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PistonPowered Mailbag: Joe Dumars’ tenure in the context of the Undertaker’s streak … for real

Submit questions for the weekly weekly in theory PistonPowered Mailbag to  patrickhayes13(at)gmail(dot)com or on Twitter @patrick_hayes.

In what has been considered an inevitability much of the season, Joe Dumars is likely to step down as Pistons president of basketball operations in the near future. I’ve already had a handful of questions come in this morning for the mailbag related to Dumars, so I won’t spend too much time analyzing his tenure in this part of the mailbag. I do feel like these are the important highlights to stress:

* Time heals. Dumars has to own some of the colossally bad decisions he’s made just like he gets to own the amazing moments he orchestrated for this franchise. In the end, one of those collections endures and one doesn’t.

* Make no mistake, he has to own the failures. They haven’t all been his doing, but by far the most crippling moves made by this organization over the last five years are, in order: 1. Ben Gordon signing in conjunction with Rip Hamilton extension 2. Josh Smith signing 3. Charlie Villanueva signing 4. Brandon Jennings sign/trade. Add in the tie for fifth of giving away good, cheap, young and useful players Amir Johnson and Arron Afflalo and, well, there you have your recipe for two awful rebuild attempts, even if the silver lining is finding elite talent late in the lottery in Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.

* Dumars has overseen as many losing seasons as winning ones. As the elaborate defenses of his tenure (or, perhaps more aptly put, revising) come out over the next few days (and make no mistake, they will), it is important to remember this fact. Dumars has been given an extraordinarily long time to do this job, way more time than the vast majority of his peers get, particularly considering the lack of success over the last five years. As Dan wrote, he deserved longer than most because he does have a championship track record. But any suggestion that Dumars was deserving of a longer tenure than he received isn’t credible. The length of time he kept his job is exceedingly rare in modern professional sports and was more than a generous amount of time to turn around the franchise’s tailspin.

* Dumars leaving does not mean Detroit’s problems are solved. Tom Gores is still a question mark who hasn’t exactly wowed fans (other than with his dancing moves) since purchasing the team. Every time he’s been interviewed, he gives vague non-answers about his love for winning. He became so enamored with that enchantress Lawrence Frank that he HAD to hire him over any other coach on the market (not that Mike Woodson, Dumars’ choice, was all that much better based on his results in New York). He ultimately okayed the Smith/Jennings signings, he okayed sending Ben Gordon and a first round pick to Charlotte rather than  just amnestying him and he made the decision to bring Dumars back as a lame duck with no contract beyond this season and a “win or else” edict that never, ever, ever works in sports. It was time for Dumars and the team to part ways, but let’s not pretend that Gores is exactly confidence-inspiring.

Anyway, those basically sum up my thoughts. On to your questions:

Am I the only one irked by the “Detroit Basketball” promos? The ones where they mash highlights of the team that went to six straight conference finals from 2003-2008 to the current collection of talent pushing 30 wins every year. By constantly, making that association, no matter how faint it is, aren’t we tarnishing the conference finals streak? It reminds me of the Undertaker from the past five Wrestlemanias (WM 26-30), and how his performances have been dismal but they are propped up by the previous 16 straight victories. Speaking of which, what’s a more impressive streak – 21 straight victories at Wrestlemania or 6 straight conference finals appearances? — pt

To answer your first question, yes, I do find it offensive that the current version of the team is in any way compared to the confident, overachieving Going to Work era Pistons. I just imagine Pistons practices as Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace standing around with their arms crossed, shaking their heads the entire time. I don’t want those two to ever have to talk to or associate with, like 65 percent of this roster.

As for the second part of your question … I’m still not recovered from what I witnessed Brock Lesnar do to the Undertaker at Wrestlemania 30 on Sunday. Streak is dead. You got me again, Vince McMahon. You always do.

You’re correct … the six straight conference finals appearances are an incredible feat, something that will be hard to replicate (although the Heat are likely to get to their fourth straight this season, and should continue that as long as LeBron stays in Miami). There are two caveats to throw in here. The East, as it is now, was incredibly weak, so a talented, veteran team like the Pistons could put together an ECF run more easily than a West team could. For example, San Antonio and Dallas both have had sustained runs of excellence similar to the Pistons, but both franchises have won titles and also had early exits during those runs. The Pistons at their peak were never in danger of losing a first round series and only a couple of times played competitive teams in the second round. The road for West teams to copy that feat is just way harder. And secondly, the impressiveness of the six ECF appearances for the Pistons gets tarnished a bit because there is an expectation that that team should’ve made the Finals at least one or two other times and should’ve won another title. There were at least two years (2005 and 2006) that good arguments could be made that they were the best team in the league, but neither resulted in titles.

Anyway, the main difference between the ECF streak and THE STREAK is the fact that literally no one expected Undertaker to lose Sunday whereas everyone expected the Pistons to get crushed by Cleveland in 2008 in the first round. The Pistons couldn’t elicit responses like this when their streak ended.

(A couple of fun hypotheticals from Brady Fredericksen) Would you take Darko and the one title or Wade/Bosh/Melo and a coin flip for two titles or none? and Dumars dealt Chauncey in 2008-09 and he finally fell apart in 2010-11. Say the Pistons held on to the core until 2011 — how good would they have been in those three seasons? – Brady Fredericksen

Love these questions. The first one is easy for me — Darko and his frosted tips are easily one of my most hated memories of my basketball fandom life (although I really did get into the fanfiction bizarro world Darko as a superstar character that I created in my book, which you can still totally buy — it’s ranked number 3.8 million on Amazon’s best seller list!). But I would still likely take Darko plus a title over Wade/’Melo and no guarantee of a title. That’s probably why I’ll never be a GM … taking Wade, ‘Melo or Bosh (or, who are we kidding, Kirk Hinrich or Chris Kaman or virtually any other person in that draft) would’ve obviously changed the construction of the Pistons, but it’s hard to not picture them still being unbelievably good. Even if the fit wasn’t seamless, those players would’ve been tremendous assets who would’ve probably fetched more than Rodney Stuckey’s limitless potential in return if they became unhappy in Detroit or made it clear they were leaving. Still though … that title was too important to some of my formative years in my 20s for me to give it up. Oh, and incidentally, Brady also picked the title but the cold, calculating Feldman totally took Dwyane Wade and is going to try and win six straight championships with him. You already knew that would be Feldman’s choice though. He probably has a graph coming to prove why he’s right.

I’ve already written about the second question. I think if Dumars would’ve held onto his core, particularly not making the Billups trade, we wouldn’t be discussing his legacy today because his job with the Pistons would be secure. He was almost onto what the Spurs have successfully done (though obviously on a smaller scale … the Pistons didn’t have a Duncan/Parker/Ginobili). But the short version of what that post I wrote a year or so ago says is you keep Billups as your transitional star (he was still playing at an All-Star level then), you don’t extend Hamilton, you let Hamilton, Wallace and McDyess expire and splurge on a better free agent (like David Lee, who the Knicks probably weren’t going to match) rather than Gordon/Villanueva and you rely heavily on young, solid players like Stuckey, Afflalo and Amir Johnson to grow into bigger roles. Then, heading into the 2009 draft, it’s likely the Pistons would’ve been picking in the mid 20s where they could’ve nabbed someone like Taj Gibson. They had three second round picks, so you give them Jerebko with the Raptors pick they owned and then with two picks later in the second they choose between useful players like Marcus Thornton, Chase Budinger, Patrick Beverly, Patty Mills, Danny Green and Jodie Meeks (seriously that was a really good second round in 2009).

I think the 2008 team could’ve made another playoff run with Billups/Hamilton/Prince/Wallace — Orlando made the Finals that season and the Pistons had Orlando’s number in those days. After letting some of their veterans walk in the offseason, their main roster becomes something like Billups, Prince, Lee, Afflalo, Stuckey, Johnson, Jerebko, Gibson, Thornton and Mills. Is that a contending team? Certainly not. But it’s a possible playoff team and, more importantly, it has veterans who are attractive assets in Billups, Prince and Lee and it has an abundance of promising, cheap young players. The team would be talented enough to compete for lower tier playoff spots and flexible enough to continue adding pieces through free agency or trades. That’s obviously a far better outlook than locking up Gordon, Hamilton and Villanueva.

I’ve got a general NBA question for you that applies to the Pistons this season. Pretty much every fan knows what’s at stake when their team is in a situation like the Pistons and have chance to lose their draft pick if they don’t tank well enough. But are the players aware of this? I ask because I hear about players not understanding the salary cap, a team’s financial future when they’re in free agency, etc. Don’t want to be insulting to the players, but just curious if they’re even aware of their team’s situation in cases like this. – Jacob

For the most part, I think players understand the basic constraints their team is operating under. There are probably very few cap experts on rosters in the league, but there are certainly guys all over the league like Billups, Shane Battier, Chris Paul, LeBron James, Tyson Chandler, etc. (Seriously, the list of smart, savvy NBA players is a really long one and includes many of the league’s superstars … despite the awfulness of the Pistons, this is a great time to be a NBA fan. The league is full of incredibly talented players who also conduct themselves well and seem like genuinely interesting people off the court.), who have some understanding of the financial/business side of running a team.

As for the Pistons, I think the fact that they could lose a draft pick has been covered enough that the players know about it. They might not pay much attention to the specific protections or what would or would not cause them to lose it, but I would guess everyone has some understanding of it. I don’t think it enters their minds much or is a discussion point though. I think they’re pretty singularly focused on playing and on their own schedules, as they should be. It’s a lot harder to be oblivious to these types of things than it was in the past. The volume of coverage the league gets, the fact that all players are pretty much using some form of social media and the 24/7 nature of news mean it’s always in the backdrop. In the past, I think players could more easily tune out media or news they considered distractions.

What do you think are the best places to follow for Pistons news? — Jason

I’m probably not the best person to answer this one anymore — as most have noticed, my day-to-day writing about Pistons news has dwindled to almost non-existent over the last year. I’m perfectly content writing sporadic mailbags and doing potential draft pick profiles. That’s about the extent of my expertise anymore. I’ll give you a few who I still follow pretty regularly though. Locally, Vince Ellis is the only beat writer I check out regularly. I just tend to think he’s the most connected and best among that group. Along with Vince, I obviously read what Feldman, Brady, Tim and J.M. (seriously … J.M.’s game previews are Best in the World) regularly and I’m a daily Detroit Bad Boys reader as well. Other than that, I think you can get every single thing you need when it comes to NBA coverage from Grantland. If you’re not reading Zach Lowe, Jonathan Abrams and Kirk Goldsberry religiously, you’re doing it wrong.

I’ll let commenters handle other recommendations — who are the best writers/outlets for both Pistons and NBA coverage? Help this guy out.

Is it totally ridiculous to try to swing a trade for Dennis Schroeder? — Toruk Matko

I have no idea … is he available? I’ll assume he is. His attributes, as far as I can tell, are that he’s young (20), very athletic and he’s a point guard. He hasn’t played a ton in Atlanta this season, and when he has, his numbers haven’t been impressive — he’s a bit turnover prone and he’s hitting 25 percent from three. He is, however, averaging 17 points, 7 assists and 4 rebounds per game in the D-League, so he has obvious potential. I don’t think the Pistons should be opposed to looking to upgrade talent at any position. I would be surprised if Atlanta is ready to give up on Schroeder yet — they’ve never seemed all that in love with Jeff Teague, so maybe they are grooming Schroeder to hopefully push him for a job down the road. The Pistons haven’t found a solution at point guard yet (apologies, Mr. Jennings), so sure, why not, see what it would take to get Schroeder? As long as the price isn’t Drummond or Monroe, I’d be fine with anything else. Do you think the Hawks would like Josh Smith back?

If you’re Tom Gores, how do you fix this team?

-Who are some GM candidates you’d be interested in?
-Who are some front-office assistants you’d be interested in? Asst. GM, Head Scout, Analytics, etc.
-Who are some HC candidates you’d be interested in?
-Who are some coaching staff assistants you’d be interested in?  I guess that depends on who the HC is, but a great big man coach for ‘Dre is an absolute must!

-Who do you like in the ’14 draft, assuming we have the #7/8 pick (or in the ’15 draft, assuming we don’t).
-What are some potential trades you’d be interested in?
-Who are some free agents you’d be interested in?
-Any long-term future plan you have?

Large philosophical question, but I’d love to hear any thoughts you have! — Eric

Whoa, we’ll close this with a detailed one. I’ll try to keep responses brief and go bullet by bullet:

- I honestly don’t have a dream candidate. I think the best hires these days are guys who come from some of the league’s best front offices. So I hope Gores looks at anyone currently working for San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Miami, Indiana, Dallas, Portland, etc., who might be ready for a promotion. As long as any candidate’s first words in the interview are, “Here’s my plan to dump Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings,” I’m intrigued by that candidate.

- I don’t have anywhere near the level of league insider-nous necessary to know this. I do know that the Pistons have a well-respected analytics guy in their front office now in Ken Catanella. I hope he gets a chance to prove his worth or maybe even get promoted. Just because someone has worked in a supporting role in an organization that hasn’t performed well doesn’t mean that person is part of the problem. Maybe Catanella is the best candidate to fix this. Maybe not. But Gores should be willing to look both internally and externally for the best possible front office team.

- In no particular order, Lionel Hollins, George Karl, Nate McMillan, the Van Gundy brothers (probably with a slight preference for Stan because I’d LOVE to see him clown inane questions from media up close like he used to in Orlando). I think Hollins might not be a perfect fit if a front office crew that is heavy on analytics is assembled considering the … uh … not so smooth way that transition went between Hollins and the new regime that came into Memphis. But here’s why Hollins is my frontrunner — he led a Memphis roster that had two bigs who need touches and little shooting to the Western Conference Finals and he undeniably helped mold that team into arguably the league’s toughest (the GRINDHOUSE is my favorite NBA arena). The Pistons could desperately use a coach who is both innovative in the system he runs and no-nonsense enough to shake the team out of the passive way they’ve played for about half a decade now.

