Crucial Next Step for Detroit Pistons: Identify Core and Move Forward

Jay Wierenga@@JayWierengaCorrespondent IMarch 20, 2011

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 18:  Greg Monroe #10 of the Detroit Pistons and the Rookie Team and Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers and the Rookie Team cheer from the bench during the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge and Youth Jam at Staples Center on February 18, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

By any rationale, this season has been an unmitigated disaster for the Detroit Pistons. That much is clear.

And while there is not a whole lot that can be done about that now, the next month or so represents a very crucial next step for the Pistons.

For all intents and purposes, the next month will be a sort of open tryout for the Detroit Pistons. This goes for everyone, aside from perhaps coach John Kuester and team president Joe Dumars.

At least one of those two is definitely gone, and possibly both depending on how nostalgic the new owner is.

That leaves a roster of roughly 15 people up for grabs, and it will be up to the players to determine who wants those spots.

Definitely Coming Back

Rookie Greg Monroe has been a pleasant surprise for the Pistons. Thought to be perhaps too raw offensively and too soft defensively, Monroe has impressed with his willingness to mix it up down low, find the open teammate with a pinpoint pass, and pester opposing guards on defense.

That's right, I said "guards." One of the things that has impressed me the most about Monroe is his quick hands, a trait that, coupled with quick feet, allows him to be the perfect "show" defender on pick and rolls.

It is a nightmare for guards to shake their man on a pick and roll only to have the 6'11" Monroe come out and put the fear of Zeus into them.

Furthermore, Monroe is very young and despite the tumult surrounding the team, he was never distracted or even phased by the craziness.

In Monroe, the Pistons have either a power forward or maybe even a center for the future.

Jonas Jerebko was hurt all year, and so it is impossible to know exactly how he would have fit in this mix. But it is safe to say that he could easily be the power forward of the future for Detroit.

The one worry with Jerebko is that he might be a "tweener" in that he might be just a hair too small to play power forward and just a touch too slow to be a small forward.

Personally, I think it would be easier for him to bulk up a little and play power forward alongside Monroe.

The one issue this presents is a lack of shot-blocking ability, as both Jerebko and Monroe are solid defenders and rebounders but neither can alter shots.

Also likely to return is Ben Gordon, if for no other reason than his contract is too big to unload.

That being said, Gordon is a class act who can score bunches in a hurry if he is given enough time to do so.

It is hard to imagine the next coaching staff ignoring Gordon quite so much. That's why I could see Gordon having a breakout year with the Pistons next season, especially if they clear up the log jam.

Austin Daye is another player who is likely to return. Daye had an up-and-down season, but he is still very young and has a lot of room to grow (physically and game-wise).

In Daye, Detroit likely has their small forward of the future, a job he could inherit as soon as next year if Detroit opts to let Tayshaun Prince walk (more on that later).

Probably Staying

If you have been waiting for Charlie Villanueva to figure it out and start living up to his draft status, you probably will have to wait a bit longer.

Villanueva vowed to turn things around this year, and at the very least he has appeared to be more interested in the game. His body language is better, but his numbers are worse.

At this point, the Pistons have to try to be happy with what Villanueva is; a soft big man that can stretch the defense.

Much has been made of his salary, but it isn't completely unbearable. Basically, he makes an average of about $8 million a year for the next three years.

Considering he does about the same thing as players such as Rashard Lewis and makes a fraction of what some of those players make, his salary isn't a roster killer.

Furthermore, a team like Dallas or maybe even Oklahoma City may be interested in Villanueva for the right price. For a contending team with size down low, Charlie has some value.

Rodney Stuckey is another intriguing piece who has not necessarily lived up to expectations.

To be fair, Stuckey has weathered some incredible situations since joining Detroit. That being said, Detroit has the right to make a qualifying offer to Stuckey, essentially making him a restricted free agent.

Given how weak this year's draft is and the league-wide belief that Stuckey has loads of potential, don't be surprised to see another team sign him to an offer sheet.

Detroit then would have seven days to match the offer. The problem is that these are all long-term deals. If Detroit matches the offer sheet, it would have to be for at least three years.

This is why Joe Dumars' lack of player movement, which was caused by the ownership situation and the restrictions placed on him, was so devastating to the future of this team.

If he had been allowed to deal Stuckey, he could have gotten draft picks and/or a player who better suited Detroit's current roster.

