Sunshine Ahead? 3 Reasons for Optimism for Detroit Pistons

Jay Wierenga@@JayWierengaCorrespondent IFebruary 10, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 31: Greg Monroe #10 of the Detroit Pistons shoots over Tyson Chandler #6 of the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on January 31, 2012 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

It has been a long, hard, difficult road with little reason for hope. And no, I'm not talking about Jonah Hill's diet. 

The Detroit Pistons have finally become the cellar-dwellers of Detroit sports and are essentially an afterthought for most fans.

For years they were able to look down their noses at the Lions and Tigers, and they stood as the lone peers to the Red Wings in Detroit.

But now the Lions are a playoff team with one of the top-10 quarterbacks in the league.

The Tigers are coming off of a playoff run of their own and possess the league MVP and Cy Young winner, and just signed one of the top-five power hitters in the game.

The Red Wings keep plugging along, holding the hearts of Detroiters in their strong grasp. They've made the Joe Louis Arena the league's most dominant home-ice advantage with their current 18-game home winning streak.

And then there are the Pistons. They have one of the five-worst records in the game, they are hovering around the salary cap and they are forced to provide gimmick ideas like having Vanilla Ice perform at halftime.

This once-proud franchise that was the hottest ticket in town has been forced to make basketball the secondary reason for coming to the Palace these days.

But through the muck comes reason for optimism.

And no, I'm not talking exclusively about the current three-game winning streak. In fact, these Pistons would probably help their cause by not having too many more of those streaks this year.

This winning streak has, however, helped to open the door to greater fan interest in this franchise.

In fact, there are three really strong reasons for optimism for this team.

The Core Ain't Bad

One of the most difficult things to find in basketball is a big man that is capable of scoring 15-20 points per game while grabbing over 10 rebounds per game.

The Pistons have that in Greg Monroe. In fact, Monroe is already one of the top-10 centers in the game and is knocking on the door of the Top 5.

Oh, and he is still only 21 and under contract for another few years. After that, he will become a restricted free agent, so the Pistons will be able to re-sign him much easier than teams will be able to sign him away.

That also doesn't take into consideration the fact that the Pistons are sure to sign him to an extension at some point over the next couple years.

Barring something catastrophic, Monroe will be a Piston for the better part of the decade at least.

Brandon Knight, though not as successful so far as Monroe, certainly has shown flashes of brilliance and the beginnings of some real skill at point guard.

He also has shown a lot of toughness, determination and leadership. People that are really paying attention to Knight see in him someone that should be a very important player for Detroit for the foreseeable future.

Jonas Jerebko, though to a much lesser extent than Knight and Monroe, has also been a sign for optimism.

The fact of the matter with Jerebko is that fans need to realize what he truly is—and that is not a starter for this team. He is not a future All-Star that is going to average 20 points per game.

He is an energy guy that comes off the bench and provides help at both forward positions on both sides of the ball. He is a 'tweener, which means he is neither a true small forward or power forward, but can fill in a pinch at either spot.

It seems as though coach Lawrence Frank has recognized this, and so he has put Jason Maxiell into the starting lineup alongside Monroe, allowing Jerebko to fit perfectly into his ideal role.

Moving forward, Jerebko is the perfect glue player that provides energy, athleticism and a strong work ethic. You need guys on your team that demand accountability through their play, and with Monroe, Jerebko and Knight, you have those guys.

The Salaries Aren't Bad

Okay, before you start crowing about Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, remember that the Pistons likely will be rid of at least one of these two as soon as next year.

They wisely did not use the Amnesty provision in the new CBA on Richard Hamilton, which allows them to basically audition both of these two for future use.

And while Villanueva has missed nearly the entire season and Ben Gordon has recently been dinged-up himself, the Pistons surely are being overly cautious in not rushing either of these two back.

This tells me two things. One, the Pistons want the young players to have as much playing time as possible, and given the likelihood of the Pistons missing the playoffs this year, they don't want to rush back these vets.

