Monday, November 1, 2010

Detroit Pistons: What To Look For In 2010-11

2009-10 Regular Season: 27-55
2009-10 Playoffs: N/A
Additions: Greg Monroe, Tracy McGrady, Terrico White
Key Losses: Kwame Brown
Projected Rotation Players: Ben Gordon, Rodney Stuckey, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Ben Wallace, Austin Daye, Greg Monroe, Will Bynum, Charlie Villanueva, Tracy McGrady, Jason Maxiell

Look for the Detroit Pistons to challenge for the NBA’s worst record every asset at their disposal to begin “rebuilding their rebuild.”

This roster has got to rank among the NBA’s saddest. It’s really unclear what the objective is here. Although the 2010-11 Detroit Pistons feature a handful of recognizable names, an overwhelming majority of this roster falls into at least one of three categories: overpaid, overrated or over-the-hill.

To make matters worse, Charlie Villanueva, Ben Gordon and Richard Hamilton are owed more than $95 million over the next three seasons, with Gordon and Charlie-V holding ~$22 million worth of player options for 2013-14. Three years out, the exercising of those options is already just a formality.

Assuming Joe Dumars has an interest in pawning off some of his financial disasters onto another team (one would assume he does, except this is the man that willingly committed ~$100 million to Gordon and Villanueva in the summer of 2009), he’ll likely have to allow opposing GMs to take their pick of the Pistons’ desirable assets (Rodney Stuckey, Tayshaun Price and his $11.1 million expiring deal, maybe Will Bynum? Basically anything that’s not rookie Greg Monroe) as a part of a package.

On the floor, the Pistons not only lack a clear philosophy- ranking near the bottom of the NBA at both ends of the floor in 2009-10- but also any semblance of top-shelf NBA talent. In recent years, they’ve accumulated a series of unremarkable and redundant pieces at the 2-3 spots- Stuckey, Bynum, Villanueva, Jonas Jerebko, Austin Daye, Jason Maxiell, DaJuan Summers, Chris Wilcox and whatever’s left of Tracy McGrady. This has proven to be an ineffective strategy, as none of these players have played well enough to supplant either of the Pistons’ eight-figure incumbents (Prince or Hamilton). In fairness, Jerebko had shown signs of establishing himself prior to losing the entire 2010-11 season to a preseason Achilles injury.

Going forward, the Pistons will do well to cut ties (at virtually any cost) with their current crop of big-money veterans in favor of any young, improving players. With new ownership coming in, dumping long-term and/or big-money commitments will be a priority. This is not a team that’s geared up to contend for anything of consequence in the coming years, so the most important task at hand is identifying the young players that will be the foundation of the franchise. Do not expect Joe Dumars- who's now spent all the currency that the 2004 title earned him- to be aorund for this.

They will likely find that these pieces are Monroe, Stuckey and, if he returns to 100% after his injury, Jonas Jerebko, Stuckey still needs to establish his role in the Pistons’ backcourt, he’s an excellent defender on the perimeter. He seems to vacillate between being a lead guard and a two-guard. If he focuses on attacking the bucket and on becoming an excellent playmaker, he could become the backcourt stud the Pistons have been hoping for.

Meanwhile, in Monroe, the ninth pick in June’s draft, the Pistons have potentially shored up the center position for the better part of the next decade. Monroe’s not a banger in the paint; he’s a good athlete, a skilled offensive player and an exceptional passer. Based on his performance in the D-League, Monroe should be able to contribute at the offensive end right away, though his defense will need to improve for him to reach his potential. An extremely intelligent player, he will likely operate 12-15 feet from the basket and shoulder some of the playmaking load for the Pistons.

Joe Dumars tried to seamlessly usher in a new era of “Dee-troit Basketball” when he traded away Chauncey Billups, the catalyst for the Pistons’ 2004 title team. The move was intended to clear the way for Rodney Stuckey to become the franchise’s backcourt star of the future. This move was defensible at the time, and Stuckey has actually developed into a decent NBA player. However, subsequent decisions to hand out star-level contracts to supporting players and a massive extension to Hamilton have left the Pistons light years away from the goal they’ve been working toward.

Bottom line: Given the risk of Hamilton and Prince missing significant time again (missed 69 games combined last season), along with a pressing need to shake up the roster, and 2010-11 doesn’t promise a great deal of stability in Detroit. Throw in the season-ending injury to Jerebko, a big part of the team’s limited success a year ago, and it becomes safe to assume that this will be not a “transition year,” but the early stages of another period of major rebuilding.

Heading into the season, Vegas had the over-under on regular seasons wins for the Pistons at 31.5. It’s tough to see this team matching last season’s 27-win total, let alone topping it. Look for this team’s 2010-11 win total to be closer to 20 games than to 30.

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