Archive → September, 2010
Full disclosure: Slam reporter Eric Woodyard is my guy, dating back to our days writing for the now defunct It’s Just Sports blog (RIP). He’s one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met, and if you haven’t heard about him or read him or watched his videos yet, you will be someday. He’s a driven dude.
But my biases for him aside, I think it’s fair to say his video from Pistons Media Day for Slam Online just about blows away anything anyone else at any media outlet got out of it. A brief rundown:
• Not only does Eric own a pair of classic Grant Hill Filas, but he broke them out special to cover the Pistons that day. If that’s not commitment, I don’t know what is.
• He got one-on-one time with several players (something that only Fox Sports Detroit and 97.1 got, since they are the Pistons flagship stations), including guys like Will Bynum, who didn’t even enter into the media scrums to talk.
• Most impressively, he had some great lines with Tracy McGrady, asking him why T-Mac doesn’t have his own shoe line anymore.
The whole thing is worth your time.
I think we’d all do well to remember that Jonas is on the 2nd year of his rookie deal — and that deal doesn’t pay much, relative to other NBA salaries. In addition to fighting for a starting spot, he’s fighting for a contract, for his career.
My opinion is that Jonas’ future is at SF, whether that be with the Pistons or somewhere else, and apparently, he does too. Obviously and appropriately, he worked on the pieces of his game that would make him a more viable SF in the NBA.
DetroitPCB also had similar sentiments:
Long term, JJ is probably a three in this league, though he will play the four this year. And a three has to be able to put the ball on the floor. Even at the four, his quickness and mobility gives him an advantage over the bigger players he will be matched with if he can put the ball on the floor.
I don’t really disagree with anything either said. Who might disagree though? The Detroit Pistons. Here were how the teams were divided in scrimmages the first day of camp, according to Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:
Based on what color practice jersey players were wearing when reporters were allowed in to see what was left of practice – a few shooting drills – it appears the Pistons lined up in these five-man units: Rodney Stuckey, Rip Hamilton, Ben Wallace, Jonas Jerebko and Tayshaun Prince on the white team; Tracy McGrady, Charlie Villanueva, Jason Maxiell, Will Bynum and presumably Ben Gordon on the blue team – Gordon had peeled off his practice jersey and was wearing only a gray T-shirt; and Terrico White, Austin Daye, Greg Monroe, Chris Wilcox and DaJuan Summers on the red team. Ike Diogu had on a white jersey, perhaps indicating he’ll be splitting time with Ben Wallace to allow Kuester to give Wallace, 36, a reduced workload in camp while also getting a good look at Diogu.
I get that it’s the first practice session and things could change. But over the past couple seasons, very early practices have been a good indicator of who would win starting jobs that were up for grabs. Two years ago, under Michael Curry, Amir Johnson was playing with the first teamers from the get-go, long before it began being reported that he’d open the season as a starter. Last year, it was Ben Wallace (and remember, most fans viewed Ben as only a symbolic signing and someone who wouldn’t contribute much before the preseason started and he showed he was healthy) playing with the first unit early on and keeping that job over other vying for it — remember, it seems like eons ago, but when John Kuester took the Pistons job, he came in as the world’s biggest Kwame Brown fan, and it appeared as if Brown might get that starting spot.
I bring up brgulker’s comment in this discussion simply because whether Jerebko is better suited to be a three or a four, it’s clear that if he’s going to play big minutes again, it’s going to have to be at the four.
From a team release:
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – The Detroit Pistons announced today the addition of Vernon Hamilton to the 2010-11 training camp roster.
Hamilton (6-0, 190), played last season in Switzerland for Sam Massagno. A 2008-09 training camp invitee with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Hamilton also played 23 games in 2008-09 with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants and Colorado 14ers of the NBA Development League averaging 4.1 points and 2.0 assists. A four-year starter at Clemson University, he finished his collegiate career as the Tigers’ career and single-season leader in steals.
So the site goes down for a weekend, abandoning all readers, only to re-emerge by flooding readers with like 20 things in 24 hours? That’s a lot to digest. So here’s a handy link roundup of all of our coverage of Media Day yesterday.
