And here we are again. Another off-season filled with both promise and the need to buck the status quo. Joe Dumars has once again filled the Detroit Piston fan-base with the zealous hope for next year and the future in general. Despite the positive spin on the potential of this team, it is clear the fans have grown restless. In the past, whatever move Dumars made would be met with at the very least trepid acceptance; now even sensible moves have the fans calling for Dumars’ head.
In previous years, Dumars would promise big change, and either allow the summer to pass with minor, lateral moves or attempting to swing big at unconventional additions. Last summer was an exercise of the latter as Dumars when he spent $90 million on two former UConn stars, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. These additions coupled with the addition of former Cavs assistant, John Kuester, as head coach.
Last season, nationally the team was not expected to be a league power, but still compete at a high level in the Eastern Conference, however these hopes were soon downgraded early in the season when it was clear these players did not fit well together. The season only got worse as two of the three remaining members of the 2004 Championship starting line, Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, went down with injury. Gordon and Villanueva also had significant injuries, but for the most part were forced to play through them to provide any sort or depth for the team. Kuester appeared to have lost his offensive knack, and the team struggled to create an offensive identity. All of these factors lead into the Pistons worst season since 1994.
The team went into the Draft knowing they needed help in what had become one of the league’s worst front courts in the NBA. They got a 6-11 power forward who has a nice offensive touch in Greg Monroe at pick number seven. It is no secret that Detroit wanted center DeMarcus Cousins, but were not able to work out a trade to move up to get him. Dumars is gushing about his new big man, who can also play center if called upon. He brings a nice skill set to the team and can provide low post scoring the Pistons have desired for years. His shortcomings fall on the defensive end, where his toughness is also a factor. He played in a system that required him to think more like a point guard than a bruising center, so his college tape does make him look softer than he probably really is. All this being said, he is a power forward, not a true center.
The Pistons have gotten away with this for years with success recently. Neither Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess, nor Chris Webber are centers, but had to fill in as centers at times during their tenure with the team. The Pistons should look to find a true, defensive-minded center that can take the pressure off their newest rookie and allow him to focus his attention on the offensive side of the ball. Since the Pistons blew the wad (of cash) last off-season, this year’s free agency period will not involve the conventional “see player, sign player” routine.
The Pistons will have to do the bulk of their upgrades through trades as they attempt to rid themselves of the contracts of Prince and Hamilton. Prince’s expiring deal should attract attention while the Pistons will most likely have to take a loss on the talent side to rid themselves of Hamilton. If they can free themselves of those two contracts would bring the Pistons down more than $20 million of the current $55 million the Pistons are committed to the $57 million cap. This would allow the Pistons to target a free agent center like Brendan Haywood who, despite his many shortcomings, could be a capable center who the rest of the team could cover for.
There is also a growing movement both from fans and management, and possibly even Dumars now, that the dynamic Rodney Stuckey may not be suited as an NBA point guard. This is where Kuester’s lack of firm offensive system plays a major role. By neither designing an offense for Stuckey or making a firm appeal for a pass-first point guard, he has left Dumars with the ultimate decision of whether or not to move Stuckey to the off-guard spot and find a new point. To do this, Hamilton would have to be gone. As it stands right now, the team has way too many wing players, and Dumars has already tabbed his next developmental project in Terrico White; a shooting guard who saw his stock drop after and regressive sophomore year at Mississippi. The White pick has be lambasted by fans, wondering why a team with so many front-court holes passed on a chance to fortify that area and opted to pick one of the two positions (along with small forward) where the team has a gluttony of talent. White, does however have big boom/bust potential as after his freshman year, he was beginning to look like a future star, and if the team can get that out of him, he might become a key reserve or better in the future, if he can get on the court. If the Pistons free up space, look for Dumars to take interest in a new point guard, especially if they can not match an offer for Will Bynum. Raymond Felton could be an option for the right price. He is not a flashy point guard, but he posses the passing skill necessary to get someone like Ben Gordon, who likes to move without the ball, in great positions to score.
Sure, trading out franchise mainstays Rip and Tayshaun for the likes of Raymond Felton and Brendon Haywood may not be the sex appeal fans are looking for, and a Haywood/Monroe/(Austin) Daye/Stuckey/Felton starting five looks anemic next to the Wallace/Wallace/Prince/Hamilton/(Chauncey) Billups line that won it all, but remember, at the time that starting five was unaccomplished as well. With the team up for sale, Dumars knows he will not have Carte blanche on spending in a year where his job may very well be on the line. He knows however that the key to making it job intact to the summer of 2011 (Hello Carmelo?) is to doing what he does best, making reclamation projects out of troubled NBA careers. On the court the team will rely on an energetic bench full of role players who could be the key to a successful season for the team. For a team filled with youth, Dumars will finally get what he has wanted all along; to be able to draft young players and watch them develop into key pieces of the cog that is the Detroit Pistons. Whether it’s sink or swim, Dumars and the Pistons are betting the future on the kids.