- No preference on assistants, other than whoever comes on board I hope gives strong, strong consideration to retaining Rasheed Wallace in his player development role. In general, I’d prefer assistants who are great at relating to players and at least one each who is a savant when it comes to drawing up or breaking down offensive or defensive sets.

- I currently hate the options (namely, Aaron Gordon) currently pegged in that range for the Pistons. I’d hope that something weird happens (like Marcus Smart falls a few spots) or the Pistons trade their pick to Phoenix or Chicago for two picks later in the first round and end up with some combo like Nik Stauskas and Adreian Payne. I think it’s also possible that wings like Stauskas and Gary Harris rise into lottery range and the Pistons could snag one or the other. Both of those guys are really underrated in mock drafts at the moment. So is Payne — any man who can do this at 6-foot-11 and also hit 42 percent of his threes is clearly a lottery pick.

- Trades, I’d be interested in the following: anything that makes Josh Smith not on the roster; anything that makes Brandon Jennings not on the roster; a Greg Monroe trade that brings back a top eight pick in this year’s draft (unlikely) or a really good, young wing player (and if any of you say “Harrison Barnes” in the comments, I swear … the Hounds of Justice will come after you). Basically, the only player I wouldn’t be open to trading is Drummond. Anything that makes the Pistons either better or gives them more roster flexibility will ultimately be a positive.

- Free agents? I’ve heard this LeBron James guy might be worth pursuing. But in the likely event that that’s out of the question, I wouldn’t be opposed to a large offer to Lance Stephenson, who is an unrestricted free agent — he gives them the young, brutish, defensive-minded and improving wing they need. As far as filling out the roster, the Pistons could use a veteran wing who can defend (like Shawn Marion), a veteran big who can defend (a small offer to someone like Emeka Okafor, coming off an injury, might be an OK low-risk move to find a backup) and finding more shooting (plenty of shooters who should be relatively cheap on the market including Alan Anderson, Matt Bonner, Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, Anthony Morrow, etc.). The Pistons have to enter the offseason with getting better defensively and adding more shooting as the priority in free agency, the draft and on the trade market.

PistonPowered Mailbag: Phil Jackson, Tom Izzo and in-depth analysis of Pistons dance teams

Submit questions for the weekly PistonPowered Mailbag to  patrickhayes13(at)gmail(dot)com or on Twitter @patrick_hayes.

The last five years of putting time into following and writing about the Pistons have been pretty hard to justify from a return on investment standpoint, but this season has been particularly challenging. The Pistons, as we know, actually came into the season with expectations. Their collection of athletes made them an intriguing team league-wide for the first time in ages (so sad for the out-of-towners who picked the Pistons as one of their League Pass teams). And, with playoffs or bust a goal, the team was gifted with an Eastern Conference playoff race that only had like five teams actively trying to make the playoffs. With the team failing to live up to even those modest expectations (and getting tossed into rumors about hiring one of the worst executives in sports history to right the ship on top of the failed on-court product), I think questioning why you bother watching the team, attending games, commenting online or otherwise spending time on the Pistons is a completely appropriate response.

Maybe it’s just this awful winter making me a little more fat and sassy than normal, but being associated with following a team like this has had me at breaking points during the season. It’s easy to get irritated with the obnoxious, loud, dumb fans who take sports far too seriously while combining that passion with almost no knowledge — the stereotypical talk radio calling mouth-breathers, a small, select handful of brain moron PistonPowered commenters, the people who try to organize movements to get coaches fired, the people who think buying a ticket gives them the right to yell any awful insult they can think of at players and coaches. No one wants to be associated with those types of weirdos. In fact, I think it’s preferable for normal people to deny liking sports altogether rather than try to engage in a sports conversation with the type of person who would paint his shirtless body in team colors to attend a game, for example.

But having to convince yourself of your own sanity while surrounded by louts who are way too into sports has long been a common issue associated with fandom. I’ve long built up coping mechanisms to tune that out. Lately, it’s attempting to interact as a “smart” fan (please quit calling yourself “fanalysts” … reminds me of this guy) that has me down on following sports too.

The annual Sloan Sports Analytics Conference/Van Gundy Brothers Open Mic Night was last week (seriously … the Van Gundy Bros. would be my Nos. 1-100 reasons for ever wanting to attend Sloan). For those who aren’t familiar, it’s an annual conference attended by any number of team and league executives, national media, bloggers and many others aspiring to careers in sports administration or media. It’s full of smart people and there is always a lot of great coverage and ideas that result from the conference. But there are also moments like this:

Gladwell: driving a car is equally as hard as cardiac surgery We just view it differently #SSAC14

I look forward to Gladwell picking New York City’s most talented taxi driver to perform his next heart procedure. That will make a great longform piece in the New Yorker that I can’t wait to read.

This is the problem with advanced stats and why pushback still exists — for all of the incredible information that new statistical work gives us to make us more informed fans and change conventional thinking, its proponents’ penchant for know-it-all-ism and the eagerness of some to proclaim their expertise on literally anything as a result of statistical work is a major turn-off.

It’s valuable that many people covering the NBA are versed in the economics of the game, understand the complexities of the salary cap and can use that information in analysis of the team. The problem, however is that I don’t really care if players are overpaid or not. As fans, rooting for your team to be competitive means rooting for them to spend money wisely. I get that. But I also don’t care that Josh Smith, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva got paid big money. In fact, I’m pretty happy for them. Who am I to say whether or not they deserve it? This is America, right? I’ve done jobs in my life that I’ve probably been overpaid for (including writing for PistonPowered … what is this, like my third post this year?). Good for me and good for them for finding someone who believed they were worth it. Obsessing over what teams are spending on players ruins my enjoyment of the game, so I’m just flat out going to quit doing it. I hope everyone finds their own personal Joe Dumars to hand them generous contracts.

I fully admit to not being smart enough or not investing the time to understand some of the more complex statistical methods out there related to basketball, but I do understand the value of having access to that information and appreciate the writers who are willing to study it, wade through and condense it into plain English. I do hope the Pistons assemble a front office when Joe Dumars is mercifully let go that values statistical analysis (or at least values a version of statistical analysis that doesn’t tell you, “Hey, Brandon Jennings is totally the answer at point guard!”). I think there are writers, including Monsieur Feldman at this site (or at least at this site before linking you to Pro Basketball Talk) and the crew at Detroit Bad Boys, doing really interesting, easily digestible statistical work that makes sense, is informative and adds value to what your eyes show you is happening on the court (we can all see Josh Smith is a bad decision-maker, but it’s nice that we’ve had countless illustrations this season of how historically bad a decision-maker he’s been). That deeper context is important to anyone who truly wants to understand a full picture of what’s going on on the court.

But I also loved watching Allen Iverson trying to crossover fools on a 1-on-4 break. I don’t need to feel guilty about watching Iverson or any of the many talented but flawed non-darlings of statistical analysis. I won’t claim that as a positive or efficient style or even good basketball if you don’t tell me I can’t enjoy it. I think we’re at the point in statistical analysis where all but only a few dinosaurs accept its importance to the game. But the hostility towards stats is still occasionally present just because of the nature of basketball — the game is beautiful to people for different reasons. Yeah, I like efficient offense, tough defense and teams that play intelligently and win. But I also like guys who lack self-awareness, have great style, who may not always make the smartest play but are fun to watch because of their athleticism, their unrelenting fearlessness to attack anyone at anytime, their burning desire to get triple doubles at all costs, their weird personalities or any other number of quirks that other people may find irritating. To each their own.

Rant over. Hopefully I’ll be less cranky if the Pistons manage to get bad enough to not lose their first round pick. Onto some questions (also, keep them coming … it’s going to be a long offseason, so send me any random thought/question/insult you have to help make the rest of this season a little more interesting).

With Sacramento reportedly ready to buy out the contract of Jimmer Fredette, is there any reason that the Pistons shouldn’t/wouldn’t put a waiver claim on him?  The guy is shooting 49.3% from 3-point range this year (47.5% overall), a mystical, magical land that the Pistons can’t buy, lease, or rent a bucket from this year (31.2% as a team).  I know that he isn’t starter material, but the guy could earn minutes on what has turned into one of the worst benches in the league, right?…..right? — Alex

I intended to get this mailbag done last week (see above about me being overpaid), so apologies to Alex for not getting to this before Fredette signed with the Bulls. Let me give an answer anyway though — if the Pistons were actively trying to make the playoffs and in a better position to do so (i.e. not just beating the Knicks in the battle for most uninterested team in the league), I would’ve loved them bringing in Fredette for the rest of the season. His shooting would’ve been a definite plus and I think he could’ve helped them as a reserve. But now that the Pistons are falling further behind the playoff race? I wouldn’t be in favor of them doing anything that improves the team, even minimally. An extra win or two could mean the difference between keeping their pick and losing it. Don’t sign anyone that helps. In fact, if you want to shut down Monroe and Drummond the rest of the season and play Tony Mitchell and Peyton Siva 40 minutes per game, I’m all in on that strategy.

Sure looks like Joe is no longer trusted to make any major decision anymore… Any insight on who might be available this off season to take his place? — Mark

Well, I think Phil Jackson subtly tossed his name out there. Jackson hinted that he’d be interested in a front office job, and discussed some opportunities. His comments about the Pistons made it seem like they’re down on his list — like he’d prefer something more glamorous, but would possibly be open to the Pistons because of his relationship with Gores. Jackson in Detroit would be … weird. Ken Berger of CBS Sports has a list of several names, including Jeff Bower and Chris Wallace, who could be in play for any GM openings that come up in the offseason. As far as non-established names, there are plenty of good teams who could have front office staff members ready to make the leap to top GM job somewhere else — I’d be interested in the Pistons looking at potential candidates from places like Oklahoma City, Houston, San Antonio, Portland, Indiana or Chicago if they decide to go with an unknown. And speaking of Jackson …

Never liked him (Jackson) and never will. How can you hire a man who helped destroy the organization with MJ? He’s never had anything good to say about the organization. — Andre

Hey, he was the coach of the team’s greatest rival, what do you expect him to say about a team that routinely tried to kill his team (and occasionally nearly succeeded) and vice versa? Also, if Jackson “helped destroy the organization,” what would you call what Joe Dumars has done to it over the last five years?

Honestly, I’d be much more interested in Jackson as GM if he were willing to coach too. I know his track record as a coach. He has no track record as an exec. I think he’s been successful enough that he deserves a shot, but I also don’t think being a great coach translates to being a great executive, necessarily. Jackson would be a credible candidate, but I would hope the Pistons do their diligence on a lot of credible candidates to replace Dumars, even if they aren’t names that can compete with Jackson.

Would Tom Izzo really consider coaching the Pistons? — Jared

I think so. (Note: Sean Corp had a really good analysis on this at DBB). The main factor here is that when Izzo flirted with the Cleveland job a few years ago, he ultimately said he would stay at MSU for life. I believe he was being truthful, as much as college coaches are ever truthful. In that moment, he decided he was satisfied at MSU, and I think he meant it. But I don’t think someone as competitive as Izzo can ever fully put coaching in the NBA out of his mind.

He was reportedly closer to taking the Cleveland job than he ever had been to taking a pro job, and that wasn’t even a good job. LeBron was leaving, that roster was a barren wasteland (pre-Kyrie Irving) and … it’s Cleveland. Compare that with Detroit’s situation. They have a potential franchise player in place in Drummond, they have another very good young big in Monroe, they have an interesting young defensive guard in Caldwell-Pope who would really fit Izzo’s love of ball-hawking, athletic perimeter defense and I could also see Izzo really loving and finding great use for Kyle Singler and Jonas Jerebko. Plus Detroit is not so far from East Lansing that it would be a major uprooting of his family. The complicating factors are obviously what to do with this offseason’s busts, Smith and Jennings, and Izzo would certainly have to tone down his in-your-face approach a bit, but as Corp pointed out, I think his offensive and defensive schemes would be a fit in the NBA. It wouldn’t be like Rick Pitino coming to the NBA and trying to convince NBA players to do a full-court press for 48 minutes. Izzo’s systems are already very similar to what a lot of pro teams run, particularly this year when the team has featured two bigs in Adreian Payne and Kenny Kaminsky who are floor-stretchers.

Izzo has never been particularly fond of recruiting, and MSU actually hasn’t had an easy go on the recruiting front of late. He has a talented team that is losing at least three key starters (Harris*, Payne, Appling) after the season and that has dealt with a ridiculous number of injuries in an overall frustrating season. I still think it’s a major longshot for him to leave, but the NBA door isn’t going to be open that much longer, and I don’t even know how much longer Izzo plans to coach, period. The timing and location of the job might not get much better than right now.

* Harris is only a sophomore, but is currently projected as a top 10 pick, so it’s highly unlikely he stays.

If u r a GM, which would u rather have? Pistons roster or Bulls roster sans Derrick Rose?FT33

The Bulls have Joakim Noah, who might be the best non-Dwight center in the league right now, plus two first round picks this year and some nice complementary pieces like Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy and Taj Gibson. The Pistons have Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe as the only pieces I would count as major assets right now, with Kyle Singler and KCP in the potentially nice pieces category. I love Drummond, but I would probably lean toward taking the Bulls roster/picks, especially if I also get Thibs as coach in the deal. If the Pistons end up keeping their lottery pick this year, that would likely change my answer.

Why do I go to Pistons games? One word: D-Town.

