The youth movement, the ramifications of a potential Andre Drummond deal and a look at what’s next for the Pistons in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag.
Wyso (@detroit_wyso): Should we expect our vets to get a big chunk of our minutes and playing through them when the game is close? Have we just not fully embraced our youth yet in a rebuild?
Langlois: Yes and yes? These things aren’t at odds with each other. The Pistons will find plenty of opportunities for their young players to soak up experience over the season’s second half. We’re talking about Sekou Doumbouya, Bruce Brown, Svi Mykhailiuk and Christian Wood on one tier and Jordan Bone and Louis King on another. Bone and King are on two-way contracts, which limits them to 45 days with the parent team during the G League season calendar, so that in itself caps how much the Pistons can use them. Khyri Thomas will join the mix once he’s fully cleared coming off of his broken foot. Luke Kennard, once he returns from tendinitis in both knees that’s caused him to miss the past 11 games and likely will cost him at least that many more, will return to his role. He’s still a young player, obviously, but has graduated to become one of the best and most important players on the roster. When he gets back, he’s going to be on the floor to close games. But in almost every instance, you can expect Derrick Rose and Andre Drummond to be on the floor with the game on the line, too. The Pistons, as Dwane Casey indicated earlier this week, have acknowledged the reality of their season and are committed to accelerating the development of their young players. But that doesn’t mean at the exclusion of all other objectives. Winning games is also a useful learning tool for young players. Rose and Drummond aren’t going to play 48 minutes. They’re also not going to take secondary roles for 41 more games.
Snooty (@d0wn_sn00ty123): Is there any chance the Pistons keep Andre Drummond? Will they be stubborn and keep him if they don’t get the offer they want? Feel like anything for him at this point is a win with the risk of him leaving in the summer and getting nothing.
Langlois: Any chance they keep him? Sure. Even if you take reports of a handful of teams having engaged the Pistons regarding Drummond at face value, we have zero idea if anything remotely tempting has been offered. So it’s not a matter of being stubborn. It’s a matter of being prudent. The idea that “any trade is a good trade” is foolish. It well could be the case that if Feb. 6 comes and goes and Andre Drummond is still wearing a Pistons uniform then perhaps nobody made a remotely serious offer. There’s a fine line to walk here. Teams interested in trading for Drummond obviously would value what he has to offer, but how much is it worth to them to get only a guaranteed 20-something games out of him? That’s the reality. Trade for him and you’d better have a firm inkling that Drummond will either (a) not exercise his player option to terminate the contract this summer or (b) be open to an extension of his contract – at least if you’re putting anything of value on the table. When you say you feel like “anything” would be a win, what does that mean? Would you do it merely for expiring contracts with the understanding that it would give the Pistons $30 million-plus in cap space this summer, whereas not trading him and having Drummond not exercise his option would essentially leave the Pistons with the mid-level exception as their primary off-season asset? Would you do it for a player making a similarly hefty sum but with more than one year left on his deal if he is, like Drummond, a fringe All-Star candidate?
Noah VanKampen (@nvk3361): Do you think the Pistons could trade Andre Drummond for an asset/draft pick and then sign him as a free agent next summer?
Langlois: If by “could” you mean is it something the collective bargaining agreement allows, yes. But that seems like the most remote of possibilities in the real world. If they trade him, they’re looking for an alternate model. If he’s traded, it’s unlikely he’d choose the team that dealt him if he has other serious suitors.
Bryan Tinsley (@Bryan_10s): What’s more likely? Andre being traded for expiring contracts this year or him opting in next year at $28 million because he can’t get more in free agency?
Langlois: His number is closer to $29 million at $28.75 million and change. I’ve gone on the assumption that he’d opt out for a long while based on the history of healthy, durable and productive 27-year-olds hitting free agency. There should be no question about the term of Andre Drummond’s next contract because of concerns about age-related decline. So players in that position almost always bet on themselves and walk away from the single year of guaranteed money on the expectation that there will be multiple years of guaranteed money coming. There is just enough uncertainty with Drummond, though, based on the devaluation of the center position in recent years. It would make sense for Drummond to walk away from $29 million even if his next contract doesn’t contain an average annual value of $29 million. You’d walk away from that, in almost every instance, for an offer of four years and $100 million. A few years ago, it would have seemed inconceivable that a player of Drummond’s stature and durability wouldn’t command an AAV of $25 million. Remember, four years ago centers like Timofey Mozgov, Ian Mahimni and Bismack Biyombo were getting $16 million and $18 million AAVs with far less on their resumes than Drummond. But the change has been swift and radical ever since. Centers that don’t offer perimeter shooting automatically have a smaller pool of teams that will pursue them. Drummond remains not only an elite rebounder but the pre-eminent rebounder of his generation. He’s an effective pick-and-roll defender who is often an above-average rim protector. He’ll generate five to seven extra possessions a game simply via his offensive rebounding and steals prowess. Those remain desirable characteristics even in an analytics-driven age. And, in any consideration for what a player in Drummond’s situation might do, it’s best to keep in mind that a player’s free-agent value isn’t judged by market consensus but by what the top bidder is willing to offer. Drummond pays an agent to know those things – or at least to judge them through a filter of expertise. You can presume he’ll make his decision based to a large degree on what his agent has gleaned will be available to him should he decide to opt out of the final season of his Pistons contract. The Pistons will invest a similar amount of energy in determining that outcome, as well, but their decision can’t wait until the end of June, as Drummond has the luxury of doing, but by the Feb. 6 trade deadline. And, of course, the Pistons’ decision can’t be made in a vacuum; they require a trade partner who has their own factors to weigh. Drummond’s decision will be made independently. So as to the premise of your question, all I’ve got for you is a big “who knows?”
