How the rotation might be shaping up a week into training camp, comparisons to the 2002-03 Pistons and speculation about Luke Kennard’s role are among the items discussed in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Jack (Negaunee, Mich.): What do you think of Little Caesars Arena and does it look like a hockey arena retrofitted for an NBA team?
Langlois: Quite the opposite on the second half of the question. I was struck by how ideally suited it appeared to be for basketball. Even the brilliant red seats naturally blended with the red accents of the basketball court and the seating configuration fits snugly around the hardwood. The upper levels are situated at such a vertical angle that the building has a much smaller feel than you’d expect from a 20,000-plus-seat venue. I’ve been in every current NBA arena and Little Caesars is going to earn the highest marks from those who can say the same. When the Pistons fill that place, it’s going to be a sight to behold.
Sham (@shamshammgod): Who makes the 10-man rotation?
Langlois: Will it be 10? Not sure. Stan Van Gundy hasn’t said as much. Nine is usually his comfort zone. But he’s said since completing the roster with the signings of Reggie Bullock and Anthony Tolliver that he’s more open to utilizing the entire roster than he’s ever been. My hunch is he’ll still settle into a nine-man playing group as a loose rule but it will go to 10, maybe even 11, as is warranted with foul trouble and similar situational issues. There could be a smaller core of seven or eight who are every-game staples and then another group of six or seven from which one, two or three additional players are used depending on the matchup and the flow of the game. I think we can safely assume that Reggie Jackson (if all the way back), Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris and Andre Drummond are locks to be in the rotation. Then Jon Leuer, Stanley Johnson and Ish Smith are all very likely. Langston Galloway is probably in that group, as well, but the strong start to training camp of Luke Kennard presents a scenario where Galloway might not be quite a lead-pipe cinch. Anthony Tolliver’s shooting and experience probably give him a slight edge over Henry Ellenson for backup minutes at power forward when Harris and Leuer are resting or playing at other positions. Reggie Bullock will sit out the first five games, so we’ll see how he slots in when he gets back. Van Gundy is determined to see what Boban Marjanovic can do, so he’s probably going to open the season as the backup center. I think Eric Moreland is a long shot to open the season with a defined role unless Drummond, Marjanovic or Leuer is unavailable. Other than him and Bullock, there’s nobody without a legitimate shot at being in the opening-night mix.
Ryan (Pocatello, Idaho): Two questions: (1) What steps has Detroit management taken to make sure that player development becomes a strength instead of a weakness as it’s been for a long time now; and (2) what are the odds of Avery Bradley leaving next summer and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope coming back to Detroit? I’ve nothing against Bradley, but KCP was my favorite Piston and it wasn’t even close. I think he’s going to have a great year in L.A. and I’d love to see him back in Detroit.
Langlois: You can read a more detailed answer to the first question here, Ryan. The short version is Stan Van Gundy and Jeff Bower came to a similar conclusion – disappointment in last year’s progress, particularly in some of the younger players – and responded by adding Rex Walters to the staff and making player development the priority for both him and another assistant coach, Aaron Gray. Otis Smith remains a part of the equation with his focus more on off-court player development or helping young players acclimate to being a professional and all that it entails. By Van Gundy’s own admission, the development of young players didn’t match expectations last season. But I’m not sure I’d say it’s been a weakness for a long time. Your own favorite player, Caldwell-Pope, came pretty far pretty fast after arriving as a raw rookie. As for the second part, anything’s possible but I’d say the odds of Bradley re-signing are significantly better – like, 8:1 better – than Bradley leaving and Caldwell-Pope returning. But the market will dictate where they land. Who’d have guessed on July 1 that Caldwell-Pope would wind up signing a one-year deal and taking his chances again next summer on finding what he considers an acceptable long-term contract?
Paul (Memphis): Should the NBA determine the MVP award based on who had a great season or should it be determined on the basis of team success? MVP means “most valuable player” and it should be determined on players’ performances and team records should not matter.
Langlois: It’s purely subjective, but it’s evolved to be commonly accepted that an MVP has to play for a contender – at bare minimum, a playoff team and, likely, a team with a top-five record. Last year was something of an anomaly with the MVP going to Russell Westbrook, whose team, Oklahoma City, had its win total surpassed by nine other teams. Still, the Thunder won 47 games and were in the thick of the Western Conference race behind the two runaway leaders, Golden State and San Antonio. There was also the special circumstance of carrying a team that had lost a previous MVP winner, Kevin Durant. I think you have to consider performance through the lens of team success when picking the MVP in any sport, but especially in basketball given the outsized influence a single player has on the game relative to individuals in any other team sport. Putting up numbers in games that become ultimately inconsequential defy the meaning of “valuable.” I’d use a slightly different standard for determining other measuring sticks for greatness, such as All-Star berths or Hall of Fame consideration, on the acknowledgment that sometimes great players get stuck in situations beyond their ability to elevate those around them – bad ownership, poor management, lousy coaching, etc. I think it’s entirely possible that a player could spend a 15-year career in the NBA and not win a title or come reasonably close and yet still be a certified Hall of Famer. If Westbrook or James Harden or Chris Paul never win an NBA title, they’re still no-doubt Hall of Famers in my book.
