In a recent post about the Detroit Pistons, Matt Moore of NBC Sports wrote something that might sound shocking to fans who have watched the lackadaisical, uninspired and poor play of the team over the last two seasons:
“Very quietly, Dumars has drafted exceptionally well over the past few years. Austin Daye, Jonas Jerebko, Greg Monroe, and Brandon Knight. You throw in a superstar wing after a year of spectacular sucking (hello, Harrison Barnes!) and you’ve got something cooking there. Fill it out with free agency after a purge and you have a real shot at building something.”
Moore’s take on that group of young players might seem overly optimistic, but he’s not wrong. Although the Pistons’ young talent is relatively unproven, they have players with incredibly high ceilings. From January on, Greg Monroe was the third best rookie in the NBA last season behind Blake Griffin and John Wall. Paired with a healthy Jonas Jerebko next season, the Pistons might have the best offensive rebounding duo in the league, something that should create numerous extra possessions per game.
Daye hasn’t found a consistent spot in the rotation yet, but he’s one of the best natural shooters in the NBA (40 percent from 3-point range last season). He has a quick release, a fluid offensive game and as the Oklahoma City Thunder can attest with Kevin Durant, having a 6-foot-11 perimeter player with unlimited range creates constant matchup problems.
Brandon Knight slipped some in the NBA Draft after an up and down freshman season at Kentucky, but his pedigree is undeniable. The three John Calipari point guards who made the NBA before Knight have won a combined two Rookie of the Year awards and one, Derrick Rose, already has an MVP award after just three seasons in the league.
The problem with the Pistons, very obviously, is not the young guys. As we saw last season, holdover veterans Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince didn’t adjust well from being contributors on title contending teams to playing for a rebuilding team. High-priced younger veterans Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva have seen their production fall off a cliff and have proven to be finesse players who don’t fit within the defensive principles that Joe Dumars built a contending team around. Rodney Stuckey is kind of stuck in the middle – he’s old enough to have been around the last time the Pistons made a deep playoff run, but doesn’t really fit in with the new guard or the old guard. It’s as if the Pistons have two mini rosters that don’t compliment each other well, have competing agendas and have positional duplicities that would make the job of any coach trying to figure out a sensible rotation a nightmare.
The solution isn’t as easy as simply purging those veterans. Prince is a free agent who will likely sign elsewhere, but Hamilton, Gordon and Villanueva all have hefty long-term deals that they haven’t lived up to. Worse, if the salary cap is reduced when a new collective bargaining agreement is finalized, teams might be even less inclined to make a deal for one of those players hoping they return to form.
Every NBA fan wants the lockout to end and the season to start. But for the Pistons, the lockout came at a pretty opportune moment. The best thing that will help the salary situation is simply time elapsing. Jerebko has had a chance to fully rehab from his Achilles tendon injury. Second round pick Kyle Singler got a chance to play overseas in Spain, where he’s had some impressive games so far. Daye worked out all summer at the famed Impact Training Facility in Las Vegas with NBA stars like Durant, Chauncey Billups and Paul Pierce, then signed a contract to play professionally in Russia until the lockout ends. And a little more time has ticked away on the deals of Hamilton, Gordon and Villanueva, hopefully helping them just a bit easier to trade should the Pistons decide to commit to a full rebuilding effort.
It’s always hard from a nostalgic perspective to cut ties with players like Hamilton and Prince, who have meant so much to an organization. But when the lockout finally ends, dramatic changes to the Pistons roster should offer fans new hope as an exciting group of young players begins to come of age and start the process of cementing the Pistons as one of the league’s flagship franchises again.
Patrick Hayes has written about the Pistons for PistonPowered in ESPN’s TrueHoop Network and MLive. You can purchase his book, Piston Devotion: The ups and downs of a long-term relationship with the most underappreciated franchise in sports, through Amazon/CreateSpace. Follow him on Twitter.