Pistons Mailbag – April 26, 2017

The odds of landing a star as it relates to the future for Stan Van Gundy, trading up or down in the draft and a few well-intentioned trade proposals are grist for the mill in the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Kirk (@PestaKirk): Does Stan survive next season if he doesn’t bring in a star?

Langlois: That’s a pretty unrealistic bar to set. How many trades bring in a star – at least one who still plays like a star and doesn’t just have great name recognition? Very few. I’d put the odds of the Pistons trading for someone that most fans would consider a star at something under 5 percent – and that might be too generous. Pistons owner Tom Gores, the only person who ultimately will decide in whose hands to put the fate of the franchise, has expressed nothing but thorough confidence in Van Gundy’s leadership to date. Van Gundy has said that everyone, Gores included, was disappointed that this season didn’t end with another trip to the playoffs. But hit your pause button for a minute and try to remember the team Van Gundy inherited. They went from 32 wins his first season – after a 5-23 start – to 44 his second. You want to jump ship now after a seven-loss decline that can be pretty easily quantified by the dip in offense? Especially when you can pretty much draw a straight line from the decline in offensive efficiency to the travails of their best offensive player? You can’t dismiss the impact of Reggie Jackson’s loss – he missed 30 games and was really never himself for the 52 he played – on the difference between the 37 games the Pistons won this season vs. the 44 they won last year. The Pistons have team control for next season, at a minimum, over 13 of the 15 players who ended the season on their roster. They expect internal improvement from most – nearly all, really – on a very young roster. And they have a lottery pick, very likely the 12th pick in a supposedly deep draft, plus the mid-level exception ($8.4 million) to use if they so choose. And I would still bet on a trade – probably one that falls short of delivering the “star” you reference but still one of relatively high significance. If there’s a quick fix, they’ll go for it. But quick fixes are like unicorns – much discussed, rarely seen.

Craig (@Craig_Duggan): After the Celtics’ debacle with rebounding in their playoff losses to Chicago, any chance this off-season they would give up a bunch of assets for Drummond?

Langlois: That question came in with Boston down 2-0 after losing two home games to open the series – before Chicago lost Rajon Rondo to a thumb injury and then squandered the home-court advantage it had gained by losing twice at United Center. At some point, everyone expects Danny Ainge to push a pile of poker chips from the cache he’s amassed into the middle of the table and swing for the fences. The Bulls were linked incessantly to Paul George and Jimmy Butler at the trade deadline, though there has been nothing with weight to give us any clue how close they ever were to landing either player. But you raise a valid point regarding Boston’s lack of force. The Pistons went 1-3 against Boston this season but every game came down to the final minute. Drummond had dominant games against the Celtics, averaging 21.3 points and 17.8 rebounds in four games last season despite not having the same threat of Reggie Jackson’s penetration that opened so many lob and offensive-rebound opportunities for him the previous 1½ seasons. But the Pistons are already losing Aron Baynes. Trading Drummond – unless the return is overwhelming – opens the possibility of creating more issues than it addresses.

Ari (@AriHoopsWagner): Any chance the Pistons deal No. 12 to the Nets for No. 22 and No. 27? Furthermore, any chance 22 and 27 could yield Detroit Donovan Mitchell and Justin Jackson?

Langlois: There’s no absolute way to answer the question of whether it’s better to trade down than up. Team to team, draft to draft, that answer varies. But if you make me generalize and choose one over the other in basketball – where one player can impact a game like in no other sport with the possible exception of the quarterback in football (and even there, he’s on the bench for half the game) – I’ll take combining assets to trade up over going the other way. I wrote a piece last week that looked at several impact players taken over the six-year period of drafts from 2010-15. I used No. 12 as the cutoff line because that’s where the Pistons are most likely to pick after the dust settles on the May 16 lottery. Bottom line, you’ve got a much better chance to land an impact player in the teens than in the 20s or beyond. Devin Booker went 13th in 2015, Zach LaVine 13th in 2014, Giannis Antetokounmpo 15th and Dennis Schroder 17th in 2013 and Kawhi Leonard 15th in 2011. You can find a few examples of other impact players going 20 or lower – Rudy Gobert 27th in 2013, Draymond Green 35th and Khris Middleton 39th in 2012, Reggie Jackson 24th in 2011 – but the odds favor staying put. And that’s my heavy bet for the Pistons, who don’t have tons of roster spots available and already possess a healthy dose of youth. My guess is they have a line somewhere – maybe it runs past the lottery, but I doubt it runs past 20 – that separates players they think can become solid or better NBA starters from the next group of rotation-worthy projects. Where Mitchell or Jackson fall on that spectrum is anybody’s guess.

