Joe Dumars touched upon several topics during Monday's press conference. First and foremost, we know Flip Saunders' job is safe. Not a big surprise there, but it's the first public endorsement since the Eastern Conference Debacle ended a week or so ago. What else did he talk about?
- Coasting will no longer be tolerated.
Far too often the Pistons coasted through stretches of the regular season and playoffs, seemingly confident in their ability to simply "flip the switch" when it mattered most. Maybe it worked in the past, but it didn't this season and won't be acceptable behavior next year. From Pistons.com:
"Complacency is the worst thing you can have in sports. That’s not going to be the calling card of our team going forward. That’s been the tag, and deservedly so a lot of times. I’m not going to sit here and defend it. But it won’t be the calling card going forward. Either you play with that sense of urgency or you don’t. At this level you can’t sit back. Status quo just doesn’t get it. And we won’t be status quo."
What does Dumars mean when he says "either you play with that sense of urgency or you don't"? Apparently, he's being quite literal: anyone who doesn't give full effort will have their minutes slashed. Which leads us to our next point ...
- The starters will play fewer minutes. But, you know, for real this time.
Again, from Pistons.com:
"You can change a sense of urgency," he said. "If you’ve been playing 38 minutes a game here and you’re saying, ‘I can’t sustain that the whole season and through the playoffs,’ then don’t complain when we cut you to 30 minutes. You cut the minutes back and you say, ‘OK, I want the intensity. We’re not going to keep you out there for 40 minutes a night.’
"You just change the minutes around. If we went forward and say we’re gong to keep playing our core guys 40 minutes a night, you can’t do that. That doesn’t work. I can tell you firsthand you can’t pout (sic) those guys out there 40 minutes every night and then grind through the playoffs. What you do is say we’re not going to ask you to do that. Don’t complain, though, when you play 30 minutes a night. I don’t want to hear it. This is the way it’s going to be. That’s how you address that.
We heard a similar promise last year ... and how did that work out? DBB reader Matt Gibson looked up the numbers:
Richard Hamilton 35:17
Chauncey Billups 36:06
Rasheed Wallace 34:42
Tayshaun Prince 35:17
Richard Hamilton 36:47
Chauncey Billups 36:12
Rasheed Wallace 32:17
Tayshaun Prince 36:36
Now, technically speaking, the Pistons missed a few more games with injury this past season so they didn't actually match the total minutes played from 05-06, but that's beside the point. Three of the four core players saw their minutes increase during a season in which the pre-season mandate was to develop the bench.
Jason Maxiell enjoyed some success this year, but he was in and out of the rotation all season long when he should have been "in" the entire time. Carlos Delfino saw action in every game, but he, too, had sporadic minutes, especially come playoff time. Plus, none of the reserves ever seemed to be rewarded for a solid performance with a few extra minutes the next night.
For some reason, though, at least a small part of me actually believes that Dumars will force Saunders to carry through with the mandate to reduce minutes across the board. For one, Chauncey and Tayshaun will be playing with Team USA this summer, so there will be immediate pressure for Saunders to watch their minutes early in the season.
Secondly, Maxiell should be a full-time member of the rotation from the get-go, as opposed to starting out on the bench and having to wait for the right opportunity to come in and impress. Third, Amir Johnson (who is a restricted free agent this summer) will be working on a brand new contract, and the size of his paycheck should alert Saunders to the fact that he's considered a vital piece of Detroit's future.
Why do I seem so confident that Maxiell and Johnson will get an opportunity to shine? Partially because Joe called them out by name ...
- Maxiell and Johnson will play more.
"Maxiell has shown that he’s more than ready to step in. But these other young guys are going to get an opportunity, too. Amir Johnson. We’ve got to keep bringing in young blood – young blood, new blood, athleticism. It’s time for that influx to start having a serious impact going forward. We won’t just go forward with the same old same old. You’ll see new people, new blood, new faces out on the court for the Pistons.
Against both the Bulls and the Cavs, it was clear that the Pistons needed to get more athletic, especially in the front court. Energy, hustle and toughness is never a problem when Maxiell is on the court, and Johnson might already be the team's best rebounder. The Pistons may have looked a bit old in the playoffs, but that will quickly change if those two guys start combining for 20-25 minutes a game next year.
- Chauncey Billups will (probably) be re-signed.
