Questions about the backcourt – Avery Bradley’s likelihood of staying with the Pistons beyond this season and Reggie Jackson’s likelihood of returning to form – top the agenda in the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Adam (St. Petersburg, Fla.): Is it the Pistons’ intent to re-sign Avery Bradley next year?
Langlois: That’s a safe assumption. We’re a long way from a decision coming from either side – heck, two weeks ago the expectation was still that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope would be retained on a long-term deal and hold down shooting guard for the next five seasons – but, yeah, it’s easy to guess today that Stan Van Gundy and GM Jeff Bower would love to lock up Bradley in free agency next July. It will be a fairly robust free-agent market at the position, or at least has the potential to be. Bradley and Caldwell-Pope will both be free agents. So will J.J. Redick, while players like Gary Harris, Zach LaVine and Rodney Hood will be restricted free agents if they don’t sign extensions before the season starts. In the meantime, the Pistons get a full season to gauge not just Bradley and his fit, but two more newcomers at his position in Langston Galloway and Luke Kennard. How far the Pistons are willing to go on Bradley will be influenced by how they view Galloway and Kennard’s viability as the answer at shooting guard. The cap for 2018-19 probably isn’t going to be appreciably higher than the $99 million set for 2017-18 and the Pistons are already close to $100 million in guaranteed deals for 2018-19 without allowing for Bradley’s next deal. So retaining him is the clear preference today and very well could be next July 1, but doing so almost certainly means having to move some other contracts around to maintain even a modicum of cap flexibility.
Josh (Ferndale, Mich.): Is Reggie Jackson rehabbing or focusing on a particular area of his game this summer? What level is he back to right now and what can be expected of him by the time the season starts?
Langlois: He was at Avery Bradley’s introductory press conference last week and said his knee feels great. Stan Van Gundy felt that even though Jackson was medically cleared to go last December, he wasn’t ever quite right physically – not the knee tendinosis, necessarily, but the fact he had to shut it down for two months and needed to rebuild endurance and lower-body strength. And because Jackson wasn’t quite right physically, it affected him mentally and only got worse when the team wasn’t winning at the clip expected after he got back. Jackson said last week he’s spending much less time on the court to spare the wear and tear but much more time working on flexibility training. He’ll gradually gear up the on-court work as the summer unfolds, but the fact he came to Auburn Hills last September already complaining of knee pain spoke to the fact that he needed to dial it back in the off-season and has adjusted accordingly.
Jason (@JasonLambart): Projected starting lineup? Also, SVG’s roster is so deep he could pull a Popovich/Brad Stevens and play 12 a night consistently.
Langlois: You can pencil in three players right now: Andre Drummond, Avery Bradley, Reggie Jackson. Tobias Harris is certainly going to play 30-plus minutes a night and, I suppose, there is some chance he comes off the bench. But he’s right there with Drummond, Bradley and Jackson atop the playing-time pyramid. If I had to guess now – without the benefit of seeing how things shake out in preseason games – I’d say Harris and Stanley Johnson are the starters at forward. But it could be any combination of Harris, Johnson and Jon Leuer. With Avery Bradley’s scoring next to Jackson, maybe Van Gundy will feel Harris’ scoring is a better fit for the second unit. I don’t expect that to be the decision, but it’s possible. As for the rotation, I don’t expect Van Gundy to go 12 deep as a regular thing, but I do think it’s possible that pretty much everyone on the roster could be used on a given night depending on the opponent. So some nights it might be Boban Marjanovic as the backup center, another it could be Eric Moreland – or Leuer, possibly opening minutes at power forward for Henry Ellenson or Anthony Tolliver.
Owen (@O_mccarthy73): What is your honest opinion of how the Pistons will do next season?