Ken (Dharamsala, India): Marcus Morris struggled with tendinitis this season. How is he? One common medicine to address tendinitis is steroids. How do you get stronger, fight tendinitis and stay cool with the league office on medicine choice?

Langlois: A trainer once told me that if you can find an NBA player past the midway point in any given season who isn’t dealing with knee tendinitis, let him know. Basketball doesn’t cause nearly as many long-term debilitating injuries as football, but it takes a toll on the knees during the season, for sure. All that running, jumping, cutting and violent stopping has to, right? Morris had a few flare-ups with it throughout the season, but it didn’t rise to the level of Reggie Jackson’s condition. Jackson’s was diagnosed as tendinosis – chronic tendinitis – and it was decided by a consensus of medical opinions that the best long-term solution was to undergo a platelet-rich plasma injection. How training staffs treat mild tendinitis without using banned substances and whether the most common forms of steroids used by every family doctor in the country to treat inflammation ailments crosses the line in the NBA … good questions. Not sure.

Darrell (Detroit): How about this for a proposed trade this off-season: Since Portland is woefully in need of a big man, the Pistons can trade Andre Drummond for C.J. McCollum. Then trade Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to Philadelphia for Jahlil Okafor since Philly has an overload of big men. The Pistons are in need of a shakeup. A healthy Jackson won’t make the team contenders next season. Not to mention, the Pistons need not enter the luxury tax for a non-playoff team.

Langlois: There were reports at the trade deadline – never confirmed by anyone from either team – that the Pistons and Blazers had discussed a Drummond-McCollum deal. Portland seems committed to a McCollum-Damian Lillard core, though their defensive deficiencies cause some skepticism about Portland’s ceiling. When the Pistons won at Portland in double overtime in January, Blazers coach Terry Stotts was pulling both players for defensive possessions at every timeout in the final seconds of every end-of-period sequence from the fourth quarter on. If Philadelphia wants to go after Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, his restricted free agency gives the 76ers a path: present him an offer sheet. They’ll be one of the teams with the cap space to do so. I think Philadelphia’s aggressive pursuit of trades involving Jahlil Okafor at the trade deadline – and, remember, they sent him home for a week because the speculation became so overwhelming that the team admitted it was shopping him – set a market value for Okafor that comes in somewhere south of Caldwell-Pope as the return. In other words, I seriously doubt that’s a trade that would interest the Pistons even if they could trade a restricted free agent. And as for your contention that the Blazers are “woefully in need of a big man,” Jusuf Nurkic averaged a double-double (15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds) in 29 minutes a game in the 20 games he played for Portland after being acquired from Denver in February. And Portland went 18-8 after the All-Star break to come from 10 games under .500 to 41-41 and a playoff berth. The Nurkic deal seemed to work out pretty well for Portland and he’s 22.

Ethan (@RaddyLite): What’s the plan to improve the 3-point percentage as a team?

Langlois: I’m sure one way they’ll try to address it is via the personnel route, whether that means a significant trade that costs them one of their main rotation pieces or using some or all of the mid-level exception to add shooting or spending their lottery pick on a player – if one exists – they feel can come in and contribute as a rookie. But they’ll also hope for internal improvement from players like Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris, Stanley Johnson, Jon Leuer and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, assuming the latter is retained in restricted free agency, the full expectation. None of them shot it at the league average of .358 last season, Caldwell-Pope coming closest at .350. Since Van Gundy declared after last season that he expected improved 3-point shooting from essentially that same set of players, I asked him after this season if he could do anything differently over the off-season to produce a different outcome. Here’s what he said: “We just talked about a need 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. (General manager) Jeff (Bower) 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 individual what needs to be worked on but exactly how we go about developing that as we work on out shooting. It’s a little different for every guy, but our approach – I do not think our guys got enough game-speed, game-shot 3-point shooting in over the summer last year. That’s the one thing that I thought needs to be corrected and we’ll try to move in that direction.” In other words, just getting up 500 shots a day isn’t necessarily the answer. It’s getting up shots under conditions that as closely approximate those you’d find in a game as possible. So, running into shots, coming around screens and launching off the catch, one- and two-dribble pull-ups … that sort of thing. Not just a drill that approximates what you see in a 3-point shooting contest, for instance, where you stand in one spot and take a set number of shots, or stay in that one spot and shoot until you make 10 and then move to the next spot.

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