Pistons Mailbag – May 24, 2017

Donovan Mitchell appears to be a popular choice for the Pistons with the 12th pick in next month’s draft. That and a whole bunch more chatter in the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.

The Batman (@30Batman313): The only guy I would trade up or down on is Donovan Mitchell, a/k/a Microwave Jr. He can score in bunches and fast. That solidifies the entire roster without a single move outside of re-signing KCP and upgrading over Beno.

Langlois: I like Mitchell, too, caped crusader. I wouldn’t go so far as to compare him to Vinnie Johnson, a truly unique player, but I see him as a guy who plays both ends and – if not destined to be a full-time point guard – can probably play some at both backcourt spots or, at worst, be a good secondary ballhandler and playmaker next to the point guard. If you were to ask me to narrow the list of likely Pistons first-round picks to five – and maybe to three – Mitchell probably would make the cut. Taking him at No. 12 seems like it might be a spot or two high at this point, four weeks before the draft, so I’m not sure it would be necessary to trade up for him. And I’m not sure he represents such a great value – and a need – that the Pistons would be so moved to trade up for him. If he’s among a group with Luke Kennard and O.G. Anunoby, just to throw out two names that appear to be among the same tier of prospects, would Mitchell so clearly be the preference of the Pistons that they would feel compelled to trade for him? Keep in mind that trading up is pretty rare in the NBA and usually comes at a steep cost. I doubt, for instance, that they could trade up more than a spot or two without cutting into the rotation. They would have to be blown away by anyone to give up a future No. 1 pick or, say, Henry Ellenson to move up a few spots. As for upgrading over Beno Udrih, I could see the Pistons looking to sign a younger, developmental point guard to stick behind Reggie Jackson and Ish Smith. But I don’t know that they are going to find an “upgrade” in a No. 3 point guard over Udrih. He was really good in that role last season. And if the Pistons don’t draft a point guard, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Udrih back in that role next season.

Brandon (San Antonio): If no top-10 talent falls to 12, the Pistons should draft Donovan Mitchell. He’s athletic and can create his own shot. He could be a Lou Williams/C.J. McCollum type of scorer off the bench.

Langlois: Perhaps a more reasonable comparison for him would be a guy who preceded him at Louisville, Terry Rozier. As I said in response to Batman above, I think Mitchell is on a realistic short list for the Pistons. But I don’t know that anyone would say they foresee McCollum-level scoring ability in Mitchell. (Of course, no one would have bet the farm four years ago, when McCollum was part of the 2013 draft, that he’d average 23 points a game in his fourth season, either.) Mitchell’s appeal lies more in his two-way ability and his potential versatility on offense. Averaging 20 a game in the NBA is really, really hard. Averaging 15 a game in the NBA is really hard. If Mitchell can ascend to that level as a scorer, he’ll be a very hot commodity given his expected level of competence defensively.

Aaron (@ash22): Pending a healthy physical, any chance the Pistons would be interested in Isaiah Thomas? Boston may not want to give him the max with Markelle Fultz coming in. It’s a long shot for a number of reasons, but we were interested a few years back and KCP is similar to Avery Bradley in terms of a backcourt partner.

Langlois: There was an unsubstantiated rumor that linked the Pistons to Thomas before he landed with the Celtics. There’s nothing to indicate it had much credibility and, in fact, Stan Van Gundy denied the report at the time in his first off-season as Pistons president of basketball operations. That said, Van Gundy included Thomas on a fairly short list when asked about MVP candidates this season, so it’s reasonable to conclude the Pistons – a team that struggled with offensive consistency much of last season – would listen if the Celtics shopped Thomas. There was already speculation before Thomas was injured – and before Boston won Game 3 at Cleveland without him – that things might get rocky between their point guard and Celtics management this summer if Boston, as expected, drafted Fultz with the No. 1 pick and Boston commits its cap space not to a sizable extension for Thomas but in pursuit of a top-tier free agent. The great expectation among Celtics followers is that they will go hard after Gordon Hayward this summer. Danny Ainge is a gambler, so he might be more likely than his peers to consider dealing a guy who finished third in scoring at 28.9 a game. I think it’s more likely than not they see what they’ve got in Fultz before deciding which way to go on Thomas. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to keep both long term given Fultz’s size and apparent ability to play off the ball, not to mention the Celtics already use Thomas some in that role. If the Celtics make Thomas available, though, it’s tough to say what they’d want without knowing what else they get done this summer with their cap space. And it’s tough to find a match with the Pistons that doesn’t include Andre Drummond, which would create another issue for Van Gundy.

Ken (Dharamsala, India): Reggie Jackson’s injury affected the whole offense last season. Maybe. But the Pistons shot poorly, whatever the reason. Are the off-season Pistons doing anything different than what they did in the summer of 2016 to improve their shooting?

