Detroit Pistons: Where Do They Go from Here?
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The Detroit Pistons will have plenty of options when considering how to rebuild this disappointing product they have assembled over recent years. Unfortunately, there may not be the requisite number of willing participants to complete the desired professional marriage between team and player.
Perhaps a quick Confundus charm to Chris Paul or Dwight Howard would change things, but unfortunately we live in the real world where players, and their agents, are well aware that Detroit is no longer the most suitable landing spot for stars. Murder rate be damned, 201 losses over the past four seasons tends to scare off even the most money-hungry players on the market.
But enough about the shortcomings plaguing this once-formidable Eastern Conference squad. It’s not all dark and gloomy in the Motor City, after all. Despite their four-game win streak toward season's end, they do own a projected seventh pick in the upcoming draft.
Though the roster bodes a wealth of overpaid vets, there is a refreshing crop of youngsters—Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, and Brandon Knight—who serve as a promising core moving forward. And, with plenty of cap space, Joe Dumars has one last swan song to bring the playoffs back to Detroit on a regular basis.
Let’s take a look at how some of this flexibility can best be used in the immediate future.
Who Will Be Detroit's 5th Coach in 8 Years?
Lawrence Frank is the latest casualty in General Manager Joe Dumars' serial sacking spree.
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It’s no secret that the first chair on the Pistons’ sideline has been more like of a freshman band room at a local high school than a professional organization, but one can hardly blame coaches for what’s eroded this franchise.
Since the Pistons reached back-to-back NBA Finals under Larry Brown, four other babysitters have helmed the clipboard: Flip Saunders, Michael Curry, Jon Kuester, and the recently dismissed Lawrence Frank. Whoever the Pistons do hire will complete a handful of leaders over the past eight years.
Joe Dumars is more Pez dispenser than GM these days. Which brings me to the meat of this section: With five coaches in eight years, but only one general manager, who do you think is the real problem? Kind of like how people always ask why women as beautiful as Halle Berry or Taylor Swift have so many failed relationships—at some point, don’t you have to start asking, “Maybe it’s me”?
Unfortunately, it has already been decided that Joe Dumars is returning for next season, so let’s proceed under the notion that he will be around during these proposed changes. So, who takes over first chair?
A number of reports have Nate McMillon at the top of the list. Nostalgic Detroiters continue to clamor for Joe D to give his old Bad Boys teammate, Bill Laimbeer, a chance at the helm.
And, the resignation of Sixers coach Doug Collins has raised some speculation (Collins coached the Pistons from '95-'98 and had a .579 win percentage). The Van Gundy brothers are out, too (Stan is comfy by the lake and Jeff already publicly blasted Detroit management for firing Frank and keeping Dumars). So, who's left?
Avery Johnson coached the Mavs to the NBA Finals in '06 and won 178 games in his three seasons as head coach in Dallas. Some may point to his back-to-back first round losses following that FInals appearance, and his mid-season dismissal from New Jersey just a few months ago, but Johnson's tenure in Dallas should not be forgotten.
Former L.A. Laker Brian Shaw has yet to receive a head coaching offer, but he has been interviewed for plenty. It's somehow refreshing to see that even a member of professional sports is feeling the sting of the stiff job market. What worries me about hiring Brian Shaw is the risk of repeating the failed Michael Curry project. Both are former players who hold some credibility with players in the league, but for whatever reason the players didn't respect Curry. Maybe things will be different with Shaw.
An unproven commodity like Shaw is a dangerous option, but I think the only way you're going to find a great coach in Detroit is if you're the one who is brave enough to give him his first gig. If Shaw is not the answer, then it's back to the recycling bin that is the NBA coaching carousel. Big risks often provide big rewards. Go with Shaw.
Pistons Must Eradicate Their Culture of Losing
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Ray in Remember the Titans. Roger Dorn in Major League. Timo Cruz in Coach Carter. Topher Grace in Predators. Topher Grace in Predators? Duh. Pretending to be part of the team but secretly the orchestrator of everyone’s downfall? Yup. Nailed it.
All of these references are clear illustrations of how the fat needs to be trimmed from the team’s metaphorical waistline before true success can be achieved. Cancer kills.
