The blockbuster Kyrie Irving trade, what the future holds for Tom Gores and Stan Van Gundy and the problem the Pistons have had in back-to-back games are among the items on the docket in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Christopher (Pontiac, Mich.): If the Pistons have the luxury of waiting until Avery Bradley becomes available for trade, why not consider Reggie Jackson and Bradley with other pieces for Kyrie Irving? This way we can retain Andre Drummond, who I believe will be the best center in the NBA soon. Dwyane Wade is also rumored to be negotiating a buyout with the Chicago Bulls soon. If the Pistons can make this work, Irving, Wade and Drummond playing together makes us an automatic contender.
Langlois: Bradley becomes eligible for the Pistons to aggregate in a trade on Sept. 7, just a few weeks away and … all of that was rendered moot with Tuesday night’s blockbuster deal that sent Kyrie Irving to Boston for Isaiah Thomas and a bunch of nice parts: the unprotected Nets pick in 2018, a nice big man prospect ready to play in Ante Zizic and stout perimeter defender Jae Crowder. That gives you an idea of what the cost would have been to the Pistons and why it was always very unlikely they had the smorgasbord of assets it was going to take to land Irving. Cleveland got two starters out of the deal in Thomas, an All-Star, and Crowder. Two years ago, Jackson and Thomas seemed comparable talents and it’s not crazy to think they’ll be viewed similarly again if Jackson bounces back and we get a better handle on Thomas when he won’t have quite as much freedom within the offense as he had in Boston. If the Pistons had offered Jackson, Bradley and Henry Ellenson – a reasonable comparison to Thomas, Crowder and Zizic – they still didn’t have the chip that had to be especially appealing to Cleveland: that unprotected No. 1 pick in next year’s top-heavy draft. As for Wade, if he negotiates a buyout – that also looks more likely than not – he’s going to a handful of teams poised to win now. He’s long had antipathy toward the Pistons, dating to his early days in Miami when the Pistons and Heat met in the conference finals in successive years. I feel safe in declaring a free agent Dwyane Wade will not choose the Pistons.
Darrell (Detroit): As much as I like Kryie Irving, before LeBron James went back to Cleveland Kyrie spent every season watching the playoffs with the rest of us. I would hate for the Pistons to give up the present and future while going to a new arena just to become the Cavs of old. Unless the Pistons become contenders, I can see Avery Bradley leaving, followed by Irving, Tobias Harris, Ish Smith and Boban. Having to potentially give up Drummond, Jackson, Johnson and first-round picks, that would be beyond disastrous.
Langlois: Another question that came in before the Cleveland-Boston trade, but I’ll address the implication that Irving should be viewed warily. Irving was young, missed time with injuries and was playing with some pretty lousy teams in his early years. I wouldn’t hold that against him. There is some degree of debate about Irving’s ability to be the alpha dog on a winning team. I’m not sure how much of that is legitimate – meaning how much doubt there is in the minds of the league’s general managers that Irving is a special talent that they’d all love to build around. His ballhandling, shooting and ability to finish in traffic make him one of the truly unique and dynamic offensive forces on the planet. And in this era of the NBA, dominated by offense, a player who can beat defenses by himself is incredibly valuable. But, of course, there is a line beyond which venturing into your assets cabinet to get a player, any player, becomes imprudent. Did Boston cross that line? Well, it’s worth remembering that Danny Ainge has guarded his assets zealously but pushed a bunch of them to the middle of the table to get Irving. I think that speaks volumes as to what at least one rival GM thinks of him.
Adam (St. Petersburgh, Fla.): What’s your view of the Cleveland-Boston trade?
Langlois: The most striking thing about it, perhaps, is that it involved the two teams that played in last year’s Eastern Conference finals and are considered 1-2 – or 2-1, perhaps now – for 2017-18. I suppose it could be a win-win, but both front offices have to know they put themselves at some risk of having this backfire on them. If I’m picking a winner, it’s Boston. I’m an Irving fan and have been since his abbreviated college season at Duke. If he’s healthy, he’s one of the top 10 players in the game. Cleveland takes a risk in that they’re dealing for a diminutive scorer coming off a hip injury who’ll have to get used to playing off the ball a lot more often on LeBron James’ team. But the unprotected No. 1 pick the Cavs get from Boston – the Nets pick – could be pivotal in Cleveland’s attempt to retain LeBron James a year from now. If you’re the Pistons – and every other team in the Eastern Conference – you hope that the deal proves a lose-lose and both the Cavs and Celtics are diminished.
Zac (@MontanaBadboy): How committed do you think Tom Gores is to VanBower? At the beginning their relationship seemed built for the long haul. Has anything changed?
