue that Manu Ginobili hasn’t been the second- or third-best player on the Spurs over the past decade, but he’'s come off the bench more than he’'s started over the course of his career and he'’s going to wind up with a compelling case for the Hall of Fame. I think Monroe’'s preference would be to start and I don'’t think he'’s going to spend very much of his NBA career as a sixth man, but I do think he'’s got the necessary mental and emotional makeup to handle it seamlessly if that'’s how this season plays out for him and the Pistons.

Wilbert (New Orleans): I think Gigi Datome is the most athletic small forward on the Pistons and the best shooter. Just wondering why no one gives that guy a chance.

Langlois: I think he'’s probably more athletic than he might appear at first blush, Wilbert, but he'’s not conventionally athletic--he doesn'’t have blazing speed or eye-opening jumping ability. I think he'’d probably test very well in things like hand-eye coordination, but let'’s face it: – the thing that attracted NBA teams to Italy to scout him was his shooting and scoring ability. It hasn’'t translated to NBA games so far, but the caveat is that Datome hasn’'t had much in the way of opportunity. Stan Van Gundy mentioned him earlier this week, though, in discussing the slow start the Pistons had gotten off to from the 3-point line, saying Datome is in the mix and he thinks he'’s a good player.