Remember back to 2004. The Pistons put together a blue-collar team that imposed tough defense on any team in its path.
The team roster compiled a journeyman point guard in Chauncey Billups, an unproven scorer in Richard Hamilton, a young swingman in Tayshaun Prince, a volatile veteran in Rasheed Wallace, and an undrafted and undersized center in Ben Wallace.
A motley crue, the team prided itself on "goin' to work" every night on the offensive and more importantly, defensive end.
Chauncey earned the Finals MVP in '04 after winning a championship. This soon sparked multiple All-Star honors, as well as an All-NBA Defensive second team honor.
Rip Hamilton followed with multiple consecutive all-star bids (2006-2008) and became known as one of the best off-screen shooters.
Rasheed revived his own career with an all-star selection in 2006 and 2008, as well as becoming a notorious presence on the court.
Ben Wallace, perhaps the greatest success story, earned 4 All-Star selections, 3 All-NBA second team honors (2003, 2004, 2006), 2 All-NBA third team honors (2002, 2005), 5 All-Defensive First Team honors, and finally 4 NBA Defensive player of the year awards (2002, 2003, 2005, 2006).
But the glory days of the new-millenium Pistons is over. What's left is a poor excuse of a competitive team. We've lost both Chauncey (who's still flourishing in Denver) and Rasheed (who came close to winning a championship with the rival Boston Celtics). However, we've re-signed Ben Wallace, but he's too old to provide consistent impact.
So I ask, what's next for the Detroit Pistons?
I've put trust in Joe Dumars in the past, but in years since, I find myself questioning his ability to put together a competing team. Of course, I should have seen this coming after he drafted Darko Milicic over Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh (a move ignored due to a championship).
Joe D's moves since the golden age of Detroit basketball have included: Drafting the perceived new backcourt of Rodney Stuckey and Arron Afflalo, drafting Jason Maxiell over David Lee and Monta Ellis (because he believed Maxiell could become the next undersized center), and signing Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon to two five-year contracts (totaling $90 million dollars) the year before Decision '10. To make matters worse, both Charlie V and Ben Gordon are currently coming off the bench.
In the 2009 draft, the Pistons desperately needed to come away with talent, and they spent their three picks on two small forwards (Austin Daye and DaJuan Summers) and a relatively small power forward in Jonas Jerebko (who did end up completing a decent rookie campaign).
However, with the 7th pick in the 2010 draft, Joe D gladly took Greg Monroe, an unselfish power forward/center with a solid frame, and a good size for his position.
To fully evaluate where the Pistons will be in the next decade, I think it's worth our time to look at the roster and evaluate weak spots in the each position.
1. Rodney Stuckey--The "star" of the Pistons' lineup. A decent point-guard (but moreover combo guard), Rodney can definitely score and get to the rim. My problem with Stuckey is his inconsistent jump shot (40.5% on FGs last year), his lack of passing (only 4.8 assists per game last year), and his lack of leadership. He's going to have to refine his game if he wants to fill Mr. Big Shot's shoes.
2. Will Bynum--A great backup, Bynum brings energy to the backcourt and has shown his ability to score when the team needs production off the bench. His per 36 minute production is highlighted by 18.4 points and 7.0 assists (in '09). A small bundle of energy, Bynum does his job as a back-up point.
This position is a weakness for the team because the Pistons lack a pure point guard. Until they discover one, or Stuckey develops into more than a scorer, I see no hope for the team in this category.
1. Richard Hamilton--A once efficient scorer (45.1 career FG% even after 44.7% in 08 and 40.9% in 09), Rip is starting to lose his edge. And I don't think it's his fault. Rip's still the master at off-ball movement and can shoot a deadly mid-ranger off screens. But, with a point guard feeding less than perfect passes and a center providing flaccid screens, he's just not in the prime (or system) he once flourished in. It's amazing the team captain hasn't demanded a trade yet.
2. Ben Gordon--Ben Gordon needs the ball to produce. That's a skill that can be valuable, but at many times, detrimental. Gordon shot a near career low FG% of 41.6 last year and averaged only 13.6 points per game. He also offers a horribly unrounded-game as his rebound and assists numbers are drastically low year after year. A six man worth $10 million a year--another anomaly in the Piston's roster.
3. Terrico White--One more combo guard for the Pistons. Terrico has a great body for his position, he just needs to become more aggressive. At Ole Miss, Terrico turned the ball over on only 9% of his possessions, a stat that heavily hints at his lack of aggression. He also needs a better jumper and has been known to shoot badly off screens. If only White would get to the rim more, learn how to pass, and convert better from the line, he'd bring a legitimate talent to a decimated team.
Another position, another weakness for the Pistons. Ben Gordon is a combo guard that demands the ball, and Rip is aging quickly. If the Pistons decide to rebuild completely, trading away both Rip and Gordon for younger talent wouldn't be a horrible idea.
1. Tayshaun Prince--Straight outta Compton. Prince stands as an efficient shooter for the Pistons, but has never been given the keys to the offense. Prince can definitely score well on certain nights, but his impact has been inconsistent to say the least. Prince's future in Detroit is bleak as he is aging quickly. He is also replaceable. Although he comes with many years of playoff experience, he has a replica of himself on the Pistons bench (Austin Daye).
