Pistons Mailbag - Thursday, July 19, 2012

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.

We reserve the right to edit your question for the sake of brevity or clarity.

Anders (Bath, England): Why can’t the Pistons use the amnesty clause on Charlie Villanueva? He’s got a hefty contract and his stats are declining.

Langlois: If the question is why “can’t” the Pistons use the amnesty clause on him, the correct answer today is because the window for any team to use the amnesty clause has closed. In each year of the collective bargaining agreement currently in place, each NBA team has the opportunity to wipe one contract off of its books. There is a one-week window to do so starting on the day the moratorium period – the first 10 days of the new league year, which starts on July 1. That window closed at midnight on Tuesday. The stipulations are that each team gets to use the provision only one time for the life of the CBA – 15 teams have exercised the provision either last December or this July – and it can only be used on a contract signed under the previous CBA by a player who hasn’t switched teams since the new CBA was put into effect. (So the Pistons, for example, could not use the amnesty provision on Rodney Stuckey or Tayshaun Prince, players they signed under terms of the new CBA, or Corey Maggette, whose contract was signed under the last CBA but who has been traded to the Pistons since the new CBA was put in place.) If the question is why “didn’t” the Pistons choose to use the amnesty provision on Charlie V, the answer is likely that it wouldn’t have done anything for them this summer. In real dollars, they still would have owed Villanueva all of his money (or at least that portion of his contract not picked up by any team that might have put in a waiver claim on him, as opposed to Villanueva clearing waivers and becoming an unrestricted free agent, in which case the Pistons would have been on the hook for his full salary). In cap dollars, removing Villanueva’s salary completely would not have put the Pistons under the salary cap, meaning it wouldn’t have given them any more money to spend on free agents or created any cap exceptions they didn’t already have at their disposal. All it would have done is opened a roster spot. Pretty steep price to pay for something that can be accomplished another way. Whether the odds are great or small that Villanueva will produce in line with his contract this season, the upside of keeping him far outpaced the upside of paying him to play for somebody else. Next year, when the Pistons project to be under the cap, the possibilities will be much broader.

Steven (West Bloomfield, Mich.): All Joe Dumars has done to get this team back on track is get absurdly lucky in the draft by having top-five talent inexplicably slide to the middle of the lottery three consecutive years and using a buyout and a draft pick to clean up previous mistakes. Anybody else could have done as much or more.

Langlois: Same argument Phil Jackson hears, Steven, for winning 11 rings coaching Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Same argument San Antonio hears for winning the No. 1 pick not only to get David Robinson but to get Tim Duncan even with Robinson already on the roster. Same argument you can use for Oklahoma City landing in the top-four of the lottery three straight years to come away with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Same argument you can throw at Pat Riley for choosing to set up shop in glamour spots Los Angeles, New York and Miami; would free agents have flocked to play for Riley if he had been pulling strings in Milwaukee, Sacramento and Salt Lake City instead? If it were no-brainers that Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Andre Drummond were top-five talents, yet went seventh, eighth and ninth, then there are at least nine decisions made by various NBA general managers in the past three years that should have been grounds for firing. Easy to build a team from an armchair with the benefit of hindsight. Dumars built an NBA champion in four years without benefit of a sure-fire Hall of Famer, using trades, free agency and the draft to do so. Since the team declined, as franchises inevitably experience, and wound up picking in the top 10 three straight years, he’s nailed it twice and could well make it three for three. You want to call that luck, we’ll agree to disagree.

T.J. (Rochester Hills, Mich.): Any word if the Pistons will hire someone to replace Scott Perry in the front office? I know George David was promoted, but just curious as to whether there is someone else joining the front-office staff.

Langlois: Read my most recent True Blue Pistons blog, T.J. They’ve shuffled some responsibilities with personnel director Doug Ash taking on some of the onus of scouting that fell to David, but not taking David out of the loop on scouting because of his keen eye for talent. Ryan Hoover has been added in a scouting capacity to join Durand Walker and Harold Ellis.

