Pistons Mailbag - March 21, 2013
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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.
Mike (N. Royalton, Ohio): I am curious to see where we end up draft-wise with this current losing streak. Do you think it’s possible we could draft Nerlens Noel? I say he drops to 3-6. I would say it would be bye-bye to Moose, but if it builds your future faster, wouldn’t it be worth it? Just have to find a taker for Moose in the top four or five, then they could draft Marcus Smart, as well.
Langlois: Pretty sure if Greg Monroe were in this draft and scouts knew they would be getting about 16 points and 10 rebounds a game out of a guy, he’d go No. 1. I don’t know where Noel will go in the draft. There’s no guarantee he comes out, for starters. He might decide his wisest course is to rehab the knee and play a full college season. But should he enter the draft and still be on the board when the Pistons pick, my first instinct is that his skill set – athletic shot-blocker with raw offensive skills – is much too close to Andre Drummond’s to entice the Pistons unless they are flat-out convinced that there would be a steep drop from Noel to any other available player. Monroe and Noel would be the more compatible pair, just as the Pistons believe Monroe and Drummond will prove a complementary match. If there is a consensus of opinion that Noel represents the greatest value at wherever the Pistons select, my hunch is they would entertain trade offers.
Joe (Oakville, Conn.): It’s disappointing how this team is playing lately. It just seems the players are not responding to the coaching staff. With that being said, will coach Frank return next season?
Langlois: I would expect nothing less than the typical off-season evaluation process for everyone on April 18, the day after the regular-season finale at Brooklyn, Joe. That doesn’t mean impressions only begin to be formed that day. To the contrary, they are influenced to some extent every day from the start of training camp throughout the preseason and all 82 regular-season games. There are extreme cases at both ends where decisions are essentially made long before a season ends. Gregg Popovich, we can safely assume, will be back in San Antonio next season if he chooses. The Pistons understood where their roster was when Frank was hired as head coach. They weren’t limiting their possibilities, but neither were they anticipating a steady progression to the postseason, necessarily, in his first two seasons. Is the recent stretch disappointing? For everyone, yes. Are there plausible reasons to help explain it? Sure. The Pistons under Dumars have conducted business with circumspection, so a word of warning: If you read anything between now and season’s end regarding Pistons personnel moves, on the court or off of it, regard it with caution. The conversations that take place between the inner circle of ownership, Joe D and his closest advisers will remain privately held. I don’t think Frank would bristle at the suggestion that his performance will be evaluated. Here’s what he said on Wednesday to a question about evaluating players over the final 13 games: “There are no guarantees. When you win the amount of games we won, I don’t care who you are. No one should feel safe. Me, coach, player. There shouldn’t be a player on our roster with a record like we (have) that says, ‘Oh, I’m here next year.’ We only won X amount of games. I look at it as a coach, how we’re playing, that’s reflective of my performance. As a player, the same thing. You’ve got to earn it every single day in this business.”
Mike (Royal Oak, Mich.): Will Brandon Knight get a chance to be the point guard again?
Langlois: This season? Not likely as long as both Jose Calderon and Will Bynum are healthy. Long term? To be determined. I think the fact that Knight has shown signs of really flourishing off the ball will give Joe D a little more flexibility as he shapes the roster this summer. (Spoiler alert: I’ll have more with Joe D on this topic on Pistons.com in the coming days.) Both Calderon and Bynum are free agents, so it sure wouldn’t be surprising to see Knight counted on to give the Pistons minutes at point guard next season, depending on what other moves are made and what comes out of the draft. Put it this way: The Pistons believe Brandon Knight is a very good young player with plenty of growth potential and the ability to play two positions. That frees them to take the best backcourt talent available to play with him.
Rickey (Detroit): I think we need culture changers back in the locker room. We’ll have a high draft pick coming, but I want to talk about free agency. My wish list, besides keeping Jose Calderon, are a combination of Josh Smith, Mike James, O.J. Mayo and Ben Wallace.
Langlois: Not sure that many in the NBA would regard Josh Smith as a “culture changer,” Rickey. Terrific talent, no doubt, and someone the Pistons would have loved to have added a few years ago, no doubt. But I don’t see the fit any longer with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond already on board. The money it would take to get Smith to Detroit, with a contract extension to Monroe close on its heels, would eventually paint the Pistons into a corner with too great a percentage of their cap space dedicated to the two power positions. Anything’s possible, I suppose, and at some point you’re best advised to buy talent at the right value no matter the position. But if you could make these moves in a vacuum, the Pistons would probably like to add some pure wing scoring talent to the roster. It wouldn’t hurt, either, if they could add a little veteran playoff experience to the mix to help take some of the burden of leadership off of the young core.
Ryan (Grand Rapids, Mich.): Are the Pistons tanking or is the roster that bad? I think Dumars needs to clear as much space as possible and just keep Monroe, Drummond, Knight, Singler and maybe Middleton and English since their contracts are relatively cheap.