Yeah, I've already tipped my hand thinking that Chauncey will be back by mentioning him above, but Dumars is still confident the Pistons will be able to retain him. During the team's end-of-season special on TV 20 last night, Dumars was asked how confident he was that he'd re-sign Chauncey on a scale of one to 10. Dumars said a nine, adding that he'd say 10 except for the fact that there's always a slim chance something crazy might happen.
During the press conference, though, he downplayed how frequently "something crazy" actually happens. From Krista Jahnke's blog on Freep.com:
And for about the umpteenth time, he inferred that he should be able to do so with little problem. "There are few surprises in this league," he said. He then said what happened with Ben Wallace last summer wasn’t a surprise at all. I take that to mean he knows exactly who will go after Chauncey this summer, he knows what they’re going to offer, he knows his offer will be the best combination of money and situation and he is ultra confident that Chauncey will take it.
You don't need to have inside information to realize that only a handful of teams can afford to sign Chauncey without a sign-and-trade, so it's not surprising that Dumars likely has a finger on Chauncey's market value. Plus, Dumars has said in the past that money won't be an issue, and it doesn't hurt that Chauncey has been adamant in his public interviews about the subject that he wants to return.
- Who said anything about a draft promise?
And when I asked him about the draft, one of the first things he clarified was that the Pistons had not made a promise to any player. As I said in an earlier blog, they like Rodney Stuckey a lot. But with so much uncertainty with who will be available at their spot, making a promise would have been pointless.
I don't know how the rumor started that the Pistons promised to draft Stuckey at No. 15, but it's now been dismissed by Stuckey's agent as well as Dumars. It was always a bit too far-fetched to believe, considering the Pistons hadn't actually worked anyone out yet. One thing is clear, though, and that's that the Pistons should be able to grab a talented player (please, please be a guard) at No. 15, and Dumars expects that guy will contribute immediately, telling Eli Zaret during the TV20 special that the rookie should join the eight or nine man rotation.
- Cheikh Samb might not be as far off as expected.
Senegalese 7-footer Cheick Samb will play with the Pistons’ summer league team in Las Vegas after completing his season in the Spanish league. It’s uncertain whether Samb will return to Spain next season or if the Pistons will have a roster spot for him. The Pistons might decide to let Alex Acker, who played in Greece last season, skip the Las Vegas league. No decisions on Acker’s future has been made, either.
I like the idea of bringing Acker back, but if the Pistons draft a guard, bring back Flip Murray (who said he won't opt out of his contract) and Lindsey Hunter, I just don't see why he'd want to leave Greece, where he'd make more money, play starter's minutes and live an extremely comfortable life.
As for Samb, why the hell not? If there are still lingering questions about his quality of competition, give him the last spot on Detroit's bench and put him in the NBDL for a year. If he continues to improve in leaps and bounds, maybe he'll contribute during the stretch run. If not, well, at least he has a chance to further his development working closely with the Pistons' coaches.
Last but not least ...
- Nobody is safe.
Dumars never used those words exactly, but that seemed to be the underlying message in most of his points. While he disputed the notion that there would be a fire sale, he re-iterated that he'd be willing to make any trade that improved the team. There is interest around the league in Detroit's assets -- he hasn't gotten any serious offers, but he did say he's received calls from all across the league inquiring to see if he was ready to make a panic trade. Fortunately he's not, but once a legitimate offer crosses his desk, you get the feeling that he'd seriously consider anything.
Why am I so sure that Dumars won't simply accept the status quo and rest on the fact that the current generation of the Pistons came within two wins of the NBA Finals? To answer that, let me recycle a point I made during a lengthy email conversation with Nate Jones over at the FanHouse: Tayshaun Prince is the only member of the starting lineup that was actually drafted by Detroit -- Dumars didn't create this team by simply "staying put," so don't put anything past him.
Dumars obviously tried to address a lot of questions, but only time can provide most of the answers. It still remains to be seen who starts at center next year (will Chris Webber retire? If not, would he even want to return), and it'll be interesting to see if there's any truth to some of the rumors we've had fun debating so far in the comments. I think there's just enough young talent emerging on the horizon for Dumars to sit tight if he so chooses, but I also think he's smart enough to recognize the right deal if it comes along. Needless to say, it should be an interesting summer.