Pistons Mailbag - Thursday, August 16, 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.

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John (Grand Rapids, Mich.): I’ve read that Monroe, Drummond and Knight went to a basketball camp in Las Vegas. Is there any word how all of them fared out there?

Langlois: Plenty of similar questions on this topic, John. You can read all about Greg Monroe’s views about his summer experiences that included the Las Vegas camp and his impressions more specifically of that camp plus his views on how it benefited Andre Drummond and Brandon Knight in my most recent True Blue Pistons blog posts. When I talked to Joe Dumars about Monroe in April, he said it was critical that he take the same step forward in his third season that he managed in his second. We’ll see how it plays out once the season starts, but it would be difficult to imagine anything he’s omitted this summer in putting himself in position for further career advancement. Drummond will give his firsthand account of his Vegas experience in his next installment of the Summer School series and we’ll catch up with Knight soon, as well.

Nate (FOB Salerno, Afghanistan): I know I’m in the minority on this one, but given the choice between keeping either Austin Daye or Charlie V, both of whom I like, wouldn’t it make better sense for the Pistons to retain Daye because of age, cost and potential to improve, and trade Charlie V?

Langlois: What’s preferred and what’s possible don’t always align, Nate. The reality is that with Austin Daye headed into his fourth year and not obligated to anyone’s payroll beyond the coming season (the Pistons could retain his rights by exercising the option on the last year of his rookie contract), there would be a greater range of possibilities in trade for him than for Charlie V, most likely, given that the latter still has two years at a salary above the mid-level exception. It’s a tough call. If the Pistons conclude it imperative to create another roster spot and decide the easiest path is to trade one of their two stretch fours, Daye or Villanueva, then while trading Daye probably would be more easily accomplished, it might also depend on what their plans for next off-season entail. One way to expand their cap flexibility in the summer of 2013 would be to use their amnesty provision, and Villanueva is one of just two players (Greg Monroe, the other, clearly would not be a candidate) for whom the amnesty would be in play. If they trade Daye, would that handcuff them with regard to options with Villanueva next summer? It’s a big consideration. And if they made that decision now, they won’t have the benefit of having seen how the frontcourt additions – Andre Drummond and Slava Kravtsov – fit together, how ready they are to play, and what their impact is on the rest of the frontcourt. Jonas Jerebko could be a big factor in the final tally, too. He’s not yet a consistent enough 3-point shooter to really be labeled a stretch four – and he does so many other things that even if he does become a 35-plus percent 3-point shooter consistently, I’m not sure he’d ever be so labeled – but it’s certainly possible he proves more than adequate at filling that role with another season of growth.

Trey (Titusville, Fla.): What’s going on with Andre Drummond’s free-throw shooting? I read he was working on it this summer, but do you know where he’s at with it?

Langlois: Every day that I’ve seen him in the gym this summer, a decent chunk of time has been carved out for working on his free-throw mechanics. Like a lot of guys with huge hands – think Shaq – it’s tougher for Drummond to generate the type of fingertip control of the basketball in his shooting hand than it is for more typically sized players. One thing he’s been working on, though, is to keep his guide hand – his left – from interfering with the rotation of the ball as it leaves his shooting hand. Not to downplay the importance of knocking down free throws, but if Drummond’s foul shooting becomes an issue this season, look on the bright side: It will mean he’s good enough to crack the rotation at 19 and get his hands on the basketball – the Pistons likely won’t be running any plays for him – often enough to force the opposition to react to him. Teams find a way to live with impact big men who struggle notoriously to make free throws. (Shaq, Wilt, Ben Wallace.) If Drummond can put his name in their company, the Pistons will live happily with his growing pains as a foul shooter.

Faris (Marshall, Mich.): There are reports that Ben Wallace wants to come back for one more season but there isn’t a roster spot for him. What are the chances that Joe Dumars can open up a spot so Ben can come back for another season?

Langlois: The reports are pretty thin, Faris, though it wouldn’t be surprising if Big Ben ultimately decides he’d like to play again. After being steadfast in saying 2011-12 was to be his final season for much of the year, in the season’s final weeks he began hedging a little. The door was open when the season ended. The Pistons needed to get younger and bigger in the frontcourt, though, and Joe Dumars drafted Andre Drummond and signed Slava Kravtsov as a European free agent. With Austin Daye coming to camp as a power forward to compete with Charlie Villanueva for minutes in the rotation along with incumbent starter Jason Maxiell and Jonas Jerebko – whose spot in the rotation is as secure as anyone’s this side of Monroe’s up front – the Pistons suddenly have seven players who are primarily either a center or a power forward. Meanwhile, the only guards they have on the roster are Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey backed by Will Bynum and rookie Kim English, the 44th pick. The Pistons are bullish on English’s future, but they might be more comfortable if they had a veteran capable of backing up either spot, or perhaps another point guard who gives them either more of a playmaking bent or greater size defensively than they currently have – both, preferably. Could they steal some backcourt minutes with Corey Maggette or even Daye, who has played shooting guard in the past? Yeah, that’s possible. But given Maggette’s health issues and the fact that players usually are more likely to play “up” a position than “down” as their careers push past 30, and the need to give Daye an honest shot at power forward after he showed out well there in Orlando, I don’t think that would be Plan A in either case. Trades are always a possibility, of course, and a 2-for-1 trade that thins out the power forward/small forward picture and supplements the backcourt would be the surest way to open a roster spot that would create both an opening and a potential need for Wallace. But merely opening a roster spot by trading a player away would still leave the Pistons with only four guards.

