Three years ago the Detroit Pistons finished last in the Central Division and have struggled to be competitive in the East ever since. Truth be told they've been quietly rebuilding and assembling young talent to carry them into the next era.
The question is whether the talent they've assembled is ready to rise to the next level: Playoff basketball. It all starts in their division.
If the Pistons hope to make the playoffs, they must be competitive within their division and pass those teams in front of them in the standings.
Here's how they compare to their division rivals in 2012-2013.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Detroit Pistons are almost mirror images of each other. Both are in the midst of rebuilding and both are trying to claw their way out of the Central Division basement.
The Pistons will be the first ones to do it though.
Although they split the season series with Cleveland last year, they finished four games better and that gap should only widen in 2012-2013.
The Pistons are simply a deeper, more developed team than the Cavs at this point. Kyrie Irving appears to be a superstar in the making, but he's got a long way to go. Especially on the defensive end.
The Cavs will live and die with him though and they could do a lot worse. The problem is they don't have enough talent around him to take a giant leap in the standings.
With seasoned youngsters like Rodney Stuckey, Jonas Jerebko, Greg Monroe and Austin Daye, the Pistons are further along in their development.
It makes sense that the Pistons are one step ahead. They were rebuilding when Cleveland was still playing in the NBA Finals with LeBron.
The Bucks have finished ahead of the Pistons for the past three years but they're not untouchable. As ESPN's Bradford Doolittle said in his Eastern Conference win projections, Milwaukee is, "perfectly average".
That's not a bad thing to be, but it makes one vulnerable to be passed up by teams on the rise.
One of those teams is the Pistons. Depending on the continued improvement of their core—Rodney Stuckey, Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight—and their improvement on defense, the Pistons could very well leap over Milwaukee in the division.
After all, the Bucks did little to improve their roster this offseason. Unless you consider Joel Przybilla a big improvement.
It might not matter. The Bucks are a deep team that knows how to play defense. They've got a lot of talented, albeit undersized guys that can block shots like Ekpe Udoh, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Larry Sanders.
The x-factor for Milwaukee will be the play of their two star guards, Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings. No one knows if they can co-exist for a full season and there are contract issues looming that could distract either one of them.
They might be essentially the same player, but if Ellis and Jennings can gel the Bucks could make some noise in the Eastern Conference. If not the Pistons will have a great chance of leaping over them in the Central.
With Derrick Rose out for at least half the year, and no guarantee he returns at all, maybe the Bulls were simply waving the white flag. Opting to surrender might seem cowardly, but at least they're realistic.
Without Rose, they're the Milwaukee Bucks.
That's exactly the reason why the Pistons have a chance to finish better than Chicago for the first time in five years.
Just look at their starting lineup. Kirk Hinrich will start at point guard, Luol Deng is a solid but not spectacular player and Rip Hamilton and Carlos Boozer are on the downside of their careers.
In years prior, that starting lineup would have been able to handle the Pistons, but not in 2012-2013. Detroit is younger, hungrier and they'll have their best player and Greg Monroe is better than anyone Chicago has.
ESPN predicts the Bulls will still win 46 games and be a top-four team in the East. Minus Rose that projection is extremely optimistic. They'll be lucky to score 90 points a game and they'll fall in the standings because of it.
That bodes well for Detroit.
It's also because they're a one of the most complete teams in the NBA. They have a dominant big man in Roy Hibbert, good perimeter scoring, excellent rebounding and they know how to defend.
The Pistons will be improved but the Pacers could be the second or third best team in the East. Detroit hasn't risen to that level yet.
Greg Monroe is as good if not better than Hibbert, but the Pacers are deeper. If Detroit was to rise to Indiana's level, several things would have to happen.
First, Andre Drummond and Slava Kravtsov would have to play like dominant veterans from day one. Second, Brandon Knight would have to make a giant leap in his development and ability to distribute the basketball. Lastly, Charlie Villanueva would need to have a career year from the perimeter.
If all of those things happen, and Greg Monroe and Rodney Stuckey have dominant years, then the Pistons might give the Pacers a run for their money in the Central.
It could happen, but it's not likely. The Pistons will be better, but they're not ready to challenge the Pacers for the division.