Stan Van Gundy’s commitment to using his entire roster, how the Kyrie Irving trade affects Boston and the future for the Pistons at Little Caesars Arena top the docket for this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Darrell (Detroit): I love the idea of SVG being open to going deep into his bench like Gregg Popovich, Brad Stevens and Steve Kerr. But I fear he’ll resort to old habits and shorten his bench once the season starts. Do you think Van Gundy will be able to fight the temptation to give major minutes to his most trusted players or will he be able to balance the minutes across the roster, thereby limiting fatigue and injury as well as providing valuable experience for younger players?
Langlois: That’s a fair question and one he’s openly mused about himself, Darrell. He’s said it – it’s not been in his nature. But he’s also not had a roster quite like this one before where pretty much everyone on it – save Eric Moreland, signed to be the No. 3 center – has been part of an NBA rotation or soon will be. The two youngest players on the roster, Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard, obviously haven’t had that status but Van Gundy doesn’t question whether either has the talent to do so. I think there are a handful of guys who are going to play around 30 minutes a game, give or take – Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson, Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley foremost. Then another group of three or four – Ish Smith, Stanley Johnson, Jon Leuer, maybe Langston Galloway – who have near-certain roles. And then a bunch of players fighting for anything approaching a stable role. But to enable the blueprint you desire, all of those other guys – Ellenson, Kennard, Reggie Bullock, Anthony Tolliver, Boban Marjanovic, Moreland – have to be prepared to contribute in limited opportunity. Van Gundy isn’t going to play 13 guys a night. He might go a player or two beyond his past comfort zone of a nine-man rotation, but the identity of the last player or two might vary from night to night depending on matchups and situations. As for what impact that might have on durability, there’s no reason to believe the way Van Gundy has used his players as Pistons coach has contributed to injuries. The most significant injury last season – by a wide margin – was Reggie Jackson’s knee tendinosis that he’d reported as an issue before training camp opened. Of the guys who played the most minutes last season – Marcus Morris, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Harris, Drummond – none suffered a meaningful injury that could be traced to overuse. Morris sat with a mild bout of tendinitis, but a trainer once told me that virtually every player in the league will deal with some level of tendinitis over the course of a season. Caldwell-Pope missed time with a shoulder injury incurred when he ran into a Zaza Pachulia screen. Harris played all 82 games. Ish Smith missed one game when Van Gundy held him out when he sensed he was pressing and mentally fatigued.
JhoniP (@jpcveinti2): Do you think Little Caesars Arena is a temporary home for the Pistons until the proposed soccer arena is built?
Langlois: If that’s the case, you’ve got yourself a scoop, Jhoni. The Pistons once played in a football stadium, the Pontiac Silverdome, and anyone still around who remembers those days would shudder at the suggestion they play in anything but an arena built for basketball (or hockey, where similar dimensions allow for compatibility). The compounding issue with the proposed soccer stadium is that it’s an outdoor venue. That would really be stretching things, especially in January – though, come to think of it, it would give the Pistons an enormous home-court advantage against those Western Conference wimps. (You’re the exception, Minnesota.) No, I feel pretty comfortable saying the Pistons won’t be filling out any change-of-address forms for a while.
Philip (Negaunee, Mich.): Do you expect Little Caesars Arena to eventually provide the Pistons with a big home-court advantage?
Langlois: Buildings don’t win championships, but they might aid in winning the occasional game or two. I would expect there to be incredible electricity in that building for the season opener, Oct. 18 against Charlotte – and then it will be up to the Pistons to give their fans reason to keep charging it from that point. By all accounts – and by my own first impression with a glimpse inside the arena this week – the seats are about as close to the action as it gets in the modern arena. That surely has to help create a positive environment that can aid the home team – but, again, it’s on the team to give the fans a reason to help push them through the tape first. It’s no coincidence the best home-court advantages belong to the best teams. The Palace gave the Pistons a big home-court advantage in the Bad Boys era and during the six straight trips to the conference finals in the ’00s. It started to resemble that place again during the 2015-16 stretch drive and in the playoffs.
Al (Wolverine Lake, Mich.): What do you make of Boston now that the Celtics have acquired Kyrie Irving? Are the Celtics a legit threat to Cleveland?
