Pistons Mailbag - Wednesday, November 21, 2012

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Pistons.com editor Keith Langlois answers your questions about the Pistons and NBA. Click here to submit your questions - please include your name, email address and city/state on the form. Return to the Mailbag homepage.

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Editor’s note: You can now submit Pistons Mailbag questions via Twitter. Include the hashtag #pistonsmailbag and, as always, your first name, hometown and state or country. Questions submitted via Twitter will also include the questioner’s Twitter handle.

Mohammed (Milwaukee, Wis.): I’ve been a Pistons fan since my days in Detroit. My question is who do you think the team should target in the free-agent market after this season? I’m asking because the answer this time will be less clear than in previous times, it seems.

Langlois: There will be scant few marquee free agents this off-season, Mohammed, and it’s a long shot that most of them from the list – Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, Andrew Bynum – will really wind up leaving their current teams or signing with anyone but a bona fide instant title contender. I don’t know that the ramifications of the 2011 collective bargaining agreement have been fully realized yet, but the prevailing wisdom is that the home-team advantage is still a powerful force, though teams with more than one young player who might attract a maximum contract offer will be in a precarious situation going forward, much as Oklahoma City believed itself to be with regard to James Harden after having previously locked up both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. I am of the view that – unlike in 2009, the last time the Pistons were in position to have cap space – the summer of 2013 is more likely to see the Pistons exercise their cap space to facilitate trades rather than spend above the mid-level exception on free agents. You can bet that they will have run projections for a million different scenarios between now and July 1 and evaluated personnel across the league to gauge fit and value to the franchise. I don’t think it will be nearly as easy to narrow the targeted candidates as it was four years ago and I don’t think anything approaching a manageable list of prospective targets will be widely known much in advance of July 1. Stay tuned.

Peter (Jackson, Mich.): You scare me with your words that the Pistons will likely add some veteran free agents this off-season with their cap space. The last time they did that, Joe D signed Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. Don’t you think it would be better to draft another impact player and let the young guys develop together?

Langlois: Peter: see above. I’ve maintained all along that I believe the likelier outcome of cap space is to use the leverage it provides teams to facilitate trades with teams facing near-term cap distress and looking to off-load contracts. As for “better to draft another impact player” … well, of course – but true impact players are few and far between in general, the 2013 draft is not viewed as rich in impact players and, in any case, the Pistons have limited control of their draft position.

Chris (Brighton, Mich.): Kim English was the first rookie off the bench this season and now he is out of the rotation. I have watched every game and did not see him make any particularly big defensive mistakes and he shot the ball pretty efficiently. Did I miss something?

Langlois: With Kyle Singler now playing the majority of his minutes at shooting guard and Corey Maggette back from his calf injury, there simply isn’t room right now for English, Chris. The Pistons never really projected Singler as a shooting guard – if they would have conceived of him playing a position other than small forward, it would have been power forward – but when Rodney Stuckey took ill last week and Maggette was only recently cleared for full participation, Singler became the obvious choice for an expanded role. The reason English has been inactive in recent games in favor of Khris Middleton? Lawrence Frank told me last week that he had talked to the two 2012 second-round picks before the season began and told them, based on their performances through training camp and the preseason, that he wanted to give them equal opportunity early in the season. So English was active for the first handful of games – at a time when Maggette was injured – and that gave him a shot at playing time. When it was Middleton’s turn to be active, Maggette was back, so he hasn’t gotten many minutes yet. Rest assured, the Pistons remain very high on both players. They are routinely among the last few players to leave the practice facility and are eager and apt students of the game. Whenever opportunity arises, they’ll be ready to show what they can do.

Jeremy (Kewadin, Mich.): The Pistons have impressive wins against the Celtics and 76ers. They also have nine losses in 11 games. Is this a sign of a young team struggling to mature or is this still a team that needs to be revamped?