Gary (@gadclark): I think we will win 50 games. This team reminds me of the 2002-03 squad – talented but unheralded … yet. What are your thoughts on this comparison?
Langlois: I think Reggie Jackson and Avery Bradley are poised to be the best Pistons backcourt since the heyday of Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton, so there’s that. That was before Rasheed Wallace arrived and no one could have foreseen how Tayshaun Prince would progress to become a key starter on the 2004 championship team at this point of the 2002-03 season. Stanley Johnson, going into his third year, is younger now than Prince was to start his rookie season in ’02. Stan Van Gundy thinks he’s got a chance to grow into an elite defender, so that’s not an unreasonable comparison. Can Andre Drummond creep closer to the dominant defensive consistency Ben Wallace achieved? If so, then we’re on to something here.
Ian (Westland, Mich.): Do you think Andre Drummond will develop into the dominant player we’ve all been hoping for this year? If not, we should trade him for Cleveland’s first-round pick that belonged to Brooklyn and other pieces.
Langlois: He’s had about as good a first week of training camp as anyone could have hoped to see, by all accounts. We’ll get a first glimpse of him in tonight’s preseason opener. Cleveland could have drafted Drummond in 2012 at No. 4 when it took Dion Waiters. The Cavs have their approximation of Drummond already in Tristan Thompson. And your proposal doesn’t take into account the massive cap considerations. The Cavs would have to send back a lot of “pieces” to match Drummond’s nearly $24 million salary slot for the 2017-18 season. They’re not in position to do so while chasing a championship and it’s widely acknowledged that the pick you reference – and not Isaiah Thomas, a pending free agent with a potentially career-threatening hip injury – was the key to the Cavs dealing Kyrie Irving to Boston. Beyond all of that, what Cleveland does with that pick – and every other significant move – will be dictated by what choices LeBron James makes in free agency next July.
Ahmed (San Antonio): Should the ruling for NBA draft eligibility be that college athletes need to spend two years in college? It would help player development if they were to enter the draft after their second year. Agree?
Langlois: It was reported that during last year’s collective bargaining talks, the NBA pushed for a two-year gap between high school and draft eligibility and the players association pushed for no gap at all. Ultimately, neither side wanted that issue to be an impediment to reaching an agreement and tabled it. It can be addressed at any time before the next CBA is negotiated, but we’ll see if there’s any movement on one side or the other. I’d take issue that player development necessarily would improve. I’d agree that in nearly every case a player’s emotional and physical readiness would be helped by spending a second season in college, but the NBA spends more time on player development than colleges can simply by the time available and the NCAA limits on how much time coaching staffs can spend with players.
Askari (@askari_jaffery): Is Luke Kennard starting?
Langlois: He was outstanding for the first four days of training camp by the accounts of Stan Van Gundy and his teammates, then struggled the next three days, Van Gundy said. He suspects it’s the fact that he’s a rookie going through the grind of his first NBA training camp and having to go up against an elite perimeter defender, Avery Bradley, every day. “It’s not easy and he’s struggled through the last couple of days,” Van Gundy said on Tuesday. “He has not struggled in terms of, there’s still great poise. It’s nothing I have any worries about. I like what I see of him, but he hasn’t been able to knock down shots as much and make plays, but it’s what’s going to come during the year. You’ve got a great defender who’s now gotten to know him a little bit and you’ve got to make adjustments and he will. He’s a smart guy and a really good player, but he’s struggled the last couple of days.” He’s not about to beat out Bradley for the starting spot at his natural position, shooting guard, provided Bradley gets to Oct. 18 healthy. There’s some chance he could start at small forward, I suppose, but at this point I’d think that would have to mean an injury to Stanley Johnson. Johnson is being counted on to guard the opposition’s best forward. Tough to get that matchup if Johnson is coming off the bench. Van Gundy said last week he thought it would be tough to keep Kennard off the floor. But if I had to bet one or the other – Kennard starting or Kennard not playing in the season opener – I’d go with the latter. The Pistons could fashion a rotation without Kennard, though having Reggie Bullock suspended for the first five regular-season games makes it a little tougher. Those five games give Kennard something of a window to establish himself and get ahead of Bullock in the pecking order at the wing spots.