Johnathon (Sterling Heights, Mich.): The Pistons made some changes this summer, but do you think they have the potential to be good this season? Or do you believe changes still need to be made for instant success?

Langlois: Tough to answer those yes or no, Johnathon. In part, it depends on how you define “good” and “instant success.” I think the Pistons have a solid shot to make the playoffs this year, but it’s still too early to make any sweeping conclusions when so many teams still have tweaking of their rosters to do. It would be a leap to say the Pistons are going to challenge for the NBA title this year, but if you can accept that something less than that represents success, yeah, they have a chance to have a successful season. If Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight take steps forward, if Andre Drummond plays well enough to earn a spot in the rotation, if Kim English and Kyle Singler both prove themselves worthy of being dependable NBA players, if Rodney Stuckey puts together his most consistent NBA season, if the Pistons post statistical evidence of being an improved team at both ends of the floor … if most of those things are answered in the affirmative – and none of them are reaches – by season’s end, then I’d say it qualifies as a successful season even if it doesn’t necessarily translate into 45-plus wins or extending their season into mid-May.

Chris (Adelaide, Australia): Knight seems to have an unparalleled competitive drive. He seems to hate being beaten. Every time somebody got the better of him last season, he seemed to come back the next time and win the matchup. After a poor Summer League game, there was a bounce-back game. Was that the reason Joe Dumars drafted him? Also, any chance you could detail the pushup regimen used by Austin Daye that you wrote about?

Langlois: They loved Knight’s makeup, Chris, and his competitive fire was a significant part of that makeup. As for Daye’s pushup regimen, I wrote about it back in April.

Micah (Detroit): I’m excited about the new players coming in, but what’s going on at our point guard position? Walker Russell? Will Bynum?

Langlois: Bynum is under contract for one more season and, as of today, is the only backup point guard. But Rodney Stuckey, of course, is a logical candidate to play the position. If they don’t add another backcourt player between now and the start of the season, then Lawrence Frank could get creative by using players like Corey Maggette or Austin Daye at shooting guard in certain matchups to augment the Knight-Stuckey-Bynum-Kim English backcourt depth chart. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Pistons make a move between now and then to bring in another guard capable of playing either backcourt spot.

Shawn (Garden Grove, Calif.): Is it fair to compare Kravtsov to Zaza Pachulia?

Langlois: Similar bodies, perhaps, but Kravtsov, by all appearances, is a superior athlete. Pachulia has a pretty sophisticated low-post game and good footwork, which by the scouting report is a hole in Kravtsov’s game. Pachulia is not considered a good defender, which is the area where the Pistons expect immediate help from Kravtsov.

Michael (Sun City, Ariz.): When Blake Griffin went down with a knee injury, I thought Greg Monroe would get an invitation to join Team USA. Anthony Davis was chosen instead after just one year of college basketball. It seems a popularity contest at best. Pistons fans appreciate all of Greg’s dedication and hard work. He is the ultimate professional.

Langlois: Since Monroe wasn’t picked for the Select Team and players like Davis, Derrick Favors and DeMarcus Cousins were, it was unlikely that USA Basketball would go outside of the very pipeline it stocked and choose Monroe as a last-minute replacement for Griffin. The true puzzler was how Monroe was bypassed for the Select Team in the first place. I still like Monroe’s chances to be a part of the 2016 Olympic team –assuming David Stern’s push to limit Olympic competition to players 23 and under isn’t yet in effect, at least – but it’s tough to predict what will happen since there will be changes in the organization’s administration between now and then.

Tiba (Detroit): Do you think Andre Drummond will start next season?