Their Fresh Prince bit is the best in The Association. Between D-Town and Dancing Usher, Pistons have some pieces to build on. But Flight Squad misses way too many dunks, Hooper is painfully average and the drumline is probably the biggest mistake in the Joe Dumars era. Oh and Mason is still clutch as can be. Still the overall in-game experience is sour because of the lack of video replays and screens to display stats. Isn’t it more important to fix the in-arena entertainment problems before fixing the coach or players? Gores loves entertainment right? — PT

Wow, totally agree with the D-Town analysis — I’ve been to three games this season, and D-Town is BY FAR the best part of halftime (with apologies to the Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy guys, of course). I do actually think you need to give Gores credit for his entertainment investment. Yeah, some of the halftime acts have been easy to clown, but the Pistons have by my count at least 321 different dance teams this season, concerts at halftime, giveaways and he’s also spent millions on upgrades to the Palace (though you are right, updated video boards would be nice). With the basketball product lacking, the Pistons have certainly gone to great lengths to at least try to make the arena experience fun.

Seriously though, Gores deserves major credit for one thing so far — resisting the urge to rip off taxpayers in Michigan on a new stadium in downtown Detroit the way the Ilitch family is with the new Red Wings stadium. Kudos to Gores for instead taking a completely serviceable, nice arena and spending his own money to upgrade rather than demanding public money to help finance a new one.

PistonPowered Mailbag: #PistonsMtRushmore, Olympics comparisons and trade questions

Submit questions for the weekly PistonPowered Mailbag to  patrickhayes13(at)gmail(dot)com or on Twitter @patrick_hayes.

Three things quickly before I get into questions:

First, the Pistons just fired another coach, they’re struggling to make the playoffs in a conference where they’re one of only like … what … four teams? … that even wants to and they have a team president who looks increasingly like a lame duck (cue RyanK in the comments saying, “YOU ARE JUST SPECULATING! YOU HAVE NO INFORMATION OTHER THAN MULTIPLE PEOPLE COVERING THE TEAM AND THE LEAGUE INSINUATING AS MUCH! JOE DUMARS WON A CHAMPIONSHIP A DECADE AGO!). The point is, it hasn’t been easy being a Pistons fan in recent years. But everyone who has occasionally felt burnt out following this organization during its down years should immediately (if you haven’t already) read Adrian Wojnarowski’s account of what has been going on with the Cleveland Cavaliers this season. There are so many amazing passages, but I loved this one:

But no one made a serious offer to Bynum until Cleveland delivered him a two-year, incentive-laden deal that could’ve paid him $25 million. The Cavaliers preened, too. Owner Dan Gilbert tweeted, “What’s next, C.G.?” Within the league, people wondered: Why are they taking bows?

Dumars has been terrible and no one, other than a small crew of ardent (delusional?) supporters, really disputes that the Pistons would probably be best served making a change. But it’s always nice to get a reminder via Woj-Bomb that there are even worse run organizations out there.

Second, via Deadspin, there’s this from former Piston Tracy McGrady:

I know I was relatively alone around these parts in my undying love for McGrady and excitement when he became a Piston, but I seriously think he’s one of the greatest pure athletes of this generation in any sport. We can argue all we want about whether or not he maximized his potential, but for a guy to be a dominant basketball player and also be able to throw a mid-80s fastball, particularly when he’s old, oft-injured and out of shape, well … that’s pretty damned impressive, especially considering that some of his NBA peers have not looked so great trying to throw a baseball.

Third, great tweet, Brandon Jennings:

On to your questions:

Considering the Pistons found out about the Cheeks firing on Twitter, what would be the most devastating news to receive via twitter? For example, I’d be heartbroken if all of a sudden I found out on Twitter that Denny’s is no longer open 24 hours. — Perry

Well, it wasn’t Twitter, but I used to work with two people who had been dating for years. They apparently had a fight. He decided to break up with her. Not by telling her, but by going to his desk and changing his Facebook relationship status to single. We worked in an open office, so everyone could see each other and, being a very productive and hard-working bunch, most of us were always logged into Facebook while working. That ‘person x changed his relationship status to single’ update was a fairly interesting addition to everyone’s day. We all tried to avoid eye contact with both people for a while (happy ending though, they got back together, I think).

But I would guess relationship fights, allegations and breakups playing out over social media is not only devastating to the individuals but also really super awkward for everyone who follows their various accounts. Why anyone is on Twitter to do anything other than make lame jokes about sports or find out about the innovative new Taco Bell app, I will never understand.

After Carlisle and Brown, Dumars’ hires are Saunders, Curry, Kuester, Frank and Cheeks. Where did it go wrong? — @FT33

Well, if we’re being obvious, I think that we can all pretty much agree that something happened to the quality somewhere between Saunders and Curry. Honestly though, I think the Curry hire would’ve worked better had he not been sand-bagged with the Chauncey Billups trade. Billups would’ve essentially run the offense and not needed Curry super involved in play calling. And at least initially, Curry was committed to playing Amir Johnson, Rodney Stuckey and Arron Afflalo as key rotation pieces that season. The Billups trade replaced a coach on the floor in Billups with Allen Iverson, adding his personality to a team that included noted strong personalities Rasheed Wallace and Rip Hamilton. Iverson’s need to not be a point guard, combined with Hamilton’s need to always start made it hard to find minutes for Afflalo and not having a stable point guard in the lineup hurt Johnson’s ability to be effective. So predictably, a rookie coach devoid of even much experience as an assistant had things go off the rails. Curry wasn’t good that season, but he also was dealt a bigger blow with the in-season Billups trade than any of the coaches who followed him.

The others? Well … they speak for themselves. Partially, I get Dumars’ unwillingness to pay top dollar for coaches when the team isn’t going to be good. But that doesn’t mean you have to only hire retreads or guys no one else wants to hire. Find the next Rick Carlisle, an assistant who is smart and well-thought-of but won’t command the money of an established coach, be patient as he implements a system and hopefully that coach grows into someone who would lead the team to the playoffs when the talent level is improved. Instead, they hired coaches who didn’t instill any semblance of a system, didn’t inspire confidence and hurt the long-term growth of the team by creating a constant need to make changes. Dumars’ philosophy to not waste money on big names (prior to this season, when he should’ve paid for an established guy like Hollins, Karl or McMillan) was sound. His choices for non-big names was the problem.

If you had to guess, which Pistons player do you think is really into the Winter Olympics? By “into” I mean he can name at least one U.S. Olympic athlete (I can’t) or DVRing all the events and watching them “live” after the games. I could see Rodney Stuckey being really into figure skating. Pretty sure that’s how he improved his footwork in the post. — Steve

Hmm … there are some possibilities. Jonas Jerebko is a possible choice. He’s from a country that’s into winter sports. Kyle Singler could be a big curling aficionado — maybe he can incorporate that into his next trick shots video. Other than that … I dunno man. I am admittedly not a Winter Olympics fan, so it’s hard for me to predict why others might like it. Although I will say (and name an Olympian for you while I’m at it) that my favorite event during the Sochi Olympics has been bobsledder Johnny Quinn trying to escape from things that he gets stuck in.

Who would you put on your Pistons Mt. Rushmore? — Dan (not Feldman)

First, it’s amazing to me that LeBron James made a silly comment about players he’d be on an NBA all-time Mt. Rushmore with and that turned into every single person on the internet compiling Mt. Rushmores for different teams, eras … I think there was even a mascot Mt. Rushmore (and if I’m just making that up in my head, someone should totally make one up … that’s what the comments section is for).

For the Pistons, my two givens are Isiah Thomas and Ben Wallace, two guys who defined championship teams. I think a third spot has to be given to someone from the Pistons dark ages prior to their run in the 1980s — someone like George Yardley, Dave DeBusschere, Bob Lanier or Dave Bing. Take your pick of one guy for the third spot. And the fourth spot would probably have to go to Joe Dumars. As much as Dumars is synonymous with his poor body of work over the last fiveish years, he also was a key part of two championships and the architect of a third title team. Maybe keep that fourth spot on the mountain faceless for now, then we can sculpt Dumars into it four or five years when everyone has had time to fully appreciate his vision bridging us from the Villanueva/Gordon era to the Smith/Jennings era. You know what? I just talked myself into putting Chauncey Billups on there over Dumars. Sorry Joe. Give it some time to heal, maybe.

Man, it was really hard not to put Will Bynum on Mt. Rushmore.

Lots of reports that Dumars’ lame duck status pretty much squash the chance of any significant trade at the deadline. If that is the case, do Stuckey and Charlie V lose all value to us? Given all the other teams around the league tanking right now, i think it’d be a shame to not take advantage and try to get a few guys  (Jared Dudley, Jeff Green, Afflalo) on the cheap. — Mark

I wouldn’t say it removes any chance of a deal, I just think it complicates the deals he’s able to make. I think you can rule out most trades that would bring in long-term salary in exchange for any of Detroit’s expiring contracts. But I also think Tom Gores’ seeming desire to still make the playoffs would allow some freedom to make moves that help achieve that goal.

For example, flipping Stuckey’s expiring contract to Washington for Trevor Ariza’s expiring deal could potentially hope both teams. Washington needs backup help at both guard spots, and Stuckey would be a great piece for them off the bench backing up John Wall and Bradley Beal and also serve as decent insurance should one of those guys get injured. Ariza plays a position of strength (they could divide his minutes to an equally capable shooter in Martell Webster and Otto Porter or Glen Rice Jr.). Ariza is shooting nearly 39 percent from three this season and would definitely strengthen Detroit on the wing while also providing some needed floor spacing.

The Pistons could also do something like flip Will Bynum to Dallas for Wayne Ellington, a good shooter who is currently out of their rotation. Bynum could play a role similar to what J.J. Barea used to play for the Mavs if they’re so inclined to explore a deal to move Ellington.

I would love for the Pistons to explore deals for guys like Afflalo, but as I said above, I think the long-term money they are owed might complicate things.

What does Dumars illuminated lame-duck status mean for potential Pistons expirings trades; Stuckey especially, but Charlie V and Jerebko as well? — seenable

I mostly answered this one above, but to reiterate, I don’t think Dumars’ questionable future with the team means he can’t make trades necessarily, I just think it may put restrictions on the type of trades. I could see him having the ability to trade his expiring deals for other guys on expiring deals. I don’t see him trading guys like Stuckey and Villanueva for guys on long-term deals unless the player in return is a star-level player, but that would also require the Pistons to likely include young players or picks. I doubt Dumars would have the ability to make deals that include those types of assets at the deadline (or at least I hope he doesn’t have that freedom right now).

Also, I wanted to point out that Jerebko is not an expiring contract — he has a player option at $4.5 million for next season, according to Sham Sports. Considering the poor seasons Jerebko has had last season and so far this season, I can’t see him turning down that option. I could, however, seeing the Pistons trade him for a similarly underperforming perimeter player on a similar contract.

PistonPowered Mailbag: Maurice Cheeks reaction and (a lot of) trade proposals

Submit questions for the weekly PistonPowered Mailbag to  patrickhayes13(at)gmail(dot)com or on Twitter @patrick_hayes.

I think most fans were aware of how poor a job Maurice Cheeks was doing as coach of the Detroit Pistons. I had a friendly debate with a reader on Twitter about whether or not Cheeks was the worst coach in the league this season “by a landslide” or simply the worst coach in the league. Needless to say when those are the positions taken in a debate, it shouldn’t come as a shock  that Cheeks was fired.

I only have a few thoughts to add to the Cheeks conversation:

* He had talent. Some commenters on the Detroit Free Press column I wrote Friday argued that no coach would win with this roster. That’s simply not true. The Pistons have significantly more talent than they have at any point in the previous four seasons. It’s true that that talent, collectively, does not really mesh all that well, but it’s also true that a more prepared coach with a better offensive and/or defensive system could be getting more out of the roster than Cheeks did.

* Cheeks’ firing should mean the end of Joe Dumars’ tenure as team president. Dumars came into this season with a clear mandate to make the playoffs, with the implication from ownership that if the team didn’t, it would likely cost him his job. So with that type of pressure, and with coaches like Lionel Hollins, George Karl, the Van Gundy brothers, Nate McMillan and a handful of highly regarded assistants on the market, you’re going to roll with … Maurice Cheeks? Dumars doesn’t deserve to be fired for the Cheeks hire alone, but when he chose Cheeks as coach, I had little confidence from that point on that this team was going to perform well enough for Dumars to keep his job.

* I have a major issue with “playoffs or else” ultimatums. I mean … has one ever actually worked? If Tom Gores was at the point of giving Dumars an ultimatum, he should’ve just fired him in the offseason. Most people understandably don’t perform with the long-term health of the organization in mind when their immediate concern is self-preservation. So yes, Dumars damaged the Pistons with several moves this offseason, but ultimately, the responsibility for entrusting him to continue doing this job is on Gores.

* The timing was mildly surprising only because the Pistons are coming off a couple of double-digit home wins against decent teams. But we still shouldn’t be that surprised. I was at the game Saturday with some friends, and seeing this team play from the crowd is really underwhelming. I don’t know how it looked on TV, but in person, it appeared as if both teams were just doing warm-ups. They were getting to the rim on virtually every possession, no one was closing out on shooters, everyone was biting on pump fakes and everyone was diving into passing lanes gambling for steals. Offensively, as we’ve seen all season, the Pistons really don’t run anything. Other than Andre Drummond, who was bound to get better when played the minutes he deserved, and Rodney Stuckey, who is motivated and playing for his next contract, is there anyone on this roster anyone can point to and say, “Maurice Cheeks made that player better?”

On to this week’s mailbag questions (apologies for not getting this up Friday … but I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t considering what would happen over the weekend). Send me more questions and we’ll do another edition this Friday.

