Pistons Mailbag - January 22, 2014
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Jim (Tarzana, Calif.): I know Larry Brown and Chauncey Billups worked together, though it was difficult, to make Chauncey into a premier point guard. Can Maurice Cheeks and Brandon Jennings do the same?
Langlois: They’re in the process, Jim. Jennings has said he was never a guy who studied videotape before this season and now he and Cheeks spend many hours every week reviewing games. Cheeks has spoken many times over the past few months about how impressed he is with Jennings’ love of the game and openness to teaching. Jennings is averaging a career-best 8.3 assists a game this season, though he’s also admitted along the way that there are times he feels like he’s overthinking instead of playing instinctively. That’s part of the balancing act and something Billups admits he struggled with for months upon first playing for Brown.
Atiba (Beaver Creek, Ohio): I do not believe any trades are necessary. Three things I think Mo Cheeks could do right now to improve the team: (1) start Jennings, KCP, Singler, Smith and Drummond and bring Monroe and Stuckey off the bench for major minutes; (2) tell Drummond to stop biting on pump fakes; (3) tell Jennings to stop shooting off-balance 3-point shots. The talent and the pieces are there.
Langlois: You raise an interesting, overarching question Atiba: With the number of changes the Pistons made over the off-season – four new starters, three of whom weren’t on the team last year, plus a new coaching staff – and given the fact they have the youngest starting lineup in the league, is it prudent to tack in another direction midway through their first season of growing and learning together? That’s a very tough call if you’re sitting in Joe Dumars’ seat. He was honest last summer when he said the off-season additions were motivated first and foremost by the need to upgrade the talent level. If he’s made any conclusions yet about the fit, he surely isn’t about to tip his hand prior to the trade deadline. If he makes a significant move, it probably says he doesn’t necessarily believe more time will make for a better fit. If he doesn’t, it could mean he believes the opposite – or it could mean there just wasn’t a remedy available via trade. As for your suggestions, something along the lines of the first one – sitting one of the big three to balance their minutes – has been frequently debated here. Drummond knows not to bite on pump fakes, but easier said than done. Same with Jennings and shot selection. It all goes to learning through experience.
Ian (Westland, Mich.): Mo Cheeks needs to give Singler and Stuckey more playing time and give Jonas Jerebko minutes at small forward. Smith should get more minutes at power forward. I don’t think Monroe is a max contract guy. The Pistons should see how those other players do and check offers for a good shooting guard or small forward and a first-round pick.
Langlois: When Stuckey’s been healthy – he’s had stretches where he dealt with knee tendinitis and a painful right shoulder – he’s played 30-plus minutes most nights, starter’s minutes. I don’t see Stuckey’s minutes as an issue. Pretty much the same with Singler. Cheeks trusts him implicitly and plays him for long stretches in each half most nights already. Except for the first six to eight minutes of each half – and lately it’s been more on the shorter side of that spectrum – Smith isn’t playing small forward. The only thing left for Cheeks to try with regard to the rotation at the two power positions is to bring one of Monroe, Smith or Andre Drummond off the bench and start Singler at small forward. That would open whatever minutes Singler sits for another small forward, whether that’s Jerebko of Gigi Datome or more of what Cheeks has done for the past few weeks – put Stuckey or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at small forward when he plays a Will Bynum-Brandon Jennings backcourt. As for Monroe’s contract status, the certainty now is that he’ll hit restricted free agency on July 1. It’s likely his agent, David Falk, has been subtly gauging interest around the league for some time and has an idea what phone calls he’ll field when the clock strikes midnight. Keep in mind the Pistons will have the right to match an offer sheet, should Monroe and a suitor agree to terms. The Pistons aren’t under any salary cap duress, so it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which they would lose Monroe for no return. As for the “max contract” issue, that’s not something the Pistons are forced to confront at this point. It’s certainly possible that Monroe’s agent, David Falk, will be pursuing a max contract offer from some team. If he gets one and Monroe signs an offer sheet, then the Pistons will have a decision to make.
Hakim (Walled Lake, Mich.): There are reports the Washington Wizards are interested in Greg Monroe. Do you think the Pistons would do a trade that sends Monroe and Villanueva to Washington for Beal and Ariza?
