The Detroit Pistons' busy offseason and promising young core launched the team immediately into the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. That's not to say the Pistons will take the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers and the rest of the Eastern elite by storm in 2013-14; but after that first tier of competition in the conference, two or three teams will have to make the playoffs. The Pistons seem equipped to be one of those teams.
The Pistons added a handful of free agents, acquired a new starting point guard in a sign-and-trade deal and drafted an intriguing backcourt prospect in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who could add offense off the bench right away or earn limited minutes as he tempers volume-shooting habits that already infect the Pistons' offense enough as is. But that's exactly why Detroit may turn to Caldwell-Pope early in his career. Defense won't be a problem with these Pistons, but the offense almost certainly will be.
Brandon Jennings - Jennings replaces Brandon Knight in the Pistons' starting lineup after coming over in a sign-and-trade deal from the Milwaukee Bucks for Knight, Khris Middleton and Viacheslav Kravtsov. Jennings' gunning style will both help and handicap the Pistons' offense, but it's probably best he play for a team with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe under the basket. SB Nation's Tom Ziller notes that while most guards shoot 55 percent or better at the rim, Jennings was below 50 percent on shots at the rim and 28 percent from 3-10 feet away last season. Still, Jennings has emerging talent in the pivot and a reliable scorer in Smith, so the Pistons' best bet for Jennings would be for him to finish his drives to the basket more often with passes than shots.
Chauncey Billups - Billups is back with Detroit after interim stints with the Denver Nuggets, New York Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers. Injuries have slowed his career recently; he tore his Achilles tendon in 2012 and had various other ailments throughout the 2012-13 season. But the Pistons signed him to a two-year, $5 million deal (the second year is a team option) in hopes that he can stay healthy enough to play off the ball alongside Jennings at times. Billups remained effective in his limited time over the past two seasons for Los Angeles, so a healthy version of that player would provide value for a team full of young players needing guidance. Billups did, after all, win the NBA's Teammate of the Year award in 2013.
Josh Smith - Smith seems to be, money issues aside, an interesting fit for the Pistons. He's a strong defender who also adds much-needed offense to a team that will need it from every source it can scrounge. He is not afraid to shoot, but his shot selection seems to clash with his skill set, causing inefficiency. Still, the Pistons should get plenty out of the player they're paying $54 million over the next four seasons, particularly defensively and on the glass. Will he temper his tendency to take jumpers in favor of drives to the basket, where he excels, or will he continue to frustrate on that end?
Greg Monroe - If Smith and Jennings live in the same areas on offense that they have in the past, that puts Monroe in an interesting situation. He shot just 33 percent from 10-15 feet and 30 percent from 16-23 feet last season. That may clash with the emergence of Andre Drummond, who also lacks a floor game. But while Drummond represents more potential as an elite big man, Monroe is already a solid player in the league who seems to be showing continued improvement in other areas. With another anchor in the paint, Monroe's passing skills should come in handy, too.
Andre Drummond - Drummond had a spectacular rookie season considering the limited amount of time he played. He hit the floor for 60 appearances and 10 starts and he only played about 20 minutes per game in those 60 games. His stats equaled out to a 36-minute rate of 13.8 points and 13.2 rebounds, which is very good. Although the skills he showed as a rookie may not be sustainable — SB Nation's Tom Ziller is among those willing to voice skepticism — he certainly showed signs that he could become an elite player.
Charlie Villanueva - Villanueva only played 15.8 minutes per game in his 69 games last season, but he hit more treys than anyone on the roster other than Brandon Knight. Villanueva was 85-of-205 (41.5 percent) on two-point attempts, and he took 54 more threes than twos last year. He is what he is. He's also in the final year of his contract.
Rodney Stuckey - Despite a down 2012-13, Stuckey's role seems set. He can play some point guard if necessary, and he's a solid reserve at shooting guard even though his game duplicates Billups'. Stuckey was fourth on the Pistons last year in three-pointers made, and among the three returning (Villanueva, Stuckey, Singler), he'll probably play the most minutes in 2013-14.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope - The Pistons thought highly enough of the sophomore from Georgia to take him No. 8 overall in this year's draft. He has an aptitude for scoring, which is what merited his early departure from Georgia after scoring 18.5 points per game and earning SEC Player of the Year honors on a Bulldogs team that was generously described as bland and mediocre. His performance in the Orlando Summer League was spotty, though, as he adjusted to the open floor of the NBA. He has the skills, but putting them to use is the question. Whether and how quickly he'll do that this season will determine if he earns serious minutes.
Kyle Singler - Singler stands to lose minutes over his 28 per game last season (that's in 74 starts) because of the addition of Smith and the pending development of Caldwell-Pope. Even if he isn't starting, Singler's 8.8 points per game and 70 made threes as a rookie proved he could hang in the league. He may be better suited for a smaller role, anyway.
Will Bynum - The 30-year-old will be Jennings' primary backup this season after the Pistons re-signed him to a two-year contract. Bynum came off the bench for nearly 19 minutes a game last season in relief of Knight, and his 6.8 assists per 36 minutes last season were the second-most of his career.
Jonas Jerebko - Jerebko played about 18 minutes per game last season and has some useful skills as a stretch 4 who can provide a shooting contrast at power forward to Monroe, but the addition of Josh Smith will eat into his minutes.
Josh Harrellson - Harrellson was the 15th man on the roster, signed in August to a two-year deal worth nearly $2 million. Whereas Drummond starts under the basket and stretches from there, Harrellson is a shooter who stretches beyond the 3-point line regularly. His game's contrast to those in front of him on the depth chart is worth as much as any other factor in determining his playing time.
Luigi Datome - A 6'8 small forward, he is making the leap from Italy to the NBA for the first time in his age-26 season. He was the Italian League MVP last season, scoring nearly 17 points per game. Datome is a strong shooter both spotting up and off the dribble and he could surpass Singler in minutes if he adjusts quickly to the NBA.
Tony Mitchell - The rookie power forward from North Texas was uneven in Orlando Summer League play and seems buried on the depth chart. He showed talent in Orlando, though, and he could turn into an effective player under Cheeks.
Peyton Siva - A point guard drafted in the second round after leading Louisville to the 2013 national championship, Siva will likely see plenty of bench time as he sits on the depth chart behind more established players. Siva's skills defensively and as a point guard controlling the team were exceptionally developed in college, and being on the bench behind Billups, Jennings, Stuckey and others is not a bad place to be as a rookie.
Maurice Cheeks - At Detroit Bad Boys, Matt Watson suggested the silver lining in Detroit's hire of Cheeks over some other more appealing candidates was his history of developing young players. There sure do seem to be plenty of young players on the Pistons' roster who could be developed into quality players, and there are even quality players who could be developed into elite players. Cheeks has coached good teams before — he had 99 wins in his first two seasons as the head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers — and he's spent the last four seasons as an assistant for Scott Brooks on the Oklahoma City Thunder bench, which surely counts for something. With a window in the Eastern Conference to leap into the playoffs, Cheeks' hire seemed logical.