Pistons Mailbag - Thursday, August 9, 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.

Don (Ortonville, Mich.): I see the Pistons just released their preseason schedule. I’ve never been to a preseason game. When do tickets go on sale?

Langlois: Tickets to the four home preseason games went on sale Tuesday morning, Don. You can get all the information for ticket purchases on Pistons.com. This is going to be an interesting preseason, too, with five rookies – at least four of them who appear ready to challenge for regular playing time – plus veteran trade acquisition Corey Maggette added to the mix.

Mike (Grand Haven, Mich.): Why did the Pistons decide not to schedule a preseason game in Grand Rapids this year?

Langlois: The preseason schedule varies from year to year, Mike, and while I don’t know that there is any specific reason why there will be no game in Grand Rapids this season, the Pistons haven’t closed the door on playing preseason games at Grand Rapids or other sites around the region – for instance, they played a preseason game in Toledo in 2010 – in the future. This year’s schedule does include a game in Winnipeg, Manitoba, as part of the NBA’s inaugural Canada Series – there will also be a preseason game in Montreal – and that might have limited the flexibility the Pistons felt they had to schedule another neutral-site game while still preserving the desired number of dates at The Palace for their own season-ticketholders and area fans.

Joe (Cebu, Philippines): I have been a longtime Pistons fan and recently an avid follower of Pistons Mailbag. There is a group of loyal Pistons fans here in the Philippines and we are wondering if the Pistons might consider visiting our country. There have been many NBA basketball clinics lately in the country and the Pistons might be interested in their own or another event for loyal Filipino fans. We are very excited for the upcoming season with our new players.

Langlois: The NBA and the Pistons are well aware of the intense interest from your country, Joe. A few years ago, I saw a report that broke down where most Pistons.com traffic was generated. The first three cities on the list were all within a short drive of The Palace – Detroit, Troy and Southfield. No. 4 on the list? Manila. Generally, NBA participation internationally is determined by NBA headquarters. I wouldn’t be surprised if that includes more frequent visits to the Philippines. Thanks for your interest in the Pistons and Pistons Mailbag.

Jeff (Flagstaff, Ariz.): At only 18, is Andre Drummond finished growing? What criteria would you use to judge the success of his rookie season?

Langlois: I asked Andre that question in Orlando when I sat down with him for a lengthy interview for a story in the next edition of Courtside Quarterly, our magazine for season-ticketholders that also will be available online shortly. Drummond told me that, yes, he is finished growing. As for how to judge his rookie season, it’s really tough to say right now – we really need to see how he performs in training camp and in preseason to get a better handle on what his starting point is. In general, and without benefit of knowing where he starts off, I’d say earning the trust of Lawrence Frank and his teammates would be a good start. By all accounts, he’s going to prove himself a willing learner. He’s going to have plenty of room to grow. How fast that happens … well, that’s a big part of why the season ahead is generating more buzz than the Pistons have caused in the last several seasons. Nobody really knows, but it’s going to be fun to watch it unfold.

Paul (Essexville, Mich.): You’ve talked about Jason Maxiell being the incumbent at power forward and being a likely part of the rotation next season, but I haven’t heard anything about him exercising his option and he’s still listed as a free agent on various websties. What’s the latest on his status?

Langlois: Maxiell invoked his option to enforce the last year of his contract, so he still remains a part of the organization, Paul. Like the vast majority of player or team options, it needed to be exercised by the close of business on June 30 – the end of the NBA business year. If Maxiell had not acted, he would have been a free agent as of July 1 and could have signed with any team once the moratorium period ended. With an early termination option (it’s essentially the same thing, with a few subtle differences), a player who doesn’t act to exercise the ETO remains under contract.

Oscar (Lisbon, Portugal): I thought while watching Team USA play against Lithuania that it didn’t look like they were coached to play while losing. As talented as they are, you can’t always hope one-on-one situations will solve all of your problems. Is team play an issue in a tough game?

