Sonny’s Side Note: A new life for an old team
Detroit basketball has emerged from its rebuilding process and created a roster to make the team a contender in the Eastern Conference. The last time the Pistons made the playoffs was in 2009 and they started that rebuilding phase in the offseason soon after.
In the summer of 2014, the Pistons saw a new face running their franchise once again. Stan Van Gundy took the President of Basketball Operations job from Joe Dumars and the head coaching job too. Van Gundy came with experience as a coach, even leading his former team, Orlando Magic, to the NBA Finals in 2009. He’s known for surrounding his best big men with shooters, a scheme I think the Pistons will benefit from.
Heading into the 2016 season, the Pistons have three core players: Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Andre Drummond. I believe it’s safe to say this team has undergone a major roster overhaul. Undoing Dumars’ horrendous decision to sign Josh Smith to an overpaid contract (four years for $56 million) was the first step in the right direction for the Pistons. Since Van Gundy took over, only three players have survived: Caldwell-Pope, Drummond, and Brandon Jennings. Shortly thereafter, the team went on a seven game winning streak led by Jennings, who played at an all-star level. As all good things must come to an end, Jennings tore his Achilles tendon, putting him out of the rest of last season and into this season.
With the trade deadline in February fast approaching, Van Gundy saw the opportunity to acquire a new point guard to replace Jennings, which was essential to get back into the playoff race. But, the Pistons were reluctant to give up any of their previous core players as they were trying to add on to a future, not trade it away. Cue Reggie Jackson.
I was on my couch as the four o’clock deadline came, and the Pistons seemed to let the opportunity pass them by. But sending D.J. Augustin, the backup point guard at the time, and Kyle Singler to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Jackson actually renewed a spark of Detroit Basketball pride and history. Jackson filled the void at point guard for the rest of the season and received a lucrative five year contract worth $80 million.
This offseason was important for the Pistons. Their main concern was small forward (SF). They thought they could turn Josh Smith into a SF, but we all know how that project turned out. The Pistons could have either drafted a new SF or traded for one. They did both by drafting Stanley Johnson with the eighth pick and trading for Marcus Morris of the Phoenix Suns by sending him in a package deal with Danny Granger (waived) and Reggie Bullock for a future draft pick. To cover the loss of power forward Greg Monroe to the Milwaukee Bucks, Ersan Ilyasova was acquired from the Bucks for Caron Butler and Shawne Williams.
The Pistons further bolstered their point guard depth by obtaining Steve Blake for Quincy Miller. The Pistons have two of those new players in the starting lineup now—Morris and Ilyasova—while Johnson is the go-to player off the bench. With Jodie Meeks hurt and Jennings out, the Pistons have had shaky bench production which could be the downfall for them this season if left unfixed. Jennings could easily be the sixth man for the team this year, but only if he regains his form from last year along with his explosive moves to the basket and great court vision.
I expect Van Gundy to make one more major trade to strengthen the inconsistent bench before the all-star break to finally end the playoff slump for the Pistons. The Pistons are 8-8 right now with tough wins coming against the NBA finals, Cleveland Cavaliers, and playoff teams like the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat. However, they have also lost to bottom feeder teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings due to the lack of contribution from the bench. I see this team catching fire and going on a winning streak with the tougher portion of their schedule behind them and playing some lackluster teams in the future. With Drummond thriving from the pick and roll with Jackson, and performing like one of the top three centers in the league, I expect him and Jackson to continue to lead this team past adversity and clinch a playoff seed come April.