Langlois: Let’s start with the obvious that the health of a relationship between an owner and his chief executive – Stan Van Gundy in this case, with Jeff Bower having been Van Gundy’s hire to run the day to day of his front office – is known only to them unless they choose to share its details publicly. To the extent Pistons owner Tom Gores and Van Gundy have shared the details of their relationship, it’s been nothing but positive on both sides. They communicate daily or close to it and, from all indications, their philosophies line up. Both want to win, neither wants to risk the future for a modestly better present. There’s no reason to doubt their sincerity or that anything’s changed over the years. Gores has been consistently supportive of Van Gundy’s leadership and commitment to their shared principles in any public statements during their three-plus years together. Gores has made no secret of his desire to give Detroit a championship-caliber team and wants that more than anything to have a powerful tool for civic good in his sports franchise. Van Gundy is an enthusiastic proponent of using the stage he’s provided as chief executive of a major pro sports franchise to reach into the heart of the community to better the lives of its people. All of that said, it’s a results-oriented business and Van Gundy is acutely aware that longevity in his profession is tied directly, almost exclusively, to long-term success. By any objective measure, the Pistons are in a better place today than when Gores hired Van Gundy. Last year represented a step back, but not a precipitous one and a step back that can be almost wholly explained by an injury to Reggie Jackson, the most significant player addition of Van Gundy’s tenure. We’ll see what Gores says about the coming season sometime over the next few months, but my guess is his expectation is that the Pistons pick up where they left off before the Jackson injury cast a shadow on last season.
Shameek (@shamshammgod): Detroit went 3-14 on the second games of back to backs last year. Do you see the record improving? If so, how? League average winning percentage was 41.6.
Langlois: It was 4-14, so one degree of bad less than you recall. But that’s still really bad – well below the league average, as you imply – and something that will need to change in the coming season. It helps that the Pistons play fewer back to backs this season, 14. Generally – and this should come as no surprise – good teams fare better in back to backs than poor teams, and Stan Van Gundy maintains that veteran teams are much better in back to backs than younger ones. The Pistons remain a young team, but they’re not as painfully young as they were two years ago. A compilation of factors – more experience, expected better health, law of averages, generally more favorable schedule – says the Pistons are going to do better than a .222 winning percentage in back to backs this season. If they’d have gone .500 in back to backs last season, they’d have been in the playoffs with a 42-40 record. Even if they’d played to the league average, they would have won three more games. That’s one among several reasons I expect them to have a better season this year. How they do that? Well, Van Gundy is planning to make better use of his roster from 1 through 14 this season. It was telling that the last two players they signed were Reggie Bullock and Anthony Tolliver, both in the rotation when the Pistons went to the playoffs two seasons ago and neither for the league minimum when the front office could have quite easily found a few satisfactory end-of-the-bench guys for the veteran’s minimum. I’d guess that Avery Bradley is going to play close to 35 minutes a night, but it wouldn’t surprise me if nobody else on the roster inches much north of 30.
Al (@Al_Czervik1): What do you see as the minutes split between Reggie Jackson, Ish Smith and Langston Galloway?
Langlois: I’d guess about 30 for Jackson, about 18 for Smith and somewhere around 20 for Galloway. Galloway’s minutes are a little less certain simply because it remains to be seen how quickly Luke Kennard earns Van Gundy’s trust at the defensive end. If he does that, he’ll be hard to keep out of the lineup because he has so many ways he can help offensively. Galloway’s ability to play point guard is the wild card. If Kennard forces his way into the lineup, it’s possible Galloway is considered for minutes at point guard. He won’t be the transition or pick-and-roll force that Smith is, but his 3-point shooting might tip the scales in his favor. And given that guys like Bradley, Kennard, Stanley Johnson and even Henry Ellenson can make plays off the dribble – something the Pistons had little of last season outside of their point guards – it makes it more conceivable to use a point guard of Galloway’s ilk.
King Stan (@BlackCopPiston): Who starts at the three in your opinion? How many minutes does SVG give Kennard?
Langlois: My guess is Stanley Johnson is the opening night starter at small forward. But how a number of players perform in the three-plus weeks between the start of camp and the Oct. 18 opener will make the decision for Stan Van Gundy. Let’s say Henry Ellenson is lights out in camp. (And he’s been mighty impressive in off-season workouts and the three-on-three games the handful of Pistons players have been holding at their practice facility this month.) Well, that could lead Van Gundy to look to open minutes for Ellenson and that could subsequently push him to play Tobias Harris more at small forward. There’s a group of forwards – Johnson, Ellenson, Harris, Jon Leuer, Anthony Tolliver, even Reggie Bullock and Luke Kennard – competing for a piece of the pie. Just because Bullock and Kennard are more shooting guards than anything else and Ellenson is a power forward who can play center, they’re still competing against everyone on the roster for a finite number of minutes. Reggie Jackson is going to play about 30 minutes as the point guard and Andre Drummond is going to play about that or a little more at center and there’s really not much doubt about their roles. For pretty much everyone else, Van Gundy is going to go with his best players and best units and not worry so much about what position a guy occupies. Kennard’s playing time will be determined by (a) his readiness, particularly at the defensive end and (b) see above: the way he plays relative to teammates Van Gundy can consider for the same minutes.