Langlois: I think Joe Dumars would say, as he has in the recent past, that he’s not finished building the roster, if, in fact, a GM is ever finished looking to improve the roster incrementally. But there are a number of pieces in place that weren’t there prior to the 2010 draft – Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight, Andre Drummond and Kyle Singler clearly already critical to the franchise’s present and future and others, from Slava Kravtsov to Kim English to Khris Middleton, working a little off the radar to raise themselves to the same stature. Beyond that, yeah, they’re figuring out how to win games. As you could see in the first three home games, when they held double-digit leads in the second half only to lose, teams that can’t overwhelm the opposition with sheer talent and athleticism need that time. With a number of key players now here for the long term, most likely, these are lessons the Pistons shouldn’t have to relearn season over season once it takes hold. That’s the good news. At some point, the growing pains will be largely behind them.

Jeremiah (Detroit): With the Pistons on a slide, when should we expect to see changes to this team? Is Joe D even looking?

Langlois: Looking is a 24/7/365 endeavor, Jeremiah. If he’s actively engaged in specific trade talks, he’s not going to tip his hand. This is a little early in the season to expect major traffic. The types of trades completed at this point of the season – barring the occasional cataclysmic deal of a disgruntled star holding a franchise hostage – are usually more along the lines of the type New Orleans and Charlotte pulled off last week, journeymen Matt Carroll and Hakim Warrick changing uniforms. If the Pistons make a similarly minor move, it would be one that would not involve taking back a player with more than one year left on his contract, in all likelihood, or certainly not for a player with more years left on his deal than the one sent out of town. Now, all bets are off if the deal involves a player Joe D sees as a long-term fit with that young core he’s identified.

Rick (Frederick, Md.): I’m far from the smartest guy, but it appears one of the Pistons’ biggest problems is at shooting guard with Stuckey’s ineffectiveness and Maggette’s injury. What in your view is the problem, especially with Stuckey, and what is the fix?

Langlois: Stuckey had an inexplicably bad start, Rick. No one in the organization saw that coming, not after a summer he logged that was universally praised for the sincerity of the dedication he exhibited. I think it caught him off guard, too, and was something he had to fight perhaps more because of the timing of it – at the start of the season, as opposed to 20 or 40 games into it, when a three-game slump wouldn’t have been quite as stark – than anything. But Stuckey has been better since, closer to the player the Pistons anticipated having. If he can put a stretch of good games behind him, of course, the Pistons will be that much the better for it. He scores for them in ways not many others on the team do with regularity. The job Kyle Singler has done at shooting guard, though, goes a long way toward solving whatever issues the Pistons might have had at that position.

Darrel (Detroit): The Pistons’ strengths are youth, speed, length, athleticism and 3-point shooters. The best way to utilize those strengths is to convert the offense into a run-and-gun team and, if necessary, go 13 deep to run other teams out of the gym. At least they’ll have an identity, have fun playing and be a fun team to watch.

Langlois: When Andre Drummond is ready to assume a more significant role, then youth, length and athleticism will be more fully realized, Darrel. I don’t know that the Pistons are faster, longer or more athletic than many of their opponents as presently constructed. Now, when Drummond and, for that matter, Slava Kravtsov, force their way into broader roles, that ups the ante on length and athleticism. If and when Kim English and Khris Middleton can work into the mix, 3-point shooting will be improved. But I don’t know of any team that routinely features more than a 10-man rotation and even that’s stretching it for a number of coaches. I think Lawrence Frank would scoff at the notion that the Pistons want to get into run-and-gun games unless and until he’s comfortable with the consistency of his transition defense.

George (Madison, Wis.): The Magic need frontcourt help and the Pistons could use more backcourt help. Would a trade of Villanueva or Daye for Afflalo work for both parties?