What’s your take on the Cheeks firing? After hearing that Dumars really tried to talk Gores out of it, it sure sounds to me like Gores is likely to clean house…. and if that is the case, how do you think this effects our approach to the trade deadline? — Mark

As I said above, I agree with your sentiments that this is the beginning of the end for Dumars. I have no issue with that, either. The time has more than come for Dumars and the organization to part ways. Thanks for the memories, good luck with your future endeavors, etc. Dumars will be fine and probably even work in the league again. The Pistons, however, will enter a period of uncertainty and possibly another rebuilding period depending on what Dumars’ eventual replacement thinks of this roster.

As far as deadline moves, I can’t see Gores allowing Dumars to do much if he really is a lame duck — certainly no moves that would take on long-term salary. Firing Cheeks made it clear Gores would like the team to still make a playoff push, so it’s possible he could sign-off on a minor move or two that brings in a shooter on the cheap, but I’d guess that Dumars is going to have to live or die with the imperfect roster he assembled.

Who would u want as a replacement? I’m thinking Lionel Hollins or George Karl. — Faraz

Either would be fine with me, as long as Dumars isn’t the one making that hire. With the way the Pistons burn through coaches and the way Dumars has historically used coaches as scapegoats, any established coach would be insane to work for him.

I like Hollins because he successfully coached a team featuring a strangely assembled, huge lineup devoid of outside shooters all the way to the Western Conference Finals. He helped Mike Conley become one of the more underrated point guards in the league and he helped Marc Gasol become a highly skilled big man offensively and one of the league’s best defenders. I like Karl because he could run a fast-paced offense that takes advantage of Detroit’s speed and athleticism. I like Jeff Van Gundy because of his ability to coach defense and I like Stan Van Gundy because he surrounded Dwight Howard — whose skillset is obviously a match to what Andre Drummond should develop into — with an array of shooters and made it all the way to the NBA Finals.

Basically, I’m just ready for the Pistons to hire and invest in an established and proven coach rather than a retread.

(Re: My Free Press column Friday) Not sure why you start the article advocating for a coaching change then finish it with the Casey situation in Toronto insinuating coaching stability is what got them to where they are now (despite poor records the prior two seasons). If you’re saying they should fire Mo Cheeks after just over one half a season, just come out and say it. Personally I think he needs more time and some better fitting pieces on the roster. The late game situations aren’t his fault, he’s not out on the floor throwing lazy passes to the other team or allowing dribble penetration or taking poor shots. This team, players and coaches still need more time to gel, grow with each other, learn from mistakes with each other. Take a deep breath Patrick — Chris

OK … I think Mo Cheeks should be fired. I think he never should’ve been hired in the first place. I think when Feldman spent significant time and research ripping the hire (only to himself be ripped for being “too negative”) he was right on the mark. He was the only local writer to significantly look at the red flags in Cheeks’ background suggesting he’s not equipped to be a head coach in the league, and I think the results this season proved him right for doing so.

As far as my column, my point was that coaching stability has hurt the Pistons. But that was not advocating more time for Cheeks. It was point out that the Pistons problem is twofold. First, they have not hired coaches recently worth investing in (Cheeks, Kuester, Curry, Frank). Secondly, their impatience with coaches has probably hurt them as well. I used Casey as an example of a quality candidate who got off to a poor start but eventually turned it around because the front office supported him AND made moves (notably, shedding Rudy Gay and his chucking ways) that helped set Casey up for success. The Pistons have hired coaches who were bad, but they’ve also compounded those poor hires by giving them major roster issues and not making in-season moves to fix those problems. And for the record, the front office did more to support Cheeks than any of his three recent predecessors. Dumars traded Billups, who would’ve undoubtedly made Curry’s first season smoother. Dumars refused to trade or even punish disgruntled, unhappy players who routinely berated and even mutinied on Kuester. He gave Lawrence Frank a playoff mandate and a roster that included Corey Maggette penciled in for a rotation spot before the season started. Cheeks certainly had roster challenges, but he also had a lot more talent than Curry, Kuester or Frank had to work with.

I’m sure you get tons of these, but here’s some trade ideas, from teams that actually make some sense (at least in my fan-dominated mind).  My question is, who says no? — Nathan

Holy wow, Nathan … I’m impressed by your Trade Machine productivity. I would love some research unit at a college to study how many work hours have been wasted since ESPN launched the Trade Machine. I’d be fascinated by that (and also be a major contributor to those wasted hours). I’ll just go down your list:

Wizards say no. They’re a playoff team right now, playing fairly well and, although I’m sure they’d love to have Monroe, the former Georgetown star, in D.C., I can’t see them shaking up a lineup that seems to be playing better together. They also have a playoffs or else mandate for their front office, so with that goal in sight, it’s hard to see them making a major move.

  • Sixers say no. Pistons would definitely do that to get out of Smith’s deal, but I don’t think a rebuilding Philly has any interest in taking on Smith’s contract. They could move Young and Turner in other deals and probably get more value for them.
  • Mavs say no. They’re way to analytically inclined to be tempted into taking Smith unless the Pistons are giving up a draft pick or young player for the trouble.
  • Pistons say no. McGee and Gallo are both injured and really expensive to boot. Would love Wilson Chandler on the Pistons though.
  • Both probably say no. I think Golden State would like Monroe and he’d be a good fit there, but they wouldn’t take on Smith and jeopardize that his shot-happy ways would ruin their vibe as the playoffs approach. Pistons would probably want a better young player than Barnes if they ever became open to moving Monroe.
  • Plausible, but only if Dwight Howard would still like to play with Josh Smith and only if Houston thinks they can fix him by playing him at his natural position.
  • Thunder say no. Ibaka’s contract is reasonable and Perry Jones has actually shown signs of playing well in limited stretches. They’d be taking on a player in Monroe who they might have to max soon, then giving up a really good starter and a really good prospect to pay Josh Smith. Can’t see that happening.
  • Suns say no. They’re on the market for a star-type player, but Josh Smith is not that player. If they want to deal Len and some of their hundreds of first round picks, they could do much better than Smith.
  • Pistons say no. Hayward is not an attractive enough young wing to move Monroe for.

PistonPowered Mailbag: A sidebar on translating stats, All-Star snubs and small forward solutions

Submit questions for the weekly PistonPowered Mailbag to  patrickhayes13(at)gmail(dot)com or on Twitter @patrick_hayes.

I want to offer a quick thought building on Dan Feldman’s great, detailed post on the Pistons’ use of analytics from earlier today that everyone should definitely read. An excerpt from a talk Ken Catanella, Pistons director of basketball operations, gave at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference stood out to me:

And how could I add value walking in as a graduate assistant at that time?

I noticed a few things in terms of their pregame prep, and I was doing some video logging of opponent games. And I automated a process that created what now is commonplace, but over a decade ago was a rarity, is a shot-zone chart that had visuals and colors. At that point, I gave it to the coaching staff and thought nothing of it. And the next thing I knew, at the practice later that day, in preparation for the next day’s game, Coach had blown it up to an infinite size, brought it over to the bench where the guys were sitting. Of course, it was a proud moment for a geek like me, but he showed it to the guys and said, ‘This is what we have to do to stop this team if we play this player this way.’

And at that moment, I realized, if you can just find that niche of something that is missing or that you can add an element that can make them better at their job, they’re going to really appreciate you and trust that you have their best interests at heart.

I interviewed Kirk Goldsberry, whose amazing data visualization graphics highlighting advanced stats have been must-read at Grantland, The New York Times and a few other places over the last few years, last year. He said something similar:

There is really a lot of in-depth statistical work going on with complex and continuously evolving stats and measures in basketball, but there has always been a kind of push-back on that from people who may not understand or want to be bothered with the complex math or science behind it or who don’t think it’s a necessary element in the game. Do you think that work you’re doing, putting complex stats work into easy to understand graphics, can maybe help bridge that gap some?

I know it can. We’ve seen it in other domains. For instance in chemistry, the Periodic Table has made a huge set of chemical elements understandable in new ways. The power of graphics to simplify or translate statistical information into knowledge is one of the huge pillars of the project. My project is not unique in that sense, but it is unique in the context of basketball. I think that’s what it has the potential to do. Every one of those charts you look at is thousands of numbers encoded visually as opposed to encoded in a spreadsheet.

These spacial structures are immediately understandable to the human eye. You can take advantage of the most powerful sense we have as human beings, which is vision. I can show that chart to a basketball coach in four seconds and circle key areas with a Sharpie and walk away, and that coach has just understood the product of a really sophisticated statistical analysis in a few seconds without ever seeing brief notation, without ever seeing a decimal, without ever seeing some obtuse numerical jargon that, let’s face it, most basketball people and most human beings don’t communicate in that statistical language.

So yes, this helps people who are not domain experts in statistics understand statistics or at least understand the findings of statistical analysis. When you hear coaches or general managers or people in the media who are skeptical of statistical work or don’t see a use for it, to me, that’s on the analytics community, not the people pushing back. It’s part of our job to make our findings digestable by people. It’s the part of of the scientific process I like to describe as landing the plane. Great, you’ve done great analysis, you’ve found something out, now you know that. But I think that’s where a lot of people stop. One of the strengths of good visualization is it helps you land the plane in the sense that not only do you know that, now you’re sharing that with other people who also just learned that. The more effective you can be in that sharing, the better you are as a scientist, the better you are as a communicator.

Both guys touched on something really key — not advanced stats themselves, but how statistical analysts communicate their findings in plain English. At this point, there’s no debating the vital need for advanced stats work in the NBA (and in all sports, really). It’s a billion dollar industry with every team looking for every possible competitive advantage. Stats can help give a competitive advantage if properly analyzed and implemented into strategy, lineups, matchups, talent acquisition, etc. So it makes no sense for any team to employ so-called “non-believers.” Data visualization is a really powerful way to explain a complex topic to a general audience.

The key to getting all fans to embrace the importance of advanced stats lies in exactly what Catanella and Goldsberry are talking about — making them digestable and usable to anyone.

On to this week’s questions:

Is Andre Drummond really an All-Star “snub?” He’s the best player on the Pistons this season, but being a good player on a bad team usually doesn’t lead to an All-Star appearance. — Dan

I mean, it’s not a Kendrick Lamar losing to Macklemore level snub, but it’s still a snub. Drummond is having an incredible season for someone as young as he is, as Dan Feldman pointed out yesterday. He definitely deserves consideration, but I can’t say that any of the other bigs selected as reserves — Chris Bosh, Joakim Noah, Paul Millsap, Roy Hibbert — are unworthy All-Stars. Those are all really good players on better teams than the Pistons. I could quibble with picking DeMar DeRozan and Joe Johnson at the guard spots, but if you want two guards on your bench, you can’t replace one of those guys with Drummond (and really, Kyle Lowry should be in over either of those two and Arron Afflalo has a strong case as well).

So I dunno … I get why Pistons fans are mad about it. Drummond is the lone bright spot this season and the first player they’ve had actually deserving of an All-Star appearance in damn near a decade. I can’t feign much outrage over it though. I mean, Anthony Davis isn’t an All-Star and he’s arguably been the most fun player to watch in the league this season (at least among players not named Kevin Durant). The talent disparity between the West and East is so off balance that I’d be in favor of blowing up the entire All-Star format, letting fans, coaches, players and media (and bloggers!) vote for the top 24 players in the league regardless of conference, then have the top two coaches at the break take turns picking their roster. That’s probably too much work for an All-Star Game though.

Recently read a few reports of Boston looking to dump contracts. Think there is any chance either side goes for a Charlie V for Jeff Green trade? I doubt we’re signing any FA who’d be much better than him at SF and Boston gets a ton of Cap space. — Mark

Green is no great shakes, but he’s solid enough, expensive but not super expensive and still relatively young. I can’t see Boston just giving him away for just an expiring deal, but if the Pistons were willing to offer an expiring and a couple of future second round picks … that might be enticing to them if they’re truly trying to cut salary.

The problem is, Green is basically an average NBA starter. He’d be an upgrade, but not a drastic upgrade. If the Pistons can’t hope to do better than “average-ish starter” at the small forward position in a trade, I’d prefer they hold off on making an in-season deal and see what develops either in the draft or on the trade/free agent market in the offseason. My hunch is you can get a similarly productive player to Green for less money.

I’m curious if those questions are real or made up. — Brian

I addressed this last week in the DBB comments after the … uh … minor shitstorm I started last week, but just wanted to reiterate here: no, I have yet to resort to making up mailbag questions. Full disclosure — I do know a couple of the people socially who have submitted questions in the sixish weeks I’ve been doing this, but the majority of questions really do come to me from people on Twitter or through email. You’ll be able to tell when I’m making up questions if they start containing an inappropriate amount of Workaholics references and/or multiple quotes from C.M. Punk promos.

Utah, worst team in the west, is only 2 games behind Piston. U think Dumars regreting picking KCP over Burke? — FT33

Nah. Caldwell-Pope hasn’t had the opportunity to put up gaudy numbers because he hasn’t really been asked to, but he’s been a decently effective rookie. As a starter, he’s a fifth option on offense and he’s already emerged as a very good perimeter defender in a league where good perimeter defenders come at a premium. I thought passing on Burke was the wrong move and I still do. But Caldwell-Pope has closed that gap. Long-term, I still believe Burke is the better prospect but I’m not convinced that it’s impossible for Caldwell-Pope to surpass him. An athletic, lockdown defender who can knock down a corner three with consistency is a long-term starter in this league, and if his game evolves offensively to more than just being a spot-up shooter, he’s a potential All-Star considering the age of the league’s top shooting guards at the moment. I mean, in a year where DeMar DeRozan made an All-Star team and Arron Afflalo was a serious contender for it, is it really a stretch to think that Caldwell-Pope has the potential to be at least as good as those players?

Things could obviously change in both in favor or against the pick, but as of right now, there’s no real reason for Dumars to regret it.

