Pistons, part 1: Knight, Monroe make positive strides for Pistons

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    greg-monroe-dribbleThe Detroit Pistons just concluded their fourth consecutive losing campaign, finishing the regular NBA season with a 25-41 record. Some basketball pundits have said there are plenty of reasons to smile when looking into the crystal ball of the Pistons’ future.

    However, after giving Detroit area fans a noteworthy run of six consecutive NBA Eastern Conference Finals, watching the 2012 NBA Playoffs unfold still leaves a void in my basketball spirit. The question is why am I feeling a void, when the Pistons have posted 25-41, 30-52, 27-55, and 39-43 records since 2008-09?

    Just think, in 2007-08 our Pistons had a 59-23 record and lost in the Eastern Conference Finals. It now seems like a thousand years ago. The main question is when will this gallant franchise right itself and get back into the NBA hunt for a title?

    With a shortened year due to the lockout and a roster of unproven talent, the expectations for the 2011-12 Pistons season were set at a low bar. The Pistons weren’t expected to make the playoffs or become the Cinderella team of the NBA.

    Also, this was head coach Lawrence Frank’s first season at the helm. He followed a string of unsuccessful  coach selections by Pistons President Joe Dumars. Flip Saunders, Michael Curry and John Kuester all have had recent shots at being the face of the franchise.

    The Detroit fans are eager to see the Pistons get back to their winning ways. Could it come sooner than expected? Will next season be the one?

    Many are saying Dumars has found his guy in Frank. Did Frank, unlike Kuester, start the process of changing the mentality of the team and create a positive vibe with his players? The popular theory is he will be the coach for many years to come.

    “We started the season 4-20, but finished it over .500 the rest of the way,” Frank told me. “I’m disappointed that we did not make the playoffs or finish .500. With us sitting at home watching the playoffs, hopefully it will be motivation for some. No doubt we have to get better, starting with me.”

    Frank does indeed have a solid nucleus to revamp the franchise. Point guard Brandon Knight and guard Rodney Stuckey are a decent backcourt pair. They may not be as good as the Bad Boys era — the Pistons who had one of the best backcourts in the NBA with Dumars and Isiah Thomas. Years later, Dumars paired Richard Hamilton and Chauncey Billups as they helped lead Detroit to a championship in 2004.

    As the season progressed, Frank turned the team over to his young point guard. Knight made great progression as the season went on and earned his stripes as a rookie. With a full offseason and continuous development with the team, Knight can be the leader the Pistons need.

    “As the season went on I felt better about what I could contribute to this team,” Knight said. 

    “I know I have work to do to get better and compete with all the great point guards in this league. I plan to stay in Detroit in the offseason and work on the things I can to take my game to another level and help this team get better.”

    For many seasons, head coaches tried to make Stuckey into a point guard. 

    With the growth of Knight, Stuckey was able to slide over to shooting guard and highlight his natural ability as a scorer. Stuckey drives the lane as well as anybody in the NBA and has had some big fourth quarters for the Pistons.

    Another bright spot for the Pistons was center Greg Monroe. He put together a fine campaign for Most Improved Player this season, averaging 15.4 points and 9.7 rebounds, including an impressive 31 double-doubles.

    Monroe established himself as one of the better centers in the league and will stay in that elite company as his game continues to evolve.

    It’s unclear where Detroit will draft on June 28, but the draft carries a deep pool of talent, especially in the frontcourt.

    The Pistons need to find a consistent power forward to play next to Monroe. 

    Frank played musical chairs at that position last season, rotating a large number of players at that spot (Jason Maxiell, Austin Daye, Charlie Villanueva, Ben Wallace and Jerebko). All are useful role players off the bench, but the Pistons need a real beast to complement Monroe. 

    There is plenty at stake on the Pistons’ offseason.

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