Detroit Pistons: Five Critical Steps Tom Gores Needs to Take
The Detroit Pistons wrapped up a second consecutive miserable season with a very crucial move for the franchise. Karen Davidson, the widow of Piston legend Bill Davidson, agreed on April 8th to sell the Detroit Pistons, The Palace of Auburn Hills, and the DTE Energy Music Theater to Michigan native Tom Gores. Gores had been in the running for potential ownership of the team for quite some time, rivaling the likes of Mike Ilitch and a group of foreign investors. Davidson and Gores finally came to an agreement.
Tom Gores takes over the reigns of an NBA franchise rich in history and surrounded by passionate, success-hungry fans. The franchise has prided itself on playing a physical, no-nonsense style of basketball for decades now. Heart has been every bit a part of the Pistons' success as talent has been. For the team and for fans, that's great because Detroit doesn't need a 30 point per night scorer in order to be an elite team. They have to have a bunch of guys on the same page who share the common passion of winning. For a new owner, that's the worst possible scenario. It will be easy for Tom to put together a roster that looks good on paper from his new executive office. However, it will be impossible to gauge how the roster will play together. Though difficult to predict, Gores can make some very important moves this off-season to set the Pistons up for success in the long run.
Obviously, Joe Dumars will be the one to actually go out and make the roster moves about to be mentioned, but Tom is the head honcho who can push for just about anything he wants.
1: Bring Joe Dumars in for a Lengthy Conversation
When Tom Gores walks into his new corporate office wearing his business suit at the Detroit Pistons offices, something needs to be done before even unpacking his boxes. Gores must pick up his decadent new telephone to immediately page the secretary and set up a meeting with general manager Joe Dumars.
Joe Dumars is a man who knows the game of basketball. Not only was he one of the best all-around players of his time, he showed the uncanny ability to put together and motivate a championship caliber roster that lasted upwards of four or five years. That's a pretty hefty resume for a man in his position.
Gores is on the completely opposite page. Gores has a long history of business gold mines, and hit Forbes Magazine's list of the 200 richest Americans. Tom certainly knows a lot about how to run a business (he started off with a construction management degree), but unfortunately knows very little about how to run a basketball team. He never played, never held a management position, and was never involved in any way with the executive branch of a sports team at any level.
As you can see, we have two men on opposite ends of the spectrum who will need to work together very closely to produce fruitful results on the basketball court. Compromise will have to be the first thing that these two men talk about. Dumars knows the league very well and has a knowledge of the game well beyond what Gores does. Gores has the fortune, is the man in charge, and ultimately has the say in anything that he wants to. For all we know, Gores could be an avid basketball fan who knows the game very well. We would assume that to be the case if he spent $400 million to buy the Pistons (an estimated 1/6th of his wealth). Whether Gores' motivations are from the standpoint of a fan or a businessman, the goal will be the same: win games, and do whatever it takes to be sure that happens. These are two extremely intelligent men in their respective fields. Conflicting, the result will be disastrous, and will ultimately end up with Dumars packing his suitcase. Working together, however, these two can team up to be one of the best owner/GM duos in the league down the road.
2: Cut the Ties with Kuester
Two years ago, the Pistons got rid of a bad head coach (Curry) and brought in a guy filled with question marks. Until his job with the Pistons, John Kuester spent his professional career bouncing around the league in an assistant coach role. Kuester actually was the assistant coach of the Pistons' 2004 championship squad. His professional resume boasts sixteen years in the league, and he has spent plenty of time around the league's elite rosters (the aforementioned Pistons of '04, the Magic of '07, and the Cavs of '08 and '09). When you consider all of this, it's actually easy to understand why Joe Dumars went out and gave this man a head coaching role. The credentials are all there for Kuester, but the ability to effectively coach a roster is not. Dumars had no way of knowing that until he put Kuester in charge of the team.
What isn't easy to understand is why Kuester still has a job with the Pistons. As if last season wasn't bad enough, the Pistons put fans through another roller coaster year. This time, Detroit chose to do so with antics off of the basketball court rather than miserable play on the hardwood.