I know there is a lot of talk about moving a big for someone who can space the floor, but i personally don’t think this is our biggest issue. With the cap space we have this summer it shouldn’t be too hard to sign someone to fill that role. What scares me is watching Jennings night after night treat each game like an AAU tournament. He seems to have no clue how to run an offense, and is only engaged when he’s jacking up shot after shot. I don’t see him meshing well with the other teammates, and Cheeks (don’t get me started) can’t seem to get through to him. Do see any way out of watching him for the next 3 seasons? I’ve been praying for a swap of Rondo/Green for Jennings and Moose/Smith. — Mark (times two)

Brandon Jennings is better than Brandon Knight and Khris Middleton (although Middleton is looking more and more live a very nice young find for Milwaukee). So even with Jennings’ flaws, that trade is a win for the Pistons. His contract isn’t overly expensive, he’s talented if inconsistent and either he’ll figure out how to be a more traditional point guard with improved shot selection or he’ll continue to be an erratic yet occasionally explosive offensive player. He has value in this league, likely more value than Knight will ever have. Playoff aspirations aside, the Pistons came into this season looking to upgrade the talent on the roster. I’m not convinced Jennings is a long-term fix in the minds of anyone in the organization at this point, but he represents a definite talent upgrade who hopefully won’t turn into a negative asset for the Pistons like a certain other high profile offseason acquisition.

Who do you think projects as the better offensive player between the two (Caldwell-Pope or Michigan State’s Gary Harris)? — @HiroBeats

This was asked before Harris’ lights out performance against Michigan which kind of clearly made the case before I even had to, but Harris is by far a better offensive prospect than Caldwell-Pope and he might be a better defensive prospect as well (taking nothing away from Caldwell-Pope). I can’t find the link, but Tom Izzo recently called Harris the best offensive and defensive player in the Big 10. That’s certainly a subjective (and likely biased) analysis, but Harris has been insanely good this season. MSU is missing two important starters and has hardly missed a beat, losing a close game to a very good Michigan team and then beating a tough Iowa team on the road (in a place where Iowa rarely loses). Harris and Keith Appling are insanely fun to watch on defense, and the fact that Harris is a likely to 10 pick this season is a major reason I’m hoping the Pistons land somewhere in the top eight. Obviously, I’d love them to end up with one of the draft’s stars, but if they fall just short of that? Ending up with a defender and shooter like Harris to add to their perimeter would be a lot of fun.

As for whether or not he’s better than Caldwell-Pope offensively? If Harris had come out after his freshman season, where he was good but not this good, he still was likely to get picked higher than KCP would’ve.

Here are some questions/musings I like to hear your opinion on: 1. I hear so much about Drummond working with Coach Sheed and how it is helping him. That´s a really cool story but I would love if we could get Big Ben to be his next development coach for the summer. How great would that be, him learning the defensive ropes from one of the best ever and the Palace being treated to the Wallace brothers on the bench. On a similar note don’t you just wish Rip Hamilton would retire already so that he could spent his summers with KCP?; 2. The Pistons are dead last in ft%, we know that. But I cannot understand why they rank so low in FTAs (17th). They should be foul magnets with their combination of interior focused scoring and weak foul shooters. Combined with the fact that we are the no. 1 off reb team shouldn’t the Pistons love it if Drummond gets fouled? He might miss one but that might just be another opportunity at an offensive rebound. I would love it if the Pistons realized they are better off playing as much in the bonus as they can, even with their dismal ft%. What´s your take on this? 3. Lastly while Drummond is our best player and Smith our highest paid one (and also the media focus) the Milwaukee and NO games showed again that game to game the Pistons go as Jennings goes. If he is engaged defensively, they are, if he picks his spots and plays unselfishly their offense flows and vice versa. However I´ve never seen him string four good quarters together in a Pistons uniform. He always has at least one bad or good stretch each game which is one of the primary reasons for the Pistons fourth quarter problem as well. So what´s the solution? Shouldn´t the Pistons get a reliable pg backup? One who is a good shooter and better defender than Bynum? And if they decide to go that way, who is available? I´d love this trade but I doubt Dumars would do it. (Notice that Beverly and D-Mo are the focus as I doubt Asik would quit his whining in Detroit and play backup). — Fabian

1. Short answer — I would LOVE to have Ben Wallace involved in the organization in an official capacity. I think he and Rasheed Wallace are two of the smartest bigs to play in the modern era and they could teach Drummond/Monroe a lot about offense and defense in the league. Unfortunately, with the rate Maurice Cheeks is going, I’m not sure him or any of his staff will be in place next season. I don’t really share your enthusiasm about Hamilton … I loved watching him when he was good, but Caldwell-Pope is probably already a better defender than Rip ever was and I’m not sure Hamilton’s long-two heavy offense is how the Pistons envision Caldwell-Pope fitting into their lineup. They need him to be a killer from the corner three spots.

2. I don’t know that lack of free throw attempts is a problem. They rank low in overall free throw attempts, but their 25.8 attempts per game are fifth in the league. The problem isn’t getting to the line — several Pistons are very good at that. The issue, as you point out, is converting those opportunities.

3. The Pistons should, theoretically, address some of their roster balance issues. Whether they actually have the means — through assets they’re willing to part with and other teams are interested in giving something of value for — is debatable. Drummond and Monroe are likely the two main pieces the Pistons have that would be of interest to other teams, and they’re unlikely to part with either. The Pistons would probably love to trade Smith, but his contract and less than stellar play make it doubtful they’d get any positive assets in return. The trade you suggest to Houston would be really unfair to the Rockets. They’re taking back the worst contract, giving up a prospect in Motiejunas, who at one time was considered a potential top five-ish pick and giving up a really solid PG in Beverly while getting no clear replacement for him. They had some reported interest in Smith in the offseason and still might, but they would have all the leverage in any deal — the Pistons would have to give up really good assets in order for Houston to take that contract because Smith’s value has tanked this season.

PistonPowered Mailbag: Bloggers as GMs and fans enamored with Knicks roster, for some reason

Submit questions for the weekly PistonPowered Mailbag to  patrickhayes13(at)gmail(dot)com or on Twitter @patrick_hayes.

The overwhelming majority of this week’s questions came in an hour or so after Wednesday’s loss to Milwaukee. Funny how blowing a double-digit lead to the worst team in the league tends to push fans near the breaking point. At any rate, I only picked a couple of questions from that batch just so the mailbag didn’t seem too ragey this week. Anyway, let’s dive right in.

Detroit Bad Boys has a post with a blogger making his case to be the Pistons’ next GM. That’s the worst idea ever, right? — pt

It’s worse than the worst idea ever. You think this team is irrelevant now? Wow … I can’t even imagine how much of a joke the Pistons would be considered after a publicity stunt like that, not that they ever would consider it. Kevin Sawyer (I think) was mostly being tongue-in-cheek in his post. And I do agree with the first part of the premise — that it’s time to replace Joe Dumars. But just pretending he’s serious for a moment, let me make a laundry list of issues:

  1. The premise that a fan or writer or media personality or whoever could step in off the street and run the basketball operations of a professional franchise is insulting to people who spend their lives working in professional sports. Those jobs are competitive, there are thousands of people who want them and are actually qualified for them, you have to be incredibly connected and motivated to get them (not to mention lucky), you have to be willing to pick up your life and move anywhere in the country at a moment’s notice (sometimes for jobs that don’t pay all that well at the lower levels of basketball ops), etc. Now, sometimes you get lucky and you’re a famous former athlete and you get a job through name recognition. But look around the league — fewer and fewer teams are trusting their basketball operations to former players. They are hiring highly educated, business-savvy people who are rather anonymous prior to getting their jobs. So, in short, if you want to be a GM, go work for low pay as a video coordinator or scouting support staff or stats team or somewhere else at the ground floor level of the business, learn everything about it, work your way up through the ranks and actually become a qualified candidate like the many, many hard-working people doing just that right now, dying for a chance at a once-in-a-lifetime job running a team.
  2. It’s easy to be critical of mistakes that Dumars or any other GM makes. Mistakes are reported in media, they’re dissected in comments sections/message boards/websites and they follow people who work in high level sports jobs to any stop they make. It’s also easy to tout yourself for a position you’re not qualified for if you mention only your good qualifications. For example, perhaps Mr. Gores would be interested in Sawyer’s explanation for thinking Brad Beal was a worse prospect than Kim English? Or why he would’ve taken Arnett Moultrie over Andre Drummond? Or why Doron Lamb was a top 10 prospect despite no one else thinking anything remotely close to that? Or why likely rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams was only worth a late first round pick? This is coming off as picking on Sawyer, and that’s not my intention. It’s similar to Bill Simmons’ “campaign” a few years ago to be GM of the Timberwolves. The point is, we know all of the mistakes an experienced executive with a public track record makes. Writers, though? We make TONS of mistakes (please don’t go searching around for mine … they’re not pretty), bad predictions and weird proclamations that don’t pan out. And we all benefit from the fact that readers largely forget the crazier stuff we write within a couple of months, and we’re free to continue with the crazy ideas again. It’s an endless crazy opinion cycle! But if you’re making yourself a candidate for a dream job, those archives are fair game for evaluating your qualifications.
  3. We don’t actually know the context behind Dumars’ moves. I mean, we know that he has made many, many bad calls post-championship that haven’t worked. But who knows, maybe Gores is the world’s biggest Josh Smith fan. Maybe hiring Maurice Cheeks was a secret plan by Dumars and Gores for the Pistons to add more talent in the offseason but still remain bad enough through incompetent coaching so that they don’t lose their lottery pick in a loaded draft. Are those scenarios unlikely? Sure. Am I defending Dumars’ track record? No way would I do that anymore. But the point is, we don’t know context. So let’s say Sawyer (or any other of the many people who were opposed to the Smith signing) was named GM before free agency started. And let’s say you made your impassioned plea that signing Josh Smith was a bad idea, supported by mounds of data. And what if your owner strolled in wearing his Britney Spears jeans and unbuttoned shirt and said, “But I love Josh Smith! Look at his dunks! Give him millions a’ dollas!” Guess what? You are still going to sign Josh Smith, despite all of your objections. We know very little about Tom Gores, his desires and how he’s going to evaluate the decisions that were made in the offseason. So yes, Dumars deserves to be fired based on his long track record of poor decisions and the team’s long track record of not making the playoffs. But unfortunately for fans, we’re not the ones establishing the criteria for him staying or going. Just assuming that things would be different with someone else in his position, even someone who makes basketball decisions very differently than Dumars, is a judgement we don’t have enough information about Gores to make.

So yeah, I love Detroit Bad Boys, read it every day and get that the point of the post was more to show that Dumars has been terrible for a long time and needs to go (which I agree with) than to present Sawyer as actually qualified for the job. But it’s worth pointing out that thinking fans (even smart ones) could do a better job than even a mediocre executive is a mistake. Outsiders never have enough information to know what they’d actually be up against in that kind of role.

Could you see the Pistons firing Maurice Cheeks during the season if they continue to play poorly? — Mark

Clearly, Cheeks was a bad hire. The team is no better off than it was last year despite having more talent, I’m not positive I’ve seen them run a play on offense this year and what was supposed to be the team’s strength — defense — has been anything but. With the assumption that the Pistons have to make the playoffs for Dumars to keep his job at the end of the season, there is certainly some urgency to make a fast change. The main problem I see is that there is no clear successor on staff — as much as I’d love to see Coach ‘Sheed — to take over on an interim basis.

Theoretically, the Pistons could go out and pay for a free agent coach like George Karl or one of the Van Gundys or Lionel Hollins to come on board quickly. But if you were in Gores’ position, with the team under-performing and the playoffs looking more remote, would you pay Cheeks’ salary to go away, then allow Dumars to go pay another coach to come on board and quickly try to right a sinking ship? That doesn’t seem like a prudent financial move, especially if Gores has decided that Dumars isn’t his long-term guy. If you’re getting rid of Dumars at the end of the season, you’re not letting him hire another coach first.

So like it or not, Cheeks is probably the guy the rest of the way (unless both he and Dumars get fired mid-season, which is probably unlikely but not impossible). Also, I feel it’s important to point out that when Cheeks was hired and many, many people in the comments here were getting mad at Feldman and calling him negative for going back and digging up all of the evidence that Cheeks would not succeed as a head coach? Oops. Turns out we should’ve all been listening to Feldman. I’ll accept your apologies on his behalf.

After last night’s defeat to the Bucks I definitely feel the team might trade some players and admit the error of the Smith signing. The problem is not Smith as a player but the fit with this team and I still think that Monroe is more valuable in the long run. There aren’t many trade partners but i think that Smith for Bargnani would work for both parts. We have (a little) more shooting and 2 less years on the contract. NY is in absolutely win know mode and need better defenders. What do you think? — Angelo

Hmm … that’s interesting …

Andrea Bargnani: Still Really Bad At Defense

Andrea Bargnani Attempted A Reverse Dunk, And It Did Not Go Well

Also, Bargnani is making less than 30 percent of his threes this season and hasn’t shot better than 31 percent from three for three seasons. I don’t like Smith’s contract or fit on the team either, but there is exactly zero other reasons to ever want Andrea Bargnani on your favorite team.

I’m not a big fan of his, but let’s say Carmelo makes it clear he’s leaving the Knicks, and everyone from the Knicks’ front office is drunk. Who says no? — Nico

I think ‘Melo has become the most “fantasy-traded to the Pistons for garbage” player among fans since … uh … fans were making Tayshaun Prince-for-Josh Smith trades for about four years.

The Knicks definitely say no to that trade (in addition to giving up the best player, they’re also giving up the best young prospect in the deal in Hardaway … the Pistons would have to include a million first round picks for this deal to be fair), and rightfully so. For all of his flaws, Anthony is still an occasionally dominant (if inefficient) offensive player and legitimately one of the most popular players in the league. The Knicks will do everything they can to keep him, and they can pay him more money than anyone else. I don’t think Anthony is happy there, necessarily, but I also don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that he’d leave, either. The Knicks, I’m sure, are willing to bank on the fact that they can offer him the most and the allure of playing the Garden are enough bargaining chips to keep him. I don’t know if it will work, but if we know anything about the Knicks under Dolan, it’s that they will always be irrationally over-confident in their own resources as selling points.


