Team Name: Detroit Pistons
Last Year's Record: 25-41 (or 31-51 in dog years)
Key Losses: Ben Wallace, Ben Gordon, Vernon Macklin, Damien Wilkins, Walker Russell
Key Additions: Andre Drummond, Khris Middleton, Kim English, Vyacheslav Kravtsov, Corey Maggette, Kyle Singler, Terrence Williams, Jonny Flynn
1. What significant moves were made during the offseason?
It was a busy summer in Detroit. First, the Pistons sacrificed a future first-round pick in a trade that sent Ben Gordon to Charlotte for Corey Maggette and his expiring contract. Two days later, Detroit selected Andre Drummond with its lottery pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. The optimist will see these moves as the highest activity level Detroit has seen since William Davidson owned the team. The pessimist will recognize that these transactions will have little effect on the team's performance in 2012-13. Both the optimist and the pessimist are correct.
While a lot of money changed hands, a few first-round picks were spent and a lot of players were added this summer, little changed with regard to the team's immediate on-court identity. The aforementioned Maggette was injured last season, and didn't show up to half of his games in Charlotte. Andre Drummond was healthy throughout his first college season, but he didn't show up to half of his games, either.
Despite the activity of the summer, Detroit didn't get much of anything done for the season ahead. They let a few backups walk, they traded a backup for a backup, they signed some backups and they drafted some backups. Sadly, the backups were never the problem. The problem is that Detroit had only two starters last season that were deserving of their roles, and they've spent the last five months shuffling around the deck chairs on the boring boat. All Aboard! Destination: another late lottery pick.
In short, despite all of the moves the team made this summer, it's still stuck in the "might be if" stage of development. The team "might be" good "if" Brandon Knight learns how to pass, defend. The team "might be" good "if" Andre Drummond learns how to rebound, score. Yes, there is always hope ... and there is always money in the banana stand.
2. What are the team's greatest strengths?
I promise this is going to (eventually) be a lot more positive than the last part. To get to the positive, however, we need to get real for a second. This team doesn't have any strengths yet. Offense? Nope. Defense? Nope. Pace? Nuh-uh. Shot-blocking? Sorry. Three-point shooting? Try again. Rebounding? Doo doo. Passing? Negatory. Turnovers? Used to be. What is this team good at?
I say this not to ruin your day, but to show just how far this team has to go in its transition before it can be competitive again. It is not a move or two away from gettin' serious in the playoffs, it is a move or two away from the roster solvency necessary for comprehensive rebuilding.
Before going down with an injury in March, Stuckey produced on the level of a top-five shooting guard, perhaps even higher. At the time, he was second only to Kobe Bryant in free-throw attempts per game, was near the top in assists per game, shot well on the perimeter and took great care of the ball. This is a promising development for the Pistons, because this followed four disappointing seasons at point guard that preceded a complicated contract extension. If the team sees even 80% of what Stuckey produced in February and March of 2012, they'll be in good shape in the coming season. Given that he's shown consistent improvement since his rookie season, the opportunity for more is very reasonable.
While Stuckey was solid for a few healthy months last season, Greg Monroe was a beast from opening night to the end of the season. His sophomore improvement placed him in the Most Improved Player discussion, and at only 31.5 minutes per game and 12 shot attempts per contest, he has room to grow. He has consistently shown that the more he's relied upon, the more involvement he's given, he not only follows through -- he grows. Give this young man an All Star's minutes and shot attempts, and I'll show you an All Star. Sure, we're talking "reserve list" All Star, but if a young big man from Detroit gets the nod, it'll be a great thing for the team.
3. What are the team's greatest weaknesses?
Back to the negative. If you're a Pistons fan, you can rest assured that the team solved its biggest weakness in the 2012 NBA Draft: they added an athletic, defensive-minded, shot-blocking big man. That's what the team needed most, right?
No. The 2011-12 Detroit Pistons were a middle-of-the-road defensive team, something they hadn't been since Rasheed, Antonio and Chauncey were wearing the red and blue. Fans who wanted that big man were hung up on the perception of an optimal frontcourt pairing with Greg Monroe, not what the team needed most. They were one of the worst offensive teams in the league last season, scoring a poor collection of points on a poor selection of shots. Two of the team's shot attempt leaders Tayshaun Prince and Brandon Knight didn't help things, but beyond those two there were few if any decent options beyond Greg Monroe, Rodney Stuckey and Jonas Jerebko.
So to start 2012-13, Detroit is still featuring a starting lineup with three offensively-challenged players: Knight, Prince and Jason Maxiell. The team did nothing in the offseason to resolve that, and the only hope is a significant change in philosophy from the coach and a change in shot selection from Prince and Knight. Again, "might be" good "if".
In short, a wide number of Pistons fans may have thought the minority that supported a Jared Sullinger draft were crazy. Well, we're actually paying attention to the Pistons right now, so of course we're crazy. We may have also been on to something ...
4. What are the goals for this season?
The team's goals should be twofold: 1) Build a solvent roster. 2) Develop the youth movement.
1) Roster solvency is a very simple concept. It's one that I will be using a lot this season, and one I've only hinted at before-- but it has been deep in many of our hearts for a long time. Again, it's simple:
sol·vent/ˈsälvənt/ Adjective: Having assets in excess of liabilities.
This team has carried liabilities that have outweighed the value of its assets since 2009. Dumars doubled down last winter when he bought out Richard Hamilton (whom the team is still paying) to pay for a crazy extension for Tayshaun Prince. The goal this season should be the same as it has been since those first screw-ups in 2009. To dump the liabilities and build assets.
This doesn't have to be difficult. It's easy to pick up assets. You can buy second-round draft picks for less than a million bucks. You can sign guys like Gustavo Ayon out of nowhere. Detroit actually did some of this recently by picking up Jonny Flynn and Terrence Williams. Both players will cost the team nothing, and by that statement, they have an opportunity to produce something in contrast. If not, there is no loss, not like the $5.5M the team owes Richard Hamilton this season.
In short, the team needs to dump all liabilities. That includes Tayshaun Prince, Charlie Villanueva, Jason Maxiell and Corey Maggette. Fortunately for the team, the last two are on expiring deals, so they disappear this season anyway.
2) A move to develop the youth movement is kind of implicit in the first section above. If the team can move Tayshaun Prince, Corey Maggette, Jason Maxiell and Charlie Villanueva, it'll clear up playing time for Kyle Singler, Kim English, Jonas Jerebko and Andre Drummond. Those guys, amongst others, need to get plenty of NBA burn so the team can evaluate their worth. Having a lot of young, productive players is a good thing, and it's not very difficult to accomplish (ahem, Houston).
The more this team hands the keys to players like Tayshaun Prince, the longer it delays the transition it truly needs to embrace.
5. What can Detroit do to reverse its fate?
Follow the above. Dump the dead weight, push the youth movement. If they can do both, they'll start 2013-14 with another lottery pick, a lot of young assets that can help the team or facilitate trades. They have two solid building blocks in Greg Monroe and Rodney Stuckey, and anyone else on the team should be in play to bring in one or two more starter-quality studs. If history is any indicator, it's not that difficult of a job. The question will be how committed this team is to its youth movement and how hard it works to build a smart, solvent roster. If it can't address one or both of these questions in the coming season, the 2013-14 season could be a continuation of this mess.
It doesn't need to be. The worst could be behind us Pistons fans. Sadly, the only existing hope is all about "might be"-- "if".