Dusts off mic. *tap, tap, tap*. “Uhh, we back.”
Welcome back to Detroit Pistons basketball, boys and girls. After a interminable nine-month hiatus, the Pistons will begin a season unlike any other facing a familiar foe, and a team that should stay familiar near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings this season — the New York Knicks.
More importantly, it’s a chance for Pistons fans to see what Dwane Casey has planned for an almost completely overhauled roster. Gone are incumbent starters Reggie Jackson, Andre Drummond, Luke Kennard and Bruce Brown. In are Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee and Delon Wright. And perhaps most importantly, in is seventh overall pick Killian Hayes, who is slotted to start at point guard for the Pistons. I can’t wait.
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, Michigan
Watch: Fox Sports Detroit
The Knicks spent this offseason in a very un-Knick-like fashion. They cut a bunch of useless veterans, they didn’t spend lavishly in free agency. They were prudent with their purse strings and are laying in wait for the potential for a trade that allows them to utilize their cap space in exchange for young players or picks. It’s sort of the offseason a lot of people wanted to see out of the Detroit Pistons.
The Pistons, however, went in another direction. They traded young players already on their roster, they paid a combined $28 million on the duo from Denver in Grant and Plumlee. They are pretty well capped out next season, too.
Detroit does have something the Knicks coveted, and that is point guard Killian Hayes. This is our first chance to see the 6-foot-5 French point guard in action. The glimpses we’ve seen from Pistons training camp have been promising, but you can’t actually learn much from practice clips that come in 30-second bursts.
Hayes will seemingly have plenty of opportunities to show what he can do, and learn on the job, as the lead guard of the rebuilding Pistons. How much Casey relies on the other rookies and young players — Svi Mykhailiuk, Sekou Doumbouya, Dzanan Musa, Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart, Saben Lee remains to be seen. Casey seems excited about the length and positional versatility his new lineup provides. You can easily slot Sekou and Saddiq at the three or the four, Stewart at the four or the five and Svi and Dzanan at the two or the three. Then there are the fliers the team took on young vets who haven’t really carved out their role in the league — Josh Jackson can play three positions while Jhalil Okafor is a center, but one trying to stretch out his game to the perimeter.
The Pistons aren’t purely focused on youth, as much as they stress the need to develop their crop of young players. Blake Griffin is back and finally healthy, for now. Let’s hope he stays that way, because he can transform the offensive potential of the team and really help everyone else be successful in their roles. And the better he plays the more likely he is flipped at some point this season for some younger assets. There is also Derrick Rose who is focused on helping Killian develop at the point guard position.
For now, everyone is saying all the right things. The vets are talking about the energy and enthusiasm of the young guys. The young guys are talking about the guidance and wisdom of the vets. The coaching staff is talking about communication, versatility and building the program the right way.
Tonight, it starts to go from talk into something that actually means something — a product on the floor. Yeah, it’ll lead to plenty of losses this season, but Pistons fans are used to that. What they aren’t used to is the prospect of actually having a future worth building toward.
When Hayes, Doumbouya, Bey and the other young players step on the floor, the future comes a little closer to reality. Let’s go.
Killian Hayes, Svi Mykhailiuk, Jerami Grant, Blake Griffin, Mason Plumlee
Elfrid Payton, RJ Barret, Obi Toppin, Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson
Which rookie has a better debut tonight — Killian Hayes or Obi Toppin?