Scott Brodie (@brodiegames): Turnovers have been an issue all season for the team. Anything non-obvious the Pistons can do to fix that for the second-half run?
Langlois: It was a bigger issue earlier in the season, gradually improving over time. The Pistons currently rank 25th with 15.7 turnovers per game. Over the last 15 games, they’ve cut it to 15.2. At the end of November, they ranked 28th at 16.7. It’s ticking down. I suspect there are a number of factors at play. I’ll cite a few: They’ve played two games all season with their No. 1 point guard, Reggie Jackson; the offense went through Blake Griffin on nearly every possession when he played last season and he’s either been out or facing far fewer double teams than he did a year ago, cutting down on his passing options; because of the Jackson and Griffin injuries, Bruce Brown has found himself playing point guard without much in the way of experience. It was inevitable they’d have more turnover issues given their circumstances.
Lukaku (@LukaKneevi4): How is Khyri Thomas’ recovery going? Will he get the chance at shooting guard when healthy? I’m intrigued by his skill set.
Langlois: He’s been out of the walking boot for about a month and he’s worked his way into some practice drills, but as of Tuesday Dwane Casey said, “I don’t think he’s close. It’s not imminent, him coming back, but he is progressing.” We could see Reggie Jackson sooner, though. Casey said, “Reggie should be – at any moment now – he should be back. He’s moving like he’s 100 percent right now. He should be ready to roll here at any time.”
John R (@RJrenders): No coach can help a team decimated by injury win. Dwane Casey is beginning to work the youth in. I like it – since this season is a bust, anyway.
Langlois: It’s a bust if you were banking on a playoff berth. That seems a tough ask now with the Pistons at 14-27 and no reasonable expectation that Blake Griffin will be back at full strength to spark a turnaround and Luke Kennard out, as Dwane Casey indicated recently, until sometime around the All-Star break, which is still 16 games off with only 41 to play. But I can assure you that Casey and Ed Stefanski on the front-office side would bristle at the notion that there aren’t things to be gained from the second half of the season with regard to player development and reaffirming an organizational commitment to culture and attitude.
hooperFan (@hooperFan1): Why has Reggie Jackson’s status been so mysterious?
Langlois: It’s not all that mysterious. See above. The Pistons have given periodic updates that have made clear Jackson was making progress in his recovery from the stress reaction in his lower back. Teams are leery of giving daily or weekly updates because the nature of injury recovery isn’t precisely predictable. Progress doesn’t always go in a straight line. But Casey’s characterization of Jackson’s return as “any moment now” is a pretty good indication that it’s imminent barring unforeseen setbacks.
Jerry (Totowa, N.J.): Which D League player or players should have the opportunity to be on the Pistons NBA roster?
Langlois: The two players on two-way deals, Jordan Bone and Louis King, surely will use up their 45-day allotment to be with the NBA parent team before the season ends. They’ll be restricted free agents at season’s end, which puts the Pistons in the driver’s seat to retain them. Both seem likely candidates to be under strong consideration for spots on the 15-man roster next season, but that decision probably will be pushed off until after the bigger pieces of the roster puzzle are put together in the days following the June 30 advent of free agency. Keep in mind that the Pistons have no contractual control over any other player currently with the Grand Rapids Drive. In the event that an NBA team wanted to sign one of them, the Pistons would be unable to stand in the way – just as the Pistons, if they had a roster opening, could sign a G League player not under NBA contract (standard or two-way) to their roster from teams other than the Drive. But one player to watch with the Drive is Donta Hall. He played for the Pistons Summer League entry and then signed an Exhibit 10 deal with the Pistons with an invitation to training camp last fall. If the Pistons were to add Bone or King (or both) to the roster on a standard contract this summer, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Hall under consideration for a two-way deal – or, perhaps, even a standard contract depending on how he performs this summer and what else the Pistons do with their roster.
Dan (Pinellas Park, Fla.): With Sekou Doumbouya, Jordan Bone and Louis King likely to play extended minutes in the G League this year, how would you compare the level of competition in that league compared to the NCAA and major international leagues?
Langlois: There’s no doubt the talent and depth of rosters is better than in college basketball. You won’t find a G League team with two or three lottery-level talents, as you might at a Kentucky or Duke in any given year, but from 1 through 12 – and factoring in the experience and physical maturity of G League players – those teams make for a better level of play than you’ll find anywhere in college basketball. I don’t imagine the G League quite stacks up with the best of the best of international play – Spain for an individual domestic league, the EuroLeague for the best of Europe’s top domestic leagues – but it’s probably better than the majority of the dozens of domestic leagues worldwide.