Pistons Mailbag – April 12, 2017

The future for the Pistons, for Stan Van Gundy, for Henry Ellenson and for off-season prospects top the list of the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Think for Yourself (@coreytufts): What do you think of Stan Van Gundy’s job security this off-season and why did the Pistons finish so horribly this season?

Langlois: Pistons owner Tom Gores hasn’t spoken publicly in recent weeks, but he’s been consistently vocal in his support of Van Gundy to the degree that there is zero reason to believe Van Gundy won’t be back next season. As for why they’ve gone 4-11 over the past month, subpar offense – for the most part, a season-long malady – is the primary culprit. A lot of that had to do with the absence of Reggie Jackson and his inability to capture peak form after returning from his 21-game absence early. The Pistons have shot well below expectations this season. How much of that was just underperforming career norms from a number of players and how much of it was the absence of Jackson’s pick-and-roll threat to pull defenders off the 3-point line is something Van Gundy and his staff will have to analyze and debate in their postmortem on the season as they prepare for the draft and free agency – plus trade talks – in the off-season. I’m not predicting a full-blown roster overhaul, but I would be more surprised than not if a trade of relative significance involving one of the core rotation players wasn’t a part of Van Gundy’s solution to add shooting punch.

Luke (Holland, Mich.): I get that Andre Drummond after five years is still a young, developing center in the NBA and I’m a big fan but I’m losing hope. I don’t think we can build a winning team around a max-contract, pouty player who has liability issues on both sides of the floor, who can’t be on the floor for the last six minutes of every game because he can’t make a free throw. Do you see him getting traded?

Langlois: The odds of Drummond being traded are minuscule, like less than 5 percent. I get that fans can find Drummond frustrating – in the same way the vast majority of young players struggling to maintain consistency across the board have frustrated fans since fandom existed – but you have to weigh the downside against the upside. Trade Drummond – and keeping in mind that Aron Baynes is 99 percent certain to leave in free agency – and you have a gaping hole at center that must be filled somehow, some way. If Baynes wasn’t nearly certain to leave – and for the umpteenth time, it’s not a matter of the Pistons not wanting him back or not having the cap space; it’s a matter of them not being able, due to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, to offer him more than 175 percent of this year’s salary, or $11.375 million, in the first year of a new deal – then perhaps the Pistons would be more open to seeing if Drummond could fetch a high-scoring wing in return, as a hypothetical. As it is, it’s highly improbable they’ll be actively shopping this summer the guy they signed last summer to a maximum contract. Also, it’s imperative to remember that Drummond – though five years a pro – is still just 23 and came to the NBA with volumes to learn. He had one great skill – rebounding – and has had to build virtually every other part of his game from the ground up. He showed remarkable improvement over his first four years. If he plateaued this year, the Pistons need to determine how much of that was the effect of not having Reggie Jackson’s penetration threat diluting the opportunities Drummond was presented for lob dunks or put-backs as defenders were forced to leave him.

Brian (@CarryTheNine): What are the big roster shakeups you see coming this summer? Who will be moved?

Langlois: Don’t know that I see a “big roster shakeup” coming, but as I mentioned above I’d lean toward a deal of some sort that dips into what Stan Van Gundy considers his core. If he feels Henry Ellenson is ready to provide somewhere in the neighborhood of 18-20 minutes a game, then perhaps the Pistons would consider parting with one of their three primary forwards – Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris or Jon Leuer – to land a proven perimeter shooter. That’s a linear analysis, though, and they might have something more layered in mind that figures a way to make roster additions that improve their shooting without having to sacrifice a core player in trade.

Alan (@AlanShaw48): Can we get anything for Reggie this off-season?

