Pistons Mailbag - January 31, 2013
We reserve the right to edit your question for the sake of brevity or clarity.
Editor’s note: You can now submit Pistons Mailbag questions via Twitter. Include the hashtag #pistonsmailbag and, as always, your first name, hometown and state or country. Questions submitted via Twitter will also include the questioner’s Twitter handle.
Ryan (Grand Rapids, Mich.): I love the trade, but will miss Tayshaun Prince. He was a class act for the Pistons since day one. Do you think Joe D will try to make another trade before the deadline? I would love to see Detroit use Bynum, Stuckey or Maxiell to make a run at a shooting guard. How about Wesley Matthews, Marcus Thornton, O.J. Mayo or J.R. Smith?
Langlois: As you might imagine, many, many questions poured into Pistons Mailbag in the last several hours on the Tayshaun Prince-Austin Daye trade that netted Jose Calderon. As I wrote last night, trades are most likely to be made only if they are more or less “present neutral” (bonus for helping on that front, too) and “future friendly.” The Pistons have been building toward having cap space for the 2013 off-season. But there is one big asterisk we should attach to this: If a trade presents itself now that would eat into their projected cap space in July, it would be perfectly acceptable if it’s a move the Pistons would have made with their cap space this summer. In other words, they’re not going to pass on a trade available now that would commit some of their off-season cap space if it involves bringing back a player they see as a long-term fit with the young core of Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Andre Drummond. I don’t know that any of the four you mention are likely to be moved for a variety of reasons. I think Portland really likes Matthews, though it should be noted that the GM who brought him to town is long gone. But money’s not really an issue for the Blazers, so they aren’t looking for cap relief or to reduce or eliminate a tax burden – the likeliest motivation for a team to trade to the Pistons a player they’d like for the long haul. Sacramento might be stuck in the sort of transition-of-ownership limbo that afflicted the Pistons a few years ago, thus affecting Thornton’s availability. Mayo? Tough call. Don’t know what his agent is hearing from Dallas on the future there. Smith? He has a significant role for a Knicks team with title designs. Doesn’t mean he can’t be had, but they’d want something back that they see as enhancing their chances right now.
Derrick (Shelby Twp., Mich.): With the addition of Calderon, what do you think the rotation in the backcourt will be? Think they will move Brandon Knight to shooting guard with Rodney and have Bynum back up Calderon? What about Singler?
Langlois: Good question, Derrick. I surmised some of the possibilities in my postgame blog from the Indiana game last night. Of note, all of the top four guards in the rotation now – Stuckey, Knight, Calderon and Bynum – have played point guard primarily over the course of their careers, though Stuckey has played more shooting guard since Frank and Knight arrived and Knight has played off the ball a fair amount when paired with either Stuckey or Bynum. I think Singler will now spend all of his time at small forward with both Prince and Daye gone, so he’s out of the equation. Anything is possible here. But I think a few things are likely: (1) Stuckey stays at shooting guard; (2) Calderon gets plenty of playing time so the Pistons get to evaluate his impact and decide if he’s someone they’d like to keep here beyond this season. Whether that means Calderon starts or not, we’ll have to see. The Pistons love Knight; they see his intent and his work ethic and believe he will continue to improve and evolve for many more seasons. But they aren’t wedded to the idea that his future has to be running the offense with the ball in his hands, necessarily. Joe D and Lawrence Frank both have said guards are guards. There is room for shared responsibility and, from a coaching staff perspective, their job is to take the talent on their roster and find the best fit among playing units and draw up a playbook that plays to the abilities of those units. Calderon is clearly the best pure playmaker the Pistons now have. And Will Bynum is having a strong season. If Frank stays with a four-guard rotation, then Calderon and Bynum are going to get most of the minutes at point guard, which means Knight will play more off of the ball. But he could scale back to a three-guard rotation and that would mean somebody would get squeezed. One more option: spot minutes at small forward for Rodney Stuckey, who played there with some success under John Kuester. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.
Darrin (Mio, Mich.): Now that the Pistons are overloaded at a couple of positions, who gets traded to make this team a real playoff contender?
Langlois: I don’t really see an overload, Darrin. In fact, this trade puts the roster into better balance. The Pistons had four players best suited to playing small forward: Prince, Daye, Maggette and Singler – five if you want to add Jonas Jerebko to the list, who has said he just wants to play but still sees himself as a more natural small forward, the position he played in Italy. Singler was playing out of position at shooting guard, so this puts him back at his best spot. The Pistons were a little thin in the backcourt before and now they have five guards, including Kim English. So it’s really not a question of who “gets traded” to make this team a more viable contender, it’s a question who “gets added.” I can’t tell who you, but I would guess the ideal is to upgrade on the perimeter with players who bring consistent scoring punch and a dose of athleticism.
Ken (Rochester, Mich.): I believe I’ve read that we could have $33 million in cap space this summer. I propose we spend $14 million on Josh Smith, $7 million on Tyreke Evans, $6 million on Kevin Martin and re-sign Calderon for the remaining $6 million. You could start Calderon, Martin, Evans, Smith and Drummond with Monroe, Knight and Singler off the bench.
Langlois: I don’t know that Smith makes the most sense for the Pistons any more, given what it would take to sign him, with the athletic Drummond as the centerpiece. I think the Pistons are going to be looking for more perimeter scoring and athleticism, as I said in the previous question. The Pistons see both Drummond and Monroe as future All-Stars, so therefore I don’t see them pouring the biggest chunk of their cap space into a center or power forward. A guy like Martin would be a fit at the right price. As I’ve maintained, I still believe the likelier course for the Pistons will be to use the cap space in trade scenarios involving teams looking to move salaries to avoid the more punitive luxury taxes coming next season. But there will be some free agents out there that the Pistons will consider strongly, too, in all likelihood.