(He also blew it with Prince, but again, I will get to that later.)

At the very least, Stuckey could be a decent combo guard coming off the bench, or the starting shooting guard with Gordon coming off the bench. But Stuckey is no point guard, and it is time the team realizes it.

Jason Maxiell and Will Bynum also are probably coming back, as both are under contract for at least the next year (Maxiell then has a player option for the next season while Bynum is under contract for the next two years).

Neither player is more than a back-of-the-bench role player now, each depending on favorable matchups and their own energy to get minutes.

Terrico White is under contract next year and DaJuan Summers, while not under contract, will probably be offered one.

Probably Gone

The Tayshaun Prince era is likely about to come to an end in Detroit.

Prince spent nearly his entire career on title contenders, and it is likely the case that he will be heading to another one after this year is over.

This season has appeared to be particularly taxing for Prince, and with such a weak free agent class this summer, he should prove too costly for Detroit to bring back.

This is what makes Dumars' refusal to trade the former Kentucky Wildcat so infuriating to fans.

As the deadline was fast approaching, reports surfaced that Dallas was offering the expiring contract of Caron Butler and a first-round pick (likely in the 26-28 range) for Prince. Dumars refused, saying that he felt he could get more for Prince.

Really? On the day of the deadline, you thought you could get more for Prince? Now, with the offseason fast approaching, you likely will get nothing for him. Unless Dumars has some arrangement with Prince lined up, this could go down as one of the dumbest of Dumars' dumb moves.

Consider for a moment what this means. Say, for instance, the Pistons fall in love with a prospect in the lottery that is a few picks above them (likely in the six to eight range).

Perhaps Kemba Walker from UConn continues to impress in the tournament and sees his draft stock rise. Then Detroit could package their two first-rounders for a higher pick and grab a player who fits their roster.

Or, they could remain where they are and draft not only a lottery pick but a late first-rounder. But what type of talent could they find in the late first round, you may ask? Oh wait, Tayshaun Prince was a late first-round pick.

Any way you slice it, this was a bone-headed move.

Similarly, Ben Wallace is probably done in Detroit. Watching Wallace's body language, you can tell he still wants to compete, but he just doesn't have anything left. He likely will retire after this year.

Definitely Gone

This leaves three players: Richard Hamilton, Chris Wilcox and Tracy McGrady.

All should be gone.

McGrady is an easy choice. He was brought in to help sell tickets and as a low-risk signing. The Pistons really should have used his better-than-expected season to trade him at the deadline. But alas, the Pistons were not in the trading mood and so they were content to let him flounder in their mess.

McGrady could have brought back at least a second-round pick. Instead, Detroit will let the former superstar walk after the season.

Why on Earth would McGrady want to return to Detroit? He came here to prove that he still had something in the tank, and he proved it. Now he should move on to a contender and try to finally make it out of the first round of the playoffs.

Wilcox is the classic tale of wasted talent. From time to time, he will fool you with potential, but at the end of the day, he will leave you wanting more.

He should find another sucker waiting to give him $3 million-$5 million per season.

Hamilton is another story altogether. He still has quite a bit left on his salary, but he has no value to this team. In fact, this team plays much better without him.

That is not to say that other teams won't be interested in him (Chicago has been sniffing around at him for a year now, and Utah might also be a match). But nobody is dumb enough to pay Detroit what they would want for him.

As a result, you can look for the new ownership to authorize a buyout and get Hamilton out of Detroit.

Moving Forward

Now that the team's core is identified, the task at hand is to build them up. The biggest need for this team is to improve the overall level of talent, bring in a shot blocker, and get a point guard.

I have pegged Kemba Walker as a likely option for Detroit in the lottery, and he would provide an immediate boost to a team looking for answers.

Walker is a leader, a scorer and a distributor, three things sorely needed for this team. He wants the ball in crunch time, and he plays tougher than his stature suggests.

In a lot of ways, he reminds me of a poor man's Isiah Thomas.

Detroit hasn't had a lot of luck drafting point guards, but this shouldn't scare them from drafting Walker.

If Walker isn't available, the Pistons need to pick the best player available, namely a forward. If Marcus Morris from Kansas is available, he would be a nice player to bring in to compete with Jerebko for the starting gig.

This is not a team void of talent, but they do need to trim away some of the fat and cauterize the wound.

Hang in there, Pistons fans, this should get better.


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