Langlois: That’s probably even less likely than trading Andre Drummond. The Pistons are banking – not with blind optimism, but with the full confidence of their medical team and the history of Jackson’s injury and recovery on his side – on Jackson returning to form with a full off-season to regain his explosive quickness. Teams that might be interested in trading for him will be looking to steal him on the cheap. And dealing him, unless the return is another point guard, means the Pistons have to go turn around and find somebody to take his spot. They love Ish Smith, but he gives them an advantage when he can come off the bench playing about 18 minutes a game. Extending him to 30-plus minutes diminishes the quality that makes him special – the pace he plays at and his ability to create in transition – simply because it’s unreasonable to expect anyone to maintain that pace over extended minutes.

Bacardi (San Antonio): Dwyane Wade is known for how well he dresses. He has different styles when it comes to dressing up. The 2004-08 Pistons had Rip Hamilton who was known for his style. In your opinion, who is the current NBA player or players other than Dwyane Wade who has the best style when it comes to dressing up?

Langlois: I don’t recall Rip setting any fashion trends other than wearing jeans about eight sizes too big for him. Chauncey Billups was the fashion plate of that team. Russell Westbrook seems to create a stir, though you’re really asking the wrong guy. I’m a sportswriter who lives by one fashion credo: wear yellow; it hides the mustard stains.

Lukaku (@LukaKneevi4): With the Pistons’ salary-cap situation, wouldn’t it be better having Reggie Bullock at $32 million for four years than KCP at the max? KCP’s next contract will be an albatross soon?

Langlois: The Pistons pretty much know where the market will be set for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope this summer and, I suspect, they’ve largely made their decision already. There will be full, substantive discussions about that and everything over the coming weeks, but Stan Van Gundy values a lot of things about Caldwell-Pope, including his toughness, defensive ability – and the versatility to guard point guards is a big part of that – and investment in winning. That’s a big one, sometimes overlooked despite the obvious importance. There are players who crave the big contract and the accolades and put in all the requisite individual work to achieve those things, but don’t necessarily measure themselves by winning and losing. There’s something else Caldwell-Pope offers: availability. Coaches love players they know they can pencil into the starting lineup virtually every night. Van Gundy likes plenty about Bullock – he’s the team’s best 3-point shooter and shooting is something they’re looking to add, not subtract – but he’s had a spotty record with nagging injuries despite limited playing time. Bottom line, the Pistons would love to have both players back next season but if they retain Caldwell-Pope then Bullock might be too expensive. There will also be some delicate timing issues to consider. The Pistons almost certainly must take care of business with Caldwell-Pope first and while that process plays out, it’s possible another team – fully understanding the spot the Pistons will be in – jumps in quickly with an offer sheet for Bullock that the Pistons will be effectively unable to address as they await resolution with Caldwell-Pope. They also have Darrun Hilliard and Michael Gbinije in the wings, holding team options for next season on the contracts of both players.

Odor (@Odor31): Is there resentment on Beno’s part over the news of the attempted pickup of Lorenzo Brown?

Langlois: No reason there should be. Udrih will be a free agent at season’s end and the knee injury he suffered at Memphis on Sunday means he was out for the season. Had the Pistons been able to waive him – they couldn’t because the waiver process takes 48 hours and some teams played their final game on Tuesday night, inside the 48-hour window, Stan Van Gundy said – they would have added Brown or Ray McCallum Jr., the two players who battled through training camp for the No. 3 point guard spot and final roster position.

Fredrick (@DtwMimms): Is the end game for the Pistons really to get their own arena downtown, maybe on the Joe Louis Arena site?

Langlois: You’re overthinking this one, Fredrick. There’s a new downtown arena, Pistons owner Tom Gores never came close to closing the door on a move downtown since buying the team six years ago, they found a way to make it work with Red Wings ownership and they’re moving in as co-tenants. It took thousands of man-hours to work out the public-private partnership to get one arena built downtown and thousands more to figure out the details on having the Pistons become part of the mix after the fact. I can’t imagine any political climate possible that would tolerate a second arena being built unless Gores volunteered to foot the bill for it himself – the going rate for arenas these days is easily a half-billion dollars – and I’m trying to find the financial sense in even considering that idea. The vast majority of cities with both NHL and NBA franchises have shared arrangements with Staples Center in Los Angeles hosting two NBA teams plus one NHL franchise. And beyond that, the Joe Louis Arena site, by the terms of the bankruptcy settlement with the city’s creditors, is committed for development by one or more of the various bondholders who agreed to take relative pennies on the dollar to settle the case.

