Pistons Mailbag – August 9, 2017

What can the Pistons expect from Luke Kennard? Who starts on opening night? What are the odds the Pistons are the team that trades for Kyrie Irving? With training camp a month and a half away, let’s roll with the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Will (@Will_Michaels): Realistic expectations for Luke Kennard?

Langlois: That will hinge, as it does for all young players, on opportunity. The Pistons obviously liked Kennard on draft night but they weren’t convinced he’d be ready to play a meaningful role until they saw him in Summer League and Stan Van Gundy had concerns about Kennard’s ability to move his feet and defend eased. Van Gundy is now of the opinion that Kennard could capably fill a role for the Pistons as a rookie. But he’ll have to outplay others – Langston Galloway and Reggie Bullock, the most likely obstacles to a spot in the rotation – in order to get the chance to help. Beyond that, as a rookie Kennard would be asked to complement whatever lineups he’d be a part of. In other words, it’s unlikely the offense would revolve around him, so he’d have to knock down open shots when they come. Eventually, when he’s getting regular minutes, the expectation for Kennard is that he’s going to be an above-average shooter, scorer and all-around offensive player. And how he evolves as a defender will go a long way toward determining how much of a chance he gets to put his carrying tool to work.

Jay (@Discomfort_): What’s the opening starting five?

Langlois: Had a similar question last month, Jay, and nothing’s changed since then, so … you can pencil in Andre Drummond, Avery Bradley and Reggie Jackson (assuming there are no setbacks with his recovery from last season’s knee tendinosis) as starters. Tobias Harris is going to play starter’s minutes but there’s a chance he comes off the bench if it helps Stan Van Gundy balance his units. Then it comes down to who starts opposite Harris. Jon Leuer and Stanley Johnson are the obvious leading candidates with the chance both start if Harris, in Van Gundy’s view, helps the team most off the bench. Van Gundy told me recently that he envisions Johnson’s role as guarding the best forward (or taller shooting guards) every night, just as he expects Bradley will match up against the opposition’s best backcourt player every night. That leads me to think Johnson is more likely to start. It’s easier to get your preferred defensive matchup against the other team’s top scorers as a starter than coming off the bench. I don’t know if Van Gundy would be inclined to rotate his starting forwards from among the three-man group of Harris, Leuer and Johnson to facilitate the best matchups on a nightly basis, but maybe that’s an option. Best guess for opening night: Drummond, Bradley, Jackson, Harris, Johnson.

Aaron (Quincy, Ill.): It seems the Pistons have three key areas of concern in the coming year. If improvement is shown in all three areas, the Pistons should finish in the upper half of the Eastern playoff picture. The three areas are: (1) Reggie Jackson’s return to health and form; (2) Andre Drummond’s consistent effort ; and (3) Stanley Johnson’s offensive development. Which of these do you see as most likely to occur?

Langlois: You picked three valid topics, but I could add a half-dozen more, such as how the addition of multiple proven 3-point shooters translates to improved team 3-point shooting; whether the Pistons can continue their defensive ascent under Stan Van Gundy in year four; how the Pistons perform in back-to-back games after going 4-14 last season; and on and on and on. But I’ll play along and say, based on all the optimism over Jackson’s rehab and the logic that says his injury wasn’t one that should be permanently debilitating for a player still in his mid 20s, his return to form is the most likely. I expect Johnson to show clear growth at the offensive end, but will it be enough to vault him into becoming an average or better performer at that end in his age 21 season? That would be a big step in one off-season, but it wouldn’t come as a shock. As for Drummond, Stan Van Gundy is optimistic that Drummond’s conditioning level – he’d lost about 20 pounds as of late July – will help him play with a more consistently high motor. There are some born to play that way, I suppose, and some born without that gene, but most players fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum and learn – or find the motivation and develop the mental discipline, more aptly – to play with a night-in, night-out consistency of energy.

Chris (Pontiac, Mich.): The Cavs want a veteran starter, a high-potential young player and a future first-rounder for Kyrie Irving. I don’t understand what’s so hard about this. Why don’t we just offer Reggie and our next two or three first-round picks and call it a day. Kyrie, Avery Bradley, Stanley Johnson, Tobias Harris and Andre Drummond – that’s a conference finals lineup.

