AUBURN HILLS — At The Palace recently the Detroit Pistons held their annual media day, and, as is always the case at the start of a new season for professional sports teams, the mood was completely upbeat as the team gets ready for their Oct. 27 opener at New Jersey.
I’m waiting with wide-eyed anticipation. Will they reproduce their inglorious 27-55 record from last season? Or will they find the basketball Holy Grail and maybe, for this team, finish above .500 and make the playoffs?
It is hard to believe that most Pistons fans and my own expectations for the Pistons have been downgraded mightily in recent years. No one is predicting a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals or winning their division. The word at training camp is, “Just get better and compete.”
By all accounts this will be a strange looking team full of medium-sized players. The team is loaded with small forwards and shooting guards. The big question for me is does the Pistons’ second-year coach, John Kuester, have the coaching acumen to turn all these similar pieces into a cohesive collective that can be a competitive NBA team?
In a way I kind of like this players mix. Sure, they can fail miserably or they can over-achieve. Which team will we see?
If Kuester has the magic touch and can on any given night checkmate real scoring threats like Rodney Stuckey, Charlie Villanueva, Tracy McGrady, Ben Gordon, Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, who knows what will happen. Add in hungry young players like Austin Daye, DaJuan Summers and Will Bynum, and the potential is there to at least be competitive.
The Pistons front line is thin, but the individuals they have are hustlers. Starting with veteran center Ben Wallace, rookie Greg Monroe, Jonas Jerebko and banger Chris Wilcox. If this group can stay healthy, they can be serviceable.
No, I’m not coach Kuester and training camp has just started, but my early observation projects that the odd men out of this year’s 12-man roster might be Jason Maxiell, Chucky Atkins, Bynum and rookie Terrico White.
“I think we’re heavy at every position,” Kuester said. “I think one of the things that you want in a camp is competition. We have a lot of guys who are diversified, guys that can play four positions on our team.”
It is going to take an innovative Kuester to try Don Nelson-type lineups to maximize the talent base Pistons president Joe Dumars has assembled. We should see Prince, Daye and McGrady at point guard periodically.
Coach should use everyone on his 12-person roster at least 10 minutes per game, every game. And if it is Prince’s day in the proverbial basketball zone . . . or Hamilton’s day . . . or Gordon’s day . . . or McGrady’s day . . . or Villanueva’s day . . . or Stuckey’s day to be in the basketball groove, they should play the majority minutes on that day.
I remember interviewing former Pistons’ coach Chuck Daley and he told me that “on any given day, Vinnie (Johnson) could play more minutes than Dumars or Dennis (Rodman) would play more that Mark (Aguirre)” and so it went with the Bad Boys.
With this interesting collective Kuester has, he should take a long look a Nelson’s and Daley’s coaching style and maybe integrate many of their teachings into what he is doing with this talent base. It will take courage to sit Hamilton if McGrady’s in the zone in the fourth quarter. Or to sit Wallace and play Wilcox or sit Prince and play Summers. It would be all for the good if the team starts winning. I’m sure there would be no complaints.
Dumars was only able to add Monroe from Georgetown and injury-prone McGrady. Are these two enough of an upgrade to get the Pistons back to the NBA Playoffs?
Another big cloud hovering over the Pistons is when, if ever, Karen Davidson will sell the team. That surely was and is a distraction that affects the team’s ability to make trades and enact other administrative deals.
Leland Stein III can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo Credit: Andre Smith