Ronald (Henrico, Va.): We need a complete point guard, one that can shoot the ball, find open people and play defense. And with Ish at the point, he can’t shoot and is not very good on defense.

Langlois: The guy you’re describing eliminates about 90 percent of starting NBA point guards, Ronald. By your definition, Damian Lillard wouldn’t make the cut. (Have you seen him play defense?) Kyle Lowry would be on your firing line. Isaiah Thomas would be relegated to the bench. The Reggie Jackson the Pistons had last season improves their offense by – let’s throw out a number – 10 percent, and a 10 percent improvement in their offense would have seen them jump from the bottom-five in the NBA to solidly in the middle of the pack. Given that they’re a top-10 defense, it’s fair to wonder if the Pistons would be hosting a first-round playoff series with a league-average offense instead of one that produced about three points per 100 possessions below average. As for Smith, I haven’t done a comprehensive look but his numbers stack up against players considered among the best NBA backup point guards – guys like Cory Joseph, Patty Mills and Shaun Livingston. The Smith signing – at least through year one of three – looks like a home run for Stan Van Gundy’s front office.

Ahmed (San Antonio): I am picking the Toronto Raptors to win the NBA championship. Which underdog team or teams in your opinion would be able to make the conference championship round?

Langlois: I’m wondering just how vulnerable Cleveland really is, given the eyebrow-raising mediocrity the Cavs have displayed over the past month, or whether they can flip a switch and become what everyone anticipated they would be for the playoffs – the clear No. 1 team in the East. We’ll see. LeBron James is a once-a-generation player – even that might be underselling his greatness – and I’m not putting anything past him. But if you’re asking me what team I could see getting out of the East if Cleveland never produces anything above its B game, I’ll go with Washington. John Wall and Bradley Beal give the Wizards two dynamic offensive playmakers and Ernie Grunfeld did some nice work since last summer in building a deep and versatile bench. I wouldn’t give the Wizards a great chance of knocking off whichever teams come out of the West, but a Cleveland team playing as it has of late could find itself in trouble against Washington.

Shameek (@shamshammgod): What’s Henry Ellenson’s ceiling?

Langlois: Too soon to tell. In another season or two, it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s scoring 18 or 20 points a game. But the caveat you’d have to put on that is if he can find his way to enough minutes to produce at that level by playing well enough defensively to carve out a more permanent role. Stan Van Gundy spoke glowingly about Ellenson’s preseason practices and I put stock in that because it’s not like Van Gundy to hype young players without merit. Could Ellenson be a No. 1 scoring option on a playoff contender someday? Too soon to say, but also not something you could rule out yet, either. He’s a truly gifted offensive player, rare at 6-foot-11 for his ability to put the ball on the floor. He also has a shooting stroke that makes you think he’s going to be a better-than-average 3-point threat. That’s a pretty powerful combination. So the ceiling is intriguing, but where it measures is anyone’s guess at this point.

Lazarus (@lazchance): With the incoming two-way D-League contracts, will we see the Pistons try to pick up a second-round pick this year for development purposes?

Langlois: It wouldn’t be surprising if they worked the phones on draft night to try to trade for or purchase a second-round pick, seeing as how they don’t have their own second-rounder this year as a result of the Reggie Jackson deal. But teams are probably going to be less open to dealing them for a variety of reasons – the expanding salary cap that eases cap crunches that existed a few years ago, the growing number of teams with control of D-League rosters, etc. – so the likelihood of picking one up without giving something of value in return is slim. The wild card is if there’s a player available deep into the second round, say, whom the Pistons have valued as a first-round pick and they offer a future second-rounder, unprotected, to a team with limited roster spots and no one on their draft board they covet still available.

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