Pistons Mailbag - Thursday, October 4, 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.

Brian (Toledo, Ohio): If both or either of Jonny Flynn and Terrence Williams outplays Will Bynum or Austin Daye to the extent the coaching staff feels the team is better off with the new guy(s) and a workable trade can’t be found, do you sense that Tom Gores would be willing to eat those expiring contracts as “sunk costs” and spend a couple of extra million dollars this year?

Langlois: I answered a similar question in last week’s Mailbag, Brian, and the bottom line is that to cut a player with a guaranteed contract to keep somebody else would be unlikely unless the front office was convinced the player being kept was critical. In other words, it might not be as simple as a player without a guaranteed deal outplaying one with a guarantee; it might require that the coaching staff makes a convincing case that the non-guaranteed player was going to unquestionably be a part of the playing rotation. Is it possible for Williams or Flynn to make such a move over eight preseason games and training camp practices? We’ll soon find out.

Edd (Waldport, Oregon): With Kim English’s high basketball IQ, is there any possibility or thought of him at some point playing some backup minutes at point guard?

Langlois: I don’t know that English has ever played point guard, Edd. It’s certainly possible he could match up defensively with many point guards – I’d suspect they’d want to keep him away from jackrabbits like Ty Lawson or Rajon Rondo – in similar fashion to how Arron Afflalo was used, but I don’t know about having English bring the ball upcourt or initiate the offense at this point of his career. That’s a lot to put on a rookie’s plate, especially when English might already be in line for a more important role than you would expect of a second-round rookie as Rodney Stuckey’s backup.

Karthik (Dearborn, Mich.): How does Al Jefferson fit in Utah’s scheme of things? If he’s not in the plans, would they be interested in a trade of Jefferson and Bell for Charlie Villanueva, Jason Maxiell and either Bynum or Daye?

Langlois: If Utah considered that type of deal, there’s a strong likelihood the Jazz would expect what Charlotte got: a future first-round pick, as well, for taking back the extra year of Villanueva’s contract. The contract of every other player you include expires after this season, but Villanueva’s has an extra year to run. If young big men Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter show significant progress this season, it’s certainly conceivable the Jazz would make Jefferson available at the trade deadline when his expiring contract and low-post scoring would be highly coveted assets. (Utah’s Paul Millsap is also on an expiring deal and it might come down to which player Utah feels is more likely to re-sign on favorable terms.) The Pistons would be highly unlikely to find the prospect of sending away another future No. 1 pick appealing, not when they will have the option of exercising the amnesty provision on Villanueva’s contract next summer should they choose to create more cap space than they already will have.

Steve (Windsor, Ontario): What is the status of Ben Wallace? I was hoping he would come back for one more year, but it seems the roster is full.

Langlois: He’s not in training camp, Steve. There have been various reports claiming he is interested in playing another season, but the Pistons currently have 15 guaranteed contracts and no roster spots available. It’s likely not as simple as making a trade that frees up a roster spot, either, since the greater roster need is for a fifth guard rather than another big man. It’s always possible there will be some movement closer to the start of the regular season as injuries occur and front offices make evaluations that dictate roster moves.

Andy (Grand Rapids, Mich.): I read an article recently that indicated Kyle Singler was signed to his rookie deal using part of the mid-level exception. I assumed rookie deals could be made without using exceptions. Can you explain how rookie contracts affect the salary cap?

Langlois: First-round picks are paid according to a salary scale based on where they were selected, Andy, and teams over the cap can sign their No. 1 pick regardless of its cap implications, though they would be responsible for paying luxury taxes where applicable. But second-round picks must be signed using an exception. In almost all cases, the exception used to sign second-rounders is the exception for minimum salaries. But Singler had a strong season in Spain last year and clearly commanded more than the rookie minimum, which is roughly $475,000 for this season. That meant the front office had to utilize another exception in order to sign Singler.

Al (Atlanta): I didn’t notice any updates on our two new big men, Andre Drummond or Slava Kravtsov, in the most recent Mailbag. I just want to know what the word on them is so far.