Let's face it, the Pistons do not have an easy roster to coach. The backcourt is filled with guys who think they deserve 10-15 shots on a nightly basis (Hamilton, Gordon, Stuckey). Detroit has the veterans who aren't necessarily head cases, but are certainly more arrogant than they can back up with play on the court (Prince, Wilcox, McGrady). They also have young players who have (or had) good potential, but unfortunately will never see it blossom due to their current situation on the Pistons (Bynum, Daye, Maxiell). And then there's the guys who are going to shut their mouths and give a hundred percent every night (Monroe, Bynum, Summers, Wallace). The Pistons core players still have the chemistry they did when they won the championship seven years ago, but unfortunately these players lack the talent. This makes for a confusing situation for the head coach. Not only was Kuester blown off and disrespected due to being a rookie head coach, he was verbally slandered by his own players. We all remember the "protest" that took place earlier this season that left the Pistons with a 6-man rotation for an entire game.Whether or not the protest was planned or just a coincidence, one this is for sure: few of the players on this team respect Kuester.
It's easy to see this as a fan, so Tom Gores must have a good idea of what's going on here. It's hard to single out a potential head coach at this point in time. Even an elite head coach probably wouldn't be interested in taking over the current mess in Detroit. However, Gores and Dumars can work together to find a motivator. You don't have to go out and get a coaching genius. The Pistons simply need someone who commands respect in the locker room and can motivate the team to play together and to their full potential.
3: Draft a Perimeter Player
The one thing that Detroit does have going for them is youth. While the Pistons do have their share of veteran has-beens, they also have young players at key positions. Greg Monroe is the most obvious of these. Monroe has the skills to be a legitimate future All-Star at the power forward position. Towards the end of this past season, he was a consistent double-double guy. And this was only his rookie year. Jonas Jerebko probably won't be much more than a reliable 7th or 8th man for Detroit, but his versatility can still play a key role off the bench in the future. He spent the entire past season hampered by an achilles tendon injury. Will Bynum brings explosiveness and youth to the backcourt, and Rodney Stuckey has only been in the league five years.
Ideally, the Pistons would like to take an all-around forward with their draft pick. Somebody who can score consistently, play good defense, and rebound at both ends of the floor. This is a pretty thin draft for a player of that profile. While not impossible, it is unlikely that Detroit will find themselves in a position to draft someone to fill that role this June. This leaves two other kinds of players to look for: another big man, or a guard.
Many preliminary mock drafts have Detroit going with Lithuanian big man Donatas Motiejunas. While Motiejunas does have some appealing skill shooting the ball for a seven footer, all Detroit fans remember what happened the last time management bought into the hype of a European big man at the top of the draft board. It is critical that the Pistons do not make that same mistake again. Plus, Motiejunas is undersized (just 224 lbs. for his 7'0" frame) and his defensive ability has been questioned heading into the NBA. It's a thin draft for big men, too. Besides Donatas, there aren't a whole lot of options. Not only that, Greg Monroe gives the Pistons a reliable post presence for now.
That leaves the guard position. As mentioned before, Will Bynum is a good punch for the team. However, his skills are better suited off the bench. Rodney Stuckey is not a legitimate point guard and never has been. Not only that, he began to show some frustration towards the end of the past season. Detroit desperately needs a capable player who can come in and run the show at the point guard position. Luckily, there are plenty of reasonable options at point guard this draft. Irving will be well off the board (barring a lottery miracle) by the time Detroit picks, but there are two excellent players who could well be available.
The first of these is Brandon Knight. Knight has the stature and build (6'3", 185). He has excellent physical skills, reliable scoring ability, and a consistent playmaker's touch. Though he doesn't have great court-savvy or awareness at this point, those are things that come with experience, and Knight is only a freshman. He has the skills to be a very good point guard at the professional level, and that's something Detroit desperately needs heading into the future. Walker would be another great decision. He fits the point guard frame (6'1" 175) and has admirable ball movement skills. He isn't quite the scorer Knight is, but again. That can be developed. If there's one thing Walker has shown, it's that he can adapt to adversity.