OK, so this is probably the Media Day post everyone will be most interested in. The Pistons crowded perimeter, featuring a collection of former All-Stars (Tracy McGrady, Rip Hamilton), a young scoring machine (Ben Gordon), a steady and consistent veteran starter (Tayshaun Prince) and a promising young player who needs minutes (Austin Daye), was a huge topic of discussion before McGrady was even added to the mix.
If one thing was clear after players met with the media, it was this: all eyes are on John Kuester.
For his part, Kuester stuck to the coach-speak talking points: minutes will be earned in training camp.
“Every day we’ll compete, and we’ll recognize through that competition who’s had the summer that has put them in a position to really elevate their game,” Kuester said. “We’ll see come tomorrow or the next couple practices what kind of shape they’re in.”
That quote is great, of course, in theory. It’s what every team wants from their coach: hold people accountable, let the hardest-working, best players earn spots and send a message that there is a philosophy and discipline in place that this team will abide by. NBA fans, however, know that this doesn’t always materialize.
The Pistons have two veterans who have been major contributors to winning teams. They have another veteran who, at one time, was one of the three or four best players in this league. They have another young veteran who’s fought his whole career that he’s not just a scoring option off the bench and he signed in Detroit looking for the opportunity to be placed in a bigger role.
That’s a lot for any coach to manage. And the players expect exactly that. Kuester has to sort this out, and they are all watching with interest:
“It’s not really up to me. Coach, he’s gonna have a good time. When you’ve got a lot of special guys at a position that can put the ball in the basket and you can put them on the floor and do special things, that’s a good thing for a coach.”
“Did you ask coach that question (how the minutes will be distributed)? (smiles and shrugs shoulders). I don’t know. I’m just here to play. Everything else like that is not up to me and my opinion doesn’t really matter.”
“It’s gonna be interesting. Coach’s job is hard. What’s neat about it is we have an opportunity to compete against each other. We have so much talent on the wing, that guys will be excited to go into training camp and test each other.”
This isn’t really anything ground-breaking. The perimeter storyline has been an obvious one. But how Kuester manages both the minutes and the egos involved could very well be the major determining factor in how this season plays out.
But even with that in mind, I’m not exactly sure how he fits in with the Pistons, and I’m even less sure after Media Day.
First, here’s what McGrady said when discussing his new teammates:
“This is my first time I’ve seen them, so we really haven’t talked too much.”
It’s understandable that McGrady has had things to take care of like finding a place to live, rehabbing his injury, etc. But I guess I just assumed that McGrady would’ve been in contact with some of the players, particularly veteran leaders like Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, before signing. I guess that wasn’t necessarily the case.
As for the other wing players who spoke, none said anything controversial about adding McGrady to the team, but the tone seemed a lot more tempered than would be expected after bringing in a guy with T-Mac’s resumé.
From Ben Gordon, who had the most to say specific to McGrady:
If Tracy can just come back and play like he’s played in the past, he’ll help tremendously. People tend to forget (because of his injuries the last few seasons), that when he’s healthy, he was one of probably the top five players at one point. I hope we get a healthy Tracy back and if we do, the rest will speak for itself.
From Rodney Stuckey:
I’m excited (to play with McGrady), but I’m excited to play with everyone. I’m excited that everyone’s back on this team. Injuries were a big deal for us last year. Hopefully we just start off the season well, injury-free.
We’ve got a lot of pieces to the puzzle. The more scorers we’ll have, the better we’ll be.
I don’t think any of the players view the McGrady signing as a bad thing, but I think he could also be looked at as a threat. If he’s healthy, he’s one of the biggest stars in the NBA, even if he’s no longer one of the game’s top players. It would be really hard to keep him out of the lineup.
For his part, McGrady repeatedly referred to himself as an unselfish player who will have no problem working with the team’s other top offensive options.
I do think McGrady has been a good and willing passer in his career, he’s just often played on teams with little or no offensive talent, so he’s had to shoot more to give his team the best chance to win. His adjustment to playing on a team in Detroit that, if healthy, could have an array of weapons on offense will be one of the more interesting things to watch this season.
