Pistons Mailbag - October 26, 2016

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

With the regular season just hours from tipoff, questions about the move at point guard to bring in Beno Udrih and discussion about Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s future get the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag off and running.

#16 (@STIXXAY): Do you think we did the right thing by waiving Ray McCallum and picking up Beno Udrih?

Langlois: Given the track record of the Pistons pro personnel scouting department under Stan Van Gundy, you certainly give them the benefit of any doubt. Udrih played in three preseason games and the Pistons watched every minute of them. They had a scout in attendance at last Wednesday’s Heat preseason game. He played more than 700 minutes last season and Pistons scouts probably saw 600-plus of them as they happened. They know what they’re getting. At the offensive end, Udrih’s strengths are operating the pick and roll – even as a young player, he was tremendously crafty in maximizing use of angles and spotting creases – and getting his team organized. The decision to go with Udrih over McCallum was simply a case of readiness. Van Gundy and the Pistons are genuinely high on McCallum’s future and believe he’s an NBA player. If Reggie Jackson hadn’t gotten hurt, they would have happily kept McCallum (or Lorenzo Brown, for that matter) as the No. 3 point guard and developed him into a player they’d have been fully confident in using as the backup at some point. But that spot on the depth chart changed with Jackson’s injury. They couldn’t afford to have 12 to 16 minutes a game with the offense out of sync. They simply didn’t have enough of a history with McCallum yet to be confident that wouldn’t happen.

#badboysremix (@badboysremix): How much does the front office seek player feedback on pending acquisitions? A lot of our guys seem to have history from previous teams.

Langlois: The Pistons under Stan Van Gundy and Jeff Bower have built an extensive database of information that comes from all corners of the organization. I asked Van Gundy after Tuesday’s practice if he or anyone had talked to Jon Leuer or Tobias Harris about Beno Udrih, who’d been teammates with each of them at two of his previous NBA stops. The short answer is they already had input from Harris and Leuer about Udrih and virtually everyone else they’d played with. That’s one of the chores assigned in the front office – build dossiers on every NBA player (in addition to their scouting of college players, international leagues and the D-League). Van Gundy had all of that at his fingertips, he said, with the comments from Leuer and Harris already available to him.

Jamara (Taylor, Mich.): If the Pistons do not re-sign Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, will they pursue a trade like a Rudy Gay to get something in return?

Langlois: Highly unlikely. And in the case of your specific example, impossible. The Pistons are over the salary cap. Gay makes nearly $10 million more than KCP’s $3.7 million, so that trade simply doesn’t work. I just don’t see the Pistons being motivated to trade Caldwell-Pope in any reasonable scenario. His ability to defend point guards gives them a weapon they’d have difficulty replicating with anyone else on the roster and there’s no real urgency to trade him now. Yes, Caldwell-Pope can become a restricted free agent next July if the sides don’t agree on an extension by the Oct. 31 deadline, but the Pistons would, at minimum, have the ability to control his playing rights for next season by either (a) matching an offer sheet, should he sign one with another team, (b) sign him to a contract themselves or (c) have him play the season under the qualifying offer, the least likely alternative.

Rolly (@RollyGiberson): Sounds like KCP wants $20 million. If his shooting is still poor, does he get it? If not, is he gone at the deadline?

Langlois: For part two, see above. I don’t see a trade of Caldwell-Pope during the season as likely unless a lot of things transpire. One, Stan Van Gundy would have to believe the Pistons could absorb his loss defensively. He’s banged the drum all preseason that the most important step the Pistons must take to better last year’s 44 wins and No. 8 seed is to improve from 13th defensively to the top 10. Trading your best perimeter defender surely doesn’t further that cause. He’d also have to see something in the players who’d have to take his minutes (assuming the player who’d come in return for Caldwell-Pope isn’t that guy), like Stanley Johnson, Reggie Bullock, Darrun Hilliard or Michael Gbinije to believe there wouldn’t be a significant dropoff. As for what it will take to sign him, there’s no credible reports that Caldwell-Pope has asked for any particular amount. But you certainly have to look at what the market for young wing players was last summer. Allen Crabbe, a superior shooter but surely not close as a defender and without Caldwell-Pope’s proven endurance with major starter’s minutes, signed for an $18 million average. Evan Turner got four years and $70 million. Evan Fournier got five years and $85 million. It doesn’t take much guesswork here to figure out that Caldwell-Pope’s representatives are going to use those contracts as starting points. Van Gundy has said that while his clear preference is to come to agreement on an extension with Caldwell-Pope (and Reggie Bullock, for that matter) before Oct. 31, he won’t feel panicked by taking negotiations to next summer, either. That also implies he won’t feel any particular pressure to deal Caldwell-Pope at the trade deadline, when it also figures that he’d have to accept less than 100 cents on the dollar in return.

Davis (@dcbuss): Going into the season, what was the most glaring weakness from last season rectified this off-season and how?