Buk (Bangkok, Thailand): If I were Dumars, I’d kick the tires on Paul Pierce. He could add some leadership, teach the kids how to finish games and give them a legit shot at the playoffs. Would Stuckey plus Maggette be enough? Pierce has a buyout next year, so Detroit would save money and Boston gets a decent piece and an expiring contract. Who walks away?
Langlois: If Boston is dangling Pierce, it would be hard to envision the Celtics selling to their fans than an expiring contract and Rodney Stuckey would be their net gain. No knock on Stuckey – he’d help that team. But from a perception standpoint, it’s hard to trade one of the greatest players in Boston’s storied history and not be able to either show fans a bona fide star in return or young assets that management could reasonably say provide a pathway to a bright future. There has to be a lottery pick in there somewhere, I would think. And the Pistons aren’t in a place to offer that given what it would mean to their future.
Ryan (Taichung, Taiwan): What sort of offensive identity does Lawrence Frank eventually want the Pistons to have? And Joe Dumars has mentioned that the Pistons are likelier to use their cap space to facilitate trades than to sign free agents, so who do you see us going after?
Langlois: Frank talks a lot about defense. Everything starts on that end for him. That doesn’t mean he spends no time thinking about the offensive end – he just believes to his core that a team that can defend at a high level will be able to generate a significant amount of its offense from its defense. So in individual evaluation of players and in focus as a team, he’s more defensive oriented. But he does speak often about the importance of getting great ball movement and taking the most efficient shots – dunks, layups, free throws and 3-point shots, in particular, corner 3-pointers where the distance is shorter and accuracy is greater. As for cap space, I don’t know that Joe D has spoken with any specificity about his plans for the summer and the cap space the Pistons figure to have, but using that cap space to facilitate trades as opposed to spending on free agents appears the more likely course, as I’ve written consistently for several months. No idea what players they’re targeting, if indeed they’re targeting anyone in particular. We’re at the stage of the season where teams are feeling each other out for what players are available as the Feb. 21 trade deadline nears. When the deadline passes, those talks will open the door to re-engagement talks in the time between the end of the season and the draft and the onset of free agency. Right now, the Pistons’ front office, I’m sure, is conducting daily due diligence to assess contract status of all NBA players and the salary-cap structures of all teams, gauging on their own – and matching their assessments with what they’re hearing in organization-to-organization conversations – which teams will be likeliest to be looking to pare payroll and, in the process, making attractive players available.
Steven (West Bloomfield, Mich.): For all the cap space and flexibility the team has, I’m having a hard time seeing how this team is going to be better next year. I’m unconvinced that trades and free agency are going to yield significant upgrades over guys like Bynum, Maxiell, Daye, Jerebko, et al. Please don’t mention the incremental improvement of guys currently on the roster. I think we have a pretty good handle on this “young nucleus” and I’m not holding my breath for them blossoming into a championship core.
Langlois: Well, I’m guessing Oklahoma City fans are thrilled their management didn’t adopt that view when the Thunder were 3-29 and looking hopelessly overmatched a few years ago. Extreme example, I know. But if you think Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight don’t have vast room for improvement, then that’s a non-starter as a debate tactic. I disagree with extreme vehemence. I’m not writing off free agency – I do think that if an inviting opportunity to swing a trade using their cap space doesn’t eventuate, that there will be useful players, if not stars, that can be had to plug roster holes and improve the roster through FA signings. And it’s an easier task this time around because the blueprint has been made clear now – build around the talents of the last three lottery picks rather than targeting the best available players and then molding a team to their abilities. Breakthroughs are tough in the NBA because of the inordinate influence of the individual great player and the difficulty in obtaining those rare players, but they happen. Who’d have guessed a few years ago that the Clippers and Thunder would be among the handful of title contenders? Drummond has a chance to be one of those rare players and Monroe, management feels, is a budding All-Star. That’s a pretty good start.
John (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.): Do you think J.J. Redick is a guy the Pistons might look at hard in free agency this off-season if the price was right? Do you think he might fit with this core group as a starting two?
Langlois: Tough to say, John. Much will depend on what conclusions the management team comes to in their postseason assessments about who best complements Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey in the backcourt. The acquisition of Jose Calderon adds another major element to the puzzle. He’s a pending free agent, but I don’t believe his status as an expiring contract was the sole reason the Pistons did this deal. They’ve long admired Calderon and came close to landing him a few years ago on draft day. And with Stuckey due to be an unrestricted free agent after the 2013-14 season, the best fit next to Knight will be a priority. So the Pistons might decide – given the presence of Andre Drummond and his effectiveness as a screen-and-roll dunk target – to put their eggs in the basket of a highly effective pick-and-roll guard depending on their level of (a) interest and (b) confidence in bringing Will Bynum back as he heads into free agency. Calderon factors there, too. It might be that if they decide to bring Calderon back and he’s agreeable that the Pistons decide their other point guard should be bigger and more sound defensively. Many variables here. Redick’s having a career year and is likely due for a pay bump from his current $6.2 million. The Magic might have a tough decision, though, because they’re also on the hook for about $23 million over the next three years to another shooting guard, Arron Afflalo.