Langlois: Well, since you said “honest”…Hey, there aren’t a ton of givens in the NBA. We know Golden State, given good health, should win the title again. We’re pretty sure LeBron James will carry Cleveland as far as it can possibly go, San Antonio will be a factor in the West and, after that, we don’t know a lot. I expected the Pistons to improve by 10 to 20 percent last year based on the fact all five starters were back, all still before or amid their prime years and coming off a 44-win playoff season. But the Reggie Jackson injury hung over the season from the first week of training camp on. You can’t write off the whole season to his injury, but it was the overwhelming choice as biggest factor in falling off from 44 to 37 wins and slipping from a mid-tier offensive team to a bottom-five unit. So if Jackson’s back to his 2015-16 levels – and that’s the expectation – then … we’ll see. The Pistons have changed since then. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marcus Morris are gone. Avery Bradley is a significant pickup. They’ve added three veterans – Bradley, Langston Galloway and Anthony Tolliver – who are all above-average 3-point shooters and that has to help. Lottery pick Luke Kennard, if he can fight his way into the rotation, is a player who could add more juice to the offense. We know some East playoff teams are retrenching; Chicago, Indiana and Atlanta all lost All-Stars to the West. I think a 2015-16 performance is more likely for the Pistons than a 2016-17 repeat, but it’s got to come together before we can say that with any certainty. For more on Jackson, keep reading …
Ian (Phoenix): I think if we can ship out Reggie Jackson and a future first-rounder, we do it for Eric Bledsoe.
Langlois: A year ago at this time, would you have proposed that deal? Jackson and Bledsoe, by most objective measures, were similar players in 2015-16. Jackson signed a year after Bledsoe and got a slightly better deal based solely on the escalation of contracts spurred by the TV rights deal that was agreed to between their signings. You’d be attaching a No. 1 pick to shave about $2 million a year off the cap for a similar player – but get only two years of service instead of the three left on Jackson’s deal. If Jackson is healthy again – and, again, that’s everyone’s full expectation at this point – his contract is more than reasonable in the context of a $99 million cap. You generally attach picks to contracts viewed as onerous. Why would you do it in this case? Only if you view Jackson as permanently damaged goods. I’ve said this in several different responses to different questions regarding Jackson over the past few months, but common sense here says you bring him back and see what you’ve got. If he’s right, then you go forward with a point guard who has been your best offensive player. If he’s not, you deal with it as best you can – and, at that point, maybe a deal like you propose becomes necessary. But trading him now almost requires an unsatisfactory return – settling for 50 or 75 cents on the dollar.
Dawson (Three Rivers, Mich.): With the recent rumors linking Reggie Jackson to the Pelicans, what do you think the likelihood of him being traded this off-season is? I think this team needs a bigger shakeup than the Avery Bradley trade. If we traded Jackson, we could get someone like Brandon Jennings to come off the bench and play good minutes. He knows the system and is a big fan favorite. I think we need to give Ish a chance to start because the offense ran somewhat smoothly with him at the point.
Langlois: Likelihood of Jackson trade this summer: 5 percent? And that’s a higher estimate than I’d give to the more relevant question: What is the likelihood of the Pistons trading Reggie Jackson and coming away with a more valuable asset than the Jackson of 2015-16? The Pistons, based on all available evidence and the prognosis for a full recovery as provided by their medical staff, are simply a much better team with Reggie Jackson at full speed than they could expect to be by trading him for what his current value on the open market would be. Teams just aren’t going to be willing to offer value based on the Jackson of 2015-16 – until they see the evidence on the court starting in October. So what’s the upside in trading him now? And if he, indeed, is that guy again to re-establish his trade value, why would you trade him? The narrative that Brandon Jennings is a fan favorite here has curiously long legs. He was basically scorned for his first two seasons and into the third, had a brilliant five-week stretch and then tore his Achilles. He hit the winning shot in the “Form a Bleepin’ Wall” game in San Antonio that cemented a legacy in that city more than anything since the Alamo was stormed. He hasn’t been anything close to that player since an injury that devastates careers more often than not. Trading Jackson and plugging in Jennings to pair with Ish Smith in the point guard rotation is … well, it’s a plan.
Hermy (@Hermaphro): Roster improvement is great, but getting back to the playoffs ends with Reggie being healthy again. What are folks saying about his knee?
Langlois: He said – last week, when he attended Avery Bradley’s press conference – that he’s feeling no ill effects from the knee tendinosis that sidelined him for the first 21 games last season and affected him all year, perhaps mentally more than physically as frustration mounted. It’s going to take seeing it in full-court, five-on-five basketball and that won’t come until mid-September, at the earliest, when players congregate in Auburn Hills for voluntary workouts before the opening of training camp. But from medical staff to Jackson himself, there doesn’t seem to be any red flag flying. And, you’re right. His health (and state of mind about his health) is the biggest factor in determining the success of the season ahead.