PistonPowered Mailbag: Trey Burke Trey Burke Trey Burke, Wyatt Family abductions and click bait debate

Submit questions for the weekly PistonPowered Mailbag to  patrickhayes13(at)gmail(dot)com or on Twitter @patrick_hayes.

I have to start this off with an apology — it has been about 12 weeks since the last installment of this “weekly” mailbag. I do have a good reason, though — my daughter was born in November. I didn’t expect the mailbag to be out of commission as long as it was, but it had been almost four years since we had a baby in the house. I got a little overconfident about the work that babies actually entail (it’s amazing what you forget in a few years) and the two or three weeks I thought I’d be missing in action from PistonPowered turned into almost three months. Oops.

Anyway, I appreciate the people who still submitted questions. I kept them all, and the ones that still have some shelf life are included in this edition (apologies to those who had more Pistons-Raptors trade scenarios that netted Rudy Gay … you can now focus your attention on hoping Gay opts out of the last year of his deal so Joe Dumars can figure out a way to offer him $15 million per year in the offseason).

One other note for this week’s questions — I got about 27 different variations of, “Why didn’t the Pistons draft Trey Burke???” this week. In the interest of brevity, I only included the question once (the winning Burke question I selected was the one that ended with the most question marks — I could feel his passion).

Not that it’s hurting anyone, but this mailbag thing seems like kind of an exercise in futility. I mean, even the Pistons’ very own mailbag has been utterly useless for years now. I’m not sure this accomplishes any more than simply writing opinion blogs and interacting with people in the comments. — Otis

Oh, dear Otis. How I’ve missed you since you went back to your home planet. You’re right, though. I don’t have any particular inside information at my disposal that smart readers of this site who follow the NBA don’t also have access to, so this mailbag is certainly not going to be like asking a connected reporter questions. But there are still a couple of reasons to do a mailbag rather than just interacting in comments. The first reason is that, even though we have quite a large commenting community, our readership is much larger than just commenters. Maybe people don’t like delving into comments sections, but do want to participate, ask questions or interact and would be more comfortable doing that via email or on Twitter once in a while than reading through all of the comments and interjecting. It’s just a chance to bring a few new voices into the fold.

And secondly, my hope is that it can be a mix of some Pistons analysis along with some light-heartedness — after all, sports are not serious and there should be space devoted on sites like this to remind people of that. Who knows, maybe someday it can be as big as the great comedy mailbags in the world like the ones written by humorists like Drew Magary, Bill Simmons and Keith Langlois.

There have been a few rumors going around concerning the possibility of trading Stuckey, Monroe, or some combination of the two. After a few hours of boredom I came up with another option that no one else is mentioning right now and wanted to get your take. Stuckey and Smith to New York for Carmelo and Pablo Prigioni. The Kicks are terrible, and it seems obvious that Melo is not going to re-sign there. This deal saves them 10 million per year moving forward while still ensuring they have a (all)star forward. This would also improve our odds of winning this year (which is all Gores seems to care about) while allowing us more flexibility to build around our young talent this offseason. My question, in this hypothetical situation, is who says no? — Mark

New York, definitely. For all of their dysfunction, the Knicks are still the team that can pay Carmelo Anthony the most money as a free agent. And for all of his noted flaws, Anthony is still a legitimate superstar presence and one of the most popular players in the NBA. Getting Smith, an expensive player who is not having a good season, and an expiring contract is nowhere near enough for the Knicks to consider a trade like that. If they indeed shopped Anthony, the return he’d command even as a possible free agent would be greater than Smith and an expiring deal. And on top of that, I don’t think the Knicks care one bit about saving money.

I do think the Pistons should already be open to a deal that sheds Smith because he’s obviously been a poor fit, but I don’t know that they’d be interested in taking a half-season flyer on Anthony without some assurance that he’d sign with them. It’s also hard to believe Dumars would trade Smith and essentially admit that the most expensive free agent signing in team history is already kind of a flop.

Vince Ellis criticized one of your guys’ headlines on Twitter and said it was “click bait.” Fair or unfair? — Stephen

First of all, I think we can all agree that if we were interested in “click bait,” we wouldn’t be writing about the Pistons, one of the least interesting teams in the league for about five years running now. And I don’t mean that as a slam — there just hasn’t been a ton of fan interest in the Pistons since their downturn (for reference, they were 17th in the league in Facebook likes and 22nd in Twitter followers in October of 2013, according to this marketing site). “Click bait” is purposely writing about popular or salacious or “buzzing” (barf) things to generate traffic. We don’t really do that (although I did once purposely work “Justin Bieber” into a headline, if that counts). And even if we did, no Pistons topic is going to generate enough “clicks” to be considered “click bait.”

Now, I do think Dan and I tend to be more blunt in our headlines and don’t use the watered down, overly polite and pointless conventions that modern journalism is known for (here’s a GREAT Deadspin post from yesterday translating “journalism speak” into real, succinct English). We say what we mean. So no, I don’t think Vince’s characterization as “click bait” is accurate, but he’s certainly entitled to his opinion. Our role at PistonPowered is to tell the truth as we see it. That certainly doesn’t mean we’re always right — there are definitely things Dan and I have been way off on over the years doing this site. But I also think that honesty is why people read us. Beat writers have a different role to fill — the priority is being fair to sources and people they cover, whether they agree or not with a particular player, coach, executive, etc. Our tone at this site is not for everyone, but I also think our independence and willingness to give our honest, unvarnished opinions at all times is why we do have a loyal readership. If we were doing “click bait” people wouldn’t continue reading us.

Why didn’t the Pistons draft Trey Burke?? Why??????? — Andrew

Well, there are a few theories:

  • They prioritized filling a need in the interest of competing for the playoffs immediately over taking the best player available
  • They legitimately believed, against what every major scouting service believed, that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was the better prospect
  • They had reservations about taking a home-state star

Only one of those three options is an acceptable justification for passing on Burke. If they believed KCP was the better prospect, I have no issue with them taking him, even if it proves to be wrong. It’s the absolute wrong move for teams to prioritize need over talent in the draft, so I’d be really disappointed if the Pistons did that. And where Burke played in college should have zero impact on the decision to draft him or not. If he’s the best guy, take him.

Right now, it looks like the Pistons made the wrong move. Burke is having a very good rookie season. He’s already one of the best point guards in the league when it comes to protecting the basketball. He was made to be a NBA pick and roll point guard, and as soon as his shooting numbers creep up just a bit, he’ll be a very talented NBA lead guard.

But that gap has closed significantly. Caldwell-Pope got off to a rough start this season, but as Sean Corp of Detroit Bad Boys pointed out, Caldwell-Pope’s improving shooting and killer defense is helping him quietly ascend up the list of the top rookies in the league. He’s made good contributions to the team, albeit in a smaller role than Burke is being asked to play on a tanking Utah team.

Long-term, I’d still bet on Burke as the better player, but I’m not as convinced of that as I was before the season started. Caldwell-Pope has the chance to be a really good NBA shooting guard. Also, it’s pretty funny how much the Pistons don’t want anyone to think about Burke. Passing on Burke was a huge story, especially considering reports near the draft that Burke thought the Pistons might pick him if he was there. Burke’s first game against the Pistons, in the state he starred in is a big deal, regardless of whether passing on him or not was a mistake, right? Certainly something people will be interested in watching on both sides of the debate tonight, right? Who is Trey Burke?, says Pistons.com.

If you could have the Wyatt Family abduct one member of the Pistons, who would it be? — PT

The Wyatts just “abducted” (Well … maybe not abducted. Brainwashed? Coerced into joining?) the biggest young star WWE has had in quite some time. Daniel Bryan was already popular. They did the abduction/brainwashing angle for a couple of weeks, then let Bryan turn on his “captors.” He emerged from it an even bigger star, as evidenced by the insane crowd reaction to him turning on Bray Wyatt Monday. An already popular star is now a superstar, thanks in part to the Wyatts. So let them abduct Andre Drummond for a couple of weeks, then he can come back as the Pistons’ own version of Dwight Howard, minus the lame jokes and too tight shirts.

Why is there nobody at Pistons games when I go? I swear that place is empty. I’ve been to five games this year. — Kevin

Well, missing a lot of open jumpers, playing with low basketball IQ and routinely blowing huge leads late in games is not conducive to winning back fans. I’ve been to two games this year, and the arena experience is decent. But the simple fact is fans aren’t going to go to games again until the basketball product is fun and rewarding to watch. And while I’m on the subject of Daniel Bryan, maybe the Pistons should try a ‘YES!’ chant to get people into the games. It’s working for Sparty — the Izzone hasn’t been this alive in years.

Why is Mo Cheeks getting a pass for his poor rotations and coaching decisions from the national media (specifically Zach Lowe’s column from this week)? — Jason

First, I have to say this: Zach Lowe is the only Pistons source I consider must-read. That includes all of the local media who covers the team on a daily basis.

Lowe is the best writer covering the NBA, and his interest in the Pistons this season has been much-appreciated. His on-court analysis is always on-point and unlike some others with access, when he interviewed Joe Dumars, he asked him smart, challenging questions.

I think Lowe’s column this week did gently question some of the coaching decisions. Particularly, this excerpt:

Monroe and Drummond have great hands, fantastic for the pickpocket steals that fuel Detroit’s high theft rate, but their footwork and decision-making are poor. Monroe’s issues are well documented. He inspires zero fear at the basket, and he’s not the quickest cat. He’s certainly not quick enough to execute a scheme that often asks him to jump out aggressively against pick-and-rolls, chasing little point guards 25 feet from the hoop.

To be fair to Cheeks, Lawrence Frank also employed that same stupid strategy with Monroe, trying to get him to switch aggressively on pick and rolls. No idea why anyone would replicate a Frank strategy, but it’s probably a bad idea to apply rational thought to this team.

As for your question, I think Cheeks still has some time before he starts shouldering the blame for the team’s performance. This roster is weirdly put together, they lack shooters and, other than Smith, they lack players who really understand how to play defense. Those things aren’t Cheeks’ fault and I think Lowe was right to focus more on defensive shortcomings and poor instincts of some of the players than blame coaching. Players being young and not fundamentally understanding how to defend would be a challenge for any coach, even if he had a great scheme he was trying to run.

But I also think Cheeks was a poor hire. Because of the strangeness of the roster, the Pistons really could’ve used a coach who was known for having a creative offensive or defensive approach to maximize the talents of this team and hide weaknesses. Cheeks has never been known for running strong offensive or defensive schemes, so I’m not super confident he can figure this team out. I hope I’m wrong though, and I do think he deserves to be evaluated more thoroughly at the end of the season rather than right now. If the Pistons are better by April, Cheeks figuring out what to do with his lineup will be a reason why.

PistonPowered Mailbag: Knee-jerk reactions might be totally appropriate

Submit questions for the weekly PistonPowered Mailbag to  patrickhayes13(at)gmail(dot)com or on Twitter @patrick_hayes.

OK, so if the Pistons don’t immediately salvage another awful early season West Coast trip, they could be exactly where they’ve been the last four seasons — desperately trying to recover from an awful start. Now, awful starts are acceptable when you’re starting Jason Maxiell or when your big offseason acquisition was half of Tracy McGrady’s remaining knee. But when you spend significant money on talent upgrades, when everyone from your team owner on down is full of bluster about making the playoffs and when you play reasonably well against good teams at home early in the season, there isn’t exactly a lot of patience to struggle with figuring out lineup combinations.

For four years, people following the Pistons have watched irrelevant coaches comically ponder lineup shakeups that replace marginal players with other marginal players as if those types of shakeups ever matter on any team. Maurice Cheeks has more talent to work with, but here we are again, with a team struggling a bit and a coach “pondering lineup changes,” whatever that means. Here’s the thing … the Pistons’ top three players — Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith — are pretty formidable. Their fourth best player, Brandon Jennings, is not a bad fourth option when he’s not behaving like a first option. No amount of messing with combinations beyond those four is going to have much of an impact on the season.

Decent teams don’t typically spend a lot of time messing with their supporting players. For all of the complaining fans did (and, admittedly, I was one of them) about the lack of use of bench players not named Antonio McDyess and Lindsey Hunter during the Larry Brown/Flip Saunders days, those Pistons teams wouldn’t have been drastically improved if, say, Carlos Delfino had supplanted Maurice Evans in the rotation. NBA teams are as good as their best players. If Drummond, Monroe, Smith and Jennings figure out how to play with each other effectively, this team will be solid. If they lack cohesion or, in Smith’s and Jennings’ cases, play undisciplined or shoot too much, this team will be disappointing.

That was essentially the debate before the season started and seven games into the season, we’re no close to having an answer — there’s evidence that the season could go either way, depending on which argument you’d prefer to make. The Pistons certainly have plenty of time to figure it out, but based on the team’s rhetoric and playoff talk, it’s certainly reasonable to be impatient with uninspired play that is reminiscent of the past four years rather than a glimpse at an up-and-coming team with a bright future.

So, with that backstory out of the way, let’s get to this week’s questions.