Alek (Sterling Heights, Mich.): In many sports there is often such a thing as a “sophomore slump.” Although Brandon Knight had a solid rookie season, he did turn the ball over more than he would have liked. How does he cut down on turnovers while also maintaining his aggressiveness?

Langlois: If a sophomore slump is the product of complacency after first-year success of some degree, then I can assure you Brandon Knight will not endure a sophomore slump. Complacency is not a part of his makeup. Lawrence Frank encourages – demands – his players play aggressively and attack. The trick for Knight, as with any young point guard, is learning personnel and the nuances of NBA basketball so that his aggressiveness pays off more often than not. He’s a quick learner who endured conditions that weren’t very rookie-point-guard friendly last season with the lockout keeping him away from the organization all off-season and then almost no preparation time before he was thrust into the starting lineup. Pretty sure we’ll see more consistent highs – and more consistency all around – from Knight in his sophomore season.

Donald (Madrid, Spain): If the international game scheduled for January is officially a Pistons home game, do they actually host the game – provide halftime entertainment, have Hooper run around, bring the dance team, etc.? And please do let us know when tickets go on sale. European Pistons fans would hate to miss that game.

Langlois: I’m sure those kinds of details will start to trickle out once the NBA makes the announcement on the location of the game, Donald. Don’t know about Hooper or the dancers or halftime entertainment. I’m sure the NBA and the host site will have final say on those decisions. I would anticipate some information on ticket distribution, as well, when the announcement is made. Pistons.com will be your best source of information on that matter.

Josh (Boston): Your recent blog “The Spillover Effect” mentioned that several trades could happen now that teams waiting for a resolution on Howard must re-evaluate. The Rockets seem like the team with the most discombobulated roster in the league. What would it take to acquire Kevin Martin?

Langlois: Hard to see a fit between the Rockets and Pistons, Josh, if only because both teams have full rosters right now. Houston, I believe, has 18 players under contract and is surely looking to combine packages of players for upgrades. That would seem to exclude the Pistons, who have no extra roster spots to accommodate that type of trade. Martin is obviously a starting-quality guard – or a high-quality backup for a team that can afford the luxury. The Pistons wouldn’t ignore any opportunity to upgrade their starting lineup, of course, but the more likely deal for them, it would appear, would be one that adds backcourt depth.

Boris (Troy, Mich.): The Dwight Howard trade to the Lakers is the latest sign of the NBA’s trend toward loading superstar players onto major-market teams at the expense of small-market franchises. How can the Pistons cope with the likelihood that young stars may develop with them and then leave for a big-market super team when their rookie contracts expire?

Langlois: If Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Andre Drummond develop into bona fide superstars, Boris, that will be a pretty nice problem for Pistons management to ponder. With what we know of the personalities of Monroe and Knight, I’d put them more in the camp of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook – level-headed young men who grasp that the grass isn’t always greener and give every indication they’re interested in establishing their own identity – than in the camp of stars drawn by the brightest neon marquees. It will be incumbent on management, of course, to continue to provide a healthy environment so those players will maintain faith in their ability to go as far as their talent will allow with the Pistons. Oklahoma City is about as limited a market as the NBA offers. If they can keep their stars rooted – and if they lose one of Serge Ibaka or James Harden, it will only be due to cap realities that limit OKC’s ability to pay market value, not star wanderlust – then there’s no reason the Pistons can’t, as well. The new collective bargaining agreement is going to test the resolve of large-market owners to keep their rosters intact with superstars, too, as the full effect of the graduated luxury takes becomes known.

Eric (Phenix City, Ala.): Does the Dwight Howard trade put Greg Monroe on top of the East at center?

Langlois: Andrew Bynum has to be considered the top center in the East, Eric. Tyson Chandler also deserves to rank ahead of Monroe at this point – he’s a legitimate All-Star, a Defensive Player of the Year and an Olympian. Kevin Garnett, for all intents and purposes, is more center than power forward given Boston’s roster makeup and he still is formidable. Roy Hibbert made the All-Star team last season. Al Horford is a tremendous young player, as is his former college teammate, Joakim Noah. Nene and Brook Lopez are in the mix. The crop of big men in the East is as strong as it’s been in many years right now. All of that said, if Monroe improves off of his terrific second season, he’s going to have a case to be mentioned with the best of this group very soon.

Jens (Cologne, Germany): What is your take on the Dwight Howard trade? It was strange, in my opinion. Isn’t a combination of Brook Lopez and MarShon Brooks, plus draft picks and the ability to dump bad contracts, better than what the Magic wound up taking?

Langlois: I don’t think you’d get anyone from Orlando management to baldly admit that its strategy was to strip the franchise of as many immediate assets as possible to avoid being a 30-win team and virtually ensure a top-three draft pick for at least next season (and, quite possibly, the next two after that), but that sure appears to be the case. New Orlando GM Rob Hennigan comes from the Oklahoma City front office, which used three top-four picks in consecutive drafts to land Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. It will take incredible fortune and mistake-free management to replicate the Thunder blueprint in Orlando, but it’s the path Hennigan has chosen. Now the trick will be to stay the course and avoid the urge to skip steps while the fan base is tested by going from title contention (or the appearance of it, at least) to losing three or four games for every win.