It’s when you know you’re right, even though you want to be left. When you want to be wrong, because being wrong could bring about so many wonderful things.
The 2013-14 Detroit Pistons were never going to work out. Josh Smith was never going to cut it as a small forward, Brandon Jennings was never going to kick it with that contract on a team like this, Maurice Cheeks was never going to be the sort of voice or bring the sort of vision that would put it all together. We knew this in July and August, and it played out from October until April. We were right, about this team’s potential to fail, even if we wanted to see something pretty cool out of this cadre of seemingly mismatched players.
The Pistons lost that “seemingly” qualifier early in the season, incumbent big men Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond were lost in the miasma almost immediately, and Cheeks seemed helpless as the team lost five of its first seven games. Even in an Eastern Conference that was universally hailed for its awful depth beyond the top two seeds, the Pistons failed to make a dent, and Cheeks was fired after serving barely half of the first year of a three-year contract he signed with the team.
Most importantly, after nearly 29-year run with the organization, a 14-year placement in the front office and 13-year stint as general manager, Joe Dumars was let go following the 2013-14 season. His latest attempts at turning the corner – after years of working through coaches, lottery picks, free agents and bum trades – failed miserably. He was ahead of the game when he started, and well behind it when he left. He was the prized asset of a franchise that struck deep in the NBA playoffs for half a decade, and its biggest millstone in the six years that followed that run.
In steps another hoped-for savior in the form of Stan Van Gundy. The former Heat and Magic coach won’t act as the outright general manager, the much-respected Jeff Bower will handle that nasty work, but SVG will have the final say in all personnel decisions, while running the day to day operations from the practice court and the sidelines. He’ll coach things, and he’ll settle things; a needed presence for a team that is as unsettled as ever.
Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings still remain, as nobody is lining up to deal for either of those players even as they work in their mid-to-late 20s. Greg Monroe is back for another season after failing to come to terms with the Pistons on a contract extension, working for the qualifying offer and likely counting the days until July. Andre Drummond is just as likely to receive a massive contract extension during the 2015 offseason, just as Monroe flees elsewhere. The litany of Dumars-drafted wing help – Kyle Singler, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the departed Brandon Knight – has yet to make much of an impact.
This is why 2014-15 has to be a turnaround year. An attempt to drive up Smith and Jennings’ trade value. A chance to see what can be done with Caldwell-Pope (the team’s 2014 lottery pick was dealt to Charlotte by Dumars in a cash-saving maneuver, used to unload the final year of Ben Gordon’s contract). A move to turn Drummond into a franchise player. A holding pattern pitched to potentially make the playoffs under steeled leadership while keeping long term options open.
In short, more a recovery effort than a rebuilding project. These Pistons have a long road ahead of them, and it’s going to take Stan Van Gundy quite a while to find his footing on Joe Dumars’ stretch of salted soil.
2013-14 season in 140 characters or less:
*unfollows Jennette McCurdy*
Did the summer help at all?
Mindful of the holding pattern, Bower and Van Gundy went after swingman helpers that they could trust as a band-aid of sorts, so as not to make Stan’s life help as he sorts out this mess.
Jodie Meeks (three years, $18.8 million) seems like a bit of a stretch at that price, but he’ll also stretch the floor and be working for a salary that will soon rank below the league average. Caron Butler (working on his fifth team since the NBA’s 2011 lockout) also seems like a reach at two years at $9 million total, but that second year is completely unguaranteed. D.J. Augustin at half of the league’s average salary for the next two seasons will help. These aren’t championship-level additions, but they will help Van Gundy keep his sanity. On a relative level, at least.
Go-to offseason acquisition:
Greg Monroe sticks out, whether he’d like to or not. Despite his obvious scoring and rebounding gifts, the big forward received little to no interest in the open free agent market this offseason mainly because Monroe wasn’t truly an free and open free agent – his restricted free agent status made it so the Pistons could match any offer, and any reasonable offer sheet Monroe signed to would likely be matched by Van Gundy and Bower.