2. Austin Daye--I believe Austin Daye could develop into a Tayshaun Prince-like player if the Pistons would only commit to rebuilding. Daye has a good three-point shot, an excellent skill-set, a wide wingspan (he's a 6'11" SF), and can provide scoring for the Pistons. I don't like his frail frame or lack of explosiveness, but given time I think he can develop into a good offensive and defensive option for the Pistons.
3. DaJuan Summers--Another young player I believe in...but needs a lot of work. He has a great NBA body at 6'8", 250 lbs, but doesn't quite know how to use it yet. He needs to develop a back-to-the-basket game and needs develop some sort of ball-handling ability. However, his size gives mismatch potential, his three-pointer adds more value to his skill-set, and his explosiveness can definitely help the Pistons. Another player that is rough around the edges, but has potential.
I feel that the Tayshaun Prince days in Detroit could end and I'd be completely indifferent. Daye and Summers both need NBA experience and coaching, but after watching them in their limited stints off the bench, they have some upside. The best thing the Pistons could do right now for this position is either trade away Tayshaun for more talent, or allow Daye and Summers to learn on the court.
1. Jonas Jerebko--Like all European players who lack strength and power, Jonas relies on his hustle to change games. In his rookie campaign, Jonas showed he could grab rebounds as well as score when they needed him to. A bright spot for the Pistons, Jonas just needs to bulk up to become effective night in and night out.
2. Charlie Villanueva--The Pistons' fourth highest payed athlete is spending his days on the bench. Villanueva has great talent and also has a great three-point shot to compliment his tall frame. Charlie V's reminds me of Sheed, without the hustle, ability to grab rebounds, and defensive mindset (all of which made Sheed irreplaceable). If Charlie wants to find a way back into the lineup, he needs to hustle more and compete at a higher level defensively.
3. Chris Wilcox--Another player with no upside, sitting on the bench, making $3 million a year. Wilcox could average 13 and 7 as a starter, but that's his upper limit. He doesn't bring that much depth to the team, plays no defense, and has no post-game. Freak athlete? Sure. Potential to develop a skill-set? None.
A mediocre lineup at this position, which is becoming the trend in Detroit. Jonas has some potential, but these power forwards emanate none of the hard-nose defensive capabilities Detroit fans relished in. I wouldn't be against trading away Villanueva and Wilcox and finding another power forward starter. Jonas can would be great on the second-unit, backing up a legitimate power forward.
1. Ben Wallace--A shell of the great athlete he once was. There's a novelty to having Big Ben back in Detroit, but for the future of the franchise, he'd be better as a veteran backup. He no longer is the defensive stalwart he once was, a skill that made him once very valuable to the Pistons. He put together a respectable year last year, but an aging Big Ben is more valuable on the bench, instilling a defensive mindset in younger centers.
2. Jason Maxiell--An explosive athlete, Maxiell can definitely provide not only off the bench, but as a starter (putting together 6 consecutive 10+ rebound games in '10). He has a large wingspan of 7'3", despite his small stature of 6'5" (without shoes). Maxiell is an effective second-unit center and power forward, but in all honesty, his size limits the Pistons greatly.
3. Greg Monroe--Greg Monroe finished his Summer League with a 24 point, 14 rebound performance, showing he can dominate the center position. He has a good size for his position and can execute offensively. He needs to develop a better jumper, lose less turnovers, and pick up his defense if he wants consistent starters minutes. A boatload of potential here though, and the best option for starting center moving forward.
4. Kwame Brown--Why is Kwame Brown on this team? He makes $4 million sitting on the bench, providing limited offense and limited defense, and has absolutely no potential. Sigh.. Why is Kwame Brown on this team?!
There's definitely depth at the center position. With veteran experience in Big Ben, an explosive second-unit player in Maxiell, and a NBA-sized youngster in Monroe, the center position has the most hope for the Pistons. The Pistons best move is using Big Ben and Maxiell as backups, and allowing Monroe to develop into a legitimate center.
The Pistons have decent players, but players that would be great on a second-unit or as role players. If the Pistons want to go back to being competitive in the East, they need to commit fully to rebuilding a solid first-unit.
The Pistons have two options: 1. Trade away the remaining members of the '04 team (as well as Ben Gordon and Charlie V) for better talent (and a release on barring contracts). Joe D has attempted to make big moves in the past, but they have all been the wrong ones (Chauncey for Iverson).
2. Or Joe D needs to put trust in his young players and develop them. With veteran knowledge and young bodies, combining the two could bring some semblance back to Detroit basketball, and a move in the right direction.
Looking at the rest of the Eastern Conference, it looks like the Pistons have a long way before they arrive back in the playoffs.
In the big picture, it will be awhile before the Pistons are competitive once again, so a full-scale reconstruction, harboring young talent, would be a great idea for the future (this includes a re-evaluation of the coaching staff).
As much as it hurts me, a devoted "Dee-troit Basketbaaall" fan, I give the Pistons at least 5 years until they can get back into the playoffs.