With cameras rolling and a room full of reporters, I’m under no delusion that players act completely natural in that setting. But you do occasionally catch funny exchanges. Here were a few from Pistons Media Day:
• Tayshaun Prince clownin’ reporters: As you can see by the videos I posted yesterday, let’s just say the scrums around players appeared to be a bit uncomfortable for the players. They consisted of a group of 20-30 reporters/radio personalities/TV people/photographers jockeying for space, all progressively getting more and more in the personal space of their subject. As Prince was about to take his turn in the fray, he noticed that he couldn’t even get through to take his spot facing the media. “Dang, who we interviewing?” Prince said from behind the group. “Y’all are already crowding and I’m not even back there yet.”
• Jason Maxiell‘s Swedish accent: We already know from last year’s appearance by Maxiell at the NBA Rookie Game sporting a Viking helmet that he and Jonas Jerebko seem pretty close. Yesterday, when Jerebko was doing his media session, Maxiell was hiding around the corner, every few minutes screaming out “YOWN-as YOUR-ebko” in a horrible Swedish accent as Jerebko tried to be serious when answering questions.
• A Jerebko-Goodwill feud: As Jerebko made his way to the front of the pack to answer questions, he whispered some sort of trash talk to Detroit News writer Vincent Goodwill (the best Pistons beat writer out there right now), to which Goodwill replied, ‘Psssh … I’m tougher than you.’ And Goodwill might not be exaggerating. Check him out going through one of Arnie Kander’s workouts.
• Charlie V’s nickname: When the Pistons were getting guys together for a photo shoot, they were doing their grouping of the UConn guys — Rip Hamilton, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. Gordon and Hamilton were in place, but they needed Villanueva who was on the other side of the practice facility. ‘Hey, Ham and Cheese, get over here!,’ Hamilton kept yelling at him. No idea what it means, but it appears to be a nickname.
• Ben Wallace‘s facial hair: Wallace didn’t talk to the media, but he was there for the photo shoots. His trademark goatee is still there, but he had turned it into a long braid that looked like it was at least four inches long.
With Wallace’s fro and Hamilton’s braids gone, there are no more distinctive hairstyles on the Pistons, so Wallace’s crazy goatee is all we have left.
It’s a very simple question floating around nowadays: how do these Detroit Pistons define themselves?
For so long, Detroit basketball has been defined by toughness, so much so that it’s debatable fans in this state would respond to any other style of basketball.
The Bad Boys set the tone in the 1980s. The teal Grant Hill era, defined by finesse and oddly placed horsie heads on the jerseys, is all but forgotten. The Palace couldn’t even fill seats for playoff games the handful of times those 1990s teams led by Hill made it there. The franchise was reborn in the 2000s by re-focusing on a tenacious defense with an incurable confidence and swagger to match. "We’re gonna beat you up. We’re never out of a game. We’re the rightful champions every year."
Sometimes, the confidence rubbed fans the wrong way, particularly when it appeared the Pistons were on cruise control, only to show up in the crucial minutes of a game with a suffocating defense that choked the life out of opposing offenses. But I guarantee this: you’d be hard-pressed to find a Pistons fan who wouldn’t trade the identity-less squad of the last two years for the personality (warts and all) of those 2000s teams.
The good news is that the team spent media day expressing a desire to do just that: return to the attitude, toughness and style that this franchise has won big by embracing in two different generations.
From John Kuester: "Pistons basketball is playing defense, grinding things out, making sure you execute on offense, setting great screens. And I think that’s something this team will do. They will come out night in and night out and compete at a very high level, but for us to have success this season, our focus has to be defensively."
Kuester on the importance of Hamilton/Prince to that culture: "They’re part of the history of this franchise, and they’re a big part of why I feel comfortable going into this season."
From Rip Hamilton: "Any time you win as many games as we did in the past and come out last year and only win as many games as we did, it’s hard, it’s tough, it’s frustrating … We have to train guys on how to win. Coming from a team that was ‘win a championship or nothing’ (every year) is different than being on a team that just wants to make the playoffs. That’s (making the playoffs) our mindset."
From Charlie Villanueva: "I know it’s (playing better defense) the only way I’m gonna stay on the court. Pistons basketball is about being tough, being physical."
Listen, I know what media day is. Guys are going to be overly positive, they’re going to gloss over what were pretty major issues a season ago and insist the team has moved forward and it’s very rare that you’ll find a negative comment out of any team’s media day league-wide.