Langlois: Their bench was up and down last season, David, but a big part of that was spotty play from their point guards for some pretty understandable reasons. Stan Van Gundy attempted to address the issue before training camp by bringing in veteran Steve Blake while Brandon Jennings rehabilitated from his January 2015 Achilles tendon rupture. Blake had a slow start to the season after suffering a concussion that sidelined him from the second day of training camp until the last preseason game. He had stabilized and given the Pistons positive play when Jennings was ready to return in late December. But Jennings wasn’t close to 100 percent of the player he’d been pre-injury between then and the February trade deadline, when he was shipped to Orlando as part of the Tobias Harris trade. Then it was back to Blake for the Pistons. He gave the Pistons everything he had and was solid most nights, but it was clear to everyone by season’s end that Blake’s days as a regular rotation member were likely at an end. So the biggest upgrade for the Pistons was getting Ish Smith, who started 50 games last season and played well in that role at Philadelphia, to back up Reggie Jackson. Then the Jackson injury shuffled their outlook at the position again. The waiver claim to add Beno Udrih on Monday was a move to avoid the bench inconsistencies of last season that started with Blake’s preseason concussion. Beyond that, adding Jon Leuer should prove an upgrade for his greater versatility at power forward than the Pistons had at that spot last year. Van Gundy also expects that greater stability and roster continuity compared to last season will benefit the Pistons, most noticeably, he hopes, in improved team defense.

Scott (Novi, Mich.): Has using new shoes fixed Stanley Johnson’s foot issue?

Langlois: Trending in the right direction, as they say. Johnson said he felt the occasional twinge after switching shoes for the final preseason game, but admitted, “maybe the doctors know what they’re talking about” – a reference to Stan Van Gundy saying after Johnson had missed the Oct. 17 game with foot soreness that doctors recommended Johnson switch shoes to something with greater support.

Buk (Bangkok, Thailand): We’ve heard a lot about Henry Ellenson’s offense, but how is his defense? If he can adequately defend his position, could he crack the rotation?

Langlois: Every time Stan Van Gundy has gushed about Ellenson’s offensive abilities and potential – which is virtually every time he’s talked about Ellenson at all – he’s attached the caveat that defense is Ellenson’s “challenge.” He’s said he’s already shown improvement, but Ellenson – as to be expected for a 19-year-old – is naturally at a physical disadvantage going up against players several years older than him who’ve also had the benefit of multiple seasons under the supervision of NBA strength coaches. He was a gifted rebounder at Marquette, so that bodes well for his NBA future, but 13 rebounds in 73 preseason minutes – granted, a relatively small sample size – suggests it’s still an issue for him at this level. That said, I would expect Ellenson to show rapid progress. He’ll come back a stronger player next year and even incremental improvement combined with the experience he’ll gain should put him in position to challenge for playing time fairly soon.

Isaac (Irvine, Calif.): I know there were only a few preseason games that Marcus Morris missed, but with the success of Tobias Harris and Jon Leuer starting together do you think we might see Morris transition into a sixth-man role this year?

Langlois: I think the 37 minutes a game Stan Van Gundy played Morris last season says a lot about how highly what he provides is valued by his coach, Isaac. The Pistons have greater depth and more lineup flexibility than they’ve had in a long time this season, so the expectation is that Morris will see a reduction in his minutes. But to what? Maybe 33 or 34 minutes a game? It’s hard to play that much coming off the bench. And I don’t really see the motivation for Van Gundy to do so unless the Pistons are consistently being outscored in the minutes when his bench unit is on the floor. I think he’d be reluctant to bolster the bench at the expense of the chemistry the starting lineup has fostered, but if forced to pull someone out of the starting lineup to bolster the second unit Morris – the guy who more often than not was the player Van Gundy pulled first to have available to start second quarters with the bench last season – is the likely choice.

Justyn (Utica, N.Y.): With the Reggie Jackson injury and untested point guards behind Ish Smith, an imminent Aron Baynes departure after the season and promising early showings from Boban Marjanovic, Jon Leuer and Henry Ellenson, should we trade Baynes and bring in a point guard also on an expiring contract such as Shaun Livington or Jose Calderon to ensure we don’t fall behind in the first quarter or third of the season?

Langlois: Your question came in before Monday evening’s move of waiving Ray McCallum and picking up Beno Udrih, Justyn, so Udrih – with nearly 800 games and 272 NBA starts on his resume – at least satisfies the “untested” portion of the point guard equation behind Ish Smith while Reggie Jackson is idled. The Pistons have enviable depth in their frontcourt rotation, but I don’t see Van Gundy parting with Baynes to add a point guard who’d slot in behind Jackson and Smith once Jackson is back. He values Baynes too much for that.

Matthew (@MatthewMunch): What’s the vibe like around the team? Are we thinking playoffs again?

Langlois: They’re doing more than “thinking playoffs” but taking nothing for granted. Other than Reggie Jackson, they didn’t have a starter who’d ever appeared in a playoff game until last season. They’re a young team, but those guys had been around long enough to know how tough it is just to finish in the top eight and continue playing past mid-April. I was struck by the attitude of the players who joined the team over the off-season. Jon Leuer was hoping the Pistons would be the team to pursue him in free agency because he saw the possibilities here. Ish Smith said he feels the Pistons have championship potential. Beno Udrih, in a radio interview Monday night after learning the Pistons had claimed him off waivers, said pretty much the same thing. The loss of Reggie Jackson for at least a month of the regular season will be a challenge for them, unquestionably, but they’ve had three weeks to grasp the reality of the situation and deal with the ramifications.

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