This may just be knee jerk reaction … but I think we should consider benching Dre. He’s been great, no question, but I think it would be better for the team to split the front court minutes between him, Moose and Josh. If we simply had a 3 man rotation all of them could get 32 min and we would never see a drop off in our big men. This would also allow for more floor spacing by playing Singler, Datome, and Stuckey at the three … which in turn opens up more room for KCP at SG. Am i crazy or do you agree?– Mark

You’re not that crazy, Mark, but I think it’s impractical. I don’t disagree with you — there’s evidence supporting that the Pistons are better with two of their three bigs on the court than they are with all three sharing the court. So the obvious answer is to move one to the bench and evenly divide minutes. In theory, that would be a great solution. In practice … not so much. I doubt any of the three would say so because Smith, Drummond and Monroe are all good at giving athlete-speak, non-controversial answers to media, but I guarantee that none of the three would be pleased about not starting, even if it meant the team played better and even if it meant their minutes were not being drastically cut. Starting is hugely important to most NBA players — calling yourself a NBA starter sounds much better than simply ‘NBA player,’ ya know? So who do you pick to go to the bench? Drummond could be a choice because he’s the youngest and seems easygoing enough to take it in stride. But he’s also been their best player this season. So symbolically, do you want to bench your best player, someone who has the talent to develop into maybe the most dominant defensive player in the league? Or do you want to tell Monroe, in a contract year in which he’s trying to prove he’s worth a max deal, that you want him to come off the bench? Or how about Smith, the biggest name and most expensive free agent signing in franchise history who has been a near All-Star for years, who has reportedly had trust issues with previous coaches and how they’ve handled him and who has more playoff experience than anyone on the team other than Chauncey Billups?

I agree with you, the Pistons desperately need to find minutes for Datome and Caldwell-Pope, in particular. I also agree that their lineups have looked better offensively without the supersized lineup sharing the frontline. But I think when the team signed Smith, they committed to starting those three players for better or worse. If they solve their offensive and defensive issues, it’s not going to be by making Drummond, Smith or Monroe a sixth man unless one of the three volunteers to go to the bench Rodney Stuckey-style, and I just don’t see that happening.

Watching J.Smith and Jennings throw bricks after bricks, I fear the CEILING for this team is 2011 Hawks. Agree? FT33

I dunno … unless they traded for Al Horford, I’m not sure they can even be 2011 Hawks good yet. That Hawks team won 44 games. I think the Pistons, as sad as it sounds, would be thrilled with a 44-win season. Although the Hawks have certainly never been among the league’s elite, they have been a playoff team for six straight seasons (and should make it seven this season) with three appearances in the second round in that stretch. They had a 53-win season in there and won 61 percent of their games in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. I share your hope that the Pistons as a franchise have higher aspirations than simply being a team that, best case scenario, can get to the second round every year, but I’m also hesitant to say they’re even at that level yet.

Horford has long been one of the most underrated players in the league, and I don’t think the Pistons have anyone on their roster who is as good as he is yet. The good news, however, is that they have a couple of young bigs in Drummond and Monroe who are both pretty close to Horford-level now and both have significant potential that they’re still yet to tap into. I’m cautiously optimistic that a Monroe-Drummond frontcourt combination can grow into something truly dominant, and if that happens, they’ll certainly be better than those Hawks teams. But I also don’t think it’s close to a given that they’ll get to that Hawks level either.

Billups looks effective some games and just plain old others. Should the pistons consider giving him the old/often injured treatment of sitting one of the back to back games? This would keep him fresh, efficient when playing and open up more KCP time. – Travis

I have no problem admitting that there was nothing I was rooting harder for this season than season for Billups in the twilight of his career like the surprising one Ben Wallace had in his first season back with the Pistons. It’s not going to happen, though. Billups is coming off a more significant injury, he plays a position where speed and athleticism are more of a necessity and I just don’t think he’s going to help the Pistons much on the court this season.

It’s great hearing his name called in the starting lineup at the Palace, but the Pistons just flat out stand a better chance of competing with Caldwell-Pope taking those shooting guard minutes. The Pistons still need Billups’ steadying hand in the halfcourt on occasion with the erratic point guards they feature, but that role should be severely limited. So to answer your question, yes, I would be in favor of a reduced role for Billups. In fact, I think it’s vital if the team is going to progress.

With all the talk of expiring contracts next season and apparent trade rumors of Greg Monroe, is it possible/probable for the Pistons to be in a position to nab Chris Bosh next summer assuming he takes his early termination option on his deal in Miami? — Evan

Anything is certainly possible, Evan (Man … that was a total Keith Langlois go-to line, wasn’t it? Apologies Evan, let’s start over).

Bosh would be an interesting fit in Detroit’s lineup, albeit at age 30, not a long-term solution and likely super expensive. He’d still give the Pistons a frontcourt-heavy offense, but his perimeter-happiness (the merits of which may have been learned from playing with Charlie Villanueva and Andrea Bargnani in Toronto) would help spread the floor. In fact, Bosh has been adding a competent three-point shot to his arsenal over the past few seasons, shooting 8-for-16 from three so far this season. His rebounding has been progressively getting worse (again, perhaps influenced by all that time with monsieurs Villanueva and Bargnani), but that wouldn’t matter much in a lineup with Smith and Drummond crashing the boards. If Bosh’s good shooting continues, he could almost move into the small forward role on offense, move Smith down to the post more and then have them switch positions on defense. I don’t love that lineup, but I could talk myself into an aspect or two of it.

Now, could they afford to sign him outright? With their expiring deals and if they were to trade Monroe for something like future first round picks and take no long-term salary in return, then decline Billups’ team option, they could conceivably be in position to offer Bosh the max-level contract I assume he’d command. The question is, would the want to? He’s possibly a slightly better short-term fit, but he’s older, rebounds worse and, if you’re going to hand out a max contract for a player, why pick Bosh over Monroe? Monroe is still improving, has yet to hit his prime and would probably still have more trade value than Bosh even if both were at max-level salaries. I just don’t see a great incentive for Detroit to pursue Bosh at the expense of Monroe.

Now, an in-season trade could be an intriguing match. I’ve long maintained that I don’t think Monroe is likely to get traded, but if the Pistons struggle, I think his name gets discussed more and it’s possible the Pistons make a panic deal, sacrificing long-term logic to try to win in the short-term. In that case, Bosh could be a possible target. He’s a big name who would add some balance (although the lineup would still have issues) and championship experience to the lineup

I don’t think Miami is likely to explore any in-season trades for any of their big three, but after watching Dwyane Wade game deteriorate because of the physical pounding his body has taken during his career and watching Bosh slowly morph into Villanueva and Bargnani with his plummeting rebounding totals, I’m less certain of my prediction for a Heat three-peat. But I also don’t think there’s much of a chance Miami would blow up that core before they’ve had a chance at a third straight title.

Now with that disclaimer out there, if the Pistons for some reason had serious interest in Bosh and were willing to dangle Monroe … that might be fairly enticing for Miami. Monroe would command a max contract, but the Heat would replace a player who will turn 30 in March with a 23-year-old big man who is a great rebounder, great passer and has a developing post game. There is no doubt that Monroe’s skillset would add a really interesting dimension to the Miami offense, and his youth would give Miami enough of an established transitional building block to perhaps convince LeBron James to re-sign with the team.

So, what would I conclude with this whole exercise? Playing fantasy GM is always fun, but I think Bosh on the Pistons as a replacement for Monroe doesn’t make much sense. If the Pistons trade Monroe — and I still feel like that would be a major mistake under most circumstances — they better do it to acquire an impactful long-term asset, not a veteran, even a good one, who makes them marginally better in the present but sacrifices potential future success.

PistonPowered Mailbag: Pistons fans DEMAND Gigi Datome

The majority of questions I received early this week for the mailbag revolved around intriguing Pistons rookie and international hoops veteran Luigi Datome and why he wasn’t in the rotation yet. Obviously, those questions were posed before last night’s loss to Indiana, where Datome got a crack at some early minutes. I received six questions (or, in some cases, outright pleas for Maurice Cheeks to play him), but in the interest of not subjecting everyone to Datome overkill, I’m only going to answer a couple this week. Still though — thanks for all of the questions that have been coming in and remember to keep submitting them to patrickhayes13(at)gmail(dot)com or on Twitter @patrick_hayes.

First thing’s first, though. It seems my column Monday about my first experience taking my son to a Pistons game offended at least one from the inked/goateed sect of our readership. That was certainly not my intent, but here’s a tweet that was sent to Dan Feldman after my column ran:

First, apologies to Feldman for costing you a follower, but it’s likely not the first time and, fingers crossed, certainly not the last time I’ll alienate a reader. But as for the point C. Max was making? I wasn’t generalizing solely based on looks. I was generalizing based on a combination of looks (I forgot to add the Tapout shirt one of them was wearing to the description too, a major oversight on my part) AND loutish behavior. For example, I could conclude from a C. Max tweet suggesting that Josh Smith shooting a lot of threes is OK because Kevin Love and James Harden do that J. Max doesn’t know much about basketball, specifically that he doesn’t know why it’s generally bad for a career 28 percent 3-point shooter (and 25 percent so far this year) to take a lot of threes and it’s generally good that career 35 percent or betters shooters take them. Now, that would be a generalization because I really don’t know C. Max or his overall knowledge of the game, but it’s a somewhat informed generalization because I did witness at least one crazy, nonsensical tweet.

I have nothing against tattooed folks and, I suppose, some people can pull off the neatly trimmed goatee look. I’m not one to judge. I was not trying to offend. But the collective body of work of the duo sitting next to me — acting drunk and surly, shouting swear words at professional athletes and looking like they enjoyed a good fistfight — was enough for me, as a typically reclusive individual, to have at least a bit of wariness about asking them to stop saying fuck so much. As I wrote, it was an anti-climactic ending and they were reasonable people who didn’t react by putting me in the triangle choke.

So … what was the point of writing this again? Oh yeah … to remind C. Max that, although there are ways to defend Josh Smith’s tendency to launch threes, comparing his shooting to that of Kevin Love and James Harden is not a winning argument. I hope you’ve learned a valuable lesson here.

Also, I love all of our readers.* Although I occasionally make jokes about the fashion sense/appearance of others, it is always done in a playful way. I’ve made my own unfortunate facial hair/jewelry decisions in the past. I have no room to talk. I would never dream of talking someone out of dramatically storming off in a huff to read content elsewhere — I’m a huge fan of dramatically announcing your intention to quit doing something oblivious to the fact that no one cares about your personal reading/following decisions. But if you think that throwaway line in a story meant to illustrate how even boorish, stereotypical sports fans couldn’t ruin an entertaining in-arena experience was some sort of egregious generalization, well, … you better have a fainting couch ready for when you’re confronted with an actual harmful generalization. Now, on to basketball questions.

* – Most of our readers.

You think we need Rudy Gay? We need a shooter & play maker in that starting 5! Harrison Barnes/Jeff Green? What about trading for & developing Perry Jones III? Mr. Hoffa Woods on Twitter

Wow, second straight week that a Rudy Gay question makes it into the mailbag. I’ll start there — no, I don’t think Gay helps the Pistons with their critical issue on offense, which is a lack of perimeter shooting. In fact, he probably further complicates things. He shot 41 percent last year and he’s off to an awful start this year at 32 percent. His 3-point shooting for his career has been pedestrian at best and terrible the last few seasons (not Josh Smith terrible, but still not good). Gay is a ball-dominant, volume scorer and I wouldn’t be willing to part with any of the Monroe/Smith/Drummond group to get him. I think both Monroe and Smith are more functional playmakers.

Now, Harrison Barnes is an intriguing name. If the Pistons do decide to move Monroe at some point, Golden State is an interesting match. A package that includes Monroe and expiring contracts for Barnes (or Klay Thompson, though I don’t know if GS would consider that) and David Lee is at least worth not hanging up immediately. I’m not saying I’d do that trade for sure, but I think there are justifications for each side to do it. Monroe’s passing would be a fantastic fit with all of the shooters in Golden State and Barnes is a great prospect on a rookie deal who would fill a position of need.

Jeff Green’s off to a great start this season after a nice return last season (his 39 percent 3-point shooting last year and 40 percent so far this year are particularly appealing). He’s also getting to the line a reasonable amount this season. It would likely take Monroe as a starting point to get him. As for Perry Jones III, I wouldn’t say that him developing into a functional, useful NBA player is impossible, but I would say that the Pistons are not exactly the optimum organization for being patient with raw, young talent. Cheeks has a definite preference for veterans and the Pistons have had a mixed success rate with player development during Joe Dumars’ tenure as team president. Unless the asking price for Jones III was very cheap (like OKC giving him away for a future second rounder or something), I don’t know that he’d be worth gambling on. There’s a very small likelihood that he pans out. He’s looked lost every time he’s seen the court for them.

Having watched all games during the first week of play, it has surprised me to see Luigi Datome still having not played any meaningful minutes (0:16 vs the Wizards). I understand he missed the entire preseason, and there may are some questions about his ability to adjust to the pace of the NBA game, especially on the defensive end. However from all recent accounts from the media and fellow players, the man can shoot the ball lights out. I feel that his shooting could be very helpful in the second half when the Pistons seem to start getting a bit sloppy and start rushing things. My feeling is that he could be a great complementary piece to slowing down the offense, hammering the interior with 2 of the bigs, and serve as the perfect complement on the wing to knock down uncontested 3s. My question is why have we not seen any of him on the court as of yet? I think every Piston fan is dying to see what this guy is made of, and it seems like a shame to waste such an intriguing prospect and instead settling on playing guys like Jerebko who, although has not played horribly thus far , we all kind of know what we’re going to get at this point. – Chris

It does appear that Datome is going to see minutes ahead of Jerebko for the moment, although he’ll need to shoot significantly better than his 1-for-7 performance last night to keep that spot. I honestly expect that backup forward spot to be in flux most of the season. The Pistons have several options to get minutes there, and none of those options are particularly ideal. It was also kind of a revolving door last season.

