The Detroit Pistons drafted Kyle Singler in the second round of the 2011 NBA draft, but as last summer's lockout dragged on he grew more and more eager to begin his professional career, leading the 6-foot-8 forward to seek short-term employment overseas. Now, after a year in Spain playing for CB Lucentum Alicante and Real Madrid, he's back in the U.S., on a multiyear deal with the Pistons and looking forward to making his NBA debut. Less than three weeks away from the start of the 2012-13 season, Singler's looking forward to competing for frontcourt minutes, testing himself against the best players in the world and hearing the roar of the crowd as he and his teammates take the court.
Well, maybe not "roar." As a matter of fact, Singler's really can't wait for fans to just straight-up hate on him, according to Terry Foster of the Detroit News:
Kyle Singler wants to be hated again. He wants to walk into hostile arenas and hear the boos and experience the anxiety when his team is making a move. [...]
There's an air of excitement when the Miami Heat or Los Angeles Lakers hit the road. It was the same for the 2004 Pistons when they played away from The Palace.
The crowds were a little bigger and louder. And when the road team made runs, there was that stir of excitement and uneasiness. Singler wants to experience it.
"It means you are winning and you have that certain status," Singler said. "It's something good to have. It is something you strive to get. It is something you build over time and you have to obtain it. It is not just given to you." [...]
"People don't like teams that win," he said. "As a player you kind of want it. If you don't have it, then you strive for it."
Luckily for Kyle, he's got a pretty solid shortcut to hearing boos: He just needs to remind people that he went to Duke. That's usually more than enough of a reason for people to start yelling bad things at you.
Foster also quotes Pistons coach Lawrence Frank as saying "we got a long ways to go to be in that position," which sounds about right, considering the Pistons are coming off a season in which they ranked among the league's nine-worst teams in both points scored and allowed per 100 possessions en route to posting their fourth straight sub-.500 record, a 25-41 mark that left them 10 games out of the Eastern Conference playoffs (their third consecutive missed postseason).
The distance between where Detroit is and where the organization wants to go is especially vast when it comes to the road contests of which Singler's speaking — Detroit went just 7-26 away from the Palace last year, with 15 of those losses coming by at least 11 points, including nine by at least 20. As the preponderance of double-figure defeats suggest, the Pistons often got walloped on the road last year; they were nearly 11 points per 100 possessions worse than their hosts on average, scoring only 96.6-per-100 while allowing 107.5-per-100, which was the second-worst efficiency differential in the league, according to NBA.com's stat tool (behind, of course, the historically bad Charlotte Bobcats).
Still, Pistons fans are hopeful for a surge back toward respectability this year. After Detroit's disastrous 4-19 opening to last season, Frank's crew buckled down and fought hard to a 21-22 finish, and offseason stories about third-year forward Greg Monroe's push toward All-Star status and the continued development of sophomore point guard Brandon Knight have been bolstered the addition of mammoth 19-year-old rookie center Andre Drummond, who stoked Piston partisans' passions by combining with backup point guard Will Bynum on several big screen-and-roll alley-oops and turning in a couple of spikings during his preseason debut.
Just how big a leap Monroe and Knight take, just how much the exceedingly raw Drummond can contribute on the defensive glass and above the rim, and how much Detroit's relatively motley collection of role players (including Singler himself) can offer in their support will go a long way toward justifying those hopes. They'll face a difficult path to contention in what could be a tougher Central Division — while Derrick Rose's knee injury will likely drop the Chicago Bulls from the division's top spot, the Indiana Pacers look poised to continue as one of the East's best teams, the Milwaukee Bucks should again contend for a low-seed playoff berth and a Cleveland Cavaliers squad with an ascendant Kyrie Irving and a healthy Anderson Varejao could prove to be a tough out — but there's a chance that a still-growing Pistons team following Frank's tough, disciplined lead could give unprepared home teams a run for their money, which ought to lead to some more of those boo-birds Singler's so eager to hear.
Whether Detroit takes a big step forward or continues its progress at a more measured pace, the goal Singler laid out is important. Before Pistons fans can start thinking about contending for a postseason berth and more, the Pistons themselves have to become the kind of team that opponents are actually forced to care about playing — the kind of team that, night to night, actually threatens to matter in the NBA. The road back to NBA relevance is long and often rife with peril, but after a half-decade of sharp separation from last decade's glory days, it's a journey the Pistons must begin making in earnest this year. If they get off to another glacially slow start this season, though, Kyle and his teammates might not even need to leave the comfort of their own home to hear the not-so-sweet sounds they crave.