Langlois: The first thing just about everybody mentions with both players is their athleticism – ability to run the floor, get off their feet, rebound and dunk, Al. Those things translate pretty well in pickup games, which the Pistons were playing the last few weeks before training camp as the bulk of the team gathered at the practice facility. It might take a little while for those qualities to shine through in the more structured environment present in training camp and preseason games. If they can make more eye-opening plays than mistakes, they’ll have a real shot at working their way into the rotation. But both players face steep learning curves, Drummond because he simply hasn’t played much high-level basketball and Kravtsov for the adjustments he faces on several levels.

Rod (Tampa, Fla.): As usual this time of year, I am optimistic about the coming Pistons season with the influx of new talent and the continued development of our young guys. But the current imbalance on the roster seems to imply a trade will be coming soon. We just have way too many small forwards. Don’t you think the odds are that there will have to be a trade?

Langlois: Joe Dumars told me in August that it was something he was attempting to do, but it takes two sides finding a specific fit to make a deal work. And the fit goes beyond just swapping talent for talent. The Pistons set themselves up to have considerable cap space with the Ben Gordon-Corey Maggette deal, so it would be unlikely that they would compromise their position by trading for a backup guard with multiple years remaining on his contract – unless they saw that player as someone they’d want to hang on to beyond this season and be a fit with their building young core. In other words, someone they would want to pursue next off-season if that player were instead a free agent. In the meantime, they have all of October – eight preseason games and many more practices – to see what in-house options they have to supplement their four-man guard rotation, which becomes six if you include camp invitees Terrence Williams and Jonny Flynn. Maybe rookies Kim English and Khris Middleton prove viable backups to Rodney Stuckey. Stuckey told me Wednesday that Kyle Singler and Corey Maggette are both capable of playing his spot. If Frank is confident that he has a few options behind Stuckey capable of guarding the position, I think he’ll find ways to make it work on the offensive end with any number of players behind Stuckey. The more pressing concern would be what happens if Stuckey has to sit out for an extended stretch.

Jason (Allegan, Mich.): What is your opinion of the NBA’s new policy on flopping?

Langlois: It’s my view that the focus on flopping is overblown. I’ve not seen it as a major problem. And to the extent it’s any problem, I’m not sure why NBA officials aren’t empowered to deal with it. If a guy flops, play on. Sooner or later, when the flopper forces his team to play four on five and become vulnerable to easy baskets, it’ll stop. That said, we’ve gotten to the point where any time a defender hits the floor he’s suspected or accused of flopping. There’s a pickup basketball machismo that disparages putting yourself in position to take a charge and I think some of that permeates the discussion of NBA flopping, like it’s somehow not fair play to establish sound defensive position in the path that leads a dribbler to the basket. I’d hate to see the flopping rule start discouraging sound defense.

Ryan (Grand Rapids, Mich.): Is there any chance Joe D can pull off a trade before the regular season? I would love to see a two-for-one deal that opens a spot on the roster for Terrence Williams.

Langlois: A chance? Sure. While it’s fairly unusual for trades to be made during the preseason, it sure seems like there are teams that have some tweaking of their rosters ahead of them. Dallas, for instance, has eight guards: Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Roddy Beaubois, Dahntay Jones, Dominique Jones, No. 1 pick Jared Cunningham, Delonte West and Vince Carter. You could even throw Jae Crowder into the mix. The Lakers have four points: Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Chris Duhon and Darius Morris, plus Andrew Goudelock and Jodie Meeks behind Kobe Bryant at shooting guard. But would those teams be interested in taking two players for one? Depends on the two players and the contracts, but Dallas is focused on preserving cap space for next summer, it appears, and the Lakers are already well into luxury tax territory and would be more interested, at least on the face of it, of shedding payroll.

Cameron (Chicago): How do you see the East playoff race? Do the Pistons have a decent shot?

Langlois: On paper, it’s tough to see how any of eight teams – Boston, New York, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Chicago (unless Derrick Rose misses the entire season, which doesn’t seem likely given reports of his progress), Indiana, Miami and Atlanta – misses the playoffs. That’s a measure of how much deeper the East has gotten in the past few off-seasons, when it was common for at least one sub-.500 team to qualify for the postseason. There’s no question in my mind that the Pistons, given reasonable health, are going to be a competitive team consistently this season and be a better team at the finish than at the start, plus well-positioned for future success. If something takes a left turn for one of those eight teams ahead of them on paper, my guess is this team will be ready to pounce on opportunity.