The Detroit Pistons are in transition. We all know this. This is why they made the Chauncey Billups/Allen Iverson trade. This is why Rip Hamilton’s contract extension made no sense. This is why they signed two ex-UConn Huskies (Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva) who don’t quite fit the traditional Piston mold. Finally, this is why they probably should have grabbed Rajon Rondo from Boston earlier this summer.
You’re aware that mainstays Billups, Rasheed Wallace, and Antonio McDyess are gone. Amazingly, Ben Wallace is back, along with the aforementioned marquee free agent Huskies, big man Chris Wilcox, and rookies Austin Daye and DaJuan Summers. In addition to this, maligned head coach Michael Curry is gone, replaced by long-time assistant John Kuester, who was on Larry Brown’s staff when Detroit for their 2003-2004 championship season.
Kuester, the architect of Cleveland’s much-improved offense last season, will be charged with improving what was the league’s 21st-best offense in 2008-2009. He’s got the tools to do it, I tell ya. Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, and Chris Wilcox all have their faults, but they can score. Despite appearing to be a chucker, Gordon is quietly one of the most efficient scorers in the league, and Charlie V. turned in an impressive 21.7 points per 36 minutes last season in Milwaukee. Wilcox, in the East, will be serviceable at both the 4 and 5 spots. His inconsistency, especially on defense, will likely remain, but so will his excellence in pick-and-roll situations. Point guards Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum can put the ball in the basket, too, and you don’t need me to tell you what Tayshaun Prince and Rip Hamilton can do.
Does this mean they’ll be better this season?
Probably. They should be far better on the offensive end, but questions remain. What will happen to Rip Hamilton? He obviously shouldn’t have had his contract extended, and it’s probably going to be tough to move him in this economic environment. We know Gordon is the future of the Pistons’ 2-spot, but Kuester has already committed to bringing him off the bench while Rip is around. A big challenge for this new coach is going to be to allocate minutes in a way that keeps everyone happy and doesn’t leave guys playing out of position for so long that it puts the team at a disadvantage.
Kuester’s also going to have to put some thought into how to get these guys to play D. This squad was average on that front under Michael Curry last year, finishing 16th in the league (down from 4th the previous year). With a bit of luck, they’ll sustain something close to that mark this coming season – Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva are certainly not defensive-minded players, but I don’t think their efforts will be significantly worse than what we saw from Allen Iverson and Rasheed Wallace last season.
If all goes right, then, we’ll see an elite offensive team and an average defensive team. This is the opposite of what we saw from Larry Brown’s championship-winning team (it should be noted that the great Flip Saunders had them playing elite-level ball on both ends) and it’s why I must stress again that this team is in transition. There is some serious talent in Detroit, some of it young and some of it old. Pieces remain from the perennial Eastern Conference Finals teams earlier in the decade, but they don’t represent the majority of this roster anymore. It’ll be interesting to see how this franchise negotiates this tricky terrain of trying to rebuild while staying in the playoff hunt, rather then tearing everything down and starting again. Grabbing at least one post-season victory this time would be a good start.