Disappointment. That is about the mildest way that I can describe the 2009-10 Detroit Pistons season. The lottery is not a place that Pistons fans are familiar with, nor do we care to be. Hell, we are not even comforted knowing we get a lottery pick as the last time the Pistons were there Detroit ended up with Darko Milicic in arguably the most stacked draft class ever. However, after finishing the season with a 27-55 record, the #7 spot in the lottery is where the Detroit Pistons find themselves. Even getting the #7 spot in the draft was a disappointment: #3 was easily in their grasp as the season wound down and the Pistons then went on a 3 game winning streak and won 4 of their last 6 games to drop to #7. They were so bad this year they coulnd't even lose the right way! Us few fans remaining wonder how did it go so bad and how quickly can it turn around.
The offseason of 2009 was a very busy one. The frontcourt disappeard with Rasheed Wallace signing with the Boston Celtics and Antonio McDyess deciding he was better off chasing the elusive ring with the San Antonio Spurs. This solid front court was replaced with the free agent signing of Charlie Villanueva and the return of Ben Wallace. To no one's surprise Allen Iverson left his unpleasant stint with Detroit (actually before the offseason) and he was replaced with the signing of Ben Gordon. Also, Joe Dumars got stuck in a rut during the draft taking 3 small forwards: Austin Daye, DeJuan Summers, and Jonas Jerebko. From the signing of Gordon and the drafting of 3 SFs, I thought the writing was on the wall that there was going to be moves for Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton for some big men to shore up the front court. No such moves occured during the offseason and the Pistons headed into the season with a roster of: PG-Rodney Stuckey, Will Bynum, Chucky Atkins, SG-Richard Hamilton, Ben Gordon, SF-Tayshaun Prince, Austin Daye, DeJuan Summers, Jonas Jerebko, PF-Charlie Villanueva, Jason Maxiell, C-Kwame Brown, Chris Wilcox, Ben Wallace.
Going into the season I didn't have high hopes for this lineup. I predicted that they would compete for the #8 spot in the Eastern playoffs; clearly they fell way below that. I predicted (hoped) that Rodney Stuckey would step up and become the much needed team leader and improve his court vision; clearly he fell short of that. I predicted trades at the trade deadline of Tayshaun and/or RIP to get big men to shore up the front court; there were no trades for the Pistons and there was no movement of the big name FA's as I predicted (I thought teams sure to lose their key guy [read Toronto] would move them to try and get something). I predicted that the Pistons would have trouble defending (they did) but would be able to light up the scoreboard with all their scorers (they weren't). So what went wrong, how did a team I predicted to be in the 8th playoff spot end up the 7th worst team in the league (tie for 6th, actually)?
Injuries. I don't accept injuries as an excuse for a teams performance. A team should be built to have backups who can step in for an injured guy. The Pistons, in a clear transition year, were not yet built to accomodate the massive number of injuries they sustained. RIP went down the first game with a mangled ankle and shortly after Tayshaun starts missing time for the first time in his career with a herniated disk in his back. These injuries were covered by the newly aquired Gordon and surprise rookie Jerebko. While the depth was hurt, the Pistons were doing okay, at one point getting as high as #5 in the East early. Then it seemed that everyone blew their ankles in succession; it was such a plague that the Pistons trainer banned the Kobe shoes that the guys were wearing as they didn't give the needed ankle support (Kobe must have titanium ankles as he didn't miss time from his shoes). The continuing shuffling of lineups rendered any chemistry that was forming null and led to a lot of one-on-one type ball played by the Pistons who don't have a Kobe, LeBron, or Wade to make it work and the losses mounted. By the time that RIP and Tayshaun returned the trade deadline was quickly approaching; they were not yet up to form and no one wanted to touch them for anything and the Pistons ended up with the same lineup to close the season as they did to open it. Tayshaun and RIP did start performing better, but the personal stats did not equate to wins as the team never developed any chemistry and never learned to play team defense (which is the only way they could stop anyone as they do not have many strong defenders). Not accepting injuries as an excuse, the Pistons were simply a poorly constructed team in a clear transition year that performed even worse than expected.
Although the year overall stunk there were a couple of bright spots (but just a couple).
Ben Wallace. When Big Ben came back to the Pistons after a few disappointing years away I had little expectation of him other than to teach Kwame Brown and Chris Wilcox how to play with some heart. While he could not do this (these guys are beyond hope) he performed like he was the Ben Wallace of 2004. The Pistons red, white, and blue took years off Ben's legs and he was the defensive presence of old, which was greatly appreciated and needed on this team that was weak defensively.
Jonas Jerebko. The rookie Swede became a fan favorite with his hustle and hard work. He took the starting job when Tayshaun went down and did a good job, especially as a rookie. Took the toughest defensive assignments almost every night, and while he couldn't stop a lot of them, he did do a good job. Just his effort alone was greatly appreciated, especially when compared to what some others on the team did (read Charlie Villanueva).
Ben Gordon-Signed for big money, didn't produce like big money. To his defense, he was injured a lot and when healthy at the end of the year he did look good. But that is not enough to make up for a disappointing year. Hopefully he comes back in the end of season form for the duration next year.
