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Category → The Big Question

The Big Answer?: Detroit Pistons

DF Then: Can they find the right rotation before it’s too late?

I firmly believe the Pistons have a playoff team on their roster. The trick will be finding it.

On a team so deep, there are a lot of possibilities for playing time. Many of those combinations will result in a bad team. But I think there’s a quality rotation to be found.

If the Pistons can find it, that would solve a world of problems.

Players would be in the best position to succeed, and their trade values would be maximized. Plus, there would be a clear indicator the players not in the rotation (unless youth is the only reason) don’t fit with the team.

The team would also win, which is the end goal, right?

DF Now: No

With all his lineup tinkering, John Kuester never found a rotation capable of getting the Pistons to the playoffs. But I still think a playoff-caliber rotation existed on the roster.

Take the following nine players, who would’ve made a reasonable rotation:

When five of them were on the court together, using a Pythagorean model, Detroit played like a 40-win team.* The Pacers made the playoffs with 37 wins.

*That doesn’t account for whom those players played against, and teams must play lesser players at some point during the season. So, the 40-win figure isn’t completely reliable, but it should give you an idea.

Had the Pistons played closer to their potential this year, many of their problems would have been reduced. Instead, this was a wasted season – at best.

PH Then: Can they connect with a spurned fan base?

Pistons fans have grown accustomed to a “brand” of basketball. You play hard, you assert your will on the other team through toughness and you make up for talent deficiencies by out-working your opponent. It was the trademark of the Laimbeer/Thomas/Dumars/Rodman/Mahorn/Salley teams of the late 1980s, and it was a trademark of the beloved Wallace/Wallace/Hamilton/Prince/Billups crew in the 2000s.

The Pistons have a roster of guys who are currently viewed as overpaid, underachieving, finesse players or some combination of the three. I’m not saying all of those characterizations are fair, but unless the Pistons come out of the gate with consistent effort and passion, fans are going to ignore this team.

The Pistons are skilled and could be fun to watch, regardless of how many games they win. But last season, the team had no spirit and often no effort, and that has resulted in a very ornery fan base that is skeptical heading into the season.

PH Now: No

The Pistons often listless play, the hopelessness that came as a result of a paralyzed front office, the public player-coach feuds and divided locker room and the injury to fan-favorite Jonas Jerebko conspired to make this another season where many fans lost interest.

But with the sale of the team to Tom Gores and Greg Monroe’s fantastic rookie season, there are perhaps a couple more reasons for hope than there were at the end of last season.

The Big Answer?: Rodney Stuckey

DF Then: How will losing 10 pounds in the offseason affect Stuckey’s game?

In three years, Rodney Stuckey has yet to turn the corner. Several reasons have been offered, but none of them have involved his weight (at least that I’ve heard).

Regardless, Stuckey lost 10 pounds this summer. I have absolutely no idea how this makes him better. (I’m not saying it won’t. I’m just saying I don’t see how it will.)

I keep hearing about playing for the same coach two years in a row making a big difference, but I don’t buy that. I just don’t think it’s that big a deal in the NBA, where players switch teams mid-season and contribute the next night.

So, if Stuckey takes the next step, I’m not sure what the reason will be. Maybe it will be the weight loss.

DF Now: Minimally, if at all

It’s impossible to compare how Stuckey would have played had he not lost the pounds, but he didn’t look much different than last year. His field-goal percentage at the rim was higher early in the season, and it finished higher than last year. But wouldn’t his weight loss mean more late in the season?

I could be missing something, but I just didn’t see any tangible results from Stuckey’s summer.

PH Then: Will he make people want to play with him?

I’m sure Rodney Stuckey’s teammates like him just fine. But the thing that struck me most about his “need to be a vocal leader” comments from media day was my belief that great point guards don’t need to let everyone know they are going to be the vocal leader.

People want to play with Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose and Chauncey Billups. Those guys do one thing despite their very different styles: they make their teammates better. Some of them, like Rose, Westbrook and Rondo, aren’t pure points. Some of them love to run (Nash, Paul) and some are masters of the halfcourt (Williams, Billups). But whether it’s through their ability to find open teammates, or their ability to draw the defense with their scoring ability, or their ability to lock up the other team’s best backcourt player, all of them do something unique that creates opportunities for teammates to excel.

