Pistons Mailbag - Thursday, August 30, 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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Jason (Atlanta): While I’ve been a Pistons fan my entire life – I lived in Michigan until I went away for college – I have to say this might be the most excited I’ve been for a season. I like the character this team seems to be building and really like the fire of coach Frank. I’m anxious for the season to start. You might need to enlist Kim English to help you write articles, as he writes very well. Do you expect he’ll have a chance to be the first shooting guard off of the bench?

Langlois: I think if you were to put that question to Lawrence Frank today, he’d say that will all work itself out. And while it will start with training camp and preseason games, how the rotation looks on opening night (Oct. 31) isn’t likely to be what it looks like a month or three months into the season. I think English has a legitimate shot to be the first guard off the bench, perhaps even early in the season, which is saying a lot for the 44th pick. But he’s about as NBA ready as it gets – a year of prep school and four years of playing a prominent role in the highly competitive Big 12. And as you can probably tell from reading the Summer School series, English’s head and heart are clearly in the right place.

Jonathan (Oakland Twp., Mich.): What a turn of events for our Pistons. I thought it was an amazing draft, plus the Gordon trade, restocking the frontcourt, reading about Brandon Knight’s determination … what’s left? The Lawrence Frank effect. I’m looking forward to one interesting NBA season. The Lakers will be fun to watch, the Heat want to repeat and the Pistons are one fine wild card with as many changes as most organizations in the league.

Langlois: Five rookies – most of them with a legitimate chance to push for playing time – plus Corey Maggette will give the Pistons a new look, Jonathan, no question. They’ve added size, depth, athleticism and shooting. Now it’s a question of how the players who bring those qualities are able to work their way into the mix. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more changes before the season opener, either. If you look at rosters around the league, there are still a number of teams with holes or clear surpluses at some positions that could be used to fortify others.

Marvin (Farmington Hills, Mich.): I understand that the Pistons want to give Andre Drummond time to develop, but from what I saw of him in Summer League games I think he is ready to be given regular rotation minutes. What do you think after your observance of him so far?

Langlois: If Drummond can battle through the intellectual overload that he’ll be hit with early, he’ll certainly be in position to earn minutes. Games come at teams so fast – consecutive nights, four games in five nights, etc. – and there are scouting reports to absorb for all of them and personnel to learn. There are so many ways to run the simple pick and roll – a staple of the offense for well more than half of NBA teams – and defensive tenets that must become instinctive in defending all of them. It takes experience, repetition and the development of chemistry with teammates – the trust that you know how they’ll respond on a certain play and the belief that they trust you’ll make the appropriate decision, as well – and that doesn’t come easily, especially for a 19-year-old with a limited background. Coaches always have to balance how many mistakes they can tolerate with the impact possible from playing inexperienced players with greater athletic ability. Joe Dumars is on record as saying the front office is not burdening Drummond with expectations based on his draft position and Lawrence Frank is unlikely to play Drummond unless he truly believes he can help the Pistons win. So it really comes down to how fast Drummond grasps the complexities of the NBA game at both ends and whether or not he shows steady progress at correcting mental errors while maintaining his confidence.

Frank (Subic Bay, Philippines): I read on some Internet sports sites that the Pistons will have a worse winning percentage this year than last. I cannot see how that happens. The slow start was due to players learning a new system. We should be much improved in field-goal percentage against with two new shot-blockers, but most important is that we have so much more versatility across the front line. Coach Frank can mix and match with the best of them. What am I missing?

Langlois: After the top few obvious powers in the East – Miami and Boston, foremost, with Chicago’s inclusion dependent on Derrick Rose’s recovery – there is another group, one that includes Indiana, Philadelphia, New York, Atlanta and Brooklyn, that will go into the season with the expectation of making the playoffs. Then there’s another group – and the Pistons are in the middle of it, along with teams like Milwaukee, Toronto, Cleveland and Washington – that has enough reason to believe with moderate good fortune and health they can contend for a playoff berth. The Pistons took about six weeks to find their way last year and that cost them any shot at contention. They’ll have plenty of new faces to integrate and things to figure out, but they’re starting several steps down the track from where they did last season. I’m not making any predictions on wins, but I think it’s going to be remembered as a season that sets them up for a nice run of future seasons.

Adam (Tampa): Joe Dumars said he most likely wasn’t done with the roster. Looking around the league, I see three teams that would make sense as trade partners: Prince and Daye to Toronto for Calderon; Prince and Daye to Houston for Martin; or Daye to Los Angeles for Steve Blake. Would any of these make sense for both teams?

