Pistons Mailbag – WEDNESDAY, November 29

You had thoughts. Boy, did you have thoughts. So many, we couldn’t come close to getting to them all. This week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag. And thanks for your thoughts … and prayers!

@The_League_0: What are the details of Monty Williams’ contract agreement? Is there an out clause? A buyout clause? Is the entire six years guaranteed? I think he’s doing a horrible job of coaching this team right now, but I’m sure Mr. Gores would like to give him the chance to earn his money.

Langlois: Since pro sports franchises, unlike public universities, aren’t required to divulge contract details, nobody outside the two parties involved in negotiating the contract know any or all of the stipulations that might be included. But it’s safe to say the vast majority of coaching contracts don’t have “out” clauses save for standard boilerplate stuff about illegal or unethical conduct. It’s been a Murphy’s Law type of start to the season for the Pistons – whatever can go wrong, has gone wrong. To be fair to Williams, he hasn’t come close to having a full deck yet and that deck was already stacked with unknowns due to so many young players – seven 22 or younger. The Pistons were just passed by the Memphis Grizzlies for man-games lost to injury – the count was 77 for Memphis, 76 for the Pistons through Monday’s games. And if you don’t think injuries are a legitimate reason for losing, then explain how Memphis – coming off consecutive 50-plus-win seasons and a potential title contender – has managed a 3-13 record that’s better in the West only than San Antonio, beneficiary of winning the lottery in the year a Victor Wembanyama happened to be available and yet somehow still not magically fixed. The injuries have absolutely been the No. 1 reason the Pistons have struggled out of the gate. Troy Weaver has always maintained the importance of surrounding the young players acquired through the draft with veterans, yet here’s how many games the Pistons have had from the only four players on the roster older than 24: Bojan Bogdanovic, 0; Monte Morris, 0; Joe Harris, 7; Alec Burks, 11. The Pistons were 2-1 in their first three games and Burks was at the heart of it, then injured his arm, missed six games and hasn’t rediscovered his shooting touch. I’m holding off sweeping judgments until we see something close to the fully realized version of the team Weaver put together.

@coolguygeoff: Any suggestions for new, less stressful hobbies instead of watching these games? Thinking about mah jong.

Langlois: Apparently, you aren’t aware of the mah jong riots that wreaked havoc on Del Boca Vista back in the ’90s. Less stressful? I got nuthin’ for you. If you find something, get back to me … in 2009.

Langlois: Monty Williams has put a lot on him and believes in Cunningham. They’ve had deep conversations about the turnover issue, but Williams understands that a big part of it is the burden he’s having to shoulder while the Pistons are missing the 3-point shooting and veteran presence of Bojan Bogdanovic and Monte Morris, especially. There’s nothing more important than Bogdanovic’s 3-point shooting threat to help open up the offense. Within the starting group, if there’s a close second it’s the vertical threat Jalen Duren represents and then he missed a bunch of time with a sprained ankle and clearly wasn’t himself in several other games before taking two weeks off to let the injury more fully heal. Now that he’s back and looking more like himself, that helps some. Morris would have been a very useful player to lean on, given his historical allergy to turnovers, to take the ball out of Cunningham’s hands in instances when opponents are clearly geared up to double and blitz him at every opportunity. Cunningham missed all but the first few weeks of last season and didn’t play any competitive basketball until late summer as he adhered to a rehabilitation schedule, so of course there will be some growing pains as he shakes off the rust of inactivity and continues his education as an NBA player thrust into the role of primary playmaker at a very young age and without the support system around him the Pistons expected they would have. Get Bogdanovic back – and, eventually, get the ever-steady hand of Morris back as a quarterbacking option – and we’ll have a much better context for judging not only Cunningham but other young Pistons.

@pistonspressure/IG: What are we going to do to fix this? Who is responsible?

Langlois: “We” covers a lot of ground. If you’re Pistons owner Tom Gores, you take a deep breath and realize that the team you hoped to see has still not been seen because of the wave of injuries – wiping out the critical veteran infrastructure brought in specifically to complement and help spur the development of the young players critical to the Pistons future. If you’re Pistons general manager Troy Weaver, you do what you can to support the coaching staff and team through this period and, as always, do your due diligence to be ready to seize whatever personnel transactions might present themselves at the appropriate time. If you’re Pistons coach Monty Williams, you walk the tightrope between holding players accountable for mistakes while being the emotional bellwether young teams need in good times or bad, then brainstorming with your coaching staff to figure out what tinkering is required to bridge the time between now and whenever you get the team you expected to coach fully operational. If you’re Pistons fans, you shake your fists at the basketball gods and demand equal justice for your favorite team.

@mstate_sport: What’s the long-term path to becoming a winning organization? Seems like they need to fire Weaver, trade Cade and spend a few years trying to draft a young core again with a general manager that can better identify young talent.