Langlois: The Pistons have made their stance on tanking pretty clear, Ryan, and the results down the stretch the past three seasons underscore their beliefs. The folks who study the draft say this is one of those years where there doesn’t seem to be a great benefit to pulling a top-three pick, in any case. As for clearing cap space, that’s been an objective made clear by Dumars since he identified it as the primary motivation for the Ben Gordon-Corey Maggette trade last June. I’m sure he’d be open to clearing more space, but not without regard to the players that would have to be sacrificed to do so. There’s a risk involved in merely clearing cap space, remember. You still have to field a roster. It worked fine for Miami, but Pat Riley knew the odds were stacked in his favor – he had Dwyane Wade in his pocket, who I’m guessing gave him a pretty strong indication that LeBron James and Chris Bosh were open to being pursued, to go with the twin allures of Miami’s climate and no Florida state income tax. It’s a little riskier proposition to do it in the vast majority of NBA locales.
Anthony (Bensenville, Ill.): Let’s say the Pistons continue to slip in the standings and end up with the No. 4 spot in the lottery. If we get lucky, would it be wise to trade that pick to a team with two high first-round picks? I haven’t looked at who has what picks, but there must be a team with two high picks that would want to trade up to a No. 2 or No. 3 spot. We need as many pieces as we can get.
Langlois: Those trades are rare, Anthony, even if a team can acquire a second first-round pick (or a third, as Houston did a year ago). Even when a team is interested in moving up, it’s usually to get a player universally coveted. Take last year’s draft when Anthony Davis was the clear-cut No. 1 prospect at the time. (As we’ve written, it would now be interesting to see if Davis would go ahead of Andre Drummond.) I don’t think an offer of the second and third picks would have been enough to convince New Orleans to flip the No. 1 pick. This year, it’s far different. There is nothing close to a consensus No. 1 pick and many believe that picking in the middle of the lottery is just as likely (and cheaper) to produce a quality starter as picking in the top three. So it’s unlikely a team that pulls a top-three pick would be able to flip it into two top-10 picks. But you never know. It only takes one team that falls hard for one player – of course, that team has to be the team with the wherewithal to get two high picks as bait.
Karl (East Lansing, Mich.): It’s pretty obvious that the Pistons’ defensive stats have gone down since Andre Drummond has been out. Just out of curiosity, what are the chances of signing Ben Wallace to a 10-day contract?
Langlois: I think it’s safe to assume the lines of communication between Joe Dumars and Ben Wallace are wide open, Karl. Wallace is still a fairly frequent visitor to The Palace. They remained on good terms even after Wallace left for Chicago in 2006, evidenced by Wallace’s desire to take a buyout from Phoenix and return to Detroit three years later. The Pistons had a fully committed roster until the late January trade for Jose Calderon freed up one spot. There was no real need to fill it at the time, though, since they had no injury concerns. I don’t know that making a move for the last few handfuls of games is in anyone’s interest, necessarily. As well-conditioned as Big Ben no doubt still is, you don’t just jump into an NBA uniform and start playing. It would take him a while to get up to speed and the season is over in less than a month.
Mark (Clare, Mich.): Thanks for clarifying the trade restrictions involving our first-round pick. As a follow-up, would it still be an option to deal the pick immediately after making the selection – essentially, picking for another team?
Langlois: No restrictions against that, Mark. The restriction is that a team can’t trade future first-round picks in consecutive years. As of now, the 2013 draft is still considered a future pick. But after the pick is made, the Pistons could trade that player’s rights without restriction. Once a rookie is signed, though, he can’t be traded for 30 days.
Namer (Novi, Mich.): Regarding the “amnesty clause,” I never really understood it completely. The concept seems too good to be true. Is there a downside to it? If it effectively is saving salary, then how come Joe D didn’t act on it last season? And would he possibly amnesty a player this coming off-season if given the chance?
Langlois: It’s a handy tool to allow teams a one-time do-over, used mostly to help escape or reduce a hefty luxury tax payment, Namer. But it’s not quite “too good to be true.” The player gets every penny his contract promises him and is then able to play elsewhere, perhaps for an additional sum of money. (That would depend on whether other teams make bids in the waiver process. If a player passes through waivers without a bid, then a secondary waiver process occurs. If no one claims the player, and claiming a player in the secondary waiver process would mean picking up his intact salary, then he becomes an unrestricted free agent. At that point, he would collect 100 percent of his salary remaining from his original contract, plus be free to sign a new deal.) The benefit to the team that invokes the clause is that the salary doesn’t count against the team’s salary cap. The Pistons have only two players on the current roster eligible to be amnestied, Greg Monroe and Charlie Villanueva. Monroe, obviously, would not be considered. With only next season remaining on his contract and no danger of paying luxury taxes – as a team that will be well under the salary cap going into the summer, the Pistons could not possibly get over the tax line, by the mechanism of the CBA, before Villanueva’s contract expires – there isn’t an overwhelmingly compelling argument to be made to use it on Villanueva and, in effect, pay him to play for another team. The only way that changes, of course, is if the Pistons need more cap space as they gauge the possibilities available to them as free agency opens.