What significant moves were made during the offseason?
The most significant move the Detroit Pistons made in the offseason was to back up a Brinks truck and convince Stan Van Gundy to take control of the franchise, both in the front office and on the floor. Van Gundy is a top-tier NBA coach and a great improvement on a recent string of coaching duds in Detroit. Since Flip Saunders was fired for ONLY getting the Pistons to the Eastern Conference Finals, Michael Curry, John Kuester, Lawrence Frank, Maurice Cheeks and John Loyer have been hired and quickly fired. In that span, the Pistons have the fourth-worst record in the NBA.
In his time with the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic, meanwhile, Van Gundy never missed the playoffs. The unstoppable force of Van Gundy is about to meet the immovable object of the Pistons' ineptitude. Something's got to give, and the franchise is banking on Van Gundy winning the battle and bringing the team back to relevance.
Also, whereas dispatched coach Maurice Cheeks was cool (if clueless) during games, I look forward to Stan Van Gundy displaying the same displeasure I do when Josh Smith or Brandon Jennings hoist an ill-advised 3-pointer.
What are the team's biggest strengths?
Andre Drummond. Blocks and dunks.
The interior should be the Pistons' strength with Drummond growing into stardom under the tutelage of Van Gundy (similar to Dwight Howard before him), Greg Monroe as an offensive lynchpin and Josh Smith finishing on the break, passing out of the high post and defending the interior (and not doing all that bad stuff he's known to do).
This was a strength last year as the Pistons finished first in points in the paint in the NBA despite having approximately zero threats on the perimeter to occupy defenders. Drummond isn't polished offensively but will hoover up all the rebounds and dunk them into oblivion. Monroe and Smith both regressed offensively and both should see an uptick in production as they are put in more sensible lineups.
The Pistons should also be shockingly effective from 3-point range. The team finished second-to-last in 3-point shooting last season but that was because the majority of those 3s were being taken by Brandon Jennings and Smith. While both are still on the team, Van Gundy used his first offseason to sign a bevy of legitimate 3-point threats in Jodie Meeks, DJ Augustin, Caron Butler and Cartier Martin. The team could go from near the bottom of the 3-point standings to in the upper third of the NBA.
What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
In a letter ... D. The Pistons did a lot to shore up their offense in the offseason but did little to their defense. It's all on Van Gundy to implement a system that can turn what was an atrocious defense into something approaching competence. And if history is any guide, he will do it.
The Pistons were horrible last year and a lot of that had to do with new additions Jennings and, surprisingly, Smith. Josh was a defensive force in Atlanta and he defended the post well in Detroit. But he spent the majority of his minutes at small forward and it ... did not go well.
Add that to the duo of Monroe and Drummond, who seemed lost, didn't communicate, didn't rotate and got burned often. Enter Van Gundy whose teams in Orlando finished 6th, 1st, 3rd, 3rd, and 12th in defensive efficiency. Van Gundy had the No. 1 defense in the NBA in a year when Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis played more than 2,800 minutes apiece. This is the power of Van Gundy and Dwight Howard. He must duplicate that with Drummond.
What are the goals for this team?
The Pistons goals for this season are to be the 2013-14 version of the Charlotte Hornets (then known as the Bobcats). Last year, the Bobcats were known for years of mediocrity and an NBA afterthought. Then came Steve Clifford (a Van Gundy protégé) and Al Jefferson to install a system and balance the offense, respectively.
Van Gundy is here to install the system and while he didn't add one offensive focal point, he added a handful of shooters that could finally provide the floor spacing the Pistons have been so desperate for since the team drafted Monroe and Drummond.
The Pistons haven't had a 3-point threat like Meeks in both volume and efficiency since Chauncey Billups in 2007-08. And the Pistons haven't been a dangerous 3-point shooting team as a whole since 2005-06.
If the team can have a balanced and efficient offensive attack both in the post and on the perimeter and Van Gundy can work his magic on defense then the Pistons are a legitimate contender for an Eastern Conference playoff spot.
Much like the Bobcats last year, the Pistons hope that finally making the playoffs will re-establish the franchise as legitimate. If they can re-make themselves as an up-and-coming team, they will create positive momentum after years of treading water, attract more free agents and start building a contender around Drummond.
Which big man starts and which comes off the bench?
I'd be willing to bet a small fortune that the trio of Drummond, Monroe and Smith will not start this year. That means that one of Monroe or Smith comes off the bench. Smith is the superior defender but a much inferior offensive player. Monroe complements Drummond better but isn't as versatile defensively and after signing the qualifying offer might not be a long-term answer.
With all the craziness and incompetence of the lone Mo Cheeks / John Loyer season, it's surprising that when any two of the three big men were on the floor, the Pistons were a pretty good team. In the 1,540 minutes any two of the three bigs were on the floor, the Pistons actually outscored their opponent by 36 points. The problem is that the three bigs played together for 1,360 minutes and got destroyed by 185 points.
So just by turning the three into a big-man rotation, the Pistons are a lot closer to respectability. But to get them into the playoffs in one year will be a monumental undertaking by Van Gundy. For that to happen one of Monroe or Smith has to come off the bench, accept the role and thrive.
Good luck, Stan.