I don’t know if players like Villanueva, Ben Gordon or Tracy McGrady (or even Greg Monroe, who was more of a finesse player in college) can embrace the style. I’ve even stated my belief that the current roster would probably win more games with a different, more offensive-minded philosophy in place. But I have to admit, I like that the organizational commitment to a philosophy is not wavering, no matter what the personnel are and no matter how difficult last season was. If the Pistons are going to win, they are going to do it the Piston way.
This is a put-up or shut-up year for Rodney Stuckey.
He has a general manager who won’t offer him a contract extension.
He has a coach who isn’t entirely sold on the guard’s defensive commitment.*
And, I suspect, he’s about to have some teammates a little ticked at him.
*“Rodney Stuckey has a chance to be one of the best defensive guards in our league,” Pistons coach Kuester said at Pistons media day yesterday. “He’s just got to commit to that 24-7 for us.”
Stuckey wasn’t shy yesterday about saying he will lead the team this year.
“I’m becoming a man,” Stuckey said. “So, on the court, I have to act like a man. And that’s by being more vocal, just showing the guys that I’m willing to take pretty much the captain’s spot. So, that’s what I need to act like, like I’m the captain of this team.
“That’s just how it has to be, because in order for us to win and be good, somebody has to do that. I think the year before that and last year, we really didn’t have that on the team. Somebody needs to step up and do it.”
There were other players on those teams. Some of them might have even fancied themselves leaders. Heck, those very same players might still be on the team. I’m not so sure Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince will appreciate those comments.
Maybe Stuckey didn’t mean what he said. There were two main reasons the Pistons struggled last season: injuries and a lack of ability. A leadership void can be the type of vague talking points athletes fall back on. So, maybe that’s what happened here.
Or maybe there is a real leadership problem.
Chauncey Billups was a clear leader. When he was traded, Hamilton and Prince remained captains. As of Oct. 5 last year, the Pistons hadn’t named captains, but Kuester said Hamilton, Prince and Ben Wallace were serving as the team’s leaders.
But funny thing, I can’t find any record of the Pistons actually naming captains last season. Patrick said Hamilton, Prince and Wallace met with the referees before each game when they were healthy, so maybe they were captains. Maybe, even if it wasn’t publicly announced, every player knew who the captains were.
Or maybe Detroit never named captains. I requested clarification from the Pistons media relations department, so I’ll update when I get more info.
Either way, Stuckey has, at least through words, inserted himself as a leader.
“I have to be,” Stuckey said. “It’s my fourth year now. I’m going to be a lot more vocal this year. It’s just in my nature. It’s just my time to take over this team and just be that guy, just to be that vocal person.”
I think this is a pretty crazy move by Stuckey. He had enough on his plate already. He needs to finish better, defend better and initiate the offense better. If he does all those things – and waits out a trade of Hamilton and/or Prince – he’d progress into a leader, anyway. Why force it now? Is he that sure he’s ready?
I can take some solace in knowing Stuckey isn’t as delusional as he appeared when he was quoted recently as saying, “On paper, we are the best team in the League.”
“That was inaccurate,” Stuckey said. “He kind of wrote it down wrong. I told him that we were one of the best, one of the best, not the best team.”*
*In general, I’m tired of people saying something they regret and then blaming the media for misquoting them. I have no idea whether Stuckey was misquoted here. But even if he wasn’t, realizing his initial statement was nonsense shows at least some brains.
Stuckey sent a clear message yesterday. If Hamilton, Prince or Wallace have any reservations about leading, Stuckey let them off the hook. They now know they can depend on Stuckey to lead if they so choose. I hope those veterans cut Stuckey a break and help him lead, but I’m not sure that will happen.
They might just tell him to put up or shut up, just like Dumars has by not offering a contract extension.
I hope Stuckey knows what he’s getting himself into.
Video: Rip Hamilton talks about scaling back his technical fouls, having Tracy McGrady on the team and how to re-instill a winning attitude
Rip Hamilton‘s Media Day session was by far the most entertaining. Hamilton was upbeat, happy and gave the best quotes of the day when he discussed his penchant for letting his emotions lead to technical fouls.
Hamilton also had some interesting comments on the importance of fostering a winning attitude on the team, particularly among the players who haven’t experienced much winning in their careers.