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John Kuester: The 'Ship Builder Is At It Again

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John Kuester: The 'Ship Builder Is At It Again
(Photo by Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images)

Leave it to Joe Dumars, he will always keep you guessing.

And if you are a citizen of the Detroit Pistons nation, you likely will be second guessing.

Dumars has come under fire from the folks in this small yet not so humble country.  To these folks, the question "what have you done for me lately?" is less a saying and more a mantra.

To the outside observer, these fans are viewed with a sense of bewilderment.  Out here on the west coast, I am constantly bumping into basketball people that cannot quite understand the mind set. 

"How can they be unhappy with him?  They are always contending."

It is a strange phenomenon, but Detroit fans are a strange bunch when it comes to their Pistons.  The reasons are too many to get into here, but the short answer is that they have a king-sized inferiority complex. 

Largely, this stems from a belief that they are constantly looked over and passed when the league's top teams are discussed. 

 

The Current Situation

The Pistons new hire, in a way, re-enforces this feeling. 

Many fans view this hire as a second-rate choice that signals a precipitous fall from the spotlight.

In a way, they are right.  Dumars said as much when he discussed the reasoning why he did not want to hire Avery Johnson.

Basically, Dumars said that his team was not in a position to hire a $4 or $5 million head coach.  Essentially, he said that his team is in a position similar to when they hired Rick Carlisle before eventually firing him to bring in Larry Brown.

To the ears of Pistons fans, that sounded a lot like a surrender.  A surrender of the rightful place of their team at the top of the NBA food chain.  All that scrapping and clawing that they did, all of the respect that they gathered over the last decade was forfeited. 

That new mantra of theirs is now ringing in their ears—"what have you done for me lately?", and they realize it describes them and their team's place in the league's hierarchy. 

Is it possible that they are reading this correctly?  Absolutely.  However, these fans have not taken the time to see this thoroughly.  For all of the doom and gloom being broadcasted, there is a flip-side to this coin.

John Kuester may represent the best of both worlds. 

When Carlisle was hired by Detroit, they were a middle of the pack team dealing with the loss of the cornerstone of their franchise.  They were at a fork in the road, deciding how to become a winner.  Their new coach, as well as their roster, dictated this direction—they would become a defensive powerhouse.

And while Carlisle did a great job developing his team, he was not a closer.  However, Larry Brown was a closer and guess who was instrumental in Kuester's development as a coach?  You guessed it, Larry Brown.

Today, the Pistons are in a similar situation.  They are dealing with the loss of the cornerstone of their team.  They are deciding how to become a winner.  This time, the direction is different.  They will become an offensive powerhouse.

At least that is the plan.  With the additions of Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, Dumars believes that he is on his way.  And just like Carlisle was brought in to accentuate talented defenders, Kuester will be asked to lend his considerable offensive know-how to a stable of talented offensive players.

Additionally, Dumars is likely going to add another strong front court player. 

Today, Dumars dealt guard Arron Afflalo and forward Walter Sharpe to Denver for a future second round draft pick.  This move will give Detroit around $3.5 million to spend on a player, and given that it is a buyers market, this could easily translate into Chris Wilcox or Glen Davis.

While the Pistons roster is far from upper-tier, they are a solid playoff team.  If Kuester handles this team properly, with time he could build them into a contender. 

There lies the good news: This team is young.  What's more is that they are talented. With the right kind of coaching and development, this team could be a contender for years to come. 

This could be the beginning of something, not the end.

 

The Challenges

While Kuester has a great reputation and some championship pedigree, he still has to find a way to take over a new team that still has a couple crucial pieces left over from their title year.

Additionally, he has to change the culture from one predicated on defense to one that is built around offense. 

If to make matters even more interesting and challenging, these two challenges conflict with one another, making a whole new issue to deal with.

This is due, of course, to the fact that one of his new players, Gordon, plays the same position as one of his crucial left over pieces, Rip Hamilton.

How he deals with the last of these challenges likely will affect his success in Detroit.

All indications are that Kuester recognizes this, and to signify this, he spent this past weekend as a guest at Hamilton's wedding. By showing Hamilton how important he is to the franchise (coupled with Dumars repeated expressions that he is not looking to trade Hamilton), he can immediately avoid a major mistake made by his predecessor, Michael Curry.

Showing Hamilton the respect that he deserves will send an important message to the incoming players.  The message is that while the head of the ship has changed, the old guard remains. 

This is a player's league, and Kuester apparently grasps this better than most.  Why wouldn't he; Kuester just finished working with the face of the league, LeBron James.  In order for a coach to have staying power, he needs veterans to help police the locker room. 

If he is able to fully ally himself with Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, his job in Detroit will be that much easier.

As far as how he integrates his new pieces with his old ones, everyone has a theory.  Personally, I think he will opt to for a starting lineup consisting of Villanueva, Prince, Hamilton, and Rodney Stuckey (provided Stuckey learns to distribute better) and probably Kwame Brown manning the middle. 

Detroit will likely add a power forward like Davis who will come off the bench with Gordon, providing a powerful bench.  Add to this mix a few promising young players that could provide help immediately (Dajuan Summers, Will Bynum) and Detroit has the makings of a very deep team.

 

The Prognosis

The Pistons are far from a finished product.  There are still plenty of holes on this team.

As of right now, they are not a strong defensive team.  Outside of Brown, Jason Maxiell, and Prince, there are few players known for their defense. 

That is not to say that some of these players can not play defense.  Stuckey has the athleticism to become a stellar defensive player.  Summers, Villanueva, and Austin Daye all have the youth and potential to become solid defenders.  Deron Washington could also provide relief in this area, provided he makes the team.

Rebounding will also be a problem, seeing as none of the current players have ever averaged more than seven per game. 

Actually, size in general is a major issue, and as presently constructed this team is woefully unprepared to battle near the hoop.  This could lead to some very easy hoops to the likes of Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard.

The flip side to this coin is that these Pistons are fast and athletic, and their perimeter offense should be tremendous.  The NBA in general is shifting in this direction, so in some ways the Pistons are ahead of the curve.

In 2002, Dumars charted a new course and it led to a title and six straight trips to the Eastern Conference Finals.  And while the skippers changed a few times during that run, the man commissioning the ship never did.

Like then, there is a new course charted and a new skipper.  Only time will tell if it has the same destination. 

One thing is for certain, if it doesn't, there will be a new man commissioning this ship.

Personally, I would not bet against the ship builder.  Or play on one of Rasheed Wallace's colloquialisms—the 'ship builder.

 

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