The Detroit Pistons ushered in a new era prior to last season, hiring a new coach and securing two of the best players in a weak 2009 free agent class (Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva). It was all part of general manager Joe Dumars' plan to rebuild on the fly, taking the cap space gained from dealing Chauncey Billups and using it right away.
Unfortunately for Pistons fans, Year 1 of this rebuilding project proved to be a spectacular failure. Injuries were an issue -- Richard Hamilton missed 36 games, Tayshaun Prince missed 33 and Gordon missed 20 -- but even when they were healthy, the Pistons lacked cohesion. In fact, as noted here, the Pistons were actually a respectable 11-12 on December 12, despite playing all but one game without Prince and Hamilton. It was once everyone got healthy when roles got confusing, the effort level dropped and the Pistons limped to a 27-55 finish.
Without any cap space, thanks to last summer's spending spree, the Pistons laid low this summer. They picked Georgetown forward Greg Monroe with the seventh pick, re-signed Ben Wallace and Will Bynum and brought in Tracy McGrady for one last run. SB Nation's Pistons blog Detroit Bad Boys said it was a "solid" summer for Dumars, both on draft day and in free agency.
Beyond the draft, Dumars made solid decisions in free agency. He extended the Benaissance for another two years, inking Ben Wallace to a contract worth not much more than the vet minimum. He gave Will Bynum one of the most fair contracts issued this summer, not spending a penny more or less than what the little fella should have earned. While Joe still had the mid-level exception in hand, he opted instead to issue a flyer to Tracy McGrady, the two-time scoring champion who had been crippled by back and knee injuries. In the off (like, very off) chance that McGrady stays healthy, the Pistons could luck into some real talent.
Still, fundamentally, this is the same team that was so tough on the eyes last year. Monroe in particular looked pretty raw during the NBA Summer League, as he was trying to show off his unique perimeter skills instead of playing big. He is a finesse player, but he has to develop some toughness to stick in this league. McGrady is washed up, and it's hard to believe Wallace will match his out-of-nowhere season from last year.
So it'll have to be improvement from within. SB Nation Detroit feels that can happen with improved passing, something Monroe is projected to provide.
The Pistons are stacked at the wing position, which should make for a lot of fast-paced, scoring opportunities. The problem is that a lot of those wings see themselves as scorers, so they'll have to be conscious of distributing the ball evenly. With the addition of Monroe and a realization from several returning players that moving the ball is actually a good thing, the Pistons have the ability to turn that into one of their biggest strengths, too. It'll take some work, though, because the Pistons were 26th in assists per game last year.
It's a nice hope, but one rookie doesn't change a culture like that overnight. The Pistons still have a below-average passing point guard (Rodney Stuckey), and while the rest of their lineup has players who can pass, having a point guard who struggles with it is tough to overcome.
Every Pistons preview pointed to the depth in the backcourt, which is impressive. However, several also pointed to the lack of depth up front. Need4Sheed was the most vocal of the four about the Pistons' lack of interior muscle.
The frontcourt is the biggest weakness of the team. Ever since Rasheed Wallace decided to enjoy life outside the 3 point line, Detroit has lacked the interior scoring presence that all contending teams possess. Not only does the team lack an inside scoring presence, they lack strong post defense. Charlie Villanueva is not known as a defensive stopper and neither is Chris Wilcox. Greg Monroe comes into the league labeled as "soft". Jason Maxiell and Ben Wallace are the only strong defenders of the paint and with Wallace getting another year older, and Maxiell often matching up against much larger opposing players, they'll need 1 of the other big men to step up their defensive game otherwise the Pistons will once again be near the top of the league in "paint points allowed".
Need4Sheed adds that the Pistons need to find another big man, which is easier said than done. DetroitBasketball.net has a more fundamental request for Dumars: nuke the roster. Not literally, of course, but figuratively.
Blow up the roster. Trade Rip Hamilton for anything you can at this point, such as a young player or expiring contracts. Trade Tayshaun Prince at the trade deadline for something useful. See what value Charlie Villanueva has on the market. Hold onto Stuckey, Bynum, Monroe, Jerebko, and Daye and go from there. Everyone else is expendable.
At this rate the Pistons are turning into the Indiana Pacers of recent years. The Pacers have won 32, 36, 36, and 35 games the past four seasons and have little to show for it. When you're winning that many games it's not enough to make the playoffs but it's too many wins to draft high in the lottery for real difference makers. Indiana has never drafted higher than #10 in the past four years, but hasn't made the playoffs either. Simply put, it's no-man's land.
Until the Pistons go into all-out rebuilding mode then the future isn't too bright. While the team should be fun to watch this year with Rodney Stuckey, Bynum, Gordon, Jonas Jerebko, Austin Daye, and Monroe, the Pistons desperately need to get a top 5 draft pick or else they'll turn into the Pacers.
Turning into the Pacers is a legitimate concern, if only based on the bloggers' record predictions, all of which place the Pistons right into the 30-40 win range.
- Detroit Bad Boys: 35-47
- SB Nation Detroit: 36-46
- Need4Sheed: 39-43 and 37-45
- DetroitBasketball.net: 35-47