The two holdovers from the Pistons entire tenure as NBA doormats are Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva. Both need to go. Immediately.
Charlie V should be easy. Conveniently, the NBA’s new collective-bargaining agreement handed the Pistons the greatest gift anyone could ever receive. And no, I’m not talking about a gunrack, Jelly of the Month Club or Good Guy doll. I’m referring to the chalkboard eraser that is the amnesty clause.
It works much in the way of a celebrity divorce: You can cut a guy loose after you realize he was only in it for the money from the start, but you still have to pay him all his millions before he leaves with all your stuff. Quite the severance package. So, you pay the player, but it doesn’t count against your salary cap. It’s a complete do-over.
Why hasn’t Joe Dumars used it yet? My guess is that he doesn’t want to admit his signing of Villanueva was a complete failure. By amnestying him, he would basically announce to the basketball community that he had a major brainfart in 2009, and his inability to admit his mistakes adds to his incompetence. Regardless, amnestying Chucky Daggers should be step one in this long and tenuous rebuild.
Rodney Stuckey will be more difficult to offload. Literally, I would do it for peanuts. If it happened, I imagine the phone call between Joe Dumars and any other GM happening in reverse fashion of every bank robbery “here are my demands” scene in film history.
Instead of Joe having a hot commodity on the table, for which he could demand a first-round pick, two-thirds of your young core, a first born and a 30-percent share of Yahoo!, the only way Stuckey is wearing another jersey come next season is if Joe morphs into a complete “Yes man” when the voice on the other line says, “I’ll take him if you hire Flavor Flav as your new in-arena announcer, play every game next season barefoot, serve only Schlitz and Red Dog at all your beer stands and immediately commission a court-sized mural of Scrappy Doo." Still worth it to me.
Assess the Future of Every Player on the Roster
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Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, Brandon Knight
Obvious keepers. Cornerstones of the Pistons future. More on Brandon Knight to come.
2013-2014 Salary = $4,500,000
2014-2015 Salary = $4,500,000 (player option)
Jerebko was vastly underused and neglected during the Lawrence Frank era. After the All-Star break, when his minutes finally started to see an uptick, Jerebko averaged 10 points and five boards on 50-percent shooting.
JJ is a very versatile stretch-4 who can help provide a new look when either of the incumbent big men needs a rest. At only $9 million total over the next two years, he should definitely be part of the future vision.
2013-2014 Salary = $1,045,000
2014-2015 Salary = $1,050,000
The best thing Singler did was spend a year playing overseas. He hit the ground running when he re-joined the Pistons a year after they drafted him and did a lot to impress the decision-makers.
Singler works hard on defense, is solid when given looks on the offensive end and is an all-around competitor. His salary is a bargain over the next two years, but he will be better suited coming off the bench once Detroit adds a couple of more pieces.
Vyacheslav Kravtsov, Kim English and Khris Middleton
Rookies showed enough promise to earn rotation spots next season.
Make a Decision on Impending Free Agents
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Calderon remains one of the premier floor generals on the offensive end. As for defense, the Spaniard has always been a liability, and Detroit needs to determine which end they value more.
Jose is already 31 so he’ll likely see a four-year contract on the open market. Are the Pistons willing to invest that much time into someone who will be 35 by the end of the deal? He will likely continue to demand $10 million a year, and that does not seem like a wise investment for Detroit.
There was no one who gelled more with Andre Drummond than Will Bynum. In a turn of complete unoriginality, local press dubbed them “Batman and Robin” as a result of their pick-and-roll synergy.
An accurate depiction of them, pop culture allusions aside, would be an up-and-coming Lob City. Much like Chris Paul and Blake Griffin out in LA, there were times when these two were unstoppable, even when everyone in the building knew what was coming. Bynum needs to be paid if for nothing else because he is the only person on the roster capable of running that deadly pick-and-roll.
The most frustrating player on the roster. Must have some form of naked photos involving Joe Dumars. Nothing else explains the baffling loyalty he has been shown over the years. Undersized. Offensively challenged. Defensively over-valued. $5,000,000? It will be a welcomed relief when he puts pen to paper for another squad.