With Datome, all that is going to matter is shooting. In his game recap, Dan mentioned that Datome’s defense of Luis Scola was stellar, despite being undersized. That’s nice, and frankly expected considering his international experience, but it ultimately doesn’t matter much. Jerebko can play competent enough defense against backup frontcourt players. Datome is only going to separate himself if he provides offense, which Jerebko doesn’t — Jerebko’s spot-up game hasn’t developed much and he’s a train wreck whenever he tries to take people off the dribble or do too much, which is what got him benched last year.

I think Datome will get a few games to try to win that rotation spot. If he doesn’t, it will be on to the next one, which means … *shudder* … probably a Charlie Villaneuva sighting. So, please, Luigi, please win that spot. I wouldn’t count out Josh Harrellson, either. He might have to wait for Villanueva to flame out, but he’s a decent shooter who has played competently in very limited NBA minutes. Tony Mitchell is probably buried on the bench until next season considering Cheeks’ preference to not play rookies, but if the Pistons really do struggle to find good minutes at that spot, Mitchell will have to get a look by default at some point.

Seems like we had an all-athletic team with Josh, Drummond, KCP, Mitchell. I’d like to know if Cheeks is a perfect fit to our group. To me, it seems like George Karl should’ve been hired to take over L-Frank. We lost against Indy tonight. I’m not happy with the way we played on both sides of the floor. Our defense didn’t stop George at all, like there was no resistance. This is Smith’s job isn’t it? We played better against the other bigs, but not that good against their Backcourt. I expect our team to win this game. This is doable. But we need a better coach. – Dominik

To be perfectly honest, no, I don’t think Cheeks is anything more than a seat-warmer until the Pistons get good enough to hire a more accomplished coach. In the past, Joe Dumars has made comments suggesting that he doesn’t think a coach matters all that much if the team isn’t very good — and that philosophy would certainly explain his last couple of hires. I don’t necessarily disagree with it, either — Phil Jackson could’ve coached those rosters the last four years and they still would’ve been lottery teams. So if your talent level isn’t where it needs to be, it doesn’t make sense to spend huge money on a bigger name coach.

Now, this season, the talent level has obviously improved. The Pistons are competitive but not contenders. With another move or two, they could be positioned to vault into the upper-echelon on NBA teams, and when that happens, I think you’ll see another coaching change. It would surprise me if Cheeks lasts more than two seasons. So who would replace him? George Karl would be really interesting from an offensive perspective and Lionel Hollins had great success with a large frontcourt and very little perimeter shooting Memphis, so it’s conceivable he could make sense of this Pistons roster. Those are two “name” guys who would probably be at the top of my list.

As for last night, yeah, there’s not much to say about the defensive performance. It should be noted that Paul George is really, really good and could be in the conversation with James Harden for best shooting guard in the league right now, so guarding him is no easy task. He has to get most of the credit for that performance — he’s really hard to defend no matter who you throw at him. But yes, I agree with you — with Smith, Rodney Stuckey, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and even Kyle Singler, the Pistons have some perimeter guys all capable of giving some different looks defensively and nothing they tried with George worked.

How long will it be before we see Mitchell or Datome on the court? Jerebko is play is uninspiring. KCP’s absence also worries me. Do you believe Cheeks ‘veterans first’ mentality could be a detriment to us trying to build up a young team. Or will it pay dividends once we trade Stuckey this year? Maybe its just me, but I feel that these young kids might be inefficient, but they cant be much worse than what we’re seeing – Jason

I addressed the first part a bit above, but to recap, now that Datome is in the rotation, I think we’ll see that continue for a few games. If he doesn’t play well, I think we’ll see, in order, Villanueva, Harrellson, then Mitchell. It’s possible Cheeks could just go back to Jerebko too, who hasn’t played awful, but he doesn’t really bring the offense the second unit could use.

I share your concerns about Caldwell-Pope and Cheeks’ mentality. I praised Cheeks for going back to Caldwell-Pope in the second half vs. Memphis after he’d made a few mistakes in the first half. I’d like to take that praise back now. Caldwell-Pope followed up his best performance as a pro with a DNP-CD. That’s straight out of the Kuester-Frank Manual of How to Handle Young Players. If Cheeks keeps it up, he’ll soon be reading the Kuester-Frank follow-up edition, “How to landing an assistant coaching job after you get fired.”

Whether Caldwell-Pope’s shaky shooting comes around or not, the Pistons need his size, athleticism and defensive ability in their backcourt. Will Bynum is possibly the worst defensive player in the league. Chauncey Billups is too old to play defense. Stuckey has only occasionally played interested defense in his career. Caldwell-Pope was drafted in the lottery largely because scouts noticed how consistently he defended. So he better play or the Pistons better be prepared to get shredded every time they play a team with a decent shooting guard.


PistonPowered Mailbag: Welcome to the season

The PistonPowered Mailbag will run every Wednesday. Submit questions to patrickhayes13(at)gmail(dot)com or on Twitter @patrick_hayes. Also, follow me on Twitter … there is no reason Feldman should have like 1,500 more followers than me. He barely even tweets!

In my column on Monday, I timidly put out a request for questions to start a weekly mailbag feature. I was anticipating that it would take a few weeks for the idea of a mailbag to catch on, so I was planning to just answer any questions that came in on Mondays as part of my column. I was pleasantly surprised by getting a handful of really good questions in emails, tweets and comments already — I mean, I’m no Keith Langlois (yet!) when it comes to volume of questions to choose from, but I think we have at least enough to have some good pregame discussion as the season opens tonight. Let’s dive in …

Who will be the Pistons most tough/interesting match up this season? @CreatorMarvin on Twitter

How the Pistons and their really unique super-sized, athletic lineup that can’t really shoot matches up with virtually every team in the league will be interesting in some capacity this season. There’s a lot of interest in seeing whether Detroit’s strategy — mashing talent together regardless of fit/position — works. They’ll create matchup issues for most teams and, in turn, have matchup problems of their own against some teams. I’ll pick three opponents that I’m really looking forward to seeing Detroit play.

Miami, because duh. No one can defend LeBron James, but Josh Smith is the type of long-armed, athletic, strong defensive player who can at least make things tough for him. They have growing options in the backcourt to defend Dwyane Wade — Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was drafted partially for his defensive inclinations, Kyle Singler isn’t the most quick-footed defender but he can competently defend multiple positions (he often gets beat off the dribble, but he’s great at recovering by reaching over players to block or contest shots without fouling once he’s been beat) and Rodney Stuckey, in theory, is strong and fast enough to be a great defensive guard (I’ve written this sentence before each of the last five seasons or so). Combine those perimeter options with a rim protector like Andre Drummond, and the Pistons should have the tools to copy some of the effective ways Indiana defended the Heat with physical perimeter defense, followed by funneling everyone inside to Roy Hibbert to contest shots. And speaking of …

Indiana. Before a stray beer from a moron helped derail things, the Pistons and Pacers were developing a compelling rivalry in the mid 2000s. A combination of fan pummelings, injuries and other issues brought that throwback to the 80s-90s era of two physical teams abusing each other to a premature end, but just under a decade later, the Pacers are once again a very talented, physical, up-and-coming team. The Pistons aren’t as good as the Pacers yet, but I would love to see another inner-division rivalry between these two teams develop over the next couple of seasons. The Pistons need to do their part by committing to defense and finding another shooter or two to add to their lineup, but at the very least, I’m hoping for competitive games this season with Indiana.

Memphis. I’m mainly just interested in seeing how the Pistons match up with arguably the league’s most physical team over the last few seasons. The other element of intrigue here is that the Grizzlies have had great success with a frontcourt-dominant, large lineup that didn’t feature much elite perimeter shooting, so perhaps the Pistons can learn from their model. The first step, though, is finding out if Detroit, one of the league’s softest teams over the past few seasons, can deal with a bullying, tough team like Memphis. If they can, making the playoffs will seem like a much more probable result for this season.

Patrick, can you explain why max contract guys have agents? I’ve never understood this. Is it just about negotiating outside endorsements? Because when your salary is capped and you’re going to hit that cap anyway, why pay someone a percentage to negotiate for you? tarsier in the comments

Well, I would first of all say that those outside endorsements are a pretty huge deal … in some cases, endorsement deals for max-level players can run longer than someone’s playing career and be more lucrative as well, so having someone who can negotiate good deals for you at the height of your fame and popularity is a pretty big deal.

As for why have an agent negotiate for you when you are surely a max player, I assume it just has to do with the complexity of the CBA — I can barely figure out how to pick the right health insurance plan, so I can only imagine all of the legalese that has to be navigated through while signing a max-level NBA deal, and minus an agent involved, I wouldn’t put it past a team to slip some sort of team-friendly provision or loophole into a deal. Plus, flexibility, or lack thereof, could also be a motivation. You’re paying an agent to represent you, but you’re also paying for their connections. Maybe a player wants a max extension but doesn’t want it from his current team — having an agent to advise how to navigate your way to another team while still getting the money/years you want on your contract would likely be helpful.

Two questions for the mailbag 1) will the pistons regret not drafting Kelly Olynyk? 2) how about Rudy Gay/Demarr Derozan for Monroe/V/Stuckey? pT in the comments

Hmm … I have a hunch pT is Canadian, with those Canada-friendly questions he submitted. But I actually think he’s fairly serious about both proposals, so I’ll give a response.

First, I don’t think the Pistons will necessarily regret not drafting Olynyk, but I do actually think he’s a better fit with the team now than I did at the time of the draft. Olynyk can play, and though frontcourt isn’t exactly a need, floor-spacing is, so adding a stretch big to the mix who isn’t Charlie Villanueva wouldn’t be a bad move. But do I think they’ll regret it? No. Olynyk would be a nice luxury for the Pistons, but he’s not a necessity. They might regret taking Kentavious Caldwell-Pope if he doesn’t pan out as expected, and they might regret passing on Trey Burke, but they won’t regret passing on Olynyk, even though I think Olynyk is in line to have a pretty good rookie season.

As far as the proposed trade, I’d say yes to that if you remove Monroe as a piece the Pistons would send the Raptors in exchange. The issues with Rudy Gay are well-documented … despite “looking” like a prototypical NBA star with his height and athleticism, he’s never been close to playing at that level. He’d be a fine player to have in your lineup if he wasn’t being paid like he should be the best player in your lineup. DeRozan (DeRoZan? DeRoZaN?) is essentiallyRodney Stuckey — he can get to the line and occasionally score some points fairly inefficiently for you. He can give you highlight dunks. He can’t do much else. Hell, he might even be worse than Stuckey because Stuckey is cheaper, can play two positions, can handle the ball better and occasionally plays defense. DeRoZAn would do nothing but make an already bad shooting starting lineup even worse.

1. Did you know that manic, tweeter Karl you mentioned is a (semi-) famous German soccer player? He was on the national side that won the last world cup (1990) and euro championship (1992) for Germany, so big deal over here. (check him out at wiki, his nickname was even “air,” now he is a NBA nerd, I love it!)

2. Regarding Monroe, does he seem like the type of player to actually leave the Pistons – assuming the money is the same – or is all the trade buzz purely because he might not fit and Gores wants to avoid the tax. How do the Pistons react if the frontcourt meshes enough that some solid shooting from the backcourt solves all the spacing issues and Monroe performs up to max status. Is it still going to be a problem because they don´t want to pay the max? Do you see any scenario in which we don´t trade Moose? — Fabian

HUGE thanks to Fabian for that dispatch from Germany … we’ve heard from enough fans in Europe at PistonPowered over the years to know that the team does have a modest following there, but I had no idea the Pistons had celebrity European fans. I think I might have to reach out to Karl for an interview. Stay tuned for that.

As for your second question, I don’t think there has been any indication that Monroe is particularly unhappy in Detroit or longs to play elsewhere. I think his agent has — correctly — determined that Monroe’s market is the max, and I don’t think you’ll see him sign for less than that with the Pistons or otherwise. I’m not convinced the Pistons want to pay him the max yet, but there also doesn’t seem to be any indication that either side is displeased with the other, so that’s positive.

If everything goes according to plan, if Monroe-Smith-Drummond operate cohesively, and if the roster appears to need only a few minor upgrades rather than a drastic trade of a talented player like Monroe to bring in talent at a perimeter spot, I think it’s perfectly conceivable that Monroe signs a max extension and the Pistons proceed with that front line as their core group for the immediate future. There are only two scenarios where I see the Pistons trading Monroe — a team makes them an overwhelmingly good offer that they can’t turn down or the team underperforms and Joe Dumars makes a panic trade in order to reach the short-term goal of making the playoffs this season. I think both of those scenarios are unlikely, albeit not completely impossible. And the first scenario is certainly far more preferable than the second.

Mo Cheeks recently indicated that he prefers keeping Bynum in his role of coming off the bench, something i agree with. But part of his reasoning was that he liked the way the Bynum has been playing with Drummond. Please, please tell me that Cheeks wasn’t insinuating that Dre is going to be featured on the 2nd unit. This kid needs start and play as many minutes as his fouls allow. – Mark

What better note to close the first mailbag on than a Will Bynum question?

Mark’s question is moot for the moment as, it appears, that Bynum will start with Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Jennings out. As far as what happens when everyone is healthy, I don’t think Cheeks’ comments mean that he intends to have Drummond come off the bench. Cheeks has already said that Drummond will likely be the first big to rest in the frontcourt rotation, which makes sense considering Drummond’s age, his conditioning issues last year and the fact that the Pistons will want him to avoid foul trouble. So the likely answer is that Drummond likely goes to the bench first, then he’ll return to the lineup sometime in the second quarter along with Bynum, who will likely be spelling Jennings.

If Cheeks’ plan were to bring Drummond off the bench, his coaching tenure would be short-lived even by Joe Dumars’ standards. I think it’s safe to assume that Drummond, as long as he stays healthy and can handle the workload, starts and plays 28-34 minutes per game most nights. I do agree with Cheeks though — based on their chemistry, it’s going to be important to find some minutes for Bynum and Drummond to share the court together.