Langlois: Houston, with 18 guaranteed contracts on the books when I last looked, is almost certainly looking to do trades that send out quantity to bring back quality, so sending out Martin and taking back two players merely compounds its issues. I certainly believe that Toronto is actively shopping Calderon; the Raptors have added Kyle Lowry and John Lucas III over the off-season and Calderon is an expiring contract. Would the Pistons be a fit? I could see some interest, especially because of the expiring deal. But the word around the league is that the Raptors are expecting a hefty return for Calderon. (Recall that most expected Toronto to trade the No. 8 pick in the draft after targets like Dion Waiters and Damian Lillard were gone, but they didn’t – and Joe Dumars said after the draft that the Raptors were asking for the moon then, too.) The Raptors have had reported interest in the past in Prince, but with Landry Fields, DeMar DeRozan and No. 1 pick Terrence Ross to split minutes at shooting guard and small forward, would they view Prince as too heavy an investment at a position where they’ve only recently invested heavily in both free-agent dollars and draft picks? Maybe. The Lakers are one of the teams most likely to be willing to deal from a backcourt surplus. With Steve Nash on board, there is now a backcourt glut (Nash, Chris Duhon, Darius Morris, Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, Andrew Goudelock). Dallas has a similar backcourt situation (O.J. Mayo, Vince Carter, Dahntay Jones, Darren Collison, Rodrique Beaubois, Dominique Jones, Jared Cunningham) and could be a team looking to thin out the backcourt to bolster the frontcourt.

Anthony (Bensenville, Ill.): If the Sacramento Kings move to Virginia Beach, as has been mentioned as a possibility, how would this shift the dynamic of the conferences? With the Kings moving East, an Eastern team would have to move West and change conferences. How would the NBA determine which team switches?

Langlois: Good question. I think there are only three possible candidates – but, really, boil it down and all things point to Milwaukee. Milwaukee and Chicago are the only two Eastern Conference teams in the Central time zone. The Bulls carry enough clout that they won’t be uprooted unless they wanted to make the switch, and that would be very unlikely. With the vast majority of Indiana in the Eastern time zone – the only population centers in the state not a part of the Eastern time zone are in the extreme northwest, bordering Chicago, and likely contain more Bulls than Pacers fans, anyway – I think it would almost certainly wind up being Milwaukee that goes to the West. (By the way, it’s a fun hypothetical, but I think the chances of Virginia Beach landing an NBA team are small.) Wisconsin is in the Central time zone and Minnesota, in a neighboring state, also belongs to the Western Conference. The other alternative, I suppose, would be to OK Sacramento’s move but make it conditional on the Kings remaining in the West. That would likely dampen Kings ownership’s enthusiasm for the move. The obvious handicap is how being based in Virginia yet playing in the West would complicate a team’s travel. But the real impediment would be to the effect on its TV audience. Playing 14 road games in either the Mountain or Pacific time zones with late tipoffs for a Virginia Eastern time zone audience would be a killer for TV advertising revenues.

Kevin (Troy, Mich.): I saw an NBA poll that asked “Will the Pistons make the playoffs this season?” There were more “no” than “yes” votes. Does that add more incentive to the team in order to prove the haters wrong?

Langlois: I don’t think anyone who believes the Pistons unlikely to make the playoffs this season qualifies as a “hater,” just a skeptic. And that’s OK. If millions of people didn’t have strong opinions about sports, we wouldn’t have 20,000-seat arenas and billions of dollars in TV rights deals being forged. As for providing incentive, motivation is wherever you can find it. Ultimately, I’ve always believed the only motivation that really is sustainable is contempt for losing. If you hate the feeling of having fewer points than the other guy when the buzzer sounds, that’s motivation. Striking the type of chemistry that makes that the overriding concern in a professional team sport – where individuals have their livelihoods at stake – is the great challenge for organizations.

Donna (Southfield, Mich.): A great off-season so far for the Pistons. I can hardly wait to see more of Drummond and the new kids. Joe seems to want to make one more deal and the crowd at small forward and power forward seems the logical place to trade from. I love Austin and really wish we could keep him, but maybe a new home would jump start his career. What do you think about Austin for Thabo Sefalosha? I like his defensive presence and he gives us size and experience at the two.

Langlois: I think OKC likes his defensive presence, too, Donna. He’s a key, if overlooked, player for the Thunder. Especially when you look at the teams OKC knows it likely has to beat to win the title – the Lakers and Heat, most notably – an elite wing defender with size is critical. Sefalosha is counted on to log a lot of minutes against the likes of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James in those matchups. Daye has evoked some comparisons to Kevin Durant – for his unique offensive repertoire on a long, wiry frame – but Durant is obviously several planes above Daye at the moment on the impact meter. OKC just drafted Perry Jones III, too, remember – another near-7-footer with a high ceiling. Bottom line, OKC has a much greater need for what Sefalosha offers than what Daye would bring, given its roster makeup.

Mark (Sydney, Australia): I liked the looks of Russians Alexey Shved and Sasha Kaun during the Olympics. Shved has been signed by the Timberwolves. Just wondering if the scouts have any thoughts on Kaun?

Langlois: Kaun is not an NBA free agent, Mark. Cleveland owns his rights. He was drafted 56th by Seattle in 2008 after playing for NCAA champion Kansas – Tom Izzo tried very hard to get him to Michigan State – and his draft rights were later acquired by the Cavs. But Kaun is under contract through 2015 to CSKA Moscow, a perennial Euroleague power.