To this point in his career, Stuckey doesn’t do that. If he finds what his “it” is, something that he always does that makes him a unique player, he won’t have to go around telling people about his intentions to be a leader anymore.

PH Now: No

Despite closing the season seemingly trying to prove every critic wrong with a great five game stretch, Stuckey’s season was a mess.

As the starter at point guard early on, the Pistons played too slowly, Stuckey was consistently late with passes in the halfcourt and he was often confused as to when to attack and when not to. Midway through the season, he moved to shooting guard where many insist should be his only position, and was still inconsistent. He had several feuds with his coach that made both Stuckey and John Kuester look bad.

And then, maddeningly, he closed the season showing that he actually does know when to attack vs. distribute. Stuckey is still an intriguing talent, but in no way has answered any questions about his ability to lead a good team from the point guard spot.

The Big Answer?: Tayshaun Prince

DF then: Will Joe Dumars make the right call with Tayshaun Prince?

Let’s see, a championship-team starter on the wrong side of 30 whose best days appear to be behind him, but still capable of playing at a high level. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

That was Chauncey Billups’ situation when the Pistons traded him to the Nuggets. At the time, there were compelling reasons to keep him and compelling reasons to trade him. Joe Dumars chose the latter, and it ended up being the wrong choice.

Dumars faces a similar predicament with Tayshaun Prince, but Prince’s expiring contraction only complicates the decision.

Frankly, I don’t know whether the Pistons should trade Prince or keep him past the trade deadline, and if they keep him, I don’t know what they should do with him. Does Dumars?

DF now: No (at least, probably not)

There’s still a chance Joe Dumars could prove me wrong on this with the mysterious sign-and-trade we’ve all heard about. But that would require more than simply landing a better package than the late first-round pick the Mavericks offered before the trade deadline.

Prince’s presence on the team certainly had something to do with the boycott in Philadelphia. Considering the embarrassment that meant for the franchise and the example it set for the younger players, I bet the Pistons wish they had traded Prince while they still could’ve. Don’t you think, had the boycott occurred before the trade deadline, Dumars would have accept the Mavericks’ offer (if they had still made it knowing Prince participated in a boycott)?

Short of a sign-and-trade for Chris Kaman – that’s really the only logical deal I can see that would explain Dumars’ desire to hold onto Prince at the trade deadline – I think Dumars’ best option will probably be re-signing Prince this summer and trying to trade him later.

If Prince, an unrestricted free agent just walks away, that would be pretty disheartening.

PH then: Will Prince’s value to the team trump his value as an expiring contract?

Few players in basketball are as smart on the court as Tayshaun Prince. He’s exactly the type of veteran a rebuilding team would want to teach its young impressionable future cornerstones. The problem is his large expiring contract makes him the team’s most valuable asset if it wants more young impressionable future cornerstones.

Most assume that the Pistons will try to trade Prince to improve. I still have my doubts.

PH now: Yes

Because the Pistons couldn’t make trades that added long-term salary, the types of deals that could include Prince were limited. The Pistons reportedly were offered the opportunity to flip Prince’s expiring contract for Caron Butler’s and receive a late first-round pick from Dallas for the trouble. That pick would have certainly been a small asset, but nowhere near equal value. The Pistons now have the chance to use Prince in a sign-and-trade this offseason, hopefully netting them more than a marginal draft pick in return.

The Big Answer?: Ben Wallace

DF then: Will he enjoy this season?

I really think Ben Wallace had fun last season. He was back in his professional home and playing with old friends like Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince. Most importantly, he played well. Wallace is a prideful guy, and I think he would have regretted passing on retirement if he couldn’t make a significant impact on the court.

Wallace has meant so much to this franchise, I just want him to be glad he re-signed again.

DF now: Probably not

Wallace’s brother died in February, and he said that could push him toward retirement. More than anything, that probably defined his season.

He also produced less than last year and battled injuries. Add the Pistons’ inner turmoil, and perhaps, the feeling that John Kuester slighted his friend and teammate, Richard Hamilton, and it’s hard to believe Wallace will take many fond memories from this year.

On the bright side, I believe Wallace is the only Piston on record as enjoying playing for Kuester.

PH then: Are people doubting him again?

Last year, Wallace was signed and it was met with a collective of “he’s washed up!” giggles from most Pistons fans (Note: Not from this Pistons fan). All Wallace did last year was show that stories of his decline were very premature. He wasn’t the game-changing force he was in his prime, but he’s still one of the best defensive big men in the league.