Robbie (@TheTrianoKid): How much playing time will Kennard and Ellenson expect to get this season?
Langlois: That’s a different question if you take the “expect to” out of there. I don’t know what their expectations are. It’s fair to think that 99 percent of NBA players expect to play, or believe they should, at least. Ellenson probably has a good handle on what he’s up against after a season of knocking heads with veterans in practice and seeing how, even against D-League competition, players older and stronger than him have advantages that only time and strength gains can fully address. Kennard said he’s focused on that – gaining strength – as well since his Duke season ended in preparation for the draft. You can only rush those processes so much. Ellenson will have Jon Leuer, Anthony Tolliver and, quite likely, Tobias Harris to battle for minutes at power forward. Kennard has Avery Bradley, a potential All-Star, plus Langston Galloway ahead of him at shooting guard, where Reggie Bullock also is an option. Ellenson and Kennard are both gifted scorers and all-around offensive players and that’s something that could get them on the floor for a team that ranked 25th in offense last season. But the Pistons made other moves to address offense – Galloway, Bradley and Tolliver all offer improved 3-point shooting – so it’s going to require Ellenson and Kennard to show they can hold up at the defensive end to crack the door to playing time for them.
Ken (Dharamsala, India): How do the Pistons handle veterans such as Avery Bradley and Langston Galloway immediately after acquisition? Are coaches quickly sent out to them? Do Pistons players welcome them? Is an attempt made to let them know they are welcome to the franchise and important as people? The NBA is a business, but if I were an owner I think I might try to make an effort to treat traded players with some degree of heart-felt consideration for the upheaval in their lives. Money isn’t everything.
Langlois: True enough, money isn’t everything – but it has a way of rounding the sharp edges of reality. The great majority of NBA players dream of it as a destination. Most of them love basketball, of course, but there are places to play basketball in leagues outside the NBA where they probably could get a contract that offered them no-trade protection. No, they’ll take the uncertainty of life in the NBA – and the prestige and the lifetime security available that comes with it – 999 times out of 1,000. As for reaching out, yes, yes, yes. That happens routinely. I don’t know about sending a coach immediately to a player acquired in trade, but usually arrangements are made to bring the player to his new hometown. Last week, the Pistons held introductory press conferences for Avery Bradley, Langston Galloway, Eric Moreland, Reggie Bullock and Anthony Tolliver. They have people in the front office whose job duties include putting them in touch with realtors to find a suitable place to live and with professionals in myriad other fields to ease their transition to a new home. The basketball world is amazingly small and well connected, so any time a player is added his new teammates either already have his phone number in their contacts list or can get it by contacting a mutual friend; I’d be surprised if there’s ever more than two degrees of separation involving any player that’s been in the league for more than a 10-day contract. The Pistons did everything they could to make Bradley feel at home, fully aware he’ll be a free agent next July. It’s different for Galloway, Moreland, Bullock and Tolliver. All signed as free agents, so coming to Detroit was their call. All of their qualms about uprooting, it stands to reason, have been addressed in the recruiting/negotiating process.
Scott (@brodiegames): Will Boban become more of a focal point given his strong showing late last season? I haven’t seen Stan Van Gundy say much about him this off-season.
Langlois: “Focal point” wouldn’t be the descriptor I’d use. “Frequent contributor,” perhaps. It remains to be seen if he’ll be the everyday backup center as Aron Baynes was for almost all of his two seasons here, the occasional spot duty for Marjanovic before his end-of-season trial run the exception. Marjanovic is a unique player, and I’m fully aware how overused that word is. I don’t know if anyone 7-foot-4 has ever had the shooting touch and range he has and it’s an exceptionally sturdy 7-foot-4. You can’t move him once he establishes position. So he can be an incredible scoring and rebounding force. Whether he becomes a player Van Gundy uses regardless of matchups comes down to this: Can Marjanovic exploit his man on offense more than he gets exploited on defense, especially in pick-and-roll coverage. He worked tirelessly last season – like, after every practice – in drills designed to increase his lateral mobility. And Stan Van Gundy saw noticeable improvement. Will it be enough to keep him on the floor against lineups with quicker, more mobile big men? To be determined.