4: Bid Adieu to Tayshaun Prince
Every Piston fan remembers the Tayshaun Prince of old. He was that one skinny guy who Detroit drafted out of Kentucky who worked his way into the starting five and put up a solid all-around game night in and night out. In the last decade there has not been a more well-rounded player on the Pistons roster than Tayshaun. There isn't anything he cannot do. He can shoot the ball from the floor or the post, move to the point forward spot, play serviceable defense on his opponent, and rebound the ball. Although Tayshaun isn't quite what he used to be, he is still a solid basketball player.
Unfortunately, Prince has adopted an apathetic veteran mentality. In a sense, it's hard not to feel sorry for the guy when you watch him on the court. You can tell he has some great skill left in the tank, but he just can't put it together to play consistently well. He is a perfect example of a good player rotting on a bad team.
Pulling the plug on Prince is something that should have been done before this year's trade deadline. Unfortunately, Joe Dumars was unable to make anything happen. Whether he even tried or not we will never know, but all that matters is that Tayshaun is still on a disparaged Pistons roster. The more one thinks about why Tayshaun is still on the team, the more frustrating it becomes. Prince has been involved in trade rumors for almost three years now, and throughout those three years his trade value has steadily declined. Dealing Tayshaun three or even two seasons ago would have brought in many more fruitful offers than he could net at this point in time. Even this season, it's hard to believe that a championship caliber team wouldn't have given up some developing players or a draft pick to get a great secondary contributor with an expiring contract.
The only bright side to the Tayshaun Prince scenario is that his contract is up this off-season. This means that should the Pistons not re-sign him, $11.1 million in cap space will be cleared. Detroit won't be in the running for any of this off-season's monster free agents, but $11.1 million is a great step in the right direction. Having that cap space clear can allow Detroit to build around young talent while at the same time preparing to be able to make a good offer to a big free agent down the road.
Letting Prince go would be an ideal scenario for both parties. The Pistons free up a nice chunk of cap room and get a discouraged veteran out of the locker room, while Tayshaun takes his talent to a contender where he can be a valuable cog in a championship wheel.
5: Thin Out the Backcourt
In the off-season leading up to the 2009-2010 season, Joe Dumars went out and made two roster moves that seemed great on paper: the acquisition of perimeter scorer Ben Gordon and the offensive minded Charlie Villanueva. Unfortunately, neither of these players have delivered what was expected from them at the time they signed their contracts. Dumars knew what he was getting with Charlie V, and that is a good shooting power forward with poor rebounding and defensive instincts. That's pretty much exactly what Villanueva has brought to Detroit, just on a much exaggerated scale. His rebounds have dropped by almost two per game since coming to the Pistons, and his scoring hasn't improved to compensate.
Ben Gordon was the player who was a little harder to predict. Gordon played like one of the league's best scorers in his last year in Chicago. He averaged over twenty points a game on an efficient 45.5% from the field. Those numbers took a hit when Ben Gordon arrived in Detroit. His points went down to just 13.8 a game on 41.6% shooting. Ben Gordon is still one of the better perimeter scorers on the team, but he is not playing up to his $10.8 million salary by any stretch of the imagination. Gordon is one of three players in the Pistons backcourt who averages about ten shots or more per night (Stuckey and Rip being the others).
Richard Hamilton is another case entirely. Clearly exhausted with the current state of the team, Rip let his emotions show this season by sitting out with questionable injuries and feuding with head coach John Kuester when he was active. Unfortunately for Detroit, Hamilton received a nice fat extension, ensuring the Pistons are responsible for his $12.5 million contract through 2013. For Hamilton, that's good news. Nowhere else in the league would he be getting paid $12.5 million a year. Though it may be very hard for Detroit to find a buyer on Hamilton, they have to at least try. His rejuvenated play at the end of this season has been entertaining, but let's face it: we have to get rid of this guy eventually, why not just scrap his poor attitude now and take what we can get?
Rodney Stuckey, although showing signs of frustration at the end of this season, will likely be back in a Pistons uniform next season. He became a better facilitator this season, and still has explosive scoring ability. Detroit needs to stop trying to make him work at the point guard position. He is not a true point guard. Getting rid of either Hamilton or Gordon (preferably Hamilton) would allow the Pistons to give Rodney more serious playing time at shooting guard while opening the point guard spot up for a potential draftee.