Langlois: The answer is … I don’t know? There’s just too much uncertainty for me to stamp the Celtics as a threat to Cleveland or whichever team advances to the NBA Finals out of the West should anything happen in Cleveland – an injury to LeBron James, to name one big one – to open the door for Boston. The Celtics have one starter – one – returning, Al Horford. Gone are Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Kelly Olynyk, Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko from last year’s rotation. I don’t think there’s much question that you’d trade that group of players for Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Morris and Jayson Tatum – the significant additions – but that doesn’t mean you’d trade them and expect instant gratification. Another concern: Look at Boston’s frontcourt depth chart, and in this instance “depth chart” is a classic oxymoron. The Celtics will start Al Horford at center and he’s a rock – if he’s healthy. In the past six seasons, Horford has had two seasons where he played a combined 40 games and last year missed 14. Behind him is Aron Baynes, who was so steady for the Pistons the past two seasons but has never been a guy asked to play 20-plus minutes regularly, and German rookie Daniel Thies, who at 6-foot-9 played 19 minutes a game in the EuroLeague last season and averaged 9.6 points and 4.6 rebounds. At power forward, Marcus Morris will have to log heavy minutes with 21-year-old French rookie Guerschon Yabusele behind him. I think the Celtics have to find a veteran and wouldn’t be surprised to see them go after someone like Spencer Hawes, pedestrian but serviceable and able to play both center and power forward. I’d also expect Brad Stevens to buy minutes at power forward whenever he can with Tatum or Jaylen Brown. As long as Horford, Baynes and Morris stay healthy, they’ll probably be OK – but Boston has been one of the poorer rebounding teams in the league the last few years and it’s tough to see that changing given the makeup of its roster. Again, the team we see today could look much different by the February trade deadline. The Celtics are still loaded with draft assets and – if Danny Ainge senses vulnerability in Cleveland – they could well translate them into immediate help at the deadline.
Adam (St. Petersburg, Fla.): I saw a report over the Labor Day weekend that Cleveland is already shopping Brooklyn’s 2018 draft pick the Cavs got in the Kyrie Irving deal. What would it take for the Pistons to land that pick?
Langlois: I’m skeptical. Not necessarily of the report’s accuracy, but of Cleveland’s intent. I think it makes more sense for the Cavs to hold that pick until the trade deadline, at which time they’ll have a better idea of their position and needs – and of the value of Brooklyn’s pick. If the Nets are bumping along with a bottom-three record and the top of the draft class still has scouts excited about their All-Star potential, the value of the pick at least becomes clearer to Cleveland and to potential trade partners. The Cavs would also have a little better handle on the quality of the player they’d be getting back at that point. As for the Pistons, given that they’re over the cap, they’d have to take back roughly the same amount of salary. As I answered a few weeks back – before the Irving trade with Boston, when questioners wondered what type of package the Pistons could amass to win him in trade – I have to believe Cleveland would covet Avery Bradley. There have been reports over the summer that the Cavs are looking to deal Iman Shumpert. The Pistons would definitely be looking for a premium attached to a Bradley-Shumpert deal, but it’s unlikely Cleveland would throw that pick into the mix.
Ken (Dharamsala, India): Is Eric Moreland the next Ben Wallace, a diamond in the rough?
Langlois: There might never be a next Ben Wallace. Even in an age of a two-round draft, the odds of going from undrafted to four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year are of lottery proportions. That said, I think Moreland’s got the stuff to stick on an NBA roster for several seasons. He knows what his strengths are and sticks to them. He’s athletic, he plays with a high motor and he’s got a few of the things that Wallace provided as a shot blocker and facilitator of offense with his screening and dribble handoffs. He isn’t going to do the things that made Wallace an All-Star at the level he did them, but his expected role is No. 3 center. Could he hold up if injury struck and the Pistons needed Moreland for 15 to 20 minutes a game? That we won’t know until the opportunity arises. But he’s fundamentally sound and has battled his way through the D-League to earn an NBA contract, which speaks to his mindset. He was clearly one of the very best big men in Orlando Summer League, particularly at the defensive end.
Robert (Detroit): The Pistons still need a big-name veteran with leadership and playmaking ability.
Langlois: Know where they can get one without gutting the roster or destroying the salary cap? There’s no superstar tree growing outside The Palace for Stan Van Gundy to shake and hope one of those guys falls out. “A big-name veteran with leadership and playmaking ability” – are there 10 of them in the league? If so, the cost is prohibitive. I’m not sure Kyrie Irving exactly fits your description, but look at the cost to Boston to acquire him from Cleveland. There wasn’t another team in the league capable of beating Boston’s package while leaving a competitive roster in place. Teams that have the player you describe cling to them with both hands, tightly.