Langlois: I think defense was the overwhelmingly most worrisome issue with Team USA’s play against Lithuania and for all but the third quarter of its game with Argentina, too. I do agree that they also took too many shots early in the shot clock and too many that involved no more than a perimeter pass or two, but that really comes down to the composition of the team – there’s not much in the way of a post presence, with wing players like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James really being the most effective post players – and the way defenses are packing the paint to force Team USA to beat them as jump shooters. Let’s face it: This team isn’t going to look entirely comfortable playing close games because it has almost no experience doing so and it’s tough to develop the chemistry that looking comfortable in close games requires when it has had such limited time together. When they wind up in close games, they’d be best advised to focus their energy on playing better defense. That’s the end of the floor where Team USA is clearly superior to the rest of the world.

Dale (Milwaukee): When will we see a trade made with the purpose of improving the roster? The Maggette-Gordon trade was done to clear the last year of Gordon’s contract. Before that, Afflalo and Amir Johnson were traded for second-round picks. Joe D used to use trades to acquire players like Rasheed Wallace, Rip Hamilton, Corliss Williamson and others. I know this is a tough question for Mailbag, but I’m just curious.

Langlois: It’s not just the Pistons that don’t engage in as many talent-for-talent trades any longer, Dale. It’s really a byproduct of the salary cap era as teams have streamlined strategies for how to best cope. At any one time, you’ll find perhaps as many NBA franchises more interested in shedding payroll than stockpiling players and, quite often, that leads to trades between teams in opposite camps. Teams that fancy themselves contenders, quite naturally, are going to find more willing trade partners in teams that are open to losing a trade on the talent meter as long as it gives them other assets – maybe a young player not ready to help right now, or a draft pick or two, or the ability to create cap space sooner, or, more likely, some combination of the aforementioned. The Pistons are now somewhere in the middle – not yet a legitimate title contender but almost finished with the business of positioning themselves to be ready to contend, or getting to the point where they will be making pure talent-for-talent deals or deals that are more focused on helping the present rather than creating the possibility for deals that focus on bettering the future. There were really two components to the Gordon-Maggette trade – one a reasonable talent-for-talent deal of players, the other involving the Pistons sending a protected No. 1 pick to Charlotte in exchange for taking on the one additional year of Gordon’s contract. That trade effectively pushed up the timetable for positioning them for a win-now approach by one year. The Rasheed Wallace trade came about because Joe D believed the Pistons were within reach of contending for a title and he brought in two teams nowhere near contention – Boston and Atlanta – and sent them a combination of expiring contracts and draft picks. That trade was one of the most lopsided in the last decade if you were to judge it by talent for talent. (Even if you were going to judge it by assets surrendered, the Pistons still came out way ahead.)

Michael (Modiin, Israel): Keith, if you remember, we are big Pistons fans in Israel and two of my sons went to Pistons basketball camps for their bar mitzvah presents. We want to get all decked out in our Pistons gear to cheer them on when they play the Knicks in the “international game.” How can I get tickets for that game?

Langlois: Of course we remember you and your sons, Michael, and we’re glad to hear you’re all still Pistons fans. The NBA, as you know, has not yet spelled out the specifics of the Jan. 17 “international game” against the Knicks. There have been numerous media reports linking that game to London, but the NBA is expected to make details public sometime later this month. I’m sure ticket information will be available at that time, as well.

Keith (Clinton Twp., Mich.): Is there any chance Yancy Gates makes the team? He and Drummond would be a strong 1-2 punch physically.

Langlois: Gates played for the Pistons in the Orlando Pro Summer League, Keith, but they have no contractual obligation to each other beyond that. It’s always possible they would extend a training camp invitation to him, but the reality is that a player in Gates’ situation would be more likely to attend camp with a team that doesn’t have 15 roster spots committed, as the Pistons apparently do at this time. (There are 14 players under contract and the Pistons have made it clear that it is their intention to bring second-round pick Khris Middleton to camp and have him on their roster this season, which makes 15.) Now, things can still change between now and late September, when teams will firm up camp rosters, and then again before late October, when the regular-season roster must be set. The Pistons could make a trade or two that would change the roster composition and perhaps create another roster opening. But unless and until that happens, it wouldn’t seem very likely the Pistons would invite another frontcourt player to camp or that a frontcourt player would be inclined to come to camp with the Pistons if other teams have a clearer path to a roster spot. All of that said, I liked what Gates showed in Orlando. It might take him a few years in the D-League or international play, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he eventually carves out an NBA niche.