This offseason, there has been talk about the need to limit his minutes. Why? He played only 28 minutes per game last year, and although he did have a minor injury, he showed no signs of wearing down as the season progressed. The only player whose production I have no doubts about this year is Ben Wallace.

PH now: Yes, and rightfully so

I admit, I got overly excited by Wallace’s resurgence last season. The Pistons were absolutely right to limit his minutes, and even though they did just that, Wallace still wore down. Wallace is still a useful rotation big and a great model to keep around for their young players, but it’s unclear whether he’s motivated to put his body through another season, particularly if there’s a chance the team will struggle.

The Big Answer?: Richard Hamilton

DF then: How much value is there in being the league’s best-conditioned 32-year-old?

Richard Hamilton prides himself on being the NBA’s best-conditioned player, and depending on how you judge that, he might be. Relative to the type of body he’d have if he took average care of himself, Hamilton might be in the best shape in the league.

But how does an extremely fit 32-year-old compare to a regularly fit (by NBA standards) 26-year-old?

Can he be worth $37.5 million over the next three years? Can he be worth an asset in a trade?

I think Hamilton has done all he can to make himself as valuable as possible. But is that enough?

DF now: Some, but not enough to justify his contract

The game doesn’t come as easily to Hamilton as it once did. He can still be effective, but in order to do so, he must exhibit supreme focus. He can’t skate by on just his athleticism anymore. (Not to say athleticism defined his game before, but there were certainly moments it carried him.)

Unfortunately, whether it be arguing with referees or arguing with John Kuester, Hamilton hasn’t shown he can zone out the distractions. Hamilton can – and should – play better than he did this year, but even he gets his mental game in order, he’ll never again be the player he once was.

PH then: Why again does he need to be traded?

Covering media day reinforced something I’d lost sight of: I really like Rip Hamilton a lot. He’s funny, he’s upbeat and although there are certainly questions about his health, he’s still in great shape.

He has a skill set (i.e., not one dependent on elite athleticism) that will make him a solid player well into his late 30s. There are better players than Hamilton out there, and the Pistons have to clear some space on the perimeter, but if he’s healthy, Hamilton will again be a very decent player for the Pistons.

PH now: Oops

I’ve learned that the funny, engaging person Hamilton is off the court is probably not the same person he is in the locker room – particularly toward coaches. Hamilton has declined, though not as much as I thought earlier in the season. He’s still capable of being a solid starter for a team with better players around him. The Pistons don’t have anyone else on the roster who is the answer at shooting guard going forward, but it’s clearly in the best interests of all parties to go their separate ways after the season.

The Big Answer?: Ben Gordon

DF then: Can he eclipse the Diawara Line in 79 percent of his games?

This coincides with a lengthier post I had planned for last year and can’t be fully explained in this spirit of this series. So, check shortly for a full post explaining the Diawara Line.

DF now: No, but it was irrelevant

Here’s that post about Ben Gordon and the Diawara Line. The Diawara Line appeared significant for Gordon, because, historically, he was a high-volume shooter who had too many poor-shooting games.

But that wasn’t the case this year. Often, Gordon didn’t shoot enough. So, measuring his value solely by true shooting percentage doesn’t make much sense. Hopefully, Gordon will regain his confidence, shoot more and make the Diawara Line relevant next season.

For the record, Gordon topped the Diawara Line in 71 percent of his games (58 of 82) this year.

PH then: Is he a starter?

Ben Gordon is not going to win the starting shooting guard job with Richard Hamilton present. Gordon’s explosiveness is just much better suited as a super-sub type player. But Gordon does not view himself as a sixth man, nor does his salary suggest he is one.

The Pistons need to find out if they have a young veteran who will develop a more all-around approach if he’s given an expanded role, or if they have a one-dimensional scorer who’s locked into an above-market-rate long-term deal.

PH now: No

Gordon was severely hampered by injuries a year ago. This season, he was fairly healthy. But he played with no confidence and didn’t fit with the personnel or the offense the Pistons tried to run. To his credit, he was professional about it and didn’t sulk or complain in the media like some of his teammates did. But he also showed he doesn’t do anything else well enough to command a starting job if his shot isn’t falling. He’s loose with the ball when handling it, doesn’t create for teammates and, although he tries, he doesn’t defend his position well. I can’t see him being more than a good sixth man in the NBA.