Langlois: Fair to say “reports” mean “speculation.” Does it make sense that the Wizards – who figure to have more than $15 million in cap space over the summer, assuming they renounce their rights to pending free agent Marcin Gortat – would have interest in Monroe? Sure, on a few levels. He’d be a pretty nice fit with the versatile Nene up front and his agent, David Falk, is based in Washington and represents another ex-Georgetown player and Wizards building block, rookie Otto Porter. But let’s face it, virtually any team with cap space and a need for a 23-year-old big man with Monroe’s scoring ability and offensive versatility – which is almost everybody – would be interested. What the Wizards have little motivation to do is trade such a vital piece as Beal for someone about to hit free agency, even if they would enter into the trade with a fair degree of confidence over their ability to retain him.
Samuel (Ann Arbor, Mich.): What are your thoughts on swapping Josh Smith for Eric Gordon?
Langlois: Speculation, including some credible reporting, is that the Pelicans are aggressively trying to trade Gordon, who has more than $30 million due him over the next two seasons at a higher annual average salary than Smith, though Smith has an additional year on his contract. That might be a non-starter for the Pelicans, since it’s thought that the size of Gordon’s contract is the primary motivation in looking to deal him. Would the Pistons have interest? Gordon’s injury history is daunting. And while he’s remained relatively healthy this season, he’s a different player than the young dynamo who came into the league. He’s much more a perimeter shooter now than the powerful slasher he once was, no doubt due to the injuries he’s suffered. Any moves the Pelicans make will be based on how they view the fit next to Anthony Davis, similar to how the Pistons will build their roster with Andre Drummond foremost in mind. I have no idea how they might view Smith in regard to fit with Davis, but it would be the biggest factor in their view of your proposal – right after the money, at least.
Ryan (Hudsonville, Mich.): Smith, Monroe and Jennings to Miami for Bosh, Beasley and Chalmers. I know it might be handing Miami a third straight title, but Bosh would play so well with Drummond and the Pistons would have almost $40 million in cap space to shape a more balanced roster.
Langlois: And they’d also hit July 1 without Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, Brandon Jennings or Chris Bosh, who is expected to opt out of his contract. I’m not saying Miami would automatically jump at that trade, simply because it would represent a major gamble that the Heat could figure out how to make a lot of new pieces fit in a short amount of time when they probably have a strong internal belief they are on track already for a third straight NBA title. But if the Heat had some assurances that LeBron James would stay beyond this season, whether he opts out of his contract or not, it would be a tempting package for them. The Pistons, on the other hand, would be shedding three of their four most valuable assets with the likelihood that they would have little or nothing – besides cap space – to show for it in a few months.
Ken (Dharamsala, India): Who decides on rules changes? The current hand checking rules seem too harsh on the defense to me. Joe Dumars could never have defended Michael Jordan under these rules. Do you think they might be changed for the 2014-15 season?
Langlois: The NBA has worked for years to get more freedom of movement in the game – effectively, to tilt the rules in favor of offense over defense, as the NFL and NHL and MLB have done over the years on the belief that fans find higher scoring games more aesthetically pleasing. Scoring is creeping up pretty consistently. There is not a hint of motivation to reverse course on that count, Ken. As for who decides on rules, it’s the competition committee. That used to mean the 30 general managers, but less than two years ago the NBA Board of Governors – essentially, the 30 owners – voted to change the composition of the committee. It now is made up of four GMs, three head coaches, two owners and one member of the Players Association. The Pistons are not represented on the committee at any level.
Jude (Detroit): The Pistons need another offensive threat off the bench besides Rodney Stuckey and Kyle Singler. Why did the Pistons pick up Charlie Villanueva’s contract if he is just going to sit on the bench? To me, he is the next best offensive threat other than Stuckey off the bench. He can post up, shoot threes and create for himself. Why doesn’t he get playing time?
Langlois: He’s had it sporadically, Jude, as has virtually everyone on the roster in meaningful minutes except for rookie Tony Mitchell. (Peyton Siva’s chances have come out of necessity when injuries depleted the backcourt.) Villanueva, Jonas Jerebko, Gigi Datome, Josh Harrellson – everybody’s had a shot. The Pistons have seven rotation staples and Cheeks sometimes plays only eight or perhaps nine in a game. That means at least three or four good players aren’t going to get in the game. Charlie V’s calling card is his shot and if it’s not falling, he’s probably not going to stay in the rotation. He’s shooting under 40 percent overall and under 25 percent from the 3-point line. It’s as simple as that, really. I’m sure he’ll get another look at some point. If he makes shots, he’ll stay in the rotation.