The Detroit Pistons are a classic example of a team that enjoyed a surprising run of success, then followed that up with some really bad personnel decisions. Those decisions quickly sent the team to the bottom of the Eastern Conference, where they have bottomed out over the past two seasons.
For starters, they got rid of the wrong guy (Chauncey Billups), kept the wrong guy (Richard Hamilton) and overpaid for just about everyone that they picked up in free agency. Even the once-promising Tayshaun Prince has been badly hobbled by injuries, leading to uncertainty about what the team will do with him now that he is poised to become a free agent in the near future.
The Pistons already have over $48 million in salaries on the books for next season, with another $41 million for the season after. This team has a ways to go but the rebuilding process has already begun.
What can be expected from each relevant player this year? For the purposes of this article, I will assume that the opening day roster will be the same as the one the Pistons ended last season with. Also, the players will be listed in no particular order.
Will Bynum is a pretty good player, but the logjam at the guard position that Detroit presently has means he won't likely be seeing an increase in playing time this next season.
Bynum averaged 7.9 points and 3.2 assists in 18 minutes a game last season, and those averages are pretty much on par with what he has averaged throughout his career. He got his numbers in fewer minutes though, an impressive increase in productivity for a backup point guard.
Chances are he will stick around until he either becomes unhappy with his limited role and demands a trade or gets signed as a free agent by some overeager team in a couple years for twice as much as what he's worth.
Contrary to what some Pistons fans may want to hear, Rodney Stuckey may have already reached his ceiling as an NBA player. That being said, where he is right now isn't a bad place. He just isn't an elite player, and given his lack of improvement over the past three seasons, it is doubtful that he will ever become one.
Stuckey's averages have been pretty consistent over the past three seasons, and he is now 25 years old, meaning he should just be entering into his prime. His biggest weakness is shooting, where he has averaged 42 percent from the field and only 27 percent from three. He is an explosive athlete and I think he would definitely be worthy of an All-Star selection, if only he didn't play in the same conference as Derrick Rose, Deron Williams, John Wall, Rajon Rondo...
He will probably average about 16 points and five or six assists per game this season, and will be good enough that his team will be in contention for the eighth playoff spot in the East.
Tayshaun Prince seems to be of those players that you really can't talk about, in terms of what to expect from him, without including the phrase "if healthy." However, the irony is that, with the exception of the 2009-10 season, he has been extremely durable for his entire NBA career.
He even played in 82 games per season for five straight years at one point. However, he seems to have lost a little bit defensively since his injury last season.
The biggest problem is consistency. Added to that is the difficult nature of being an established veteran who wants to win, yet being stuck on a developing young team that isn't very close to the playoffs.
I see Prince improving a little bit this year as his health comes back to him even more, but with a very good chance that he gets traded to a contender halfway through the season, while the Pistons languish in 12th place in the Eastern Conference.
Detroit seems to have gotten pretty good value with Monroe at the seventh pick in last year's draft. He looks like a guy who at his peak could average somewhere around 14 points and 10 or 11 rebounds a game. Those are good, solid numbers that could maybe sneak him in as an All-Star reserve someday if the Pistons start winning again.
For this next season, Monroe's role will probably increase, maybe averaging 32 or 33 minutes a game, as Ben Wallace gets older and continues to decline. In addition, if he develops more consistency on offense, it will free up some of Detroit's outside shooters and make it easier for them as a whole.
Austin Daye is a hard one to figure out. At first, you would think a 6'11" guy who shoots 40 percent from three would be a very successful power forward in the NBA, similar to Rashard Lewis in his early years.
However, Daye is way too skinny to play power forward, so he is stuck playing at the small forward position. But even that may not be the best fit for him, as he struggles to match up with players who are shorter yet so much bigger and stronger.
I'm not sure where Daye's fits in an NBA system, but it's safe to say that he will have trouble fitting any specific position unless he puts on some weight. For now, he will probably continue about like he has been, tantalizing with his potential but ultimately not putting in the necessary work to realize it.