Langlois: If the hit rate on NBA first-round draft picks was anywhere close to 50 percent, rebuilding projects wouldn’t be nearly as fraught with peril as they, in fact, are. Pistons fans might not be as aware of that peril as fans of other franchises since the first time they’ve lived the experience is now and started less than four calendar years ago – and started, it must be acknowledged, with nothing on the assets ledger, no aging star with any discernible trade value to widen the net that scoops up prospects and hopes to cull one or two gems. I’ll defend Weaver’s drafting record pretty vigorously. Sure, now it’s easy to identify Tyrese Haliburton and Tyrese Maxey as stars from his first draft, 2020, but there were a lot of general managers who passed on them and some of them are held up as brilliant. Patrick Williams and Isaac Okoro were taken before any of the three picks Weaver exercised. Between Killian Hayes at seven and Isaiah Stewart at 16, is there anyone other than Haliburton (12) or Devin Vassell (11) who has more value than Stewart today among Obi Toppin, Deni Avdija, Jalen Smith, Kira Lewis, Aaron Nesmith and Cole Anthony? The Golden State Warriors, whose management gets gold stars, took James Wiseman at No. 2. That’s not said to denigrate Golden State, Wiseman, anything or anyone else. It’s only to reinforce what Jerry West, The Logo, said years ago about if you get it right 51 percent of the time in personnel evaluation, you’re ahead of the game. Weaver’s track record in the draft is good. Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren and Ausar Thompson, along with Stewart, are the heart of his yield so far. Stewart is the oldest. He’s 22. Other than Isiah Thomas, the greatest player in franchise history, there’s not one of the players with a retired jersey hanging from the rafters at Little Caesars Arena who was having great individual success in the NBA at 22 – and it took Thomas until his third season to make the playoffs, his fourth to win a playoff series, his sixth to get to the conference finals and his eighth to drink champagne as an NBA champion. Jack McCloskey was a basketball genius – his absence from the Hall of Fame is a stain on the institution – but if he hadn’t had the insight and the good fortune to draft Thomas, I don’t know when the Pistons might have won their first title. Luck plays a huge part of it and even self-aware winners acknowledge that much. The Pistons have not been granted a fair share of good fortune in a very long while. Firing and trading doesn’t get you anywhere unless you have a fool-proof plan for the people and players coming through the door to fill those shoes.

@bigmanb.27/IG: Just want to tell y’all that even though you guys are losing I still have hope. Detroit Pistons for life.

Langlois: I’ve been catching daggers for hours and now someone throws a bouquet. Thanks, bigmanb.27. Keep hope alive!

@USADad7: I was at the Wizards game last night and the 3-point shooting was horrific, the defense non-existent and Cade played at the rim soft – to avoid contact – all night long. You can’t fire the owner or coach so how do you get the youngsters to play winning basketball with some heart?

Langlois: The 3-point shooting was horrific. It often wound up fueling, as horrific 3-point shooting tends to do, a number of favorable transition scoring chances for Washington. Transition defense, as Dwane Casey lamented during the past few seasons, is often troublesome for young players. It was glaring on Monday night. So your first two observations are somewhat related. I would take issue with your assertion that Cade Cunningham plays to avoid contact. I don’t think he gets many calls and there’s an element of him figuring out how to attack successfully against players bigger and more athletic than he’s encountered before coming to the NBA. But I don’t have any reservations that attacking the rim will become a real strength of his as it all comes together for him. As for your last point, about playing wining basketball with some heart, I’ll maintain that some of what we’re seeing now – a big part of what we’re seeing now – is a team that’s dealing with fragile confidence and has nothing or no one to lean on. The veterans Troy Weaver wanted to surround his guys, as I noted above, are mostly injured. There’s no vault of banked experiences to draw upon when runs against them mount in the way more tested teams have so a bad minute doesn’t become a bad three minutes that overwhelms a good quarter or a competitive half. Winning begets confidence. Losing begets doubt. That’s where the Pistons are right now. There was a moment in the second half, when the Pistons had whittled their deficit under double digits and Washington got a good bounce and hit a 3-pointer as a result, when one of the key young Pistons visibly slumped. It spoke volumes to me. It’s hard to fight the feeling of the inevitably of doom when you get in a rut like the Pistons currently find themselves. A win – in whatever fashion it might come – will go a long way toward renewing their spirit.

@sokunot/IG: Do you think it’s too late to flip this season around?

Langlois: No, within reason. The over-under on Pistons wins as set by bookmakers to start the season was somewhere in the high 20s depending where you looked. Do I think the Pistons can still hit that over? I do. It wasn’t all that long ago – seven years, to be precise – that the Miami Heat opened the season with a record of 11-30, then finished 41-41. Momentum works both ways. Get healthy, get a few wins and get going.

Xavier (Toowoomba, Australia): With Jaden Ivey developing his playmaking skills last year because of Cade Cunningham’s absence, who would you say would be the primary ballhandler between the two?

Langlois: Monty Williams was asked a question on Tuesday about making more use of Ivey with the ball in his hands and having Cunningham playing off the ball. Williams agreed with the premise of the question and, acknowledging that the Pistons put a lot on Cunningham’s plate and also that he almost always has the other team’s best defender guarding him, said he was open to putting the ball not only in Ivey’s hands more often but also Marcus Sasser’s and Killian Hayes’ to change up the look and give Cunningham a different means of attack. Also, I had to Google “Toowoomba” to make sure it was a real place and now I’m pretty sure I’m going to move there.