Charlie Villanueva-We all knew what we were getting when he was signed. A mid-range scorer that plays little defense. We all hoped he would be willing to work a little in the post and learn some team defense from Ben. Unfortunately, he didn't seem to do either and that mid-range scoring was not as consistant as expected. I think his offensive game was hampered by not having a down low presence on the offensive end to work beside and that is clearly a priority for this offseason. There is also talk that CV was playing though some injuries that he simply didn't talk about. He also has said already this offseason he is hitting the training hard. I love the attitude to come back and show us fans this season was not the real CV. I was for the signing and still think Charlie can work for the Pistons if surrounded with the right complemetary parts; this offseason is big as to how CV's future with the Pistons could look.
Rodney Stuckey-This was his first year coming inot the season with the starting job clearly his. I expected leadership and court vision improvements. Basically, I wanted to see him run the offense smoothly. It never developed. He can get his own, but hasn't shown the ability to really get others going, something needed from the point. I have said in the past that some of this is due to all the lineup changes, but he has to be able to adjust.
Leadership-I didn't see one Piston step up into the leadership role, take accountability, and call his teammates out for poor play. I don't care what the lineup looks like, if noone is going to lead on the floor this team will end up at the bottom again. I would like to see it be Stuckey as PG is a natural spot for leadership to come form, but they really need someone to step it up.
Jury Still Out
John Kuester-I'm not sure what his role was in this car wreck of a season. I think he could have been more assertive, less of a players coach. I think he could have been a little more stable in his lineups. But I think he gets a pass this year. There is no doubt his ability was limited by roster and injuries but I still think the team underperformed, and that has to come back to coaching. He surely should get a second year, but if it is not better I'm giving Bill Laimbeer a call (who would then have two years as NBA assistant coaching experience [and shown he can get Darko, of all people, to work] to all those who complained he had only coached girls).
Austin Daye-Can see the potential, but HIGHLY inconsistant. I guess that is expected for a rookie, but he better start being able to compete for playing time with Jonas Jerebko soon or he will end up trade bait.
Clearly the 2010 offseason is a major one for the Pistons. Unfortunately with the contracts they have on the books they will not be a player in the most hyped free agent class ever, so let's rule out dreaming of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudamire, Joe Johnson, Rudy Gay, and even David Lee. The Pistons are going to have to rebuild through the draft and trades. In the draft they can end up 1-3 or 7-10. I think it is obvious if they luck into #1 they have to take John Wall, he is that type of player you take on talent alone, not need. If 2-3 they have their choice of big man as Wall will go first and I think the Timberwolves will take Evan Turner if #2. This would likely be Cousins as he is the most ready to contribute right away-just need that leader to step up and keep him motivated and in line. The 7-10 range is far trickier as it is harde to predict who is still on the board. There should be some good big men, but they may be more projects that will take 2-3 years before seriously contributing. No matter what, the draft alone won't rebuild the Pistons for next season-it will take some of the old Joe Dumars trade Magic if they are going to get anywhere near competitive next year.
The glaring need for the Pistons is big men with some offense. They can clearly use more than just what they can get in the draft. Two big men whose teams reportedly have their ears open are Emeka Okafor and Al Jefferson. I would love for the Pistons to go after either or both of these guys. And while getting young talent in the draft is great, I would take a proven NBA player over a draft pick almost every time. If I were Joe D I would try and get New Orleans to swap Okafor for Prince (and Wilcox if we can get him in there) and swap first rounders. Out of this the Pistons get a solid defensive big man who can score a little and still stay high in the first round of the draft. The Hornets get a SF they can desperately need with an expiring contract (big plus for NO) and move up in the draft to get a big man they would need with Okafor leaving. I would then package the pick from the Hornets and Richard Hamilton for Minnesota for Al Jefferson. Pistons get another high quality big man. Minnesota gets a shooter they need and a second first rounder to get whatever else they want to fill in. Then in the second round of the draft the Pistons could take a flyer on either Omar Samhan or Artsiom Parakhouski, both big men who put up big numbers at small schools and could develop into quality centers given time. Then I would try and get Raymond Felton for the MLE. Many will say giving up RIP and Tay will be too much to shore up the front when we could do some of it in the draft, I am willing to give them up since the Pistons are overloaded at those spots and I would take the known quantity over the draft. These moves would give a lineup of:
SF-Jerebko, Daye, Summers
PF-Jefferson, Villanueva, Maxiell, Wilcox
C-Okafor, Wallace, 2nd Round
That starting froncourt would be a rebounding power. Both Okafor and Jefferson play down low and when running with CV would make life a little more open and hopefully open his scoring up. In Felton we would have the true PG people are crying for (that is actaully a late add in on the fly on my part, I haven't given up on Stuckey developing and still expect him to run the point some). The defese may need some work, but this lineup give some down low scoring to balance the jump shooting. I would love to see this happen, but think it is unlikely that both NO and Minnesota would go for it----more of an example of things that could be done besides relying on the draft.
Okay, I've rambled way too long on a season that stunk and a hope for a recovery. Thanks for the read, now go back to soemthing that matters like debating whether Kobe or LeBron is going to be Finals MVP.