The Big Answer?: Charlie Villanueva

DF then: How good will he be in 2011-12?

I have no doubt Charlie Villanueva will succeed this season. Am I crazy? (After reading that first sentence, I won’t disagree with anyone who says yes.)

I believe Villanueva is in better shape. I believe Villanueva is focused and motivated. I believe he’s talented, just like he’s always been.

That’s a lethal combination, and in the rare times Villanueva has put together all those elements in the past, he’s succeeded.

Villanueva’s motivations aren’t complex. He signed a sizable contract last summer, didn’t live up to it and feels embarrassed. Let’s credit the guy for responding appropriately so far.

But once he surpasses this year’s extremely low expectations, what will motivate him next summer? Is his only goal not to be so bad he sticks out as a scapegoat? Does he have the passion to stand out for positive reasons, not just the desire not to stand out for negative ones?

For those of you expect nothing or next to nothing from Villanueva this season, I think you’re in for a pleasant surprise. But when stakes are raised a year from now, I’m not sure Villanueva will deliver.

DF now: Uhhh

Oops.

Perhaps, I can better answer my second question (Am I crazy?): Yes. Let’s just move along, please.

PH then: Is this year make or break?

No player had a more bi-polar season a year ago than Charlie V. For stretches in December/January, he was putting up huge scoring numbers, carrying the team some nights, and he looked like he was legitimately going to have a breakout season. By the end of the year, he was out of the rotation.

Villanueva has a big contract, but it’s not completely unreasonable by NBA standards. He’s also young, can score and is nearly 7-foot.

If Villanueva’s talking points about being committed to defense, committed to being in better shape and committed to being a viable cornerstone don’t materialize, it’s a good bet he could be a trade candidate.

PH now: Yes

I don’t know whether the Pistons will look to trade Villanueva, but this season proved he’s not a starting-caliber power forward.

He played better defense and was arguably the Pistons’ nicest surprise a couple months into the season, but his defensive effort and production, especially on the glass, tailed off dramatically as the year unfolded.

There is a role for Villanueva in the NBA, one he could fill very well, as a multi-position offensive threat off the bench. I’m just not sure the Pistons need that with so many other deficiencies on the roster.

The Big Answer?: Jonas Jerebko

DF: Will the Pistons reap the rewards this season of Jerebko’s summer?

As I wrote before, I was a little troubled Jonas Jerebko chose to focus on ball-handling and his mid-range game this summer. The Pistons needed him most at power forward, and those aren’t skills he will use a ton at that position.

A few commenter made a good point: regardless of this season, Jerebko’s long-term outlook is still at small forward. If he re-signs with the Pistons, they could still benefit from his work this summer once the roster is straightened out.

One way or the other, I hope this summer was productive for Jerebko and the Pistons.

DF now: No

My question was about how Jerebko’s skillset fit with the 2010-11 Detroit Pistons, but he didn’t play for that team due to a Achilles injury. Considering he gained 20 pounds (potentially changing his skillets in the process) and that the Pistons will hopefully have a different roster next season, there isn’t much point reviewing this question.

PH then: Will he try and rush back from injury?

The Jonas Jerebko we all know and love is competitive, tough and one of the hardest working players on the team. Those are all great qualities on the court, but they are all also potential detriments to a player rehabbing a serious injury. Players trying to come back too early from tough injuries are a fairly common occurrence in the league, and few do it successfully without some setbacks.

Jerebko’s game is predicated on athleticism and activity, so putting too much pressure on his Achilles too early could have a serious impact on his skill set. As much as I’d love to see Jerebko on the court again, I hope the Pistons are really careful with his rehab and that he’s 100 percent healthy before he starts playing again.

PH now: Almost, but no.

There was talk before the All-Star break that Jerebko was rehabbing his injury with an eye on returning and playing a few games at the end of this season. I admired the resolve, but I hoped it didn’t pan out that way, and thankfully the Pistons agreed, not allowing Jerebko to rush back.

As it stands, the most exciting thing to me about next season is to see a healthy Jerebko and Greg Monroe on the court together.

The Big Answer?: Joe Dumars

DF then: How limited is he by the ownership situation?

As constructed, the Pistons obviously aren’t going to win a title. Moves must be made. Can Joe Dumars make them now? Does he have to wait until a new owner takes over? Is he forbidden to take on payroll for the sake of Karen Davidson’s wallet? Will he have to shed payroll for the sake of Karen Davidson’s wallet?

