Team Name: Detroit Pistons
Last Year's Record: 29-53 (4th in Central Division)
Losses: 53 of them... oh, personnel? Lawrence Frank (fired), Jose Calderon (bolted in free agency), Brandon Knight (traded), Khris Middleton (traded), Viacheslav Kravtsov (traded) and Corey Maggette (expired; now with SPURS)
Additions: Maurice Cheeks (hired to be head coach), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (draft), Tony Mitchell (draft), Peyton Siva (draft), Josh Smith (free agency), Brandon Jennings (trade), Chauncey Billups (free agency), Luigi Datome (free agency, Europe), Josh Harrellson (free agency) and Rasheeeeeeeeed Wallace (hired to be developmental coach)
1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?
The Pistons made a few significant moves -- did you hear? You may have heard. You probably heard.
Let's start from the top (after Frank got canned): In June, following a lengthy search and decision process, Joe Dumars hired Maurice Cheeks, a retread and Dumars' seventh head coach since becoming the Pistons' President of Basketball Operations in 2000-01. No matter whom he hired, Dumars would have a lot of work to do to put him in a better position to succeed than previous coaches. And work Dumars would do.
After drafting shooter Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, forward Tony Mitchell and point guard Peyton Siva (and passing on TREY BURKE), Dumars sent shockwaves through the league and its fanbase by signing polarizing A-list free agent Josh Smith to a huge deal. A talent upgrade to be sure, but maybe not a very good fit given the Pistons' existing make up of one of the league's best young front courts in Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. And how in Gores name will the Pistons be able to afford all three down the road?
Dumars followed up the J-Smoove move by acquiring another flashy, if not overrated, name in Brandon Jennings, giving up on the disappointing and mostly just embarrassing 8th overall pick from the 2011 draft, Brandon Knight. Jennings is considered another risk because he's not a true pass-first point guard like, say, Jose Calderon or The One That Ran Away and Jennings took (and missed) a lot of bad shots in Milwaukee. That said, a fresh start in Detroit presents plenty of potential to be legitimately excited about. On somewhat of a bargain deal for the next three years, maybe he's the good kind of risk.
Interestingly enough, the "wow" moves of the offseason might not even be what will matter the most. Dumars continued his active offseason by adding depth to the wing, luring 25-year-old Italian League MVP Luigi "Gigi" Datome to the Pistons despite interest from other reputable teams. Datome, an incredibly gifted shooter, could be the team's X-factor and a dark horse candidate for Rookie of the Year if he earns minutes in what is shaping up to be a crowded rotation. At worst, there could be amusing Gigli photoshops.
Last, and certainly most important in the sentimental department, Dumars pleased all Pistons fans by re-signing the former Finals MVP and still-productive Chauncey Billups to a two-year deal. It doesn't absolve Dumars from criticism after ill-advisedly trading Billups five years ago, but Dumars has apologized for the errors of his ways (to Billups at least) and now Mr. Big Shot can retire in the jersey he belongs.
Other moves that weren't insignificant: hiring Rasheed Wallace to coach some and collect some more techs; re-signing Will Bynum, who has great chemistry with Drummond; not amnestying Charlie Villanueva; and bringing in Josh "Jorts" Harrellson.
2. What are the team's biggest strengths?
For as talent deficient and insolvent as the Pistons have been in recent years, there's no denying the talent upgrade and athleticism of this year's new-look squad. Over the last five years or so, this has been a team at or near the bottom of the league in "Watchability" and have suddenly skyrocketed to near the top by the standards of some respected NBA opinions.
Of course, being interesting isn't a strength. But what makes the Pistons so interesting is their talent up front. The Pistons might have one of the best front courts in the NBA this year and potentially the best post duo in Monroe and Drummond since 1976. Smith will only bolster it. Charlie Villanueva might even be useful. It's a strength -- among the NBA's strongest -- and people want to watch it flex.
The Pistons should rarely lose rebounding battles and should again finish near the top of the NBA in points in the paint (they were second last year and, as MFMP has pointed out before, have the highest three-year average of points in the paint in the entire league). When Jennings signed, he said he would be bringing Lob City to the Motor City, and that's very plausible.
3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
One of the biggest knocks on the Smith signing is that he and the other bigs are all too similar, need the same spots on the floor to succeed and thus, will create unmanageable spacing issues for one another. MFMP did a far better job than I could in explaining this. Essentially, Smith will have to play to his weaknesses so as to not create an ineffectual logjam in the middle.
Dumars hopes KCP, Datome, Billups, Jennings, Singler and even CV31 ameliorate some of these potential issues but the top two listed there are unproven rookies and the group was 2 for 19 combined in the Pistons' first preseason game. Shooting in general should be considered a weakness (bottom five in 10-23 ft shooting). A good indicator of shooting ability is free throw shooting, and the Pistons ranked 29th in the NBA from the stripe last season. Smith's career 65-percent free throw shooting certainly won't help.
4. What are the goals for this team?
I think the major goal for the team is to get back to the 'Bad Boys' or 'Going to Work' brand of basketball where defense dominates again and is the source for more wins. It's not unreasonable to think they can at the very least eke their way into the playoffs, too. These are the realistic and achievable team goals.
5. What will be the starting back court?
It's a question that seems to be asked of the beat writers every day on Twitter, in mailbags and probably when they're at the Farmer's Market. Ideally, KCP will force Cheeks' hand, but it would not surprise me to see Billups start alongside Jennings to begin the season. Starting Billups with Jennings will allow KCP to ease into a bigger role as he acclimates to the NBA game while also not putting too much pressure on him before he even gets his feet wet. Meanwhile, Billups and Jennings can alternate playing floor general, Jennings learning from the veteran first hand in sort of the modern day combo guard role that Dumars seems to love.
Prediction: The O/U on wins for the Pistons this year is 41 (7th in the East) -- I'll take the slightly over.