Langlois: I’d be surprised if he started when the season opens, Tiba, but the Pistons are going into this completely open-minded. They know he’s going to make mistakes and NBA head coaches generally would rather go with steady and unspectacular over occasionally spectacular but consistently inconsistent. If Drummond can consistently affect games, though, and limit his mistakes – make fewer and fewer as time goes on – then he’ll have a chance to at least crack the rotation. Where it goes from there will be within his hands.

Joe (Oklahoma City, Okla.): What do you think the chances are that the NBA eventually allows a 16-man roster to place someone in the NBA Development League? It seems teams are reluctant to use the league even though the Pistons last year found Walker Russell there and sent down Vernon Macklin.

Langlois: I’d be surprised if the owners, after holding firm during a lockout that was largely based on controlling costs, would authorize an additional roster spot even if it was stipulated to be a league-minimum wage. The NBA has seen rosters increase from 12 to 15 over the past 20-some years with active rosters now at 13 instead of 12. Think about it like this: The NCAA limits men’s basketball teams to 13 scholarship positions and the NBA has 15 spots; the NFL has a 53-man roster and the NCAA allows 85 football scholarships. I don’t see it very likely that NBA owners could be convinced that 15 roster spots aren’t enough. When only 13 can be active for games, you automatically have two roster spots already that can be designated for players eligible for the D-League.

Eric (Livonia, Mich.): If the Pistons don’t make any trades before next off-season, who do you think they will target in free agency? The two names I keep thinking would be great fits are James Harden or Josh Smith.

Langlois: It’s premature to even consider names for next summer, Eric. I entertained the question not to stop at that, though, but to suggest that it’s at least as likely the Pistons use whatever cap space they generate – and as has been widely reported, they could have as much as $20 million or so in cap space – to engineer a favorable two-team trade or serve as a third-team facilitator for teams that need their cap space to complete a trade than it is that they splurge in free agency. When Joe Dumars spoke after the Ben Gordon trade of the “flexibility” that cap space afforded them, he was talking about the spectrum of possibilities, not just signing free agents.

Omar (Beirut, Lebanon): I love Pistons Mailbag and read it every week, so thanks for your answers. Any chance the Pistons would keep Gates over Macklin this season? Also, could the new Ukrainian center take minutes away from Drummond?

Langlois: Glad you are a loyal Mailbag reader, Omar. Thanks for your interest. As of now, it doesn’t appear the Pistons will have room for either Macklin or Gates. Both players put in good work in Orlando, though, and if they stick with it both should have NBA futures. For certain, they’ll be able to make a living playing basketball somewhere in the world. As for Slava Kravtsov, it’s certainly possible Lawrence Frank can only find room in the rotation for one of him or Drummond to start the season, at least. It would be an upset if Greg Monroe and Jason Maxiell didn’t open the season as the two big men, given the momentum the team generated once they were paired last season. Jonas Jerebko is the odds-on favorite to be the No. 3 big man in the mix, backing up Maxiell and essentially splitting minutes with him. That leaves at least one spot for Drummond or Kravtsov with an outside chance Frank uses a five-man rotation of big men. On the surface, Kravtsov and Drummond offer similar qualities – athletic big men who run the floor well and will give the Pistons a formidable defensive presence near the rim. Kravtsov is 6 years older and, presumably, better prepared to step into an NBA rotation. But it will play itself out starting in training camp.

Jens (Cologne, Germany): I liked your answer to the last question in last week’s Mailbag a lot. It seems it is increasingly hard to project the success of Euro big men. The Pistons made a bold move by not holding a roster spot for Macklin and signing Kravtsov. He is considered a hidden gem here in Europe.

Langlois: Thanks for the input, Jens. As I wrote last week, while most NBA teams were aware of Kravtsov, I don’t think many of them were aware of how much he had improved over the last two seasons and even fewer made the trip to Ukraine to see him play this season. The Pistons feel they’re catching him at the right time and believe he’s ready to step in and contribute. It will be fascinating to gauge his readiness and potential impact once he arrives and gets into the thick of training camp and the preseason.