Ryan (Rock Island, Ill.): I just finished reading the “Quick Study” blog you wrote about Arnie Kander’s work with and perceptions of Andre Drummond. It’s always fun to hear about his insights on players. It made me wonder if Kander’s input is sought when evaluating players for trade or draft purposes?

Langlois: To varying degrees, yes. Drummond didn’t work out for the Pistons before the draft, so my guess is that Kander’s input would have been very limited in the case of the decision to draft him. But both second-round picks, Kim English and Khris Middleton, did work out for the Pistons and Kander tested them athletically with a battery of tests uniquely his. (It’s regarded as proprietary information, too, so before you ask … no, they won’t share what tests he conducts with any specificity.) As a general rule, if the Pistons are going to swing a trade for a player and if there is a significant injury question, Kander’s input will be sought – not that he’s allowed to test or meet with a prospective trade target, but he would review game tapes to see if he believes the injury was caused by something that can be readily managed or not. He was, for example, consulted before the Pistons signed Tracy McGrady as a free agent two years ago. I’m not sure if he had a chance to weigh in on Corey Maggette’s injuries before the Pistons swung the Maggette-Ben Gordon trade, but as I wrote just this week, he is confident that the injuries that limited Maggette to 32 games last season were caused by a correctable issue.

Mel (St. Augustine, Fla.): In an answer to a question in last week’s Mailbag, you mentioned that Khris Middleton was due in Auburn Hills soon to practice with the team. Is there a restriction in the CBA on how soon draft choices can start to practice? It seems they should all be at The Palace now to learn Lawrence Frank’s system.

Langlois: A few points of clarification are in order, Mel. The team isn’t practicing. A handful of players – Rodney Stuckey, Charlie Villanueva, Corey Maggette, Brandon Knight, Kim English and Andre Drummond most often – have chosen to spend big chunks of their summer in Auburn Hills to train at the team’s practice facility under the direction of strength coach Arnie Kander and some of the team’s assistant coaches. The CBA doesn’t limit where they choose to train, but it does prohibit making it mandatory that they train at the team’s direction or on its property. The training that takes place at this time of year is exclusively individual work. Sometimes, if there is more than one from any position group, they will work out together with the same coach or set of coaches, but it’s still individual work on ballhandling, shooting and conditioning, primarily. They might work in general on the types of shots they would get in pick-and-roll situations, for example, but they aren’t working on the pick and roll from a team perspective. As for learning Frank’s system, Middleton already got a jump on that during the six practices and five games he played in Orlando during Summer League. Players very rarely play full-court pickup games with any regularity during June, July or August. In September, as camp nears and they’ve allowed their bodies to recover from the previous season and spent the intervening months on conditioning drills and skills work, they’ll ease back into scrimmaging. Stuckey has taken it upon himself to recruit players to Auburn Hills and he told me last week that he anticipates the majority of the team will be in town by early September.

John (Erie, Pa.): When will you have a Summer School story on Kyle Singler and when will he be in Auburn Hills working with Arnie Kander?

Langlois: The Summer School segment with Singler is coming next Tuesday, John. I talked to him last night and talked to Pistons assistant GM George David about him earlier this week. The Pistons are actually encouraging Singler to stay away from the gym a little while longer. They are mindful of the extremely long season he endured in Spain – two-a-day practices started last August and his season extended to June 16 – so Singler won’t be in Auburn Hills until the second week of September. But he says he’s been working out in Oregon, sometimes accompanying his younger brother E.J., a senior-to-be at the University of Oregon, to workouts at his campus facility. Singler and the other Pistons rookies (minus Slava Kravtsov, who is still involved with his Ukrainian national team in qualifying for next summer’s European Cup) head to New York next weekend for rookie orientation. As for Khris Middleton, it’s probable he won’t come to Auburn Hills until the two sides reach a contract agreement. Without a contract, he has to pay all of his own travel and living expenses. It’s not unusual for second-round picks to be unsigned in August. There are many second-rounders around the league who have yet to sign.