It’s impossible to fairly criticize Dumars for his moves, or lack there of, without this information.

DF now: Very

The Pistons haven’t made a trade since July 13, 2009, when Dumars sent Arron Afflalo, Walter Sharpe and cash to the Nuggets for a second-round pick. Flash forward seven months from that date, and every other NBA team has made a trade since then.

Say what you want about his moves prior to Karen Davidson deciding to sell the team, but Dumars clearly couldn’t do much to improve the team once she decided to move on.

PH then: Is he a tortured genius?

Often, people who have great success early on in their profession get a a genius complex. They think they’ve figured out “The Secret” as Bill Simmons would say and begin taking advice less or trying crazier ideas because their past success has them foolishly convinced that all of their goofy ideas will pan out.

Dumars constructed a title team, a year-in, year-out contender and did so in a way that no one has replicated: without a superstar. His two best players on his title team, Billups and Wallace, combined to make less money per season than Antoine Walker.

Now, Dumars has made a series of moves that can be described as reaches: believing that guys who have never been tough or physical or interested defenders in Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva can suddenly be taught, drafting guys who weren’t well known (Austin Daye might work out, but he passed on guys like Ty Lawson and Darren Collison for him, and they are already good players in this league), taking flyers on aging vets with major questions (Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady).

Could Dumars be supremely confident his moves will work simply because they’ve worked out in the past?

PH now: No

I underestimated how limited Dumars’ resources were before the season. He signed McGrady, because signing a guy for the minimum was basically all he could do to fill the roster. He stuck with a roster he knows is flawed, because he could do little to upgrade the product on the floor until the sale of the team.

None of this absolves him from blame for the poor moves he made prior – particularly the Gordon and Villanueva signings – but it buys him some time to complete whatever his vision was when he set out to rebuild.

The Big Answer?: Tracy McGrady

DF then: Will Arnie Kander produce another miracle?

Because of reclamations like Dana Barros and Antonio McDyess, everyone considers Arnie Kander a genius. It’s not necessarily out of line. He has a great track record. For years, I’ve called Kander the most underrated aspect of the organization. His ability to keep the team healthy over the years has meant countless wins, especially in the playoffs. But were last year’s injuries a sign Kander isn’t as great as he seems? Has the hype finally surpassed the substance? Or did chance fall so far on the negative side that it outweighed Kander?

If Tracy McGrady looks anything like he did in his prime, the legend of Arnie won’t die anytime soon.

DF now: Yes (or at least maybe)

McGrady played in 72 games – his most since 2004-05, when he was still averaging 25 points per game. He also played 1686 minutes – his most since 2007-08, when he was still averaging 22 points per game. So, obviously, those days were a long time ago.

But how much did Kander have to do with it? McGrady played a lot more – and did so with a lot more explosiveness – than anyone could have reasonably expected this year. But McGrady played in 24 of 28 games with the Knicks after New York traded for him last season, and he played more minutes per game with the Knicks (while posting similar stats).

So, Kander didn’t return McGrady to his peak level, but he kept McGrady healthy all season. It’s been a long time since anyone did that.

His health, combined with a  McDyess-like transformation in style of play, gave McGrady a successful season by any reasonable measure. That ends with McGrady, but it starts with Kander.

PH then: Will the Detroit Pistons ruin another icon?

After he was traded to Detroit, Allen Iverson went from one of the league’s most popular players to a guy who couldn’t beat Mike Conley for a starting job in Memphis. Now, another 2000s alpha dog icon in the twilight of his career finds himself on the Pistons. I don’t know what McGrady will produce. I just hope that his career is not going to end embarrassingly in Detroit the way Iverson’s did. Whatever you think of either of them personally, they are two of the most brilliant players of this era and deserved to be remembered for that. I don’t know what to expect from T-Mac. I just hope he’s still a solid player.

PH now: No

McGrady was much better than anyone could’ve reasonably expected production-wise, but his temperament was most impressive.

Iverson ran himself out of the league because he never learned to work within his limitations. McGrady reinvented himself as a deliberate playmaker, a solid shooter, a multi-positional threat and even showed occasional glimpses of his past explosiveness. I don’t think McGrady or the Pistons are all that interested in a long-term relationship, but it was nice to watch McGrady work himself back into form and he proved he will be a valuable player on most any contending team’s bench.