Rip Hamilton has not had it easy over the past couple of seasons. After being a key contributor on a championship team, and making it to the Eastern Conference finals year after year, his Pistons are now one of the worst teams in the league.
Making matters worse is the fact that team ownership has made it clear he is not part of their long-term plans, and that he will be gone as soon as they can find a taker. He's making borderline superstar money but isn't playing anywhere near that level, at least not on a consistent basis.
He is still a good player, but not worth the $12.5 million he is due next season, and it will be hard for the Pistons to find a taker for him at that price. If he can find a way to be content in a smaller role with the team, which could still include starting, then I can see him playing out this season in Detroit before heading to some veteran team in need of help the year after. A buyout could also be an option after this season, if he isn't traded before that.
If not, there's a chance things could again turn ugly between Hamilton and his team. Hopefully it does not come to that. Both parties deserve better.
Jerebko was a rookie two years ago but showed a lot of promise throughout the course of the season. He had times of inconsistency, as all rookies do, but by the end of the season he had proved his worth as someone who should be part of the Pistons rotation going forward.
He averaged 9.3 points and six rebounds per game that season, and looked to be solidly in the competition for the starting power forward spot. Unfortunately, he missed all of last season due to a serious tear in the Achilles tendon.
He appears to be healthy again and ready to return to the NBA as soon as the lockout is over, a really good sign for Pistons fans. I think Jerebko will come back healthy and healed and quickly take over as the starting power forward, possibly from the first game of the season. He is one of the brightest spots going forward and someone the Pistons hope can play at an All-Star level for them someday.
Ben Wallace, former Defensive Player of the Year, is still a contributing member of the Pistons rotation at age 37. However, he has lost a lot of his athleticism, as is always the case with age, and his weaknesses are becoming even more glaring at this stage of his career.
Offensively he has never been a big threat, but last season was one of the worst of his career. He averaged just under three points per game, and his free-throw shooting percentage dipped to 33.3 percent, the lowest mark since his rookie year.
He only averaged one block and one steal per game as well, and did not play much towards the end of the season. I anticipate him staying on with the team one more year, through the end of his contract, and then retiring proudly as a Detroit Piston and as one of the greatest defensive players in NBA history.
Jason Maxiell has played a valuable role for the Pistons in the past, providing toughness and rebounding off the bench, but it's not certain how long that will continue.
With Jonas Jerebko emerging as the probable starting power forward of the future for the Pistons, and with Charlie Villanueva still under contract for another three years, it's hard to see Maxiell getting as much playing time as he has been going forward.
His play also slipped noticeably last season, with the stats backing that up. He may be more valuable as a backup power forward than Villanueva would be, giving the respective differences in their salaries and the length of their contracts, but would be much easier to move in a trade.
He will most likely stay with the team for one more season and then leave as a free agent the following year.
Signing with Detroit has not been good for the career of Ben Gordon thus far. The past two seasons have been the two worst seasons of his career. His scoring has trailed off dramatically, despite having signed a large contract as a free agent.
Ben Gordon may very well be the starting shooting guard going forward, but he needs to do more to prove that he is deserving both of being a starter and also of all the money he is making.
I think next season he will start to return to his old form, but much of that will only come with the improvement of the team as a whole.
Charlie Villanueva is a classic example of why you don't give a long, expensive contract to any player based on one great season. In Villanueva's case, it wasn't even a great one, just a good one. He averaged 16.2 points and 6.7 rebounds per game for the Milwaukee Bucks during the 2008-09 season, and the Pistons subsequently signed him for five years and $35 million.
During the past two seasons with Detroit he has regressed to or below his previous averages, with last year seeing him average only 11.1 points and 3.9 rebounds in just under 22 minutes per game. In essence, he seems content to coast through the duration of this contract, before probably having another big statistical year when he's about to become a free agent again.
Villanueva will probably give about the same this next year that he gave last year, and the year before that. The Pistons will trade him if they can, but that is unlikely for at least another year.
He epitomizes what is wrong with this team right now: big expensive contracts given to guys who would be second or third options at best on good team, meaning the Pistons won't likely see to much improvement for at least another two years, before they can try again to rebuild correctly.