As the Detroit Pistons enter the 2010 season, they are facing a difficult transition. On the one hand, the team has a lot of talent, most of which is young.
On the other hand, nearly all of their talent plays the same position.
This is a Pistons team that is loaded with shooting guards, but they are lacking any type of true point guard.
They have plenty of small forwards, but they are incredibly thin at power forward.
In the case of the latter point, thin is the operative word as coach John Kuester has decided that the best way to solve his log jam in the back court is to move second year player Austin Daye to power forward.
Given that Daye is barely 200 lbs. dripping wet with boots on, it is easy to see how problems are likely for a squad that is looking to get back into the playoffs after a one-year hiatus following a decade of Eastern Conference dominance.
While the situation is less than ideal in Detroit, there is still reason to believe that this team has the potential to head in the right direction (that's right folks, Pistons fans are back to grasping at the possibility of improvement; when did this team become the Lions?)
The key to this season is deciding what the direction of this team will be. Either the Pistons can embrace a rebuilding phase or they can try to swing a couple moves to become a contender. There is a case to made for either decision, but only one can be made.
The Case for Rebuilding
Right now, the Pistons have a perfect chance to rebuild the squad. The fans, while eager for a winner, will allow the team some growing pains. However, they have to show improvement and more importantly they have to play hard. If this turns into a finesse team that doesn't play with any real type of effort, the fans will turn on them immediately.
However, if this team plays hard, gritty and with defensive tenacity, the fans will embrace them. Daye in particular has fan favorite written all over him. If he picks up where he left off this summer and late in the preseason, there will be plenty of Daye jerseys littering The Palace.
Rodney Stuckey, as divisive as he has been, still has the potential to bring the fans around. The key will be limiting his turnovers and taking the next step as a defender.
Also, he might have to become a bench player. His style of play works best off of the bench, and I think that by mid-season Kuester will come around. Stuckey would be the perfect Vinnie Johnson type of player, capable to sliding from one guard spot to the next, and incorporating an Alvin Robertson style of defense on either opposing guard.
Regardless, the rebuilding model will require some tough choices for Detroit. Rip Hamilton will have to be dealt, which I think will be a lot easier of a possibility if team president Joe Dumars lowers his demands. If he is willing to take back an expiring contract and a young player plus a draft pick, a handful of teams will come running.
Something tells me that Dumars' notorious stubborn streak in regards to the value of his players is the biggest stumbling block in any Hamilton deal.
Tayshaun Prince, however, might be worth keeping. He is a consummate team player, and unlike Hamilton, his offensive game can fit with any system. While Hamilton needs to be paired with a point guard who can spread the floor and hit him perfectly on his curls, Prince is a perfect complementary player whose offense is only part of his value.
Additionally, Dumars is going to have to figure out what to do with last season's free agent acquisitions. Ben Gordon had a terrible year, but most people believe that he will bounce back if given enough regular minutes. The problem then becomes where to put him. If he comes off the bench, he needs major minutes in order to find his groove offensively.
However, you need to pair Gordon with a big guard like Stuckey to guard the opposing shooting guard as Gordon has a tendency to get bullied by bigger twos.
The best case scenario would be for the Pistons to run their offense through Prince and let Stuckey and Gordon concentrate on scoring.
This brings us to the front court. With Daye playing power forward, the Pistons are going to be forced to play Ben Wallace major minutes. This is the key to the rebuilding process.
The Pistons will need to resist the urge to over play Wallace, and instead use him to start the game and then quickly move towards getting Greg Monroe on to the court.
Monroe is flawed, but immensely talented. Defensively, the former Georgetown product will never blow you away with his athleticism. However he does have good size and if he can concentrate on positioning and rebounding, he will make some fans forget about his shortcomings.
Charlie Villanueva, the other disappointing free agent acquisition from last year, figures to play a role this year as well. However, Dumars needs to do everything he can to deal the former UConn Husky.
Yes, that's right, the Pistons need to cut bait with Villanueva. This may seem difficult or extreme, but Villanueva can not be any type of answer for the future of this team. He is big, but he can't rebound. He is a decent athlete, but he can't play defense. He has some offensive skill, but not the type that the Pistons need. At the end of the day, Villanueva is essentially a shooting guard trapped in the body of a power forward.
What Detroit needs is a back to the basket scorer. Or, if they are confident Monroe will develop into this type of player, they need a defensive banger that can grab rebounds.
Ideally, that would be Jason Maxiell. However, Maxiell's lack of height will never allow him to be anything more than a bench player. For this team, though, that is enough. Daye will start the game as an offensive nightmare for defenses (think Rashard Lewis), and Maxiell will come in to spell him and play with defensive energy.
What they don't need is Daye to be spelled by a soft finesse player with skills arguably less impressive.
So how can Detroit deal Villanueva? First, they are going to have to entice a team with a draft pick, perhaps a lottery protected first-rounder. Then, they will have to agree to take on another less than amazing salary in exchange. I know, it sounds like a lot, but Detroit needs to admit their mistake with Charlie and cut bait.
While Charlie's contract isn't great, for a team that needs an offensive big to come off the bench, it is not terrible. If I were Dumars, I would give Houston a call and see if they are interested in dealing Jared Jefferies. Jefferies is big and long and plays defense. More importantly, he has an expiring contract.
If Houston balks at dealing Jefferies, Detroit should give Dallas a call and see what it would take to get Shawn Marion. Sure, "The Matrix" is past his prime. But he still is a great rebounder and defensive presence.
The point is that Detroit, if they embrace the rebuilding plan, needs to give their young guys an opportunity to play and deal the dead weight and veterans who would stand in the way of that plan.
The Case for Winning Now
The Pistons, for all their flaws, still have some talent. They also have players who are battle tested and capable of making big shots.
Dumars could conceivably talk himself into making a few moves to try to reach the playoffs now.
While this may seem like a ridiculous sentiment, think about it from Dumars' perspective. He is about to have a new boss. The Pistons will likely be sold by the New Year, and the front runner for the ownership gig, Mike Illitch, has proven his desire to win right away with the Red Wings and Tigers.
Dumars also will have to contend with Illitch's new right hand man, Dumars' former assistant Tom Wilson.
While I do not know if Dumars and Wilson parted on bad terms, the many reports that their underlings have developed a bit of a rivalry would suggest at least some contention between the two men.
If Illitch buys the Pistons, he likely will look to ratchet up the pressure on Dumars. He won't be able to just come in and throw him out on the street; Dumars is too classy and too much of a local legend for that type of public relations nightmare.
Instead, Illitch would give Dumars enough rope to hang himself with. He will step in and tell Dumars that he wants a winner, and if he is unable to deliver, Illitch will have to look elsewhere.
This would force Dumars to either step down or try to make this team an instant contender.
The only way he could do so would be to swing a deal for a major player, such as a Carmelo Anthony. Obviously Anthony is the longest of long shots given his desire to play in New York, but Dumars could always roll the dice and make a move.
He could offer young players such as Daye, Monroe and/or Stuckey plus draft picks.
Again, I am not suggesting this is a likely move, but rather a move that Dumars might attempt if he believes his back is against the wall.
This is a team that is at a crossroads. Dumars has been eager to attempt to rebuild on the fly. This attempt has failed. Detroit must now embrace their plight as a lottery team that is attempting to right their ship.
The only choice is to dive right in to rebuilding and move players who do not fit the future of this team. Jonas Jerebko, Daye, Monroe and most likely Stuckey are the future core of this team. Detroit needs to surround them with players who complement them and allow them to grow.
Only then will this team be heading in the right direction.