Lots of talk about the new-look Pistons backcourt – Avery Bradley, Langston Galloway, Luke Kennard and recovering holdover Reggie Jackson – in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.
David (@davidgerth22): Do you think this is a playoff team?
Langlois: Wrote about this here and here. There’s still at least a 50-50 shot, in my view, that Kyrie Irving and Carmelo Anthony get traded before the season starts and that will have an impact on at least two Eastern Conference competitors. But as it stands today, yeah, I think the Pistons are in good shape to return to the playoffs this season. Even with the Irving uncertainty, Cleveland – along with Boston, Toronto and Washington – are pretty much locks for the playoffs unless catastrophic injuries strike. Milwaukee is in solid shape after the way the Bucks closed without Jabari Parker, who should be back for the stretch drive of the 2017-18 season. Then I’ve got the Pistons grouped with Charlotte and Miami as next in the pecking order. I’ve seen Philadelphia picked by others as on the heels of the top four in the East, but that’s making way too many assumptions about Joel Embiid’s health and the impact of Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz that I’m not anywhere close to taking as accepted science.
Marvin (Dasmarinas, Philippines): Any chance we can offer something to get Kyrie Irving?
Langlois: I’m sure the Pistons will be one of 29 teams that engage in some level of discourse with Cleveland’s front office, just as 29 teams talked to Indiana when it became known Paul George was going to be dealt. Cleveland probably feels less urgency to deal than Indiana did, given that Irving has two years left on his contract. His only real leverage to force a trade is to (a) get LeBron James sufficiently peeved that he encourages (insists on) a trade or (b) convince management he’d irreparably disrupt a title bid. But if you’re Dan Gilbert or Cleveland’s front office, what’s the bigger gamble: that Irving commits to sulking for a year and risks harming his reputation and market value across the league or that the team suffers for trading him for lesser talent or a less compatible fit? I’d roll the dice and keep him based on what we know now. But maybe it’s so dire they decide to go the other way. I can’t begin to guess at a trade package that doesn’t include a third team. I’d guess at Andre Drummond as the centerpiece in a two-team trade, but the Cavs have something of a poor man’s Drummond already in Tristan Thompson. Avery Bradley as a starting point? Maybe. He’d help anyone. What else it would take, who knows? The Cavs can’t afford to take on any additional salary, so that would be a factor. Multi-team deals likely would be the way the Pistons got involved, but those become complicated and unpredictable.
Kevin (Farmington Hills, Mich.): I’m feeling optimistic about the Pistons these days. Luke Kennard made 47.8 percent of his 23 3-point attempts in Orlando. What’s your thoughts on his upside? Can he be the next “Klay Curry?”
Langlois: I don’t know that Summer League gave any huge insights into his ceiling, but it might have told us about his floor. The success Kennard had in Orlando says he’s probably going to be a pretty solid rotation player, at minimum. Nothing wrong with that. How much he improves from that base will determine his ceiling. I think he’s got more than enough smarts and some of the more subtle athletic traits – peripheral vision and hand-eye coordination, for instance – to become a reliable scorer who contributes to offensive efficiency in other ways, too. He’s going to be an asset as a passer and playmaker off the dribble from a position other than point guard, which is an increasingly valuable trait. We’ll have a better idea of his upside a year from now and an even better handle on it two and three years from now. But Stan Van Gundy said he left Orlando feeling more convinced about Kennard – mostly because of what he showed at the defensive end – than he did on draft night.
Luke (@WolthuisLuke): Do you think Reggie Jackson and Avery Bradley will work well together?
Langlois: They’re both really good players – Jackson made a pretty good run at an All-Star berth in 2016 in a loaded year at point guard in the East and Bradley did the same last year before his Achilles injury knocked him out in January for six weeks. And good players usually work well together. It’s pretty rare when they don’t and it usually involves ego and overlapping skill sets. I don’t see either as an issue in this instance. There appears to be deep respect for the other from both players. That was easy to pick up on at Bradley’s introductory press conference a few weeks ago. In talking to Bradley afterward, he brought up Jackson first when he was asked about how the Celtics game planned for the Pistons. Jackson, who remembers how much he disliked playing against Bradley when they were 16-year-olds on the AAU circuit, flew in from Los Angeles just to be there for Bradley’s unveiling.
Josh (@ThatGuyGayle): What are the odds the Pistons can bring back Avery Bradley after the coming season?
Langlois: It’s a coin flip at this point because so little is known. It was certainly a positive sign that Bradley carried himself with such palpable enthusiasm at his introductory press conference. It’s one thing to show up and say the right things, but Bradley went above and beyond that, heaping praise on Stan Van Gundy for everything he’s heard about him, for the level of preparedness he always sensed in Pistons teams Van Gundy has coached and for the way he expects Van Gundy to push him to become a better player. From the Pistons end, it’s already clear Bradley is wanted. Van Gundy sacrificed Marcus Morris – not just one of his all-time favorite players, as he said, but a player whose team-friendly contract allowed the Pistons to steer money to other positions and would have for the next two seasons – to get Bradley. If Bradley stays healthy this season – durability is about the only red flag with him as he’s played in fewer than 70 games in five of his seven NBA seasons – the asking price is going to be high and the Pistons already have about $95 million in guaranteed money on the books for 2018-19. If Luke Kennard and Langston Galloway both show well this season, either they become attractive trade pieces or the Pistons could decide they’re enough at the position to let Bradley hit the market. The situation, as it often does, stands a solid chance of resolving itself over the course of 82 games and whatever follows. As of now, it’s a 50-50 call.