Langlois: You say the Cavs want a veteran starter, a high-potential young player and a future first-rounder – maybe that’s true, maybe it isn’t – and then you proceed to give them a veteran starter but one coming off a down season and multiple first-round picks … but where’s the high-potential young player? The rumored Phoenix offer of Eric Bledsoe, Dragan Bender orJosh Jackson and a pick fits the bill. Bender certainly was coveted by many front offices going into the 2016 draft and he was the youngest player in the league last season. A Kristaps Porzingis ceiling is certainly possible for Bender. Jackson would certainly be the athletic perimeter defender Cleveland wants. Those “two or three” first-round picks you suggest the Cavs would jump at the chance to get simply aren’t all that valuable to them at this point. They want a return that leaves them in favorable position to contend for this year’s title. All they get with your proposed trade for 2017-18 is Jackson. With 29 teams from which to solicit offers, it’s safe to assume the Cavs would have options they prefer to that one given that Jackson is coming off a season in which he only rarely resembled his 2015-16 form. If the Cavs were trading for that player, getting a few first-round picks would at least launch a conversation. One more thing: the Pistons couldn’t give Cleveland first-round picks in successive years based on the so-called Stepien Rule – named for the former Cavs owner, ironically enough – that bars teams from trading first-round picks in consecutive seasons. So if they were going to offer three first-round picks, it would have to be for 2018, ’20 and ’22.

JhoniP (@Jpcveinti2): Realistic chances of the Pistons landing Kyrie?

Langlois: It’s looking increasingly likely that Irving will be traded and the growing sense is that it will be sooner – as in before training camp, when media day would be, uh, awkward – rather than later. There will be many suitors. Irving is certainly one of the top 10 and likely one of the five most dangerous players in the world with the ball in his hands. He gives your offense a chance to score on every possession against even elite defenses. I don’t see the Pistons as being the team most likely to provide Cleveland with what it needs – and that’s a return that allows the Cavs to compete with Golden State this season – as of today. If there’s a deal to happen, it’s tough to imagine Cleveland wouldn’t want Avery Bradley as part of the return. He’s an elite perimeter defender and if the Cavs are going to beat Golden State – and, don’t kid yourself, any deal the Cavs entertain has to have that as the central question – they need guys who can check Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Bradley can’t be aggregated in a trade – dealt with other players, in other words – until Sept. 7, which still is well before training camp. Andre Drummond? Well, not unless the Cavs unload Tristan Thompson in an Irving deal or a separate trade and then we’re adding a rather large complicating layer. Too much overlap in skill set for Drummond and Thompson for both to be on the Cavs roster. Tobias Harris, Stanley Johnson and Reggie Jackson would all hold appeal to the Cavs. If Cleveland were certain of Jackson’s status coming off last season’s injury and subpar output, I’d say a deal would be well within reach. But the Cavs can’t deal their point guard without getting one in return and they can’t really afford to put the season on the shoulders of Jackson until they see for themselves that he’s back to being the guy who played at such a high level in 2015-16. Three-team deals become way too volatile to predict, as the summer-long speculation over how Carmelo Anthony winds up in Houston has well illustrated. So I’d say a 5 percent chance, simply because there are probably 20 teams that can put forth a reasonable package to get him and the Pistons count as one. That’s a realistic chance; 1 in 20 isn’t exactly like getting struck by lightning.

Josh (@yoshindy_sports): What does the regular-season schedule of Jeff Bower look like? How much time off, going to scout games, traveling with the team, in Detroit?

Langlois: There might have been a time in the NBA when you could say some general managers could outwork others. If that’s true anymore, it’s exceptionally rare. And nobody will outwork Bower. He does all of those things you mention – and more, and always. Bower doesn’t travel with the Pistons all that often, but he’ll see all of their games – in person almost always when they’re home, on video when they’re on the road. When he does travel with the team, he usually has multitasking in mind – maybe traveling on an Orlando-Atlanta trip, say, and hitting up several college campuses at the same time. My guess is he sees more college games than the average GM. He’ll also travel to Europe a few times every year to be looped in on the top prospects by his international scouting team, headed by J.R. Holden. The largest component of a general manager’s job – after imposing an organizational structure, staffing it and maintaining oversight of its operation – is networking with all 29 other teams and with every prominent agent in the business. It’s a business built on relationships, which I suppose makes it very much like more conventional businesses, and you have to cultivate hundreds for every one that bears significant fruit. Bower is as thorough at that most tedious part of the business as anyone in the game.

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