Not sure he even played a single minute this season. Good riddance.
Assess the Upcoming Free Agent Market
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As the iconic Michael Scott said, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…strike three. You are out.”
Joe Dumars tried to avoid the mayhem that was to be the 2010 free agent market as LeBron James and Co. hit the recruiting trail. As a precaution, Joe spent in 2009, drastically over-paying for the likes of Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva and essentially delaying the Pistons' rebuild another five years. Joe will have to spend much more wisely this summer, if he spends anything at all.
Available but Unrealistic
Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Paul Millsap, and Al Jefferson aren’t making the trip to Motown. Let’s not even waste time with them.
Available, but a Long Shot
Josh Smith is one of the most versatile players in the league on both ends of the floor. If a franchise has any championship aspirations over the next five years, then they have to go through LeBron James and Kevin Durant. In order to do so, you need someone who can defend those freaks. I’m an advocate of Smith receiving a hefty contract strictly for that reason.
Joe Johnson, Roy Hibbert, Rashard Lewis, and Rudy Gay are, or were, operating on max deals, which should make you appreciate a player like Smith even more.
LeBron James is heralded for his ability to guard the Derrick Roses of the league as well as the Dwight Howards. If there is one player in the NBA who can replicate that versatility, it’s Smith. Playing the majority of the season as a PF in Atlanta, Smith somehow managed to rank No. 1 on Basketball Prospectus’ metric for best perimeter defenders. That’s impressive.
There is plenty not to like about Smith's offensive game. Oftentimes, his shot selection is questionable at best, and his decision-making can border on the Lindsey Lohan level.
Don't forget, though, that Detroit appreciates defense more than the average team. Having an elite perimeter defender who can bang underneath on switches is a massive relief in a league focused so firmly on switches and matchups.
Tony Allen has received praise from pundits all season as a player worthy of Defensive Player of the Year consideration. The Pistons have lacked a perimeter defender since Tayshaun during “the Block” era. Maybe he isn’t the best offensive player, but he will be a welcomed addition to fans who appreciated the blue-collar work of the championship Pistons.
Corey Brewer is the same story as Tony Allen.
Andre Iguodala made over $15 million this season, but he won’t be commanding much more than $10 per year on this contract. Andre brings a dose of the versatility that Smith does, but with more offensive game. And, like Allen, he has received DPOY praise this season.
Chauncey Billups resurrected his career in Detroit, and he is on his last legs—both professionally and physically. Returning to Detroit would do two things: allow the veteran to retire for the team with whom he won a championship, and Detroit would bring in a steady head who will be a great influence over the entire team.
Identify Potential Draft Targets
Trey Burke could potentially be the #1 pick in this year's draft.
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The Pistons are currently slotted at No. 7. That can change in either direction depending on the draft. Let’s break down their options based on how the ping-pong balls fall.
Nos. 1-3: Trey Burke becomes the primary target. Securing a franchise PG is the most difficult thing, and Burke seems to be the only man capable of being so at the next level.
Fallback plan? Otto Porter. Since the Prince departure, Detroit has lacked a wing capable of scoring and defending. Porter can provide that duality.
Nos.7-9: The next tier of picks puts Victor Oladipo squarely in the crosshairs. The Pistons need to get way more athletic in their backcourt. Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond are the frontcourt of the future, but they need a dynamic option outside to take some of the pressure off. Brandon Knight probably isn’t the ultimate answer, but Oladipo definitely could be.
Other options include two names with which you may not be too familiar: CJ McCollum from Lehigh and Ketavious Caldwell-Pope of Georgia. McCollum could translate into this year’s Damian Lillard, and Caldwell-Pope was the SEC’s Player of the Year. Both are intriguing picks. Above all, Burke or Oladipo would help cure a lot of woes.
Potential Trade Target
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This is the point in the article where I explain that I do not think the Pistons should try to make the playoffs next season. Allow me to expand on that. I find that there is a difference between “tanking” and “positioning yourself for the future”.