Langlois: It’s reasonable to expect a return to full form from Reggie Jackson will make the Pistons a more efficient offense next season. But Stan Van Gundy isn’t deluding himself into thinking it’s a panacea. He stressed the need for improved 3-point shooting to his core perimeter players last season, too – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris, Tobias Harris, Stanley Johnson – but only Caldwell-Pope saw his shooting improve; the rest all took a dip. It wasn’t because they didn’t work on it last summer, but Van Gundy urged a different approach this off-season. Keep in mind that players probably won’t start their off-season workouts in earnest until June, spending the first several weeks after season’s end allowing their bodies to recover from a seven-month-plus grind. Here’s what Van Gundy said after the season ended about shooting workouts this off-season when I asked him about it: “Needs to be a little different. The way they work on their shooting’s got to be a little different and what we focus on has to be a little different. For each individual it’s a different correction. Jeff (Bower, Pistons general manager) has a great deal of expertise in that area and one of the things he and I are going to talk about – and with our coaches, too – is with each guy what needs to be worked on but exactly how we go about developing that as we work on our shooting. I do not think our guys got enough game-speed, game-shot 3-point shooting in over the summer. That’s one thing that I thought needs to be corrected and we’ll try to move in that direction.” I’d take that to mean not just getting up 500 3-point shots a day from around the arc, but getting up shots that more closely approximate game conditions.

Shoham (Detroit): I’ve always been a fan of Paul George. Can you see any chance that our paths will cross in the future?

Langlois: Cross, yes. Merge, not likely. The Pistons see George four times a year while he plays for Indiana within the same division. The world expects that after one more season he’ll sign with the Lakers as a free agent and then their paths will cross only twice a year – unless the Pistons and Lakers one day reprise the 1988, ’89 and 2004 NBA Finals. There wouldn’t be more than a handful of NBA teams, if that, willing to sacrifice the assets necessary to pry George from Indiana without an agreement in place to retain him beyond the 2017-18 season. I would not include the Pistons among that handful.

Brian (@SmithBrianA): Any chance the Pistons end up with Malik Monk?

Langlois: If they stay at No. 12 in the draft, probably less than 10 percent. Monk could go as high as No. 3 and is a heavy favorite to go in the top 10, Brian. In a draft without a lot of easy-to-identify shooting whizzes, he counts as perhaps the surest bet. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t wind up six or seven spots higher on the Pistons draft board than their 12th spot given their desire to improve from the perimeter. They never anticipated Henry Ellenson, 10th on their draft board last year, would slide to 18th so there’s at least the ghost of a chance. But smart money would be on “no.”

Chris (Auburn Hills, Mich.): With Josh Smith’s awful contract finally coming off the books this summer, why don’t the Pistons go all out for Blake Griffin? There is growing frustration in Los Angeles. The Clippers’ title-contention window is dwindling each season and is at an all-time low for the Griffin-Paul era. Griffin is still extremely productive and would fit great in Stan Van Gundy’s scheme. He can pass, drive, handle the ball, score from the post and shoot from mid-range and from three. He is greatly versed in pick and roll from his time alongside Chris Paul. If Griffin exercises his player option this summer, perhaps the Pistons can negotiate a sign and trade? At this point, any player on the Pistons roster is expendable, picks included. It’s about time Detroit gets the big-ticket player they need.

Langlois: Are you sitting down, Chris? I really hope you’re sitting down. Because the Pistons still owe Josh Smith about $16 million and he’ll count about $5.3 million against their salary cap for each of the next three NBA seasons, coming off the books after the 2019-20 season. When they waived him in December 2014, Smith had more than 2½ seasons left on the five-year deal he signed in July 2013. The Pistons paid the rest of his 2014-15 salary as scheduled, but the collective bargaining agreement’s “stretch provision” allowed them to spread out payments for the final two years of his salary – and he had about $26 million left for those two years – over twice the length of the term of the contract plus one year, or five years – two times two plus one. So he’s received a little over $5 million from the Pistons for each of the past two seasons and still has three remaining. One factor in the calculation of Stan Van Gundy and Pistons GM Jeff Bower when they made that move was the dramatic spike that was coming in the cap. It’s a lot easier to swallow the $5.3 million bites when the cap exceeds $100 million than it would have been in, say, 2013 when Smith signed and the cap was $59 million. If Griffin opts out – the safe assumption, even after another fairly serious lower-body injury ended his season in the playoffs – he’ll more than likely get a max contract from somebody. The Pistons won’t have any cap space – not without doing some serious maneuvering, at least – so the chances they’d get in the mix for Griffin are slim. Logic says only teams that truly believe Griffin elevates them to the Golden State-Cleveland tier of title contenders would roll the dice on a max contract for a player who’s had his injury history. You’re right that he’d fit Van Gundy’s offense because Griffin – given his scoring, passing and athleticism – fits any offense.

Elizabeth (@liz_bacanator): What will Eastwood’s role be in the franchise moving forward? And is he able to ride the team plane?

Langlois: He’s got some off-season medical issues to address, including leg surgery. So he’ll probably spend next season in rehab and not traveling. But I suspect Eastwood is being, uh, groomed for bigger things.

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