@realamericanfood/IG: Sending you positive vibes knowing what kind of questions you’re probably getting?

Langlois: I feed off your positivity, realamericanfood! Many thanks! The things some people feel emboldened to express on social media is … something.

@schnur_/IG: When is Bogdanovic coming back?

Langlois: Not tonight. He’s listed as out for the game against the Lakers at Little Caesars Arena. But it’s getting close since he was cleared to start practicing a week ago. When you miss as much time as Bogdanovic has, it usually takes several practices before the medical side feels comfortable a player is ready to return to action. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Bogdanovic comes back for one of the next two games assuming he has no setbacks as he goes through increased workouts. It’s possible, perhaps likely, the Pistons will hold him out of back-to-backs for the immediate future and have him on a conservative minutes restriction. Bogdanovic has dealt with calf issues going back to his last season in Utah, so they’ll monitor his return to action vigilantly, as they should.

@Constrictor_14: On pace for the fourth-worst record in NBA history after finishing with a bottom-40 record all-time last year. The Pistons are also one of the three youngest teams no matter how you calculate it … and those teams are usually bad. But this feels worse. Thoughts?

Langlois: I go back to the first week of the season when the Pistons opened 2-1 despite playing the first two on the road and winning the home opener on a back-to-back. That team still exists – and would be enhanced with the return of Bojan Bogdanovic, Monte Morris and Joe Harris. Bogdanovic’s 20 points a game and 40 percent 3-point shooting were critical elements of any formulation for reasons the Pistons would be better this year. Without the veterans, the Pistons lack the stabilizing elements – and the 3-point shooting – they baked into their recipe for a competitive team. Not being able to call Bogdanovic’s number to yield an open 3-point opportunity for him costs the Pistons dearly in those stretches when a young team is desperate for points. You need to keep the scoreboard moving in today’s NBA and it’s really hard to do that without the most reliable 3-point shooters on your roster available or performing at their norms.

@TheTeas: I really liked pushing transition offense. Let Ausar soar. Do you think the team should emphasize transition offense, a new “Showtime” with a fast, young team. And Bogdanovic will be traded, so would you rather get a draft pick or a player and, if so, any player in mind?

Langlois: You can’t play transition offense until you get a defensive stop. Monty Williams is going to emphasize that part of it until he gets the Pistons to a point where he feels they’ve established a defensive foundation they can lean on when offense gets a little wobbly. Almost all coaches encourage teams to push the ball in transition because everyone understands it’s easier to create scoring opportunities when a defense isn’t set, but there’s a balancing act when the players in whose hands those transition decisions rest are as young as the Pistons primary ballhandlers are. We’ll see what happens with Bogdanovic. Get him back healthy and base decisions off of the evidence. I don’t think there will be much appetite to trade him if he comes back and the Pistons experience a little success.

@kjarty21: Honest question as a fan: Why should I care about this team?

Langlois: Fandom is an intensely personal thing. Everybody has their own reasons for falling in or out of love with the teams they follow or once did. If you’re coming at this from ground zero with no emotional attachment or baggage, I’d tell you about the promise of the seven players 22 or under, remind you that the Pistons currently start five such players that make them younger than a surprising number of college teams and cite the history of young teams in the NBA taking their inevitable lumps before emerging whole and competitive. Fuming about the agony of enduring a fourth straight rebuilding season ignores the reality of rebuilding projects that don’t benefit from either (a) incredible lottery luck in a year that features a generational talent or (b) getting a kick start from a massive trade haul for a star who no longer fits the timeline, something the Pistons unequivocally did not have the chance to seize. The standings tell a story, but certainly not a complete one. The Pistons are much better positioned today than they were three or two years ago to start gaining traction. A little time, a little luck, a few player development breakthroughs and things can come together very quickly. If you value the chance at an emotional payoff from seeing it through, you’ll be interested to get in on the ground floor.

@bill_blasky: On what planet did it make sense for Troy Weaver to not use the $30 million in cap space to actually add talent that would help with winning. Replace Joe Harris’ contract with Kuzma, Strus, Grant Williams, et al, and this season looks a lot different.

Langlois: Let’s see. Joe Harris’ 2023-24 salary per all available reporting: $19.9 million. Combined 2023-24 salaries of Kyle Kuzma, Max Strus and Grant Williams: $52.4 million. They were also free agents, so there’s zero guarantee the Pistons could have gotten any one of them without paying the type of exorbitant money that throws cap sheets out of whack and retards rebuilding. I would submit that a healthy Bojan Bogdanovic would be no worse than at least as beneficial to the Pistons as any of the three players you cite. A version of the Pistons that included Bogdanovic, Monte Morris and Harris supplying 3-point shooting and the type of big-moments savvy that all three players have obtained via years of NBA experience would do every bit as much for their current situation as using the $30 million in cap space to bring in either Williams and Strus or Kuzma alone. They’re all useful complementary players in the right situation. The fact the ones the Pistons have and added got hurt is the primary separator.