The Pistons need to position themselves for a playoff run in 2014-2015, and this can be done by doing a number of things mentioned earlier in this article. For instance, not spending on big names this offseason (unless it's Josh Smith) and instead thinking small with additions like Tony Allen, Chauncey Billups and a backup big man would be a great start.
Step two is to hit on your draft pick, which hopefully turns into Trey Burke or Victor Oladipo. Step 2.1 is to make inquiries about Rajon Rondo if Burke is off the board.
Rondo is currently rehabbing from an ACL tear and will likely miss a large portion of next season. This is what I mean about “positioning yourself for the future”, but not “tanking.” By sending over a package of Brandon Knight, perhaps the expiring contract of Rodney Stuckey and a swap of 2013 first-round picks, Boston may be enticed to ship Rondo to Detroit.
This eliminates Burke and Oladipo from consideration, but I don’t think anyone in Detroit would be disappointed with adding an All-Star PG. With Rondo recovering next season, the Pistons can again position themselves for one last lottery pick before the ex-Celtic guard returns to pair with Monroe, Drummond and their new incoming 2014 draft pick.
Plan for the 2014 Draft
The 2014 class has long been considered the best since LeBron James, D-Wade, Melo, and Bosh hit the scene in ’03. Incoming freshman Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle are considered locks for the top-three picks, but the draft is far deeper than that. The Pistons are surely looking ahead to this crop, and a number of players would be perfect fits for their long-term plan.
Obviously, if they are lucky enough to land a top-three choice, then one of those names listed above instantly become the face of the franchise and catapults the Pistons out of morbid disarray.
Realistically, the Pistons will be choosing in the Nos. 5-10 range. At this point, Detroit could target PGs Marcus Smart or Andrew Harrison, or wings Noah Vonleh, James Young, and Wayne Selden. All of these names are potential franchise pieces.
Prepare for the 2014 FA Class
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As previously mentioned, Detroit should be frugal with itsadditions this offseason in lieu of the bountiful options in 2014. Keeping it small with Tony Allen, Chauncey Billups, and a backup center will allow Dumars to pounce on some of these names:
Paul George should be priority No. 1. He is becoming one of the most versatile, all-around playmakers in the NBA and someone potentially worth a max deal once he hits the market. The Pistons should not be afraid to pay him, especially if they pass on Josh Smith this offseason.
Eric Bledsoe is not likely to finish the 2014 season as a Clipper. Once Chris Paul re-signs with LA, Bledsoe is no longer the insurance policy. If the team that acquires Bledsoe fails to sign him to a long-term deal, he will become one of the most popular names around the league.
Detroit should become immediate players for his services. Adding Paul George and Eric Bledsoe would be a far more successful pairing than the Gordon/Villanueva debacle.
Evan Turner/Derrick Favors/Ed Davis/Kyle Lowry/Gordon Hayward: Each of these former high draft picks have not fully panned out in their current homes. Should any of them hit the market in 2014, Detroit should give each of them serious looks.
Name of the Game Is "Patience"
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Success is never built in an instant (unless you're the Miami Heat). It is a succession of intelligent decisions made over an extended period of time.
Encouragingly, the Pistons have made a few of those initial moves necessary to positioning themselves on an upward trajectory. Recent draft picks of Andre Drummond, Brandon Knight, Kyle Singler and Greg Monroe have all been hits, and their current cap flexibility is another positive.
Having cap flexibility means nothing unless you spend it wisely. Doing so in the 2013 FA class would be counter-productive. Waiting until 2014 and pairing those perspective options with their next two draft picks are what will determine how the Pistons measure success over the next decade.
If the Pistons are able to keep Monroe and Drummond in the organization, upgrade the guard positions with either Rajon Rondo, Trey Burke or Victor Oladipo this season, throw money at Paul George in 2014 and surround those players with smart, defensive-minded veterans like Tony Allen, Corey Brewer and Samuel Dalembert, then the Pistons will be well-positioned for long-term success.
The Pistons are close to returning to Eastern Conference prominence. Fans should hold out hope that if Joe Dumars capitalize on this available cap space, then the upper deck at the Palace of Auburn Hills will no longer be as empty as the moral cabinet of Warden Samuel Norton.