Langlois: The fact Afflalo was the most significant current player – as opposed to the coveted assets that first-round draft picks represent – Orlando received for shedding Dwight Howard, means I think you are likely severely underestimating Orlando’s consideration of Afflalo. It’s conceivable, however, that Orlando would be open to trading Afflalo and the three remaining years of his salary after this season if it enabled some broader plan for creating maximum cap space, which would put Daye and his expiring contract into play if it were to be coupled with other assets – the ubiquitous future first-round draft pick, in all likelihood. Villanueva would have been a great fit for Orlando … when the Magic had Howard and were chasing players like Villanueva who could score from the perimeter and create mismatch problems for teams looking to play a more traditional power forward in order to counter Howard’s rebounding prowess.

Jason (Canton, Mich.): I read a report that said Stuckey suggested that Singler should start. Is that true? If so, do you think Singler makes for a better starting lineup?

Langlois: Yes, Stuckey did suggest to Lawrence Frank that Singler remain in the starting lineup after his debut as a starter – while Stuckey was ill and not with the team – resulted in the first Pistons win of the season. Stuckey expressed interest in being a go-to scorer for the second unit where he perhaps saw his style a better fit with players like Will Bynum, Andre Drummond and Jonas Jerebko in a more up-tempo type of attack. Frank was willing to give it a shot and has ridden with it since while maintaining that he would continue to evaluate until he felt the Pistons were where they needed to be from a defensive standpoint.

Bruno (Sao Paulo, Brazil): Isn’t it about time to let Daye go and give him a chance to have an NBA career somewhere else? It’s not that difficult to find a trade for him. It took me a couple of minutes to find one that makes sense. New Orleans has a hole at backup small forward and they could use one who can shoot, since Aminu can’t. They happen to have a very talented young player struggling named Xavier Henry. Swap Daye for Henry. Am I wrong here?

Langlois: It’s a reasonable proposal, Bruno. But we can’t know how the two organizations view the other team’s player. There is always the school of thought that a young player whose career has stalled in one city will flourish with a change of scenery, but there is always the countering argument that questions why merely changing uniforms will enable a player to realize the potential seen in him before entering the league. I do know there were some scouts who thought Henry had a very high ceiling as a shooter in the Michael Redd mold when he left college after his freshman season. If the Pistons were to trade Daye, I don’t know that they would necessarily be looking for another wing tweener type, not when they already have Kim English and Khris Middleton being developed. In a perfect world, they might prefer a guard with the defensive chops to handle either backcourt spot or proficient playmaking ability.

Mark (Adelaide, Australia): I’m very frustrated by the start of the season, like 95 percent of Pistons fans. Is Joe D kicking himself that he didn’t use the amnesty clause on Charlie V as I cannot see him cracking the rotation at all this year? Do you see Drummond and Singler being starters this season?

Langlois: Seriously doubt Joe D is kicking himself about holding on to the amnesty clause. What was to be gained by exercising it last summer? It would not have given the Pistons cap space of consequence. They would not have been under the cap by more than the mid-level exception, which they wound up using to sign Slava Kravtsov, Kyle Singler and Khris Middleton. (Even though Middleton signed a rookie minimum deal, the fact that it contained a third season meant it had to fit under a cap exception other than the minimum player exception; Kravtsov and Singler signed contracts above the minimum.) As for Drummond and Singler, I see them both remaining rotation fixtures with the likelihood that Drummond’s role will expand – not fast enough to please the majority of fans, perhaps, but incrementally and consistently on a month-to-month basis.

Johnathon (Sterling Heights, Mich.): I know it’s early to talk about trades, but I could see one involving Rodney Stuckey and Tayshaun Prince for Eric Gordon. That way, we could have a true shooting guard capable of scoring over 20 points per game and that could allow Singler or Jerebko to start at small forward.

Langlois: Wouldn’t be a huge surprise if New Orleans looked for an escape hatch on the Gordon deal a year after he was the centerpiece of the Chris Paul return. Of course, that was before signing a max contract and running into a knee issue that could cloud his future. A team would have to be confident of his medical results before touching a trade for a player just starting a max deal. If health wasn’t an issue, of course, Gordon would be all but untouchable.