When I think about the rebuilding process of the Pistons over the last four years, it reminds me of driving down the same road you've been taking to work for years and passing the same vacant lot that has bulldozers, tractors, and trucks that don't ever seem to move and you don't ever remember seeing a worker there. This rebuilding process also doesn't seem to follow most common professional sports rebuilding methods. In most cases, you blow up the team very quickly, acquire a crap ton of draft picks, and have all but maybe one or two holdovers from 2-3 years prior.
However, we know that's not the case with the Pistons. It's felt like they've been removing a brick and putting a newer, not better, brick right back in that spot. Work was done, but you're still where you left off. One year Ben leaves, then later Billups, then Sheed leaves, then Ben comes back, then Hamilton leaves, then Ben leaves again, then Tayshaun leaves (honestly, I may have that order messed up some). Those "newer" bricks were Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Austin Daye, "The Wrong" DaJuan Summers, Chris Wilcox, etc.
Finally, we got a couple better bricks laid when we drafted Jonas Jerebko, Greg Monroe, and Andre Drummond (this jury is still out on BK7). However, starting this season, there were still four players on the roster who played on the 2008-09 roster (Maxiell, Stuckey, Prince and Bynum). Two of those players, Stuckey and Prince, were resigned since 2008-09. Absolutely too slow of a rebuild and around the wrong players.
So going into the 2013-14 season, the Pistons will very likely only have 1 player left over from the 2008-09 season, and that's Rodney Stuckey. Looking at the Pistons' salary obligations for next season (via HoopsHype) it appears that the Pistons have 10 players returning. I had heard elsewhere that English and Kravtsov are team options, but I haven't confirmed that. So we'll have just over 2/3 of the team from the 2012-13 season returning. We have three draft picks (currently) and around $23-$25M to spend in free agency to pick up the rest of the players to fill out the roster.
So what do we have returning as the foundation to build on? All of the following is assuming that we aren't able to resign Calderon, we let Maxiell, Maggette, and Bynum walk, keep Kravtsov and English, and don't use the Amnesty clause on Villanueva. Also for the following, I'm only going off of the last 36 games of the season (when we traded for Calderon).
Well, using each individual player's PG stats, it appears that we'll have 75.4% of the offense coming back. The combined FG% of those returning is 45.15% as compared to the 45.3% the entire team was, so barely any drop off. Our 3P% gets even worse, going from 34.4% to 31.2%. As expected (by losing Calderon), our FT% gets even more abysmal, dropping from 70.5% to 65.2%. As for rebounding, 83% of our offensive, 80.3% of our defensive, and 80.87% of our total rebounds return. We lose our second best thief (Calderon), our second best blocker (Maxiell), and our best and third best facilitators (Calderon and Bynum).
Another question is, how does this look on an efficiency level? On a Per36 level, we have 75.8% of our made shots and 77.04% of our taken shots, 76.7% of our made 3 pointers, 82.6% of our taken 3 pointers, 80.07% of our made free throws and 83.9% of our taken free throws returning. All of that means that we have 76.63% of our offense coming back on a Per36 level. In terms of rebounding, 83.47% of our offensive, 81.77% of our defensive, and 82.4% of our total rebounds returning.
Now there are some other things to take into consideration with these numbers. Not any one player played in all 36 of those final games. Andre missed 24 due to injury, Calderon 8, and Maxiell 12. But even Knight didn't play in 9 of those, Monroe in 3, Jerebko in 6, Stuckey in 2, Villanueva in 5, Bynum in 9, Middleton in 13 and English in 15. If you're wondering why that matters, it's because having Calderon for more of those games could have shown a better offense, meaning we might not be losing as much, or could be losing more, by losing Calderon. If Drummond had played more (and started during that time), the offense may have looked even better, meaning we wouldn't be losing so much by losing Calderon, Maxiell and Bynum.
Ok, so to the title question: What's the foundation and how much longer? Well I'm sure most of us believe the foundation primarily lies around two players: Monroe and Drummond. However, due to youth and potential, you could argue that Jerebko, Singler and Knight (eh!!!) could be a part of that foundation. But taking who's returning next year, along with being 19 wins out of the playoffs (39.6% of the wins needed to make the playoffs, 65.5% of our wins for the year), needing to hire (and learn) a new coach...I don't think the Pistons will likely be in the playoffs until 2014-15. Now, a lot of that also hinges on what we do with our picks (draft them, trade them, move up/down, etc.) and cap money.
My prediction for next year is a team that will be more fun to watch (just by having Drummond in the starting lineup all year) and will be two spots out of the playoffs. Cleveland has two first round picks, expect them to get marginally better. Chicago will have Rose back. Indiana is a strong team and not likely to be going anywhere. Milwaukee seems to be the only team in our division that will likely be worse than us. Miami is going to be Miami, NYK may still hold it's own (though losing J.R. Smith will hurt), Brooklyn will likely play better, Washington could possibly leap frog us (pick, healthy Wall, etc.)... Now, there are some teams that are going to have a hard time. Atlanta, unless they lure Howard, is likely to fall hard. Boston, to be continued... Philadelphia, new coach, depends on if Bynum stays, etc. Toronto is Toronto. Charlotte and Orlando are likely to stay the same, though they'll try really hard to improve.
So the front office of the Pistons needs to be really smart and savvy this summer. If they need to trade players for picks or to move up, do it (but leave Monroe and Drummond alone in doing so). If they feel the need to overpay anyone other than CP3, DON'T DO IT!!! The Pistons, for their fans sake and for Joe's job, can ill-afford a botched draft pick, letting trades fall through, and another free agent crapper like 2008-09.