Rumors have been shot back and forth as to whether or not Monroe actually received an offer from Detroit, whether he turned down a four-year deal, but all of this is beside the point. Monroe is going to be coveted as possibly the NBA’s biggest consolation prize free agent next summer, and there is next to nothing the Pistons can do about it outside of hoping that their potential offer (which could include more guaranteed years and more money, should they choose to go that route) trumps all. The team cannot deal Monroe this season without his consent, and there is no good financial reason for Monroe to give consent, as his new team would be forced to abandon the ability to go over the salary cap to sign him this summer.
This puts Monroe, already under pressure as he attempts to find his place in Detroit’s too-big frontcourt, in a rough spot. He’ll be playing for less than his production would usually make him, with many a furrowed brow looking for any hint of lame duck play as he steadies himself for a massive 2015 payday. Toss in an early-season suspension for driving under the influence, and you’ll have quite the uneasy season for Detroit’s power forward.
The Pistons don’t defend, they don’t shoot well from the outside, and they don’t make their free throws. If you can think of three more pertinent and utterly necessary tenets to modern NBA basketball, I’d like to hear them.
Presumably, Van Gundy would help change the defensive aspect of things, but that’s still slow-going when you have slow-moving (relative to their position) incumbents at both forward positions, and a lead defender in Brandon Jennings that has all but given up on that end of the court in the years since his splash as a rookie.
Contributor with something to prove:
Andre Drummond’s potential is respected for a reason. The NBA has little use for back to the basket centers as this league evolves into something sleeker by the hour, but it still badly needs rim protectors to make life hellish for anyone looking to make the quick finish in the paint.
Read whatever you want into it, we’ve terribly disagreed with coach Mike Krzyzewski’s poor attempts at international scouting before, but Drummond was a bench fixture in his disappointing turn with Team USA this summer. He sat in favor of Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried, two players known best for highlight-level blocks and rebounds, but little in the way of sound screen and roll defense and consistent rim protection. Whether this was more a sign of Krzyzewski’s missteps or Drummond’s work this summer remains to be seen – Davis and Faried played well enough at times, and we have no idea what happened behind the Team USA scenes.
What needs to be seen this season, as the Pistons try to stop the bleeding, is for Drummond to step forward on both ends and earn that contract that he’ll probably sign for regardless of how he plays in 2014-15. In his third season, potential has to turn into production.
Potential breakout stud:
The easy choice here is Monroe, who would seem to be keen to take as many shots as humanely possible in order to drive up his free agent value. The problem with that selection is that this isn’t 1977, and scoring power forwards aren’t afforded endless touches and room to work while they pad the stats. D.J. Augustin will likely receive closing minutes once Van Gundy sours on Brandon Jennings, and Smith intrigues while he attempts to drive up his trade value, but the real breakout player will probably be Andre Drummond.
Stan Van Gundy came to Detroit to coach this guy, so Drummond will have every chance to bust out.
Stan Van Gundy can coach. He can whine, too, and he can attempt to characterize himself as an old school, cut-the-fluff sort of coach, but this man has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to scouting, thinking on his feet, and relaying his spot-on message to players. If he can get through to them, despite this roster’s endless array of holes and obvious bad chemistry (which is, to the players’ credit, no fault of their own), this could be a playoff team.
If everything falls apart:
This team, to its discredit, has bad chemistry. As stated above, this is not the players’ fault, as they didn’t run the Detroit Pistons’ front office from 2000 until 2014. Even with stabilizing additions like Augustin and Caron Butler and spacing additions like Jodie Meeks, this remains a roster in flux, one that no amount of coaching can turn over in one season. Toss in potential injuries and/or petulance, and you could have another stinker of a season.
Kelly Dwyer’s best guess at a record:
Tenth in the East, 32-50.
Read all of Ball Don't Lie's 2014-15 NBA Season Previews:
Atlanta Hawks • Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Charlotte Hornets • Chicago Bulls • Cleveland Cavaliers • Detroit Pistons • Indiana Pacers • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New York Knicks • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Toronto Raptors • Washington Wizards
Dallas Mavericks • Denver Nuggets • Golden State Warriors • Houston Rockets • Los Angeles Clippers • Los Angeles Lakers • Memphis Grizzlies • Minnesota Timberwolves • New Orleans Pelicans • Oklahoma City Thunder • Phoenix Suns • Portland Trail Blazers • Sacramento Kings • San Antonio Spurs • Utah Jazz
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