Two, the Pistons are going to try to showcase both of these guys in the hopes that one or both of them will become trade bait.

Once they both return, it will be interesting to see how much of a role they both have. My thinking is that they are each only a 10-15 game stretch away from becoming solid trade bait.

Villanueva's deal is the lesser of the two ($16.6 million over the next two years), he is younger and he has size. Of the two, he probably has the greater value if he shows even some semblance of the talent that got him the contract in the first place.

Gordon, however, could become valuable if the Pistons are willing to kick in some money and the right team needs perimeter help on the scoring end.

For instance, if the Clippers fail to find an adequate replacement for the injured Chauncey Billups, they could be interested.

Make no mistake about it, the West is wide open and teams know that a gunner that has a proven record in the playoffs could make all the difference in the world, even if it costs them some cash.

Worst case scenario, however, is that the Pistons are unable to unload either of these two and are forced to Amnesty one. That likely would be Gordon, given the size of his deal. This would wipe out $12.5 million from next year's salary.

This would drop the Pistons to a team salary of about $45 million. That's the good news for next year.

The even better news is that Tayshaun Prince, Rodney Stuckey and even Charlie Villanueva will no longer have huge contracts that will be difficult to move if the right deal comes along.

Stuckey will be in the second year of only a three year deal, Prince will be a still productive player with only two reasonable years left on his deal, and Villanueva will be in the last year of his deal (although he does still have a player option that he would be crazy not to pick up, but stranger things have happened).

Each of these players will have more trade value in a year, except perhaps for Prince, due to his age.

The rest of the team salaries are very easy to manage and maneuver.

And while next year's free agent class doesn't figure to have too many heavy hitters, it does have a number of middle-of-the-road players that would be nice complementary players.

At shooting guard, there will be players like Nick Young, Landry Fields and Jamal Crawford.

At power forward, there will be players like Kris Humphries, Michael Beasley (restricted) and Brandon Bass.

True, none of these players are game-changing options, but they would offer needed help for a team like Detroit and would not overshadow the core.

They also are certainly attainable and could be nice complementary players.

The Draft Ain't Bad

Back to my point that the Pistons probably shouldn't go on too many more three-game winning streaks.

This is a team that is not playoff-worthy, and while there is plenty of reason for optimism, they are closer to the top pick in the draft than they are to the championship.

Luckily for Detroit, this figures to be the deepest draft since 2003. That is why this team can not miss on this draft pick.

There are at least five potential superstars in this draft, and at least five more that are locks for the All-Star team.

Detroit has the potential to draft their next star in this draft, and so they must do all they can to make sure they do not draft based on potential, but rather someone that can help right away.

They need to avoid someone like Perry Jones and focus instead on someone like Thomas Robinson.

Detroit likely will be drafting in the Top 5 of this draft, so they will have their pick of any of a number of really special talents.

Anthony Davis is a Marcus Camby-type that could come in and become a defensive presence right away.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a long, strong, athletic swing man that could be the slasher that the Pistons sorely need right now. Furthermore, he comes with a strong desire to play defense and the athleticism to become a stopper immediately.

Harrison Barnes could become a superstar scorer in the right system, and he plays with a very high basketball I.Q.

Robinson plays with fire, determination and intensity, seems to always be around the ball and is improving on a daily basis.

Jared Sullinger is the most polished low-post scorer in college basketball, and while he plays largely below the hoop, he gets the hard rebounds and is tough to move.

Any of these five could pair perfectly with the current core and make Detroit one of the more exciting teams going forward. However, a miss like Darko Milicic could doom this team to mediocrity for another decade.

Overall, there are a lot of reasons that a fan could remain pessimistic about this team. But there are also a lot of reasons to be optimistic.

Sure, plenty of things will have to break the right way, and luck certainly will be involved (as well as stupidity from opposing general managers), but there is a light at the end of this tunnel, folks.

You just have to decide if you are a glass-half-full or half-empty fan.


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