Brenden (@BrendenWelper): Will Tobias continue to come off the bench?
Langlois: Stan Van Gundy hasn’t said anything one way or the other on this score yet. My hunch is that he starts. What could change that? If Van Gundy is concerned about the lack of scoring off the bench. With Avery Bradley a more proven scorer at shooting guard next to Reggie Jackson, maybe Van Gundy will feel Harris will get more shots and be more valuable off the bench. If Harris is in the starting lineup, then the second unit probably is Ish Smith, Langston Galloway, Boban Marjanovic, Jon Leuer and maybe Reggie Bullock or Luke Kennard. Van Gundy usually went with a nine-man rotation last year and – when both Harris and Marcus Morris were starting – would usually get Morris out of the game midway through the first and third quarters in order to bring him back to start the second and fourth quarters as the scoring anchor of the second unit. Maybe he’ll use Harris similarly this season.
George (Riverside, Calif.): I know this is most likely an extremely long shot, but do you think there’s any chance the Warriors front office overreacts to open a window for trader Stan to steal Draymond?
Langlois: Going to assume you’re referring to the lawsuit a California lawyer said would be filed against Green for assault. Unless those details are horrific and there’s tangible evidence of Green’s guilt, your instincts are right, George. That’s an extreme long shot.
Ben (Moreland Hills, Ohio): Jerry Stackhouse is being hyped as an excellent coaching prospect and seems to be a year or two away from being offered a head coaching position in the NBA. As a former Piston and with SVG in the second half of his five-year deal, is there any way we can offer him a position so as to groom him to be SVG’s successor? Or do you think it would take a front office overhaul for this to happen? Knowing the type of guy he is, I could see him being the perfect coach to craft a blue-collar, tough Pistons team.
Langlois: Stan Van Gundy might be in the second half of the five-year deal he and Tom Gores shook hands on in May 2014, but there’s no indication he plans to walk away when it runs out. That said, Van Gundy has made clear he’s not the kind of guy who’ll hang around the NBA for any job that comes along. He was content sitting out for a few years after getting fired in Orlando and my guess is he’s got other things he’d like to do with his life eventually. If he and Gores are both satisfied with the progress the Pistons have made – and despite the disappointment of missing the playoffs last season, the Pistons are in a much better place now than when he took over – as the time comes to discuss a new contract, I’d expect them to continue their partnership beyond the 2018-19 season. As for bringing in Stackhouse, I don’t know of any prior relationship between Van Gundy and Stackhouse and that’s usually what leads to coaching or staff hires. If Van Gundy was actively trying to “groom” anyone to be his successor – he’s not – it would be Bob Beyer. Van Gundy named Beyer associate head coach a year ago because he thought it was important for other front offices to recognize Beyer’s place on Van Gundy’s staff. He’d love for Beyer to get a shot to be a head coach.
Tony (Warren, Mich.): Is it too early to call Bradley and Galloway “Pit Bulls 2.0?” Also, Boban reminds me of Rik Smits. Obviously, not as accomplished, but I really hope he is in the rotation. What do you think of that comparison?
Langlois: On Bradley-Galloway: yes, too soon. Let’s let them play a game together first. The comparison is also off by a half-turn because Lindsey Hunter and Mike James both came off the bench for limited spurts behind two guys, Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton, who played about 36 minutes a game. It was pretty easy for them to go all out for the 12 or so minutes a night Larry Brown paired them. Bradley’s going to play more than 30 minutes a game. He’ll play hard for all of them, but perhaps a degree less maniacally than James and Hunter. He certainly isn’t going to be applying full-court pressure, as Hunter and James did, as a 30-plus minutes guy. As for the Boban-Smith comp, pretty good. Smits came into his own at a younger age, but as far as incredible size and incongruous skill level, yes, that comparison is spot on. The game is a lot different in Boban’s era than it was for Smits, though. Even Smits would have a lesser role in today’s game.
Ken (Baton Rouge, La.): I really would like to see Avery Bradley, Luke Kennard, Stanley Johnson, Henry Ellenson and Andre Drummond on the court at the start of the season. I would rather lose with my future on the court than barely win with guys that have maximized their potential already, wouldn’t you?
Langlois: If you’re proposing that as a starting five, I’d say that’s putting Bradley – the presumptive point guard in your lineup – at something other than his best position. Not saying that’s a lineup that would never play together or couldn’t hold its own, but after seven seasons it’s pretty obvious Bradley isn’t a full-time point guard. He can certainly defend at that position, but his value on offense is more as a secondary ballhandler who can get to his preferred spots to score, not as a full-time facilitator. Your preferred lineup also excludes Reggie Jackson, at 27 a half-year older than Bradley, and Tobias Harris, who just turned 25. I don’t know why they would have maximized their potential if Bradley hasn’t. The only player 30 or over on the roster is Anthony Tolliver. The last thing you can accuse Stan Van Gundy of doing is stunting the growth of young players in favor of maxed-out vets.