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Competition Discussion: Detroit Pistons

The season is still two months away, but most of the rosters are set, barring the requisite Michael Jordan comeback rumor (just kidding, but only a little).  We have an idea where our team stands, but we can't really know unless we discuss everyone else.  In that spirit, I'm going to throw up a "competition discussion" thread for each of the other 29 teams over the next month or so.  We'll go in alphabetical order from A to Z.  Today's team: Detroit.

Last year's record: 59-23

In: Kwame Brown, Walter Sharpe
Out: Jarvis Hayes, Juan Dixon, Theo Ratliff

Projected starting lineup: Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Amir Johnson, Rasheed Wallace.

Key themes:

  • Will a new coach (Michael Curry) make a major difference?
  • How will all of the players react after being blatantly put on the trade market by their GM?
  • What about the decision to start Amir Johnson?  Too much too soon?
  • How about the other young guys?  Will Rodney Stuckey, Arron Afflalo and Jason Maxiell keep improving?
  • If Stuckey keeps getting better, what happens to the Billups/Hamilton backcourt?
  • Will we ever see Rasheed Wallace taking over like many feel he should?

While I have this computer comandeered, I might as well knock this competition discussion out of the way.  But before I begin, I just have to pass this quote from the Detroit News (via The Blowtorch) along.

"Rasheed Wallace went at Kwame Brown full-throttle at the end of practice Tuesday. It started when Brown said that he would put Wallace 'in the trunk and lock him up.' Wallace went off. 'There is no way on God's green earth that you can lock me up, ever, ever, ever,' he said. 'You couldn't lock me up in when you were in D.C. or L.A., nowhere. You're lucky you never had to face me in high school.' Brown hooted on Wallace for sitting out the last couple of minutes of the scrimmage, telling him, 'Go get your rest, old man.' That only fired Wallace up more. 'Yeah, I need my rest because I am working. I'm not out there lollygagging like you,' Wallace shouted. Brown soon scored on two aggressive plays, but Wallace wasn't impressed. 'Yeah, Kwame, two baskets in two-and-a-half hours,' he said."

Kwame's lucky Rasheed isn't Michael Jordan.

Anyway, reports of the Pistons' demise are, as usual, greatly exaggerated.  This was the second-best team in basketball last year and suffered no key losses.  One could even argue they're better with a new coach and expected progression from their youngsters.  I'm not going to argue that, but they're still a big part of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

That said, a few things concern me about Detroit.  One is how the players will react to Joe Dumars essentially placing them on the market all summer.  In case you don't remember, Joe Dumars famously declared that there were no untouchables on his team, but ultimately, his only move was to sign Kwame Brown.  (Ernie Grunfeld, on the other hand, didn't say anything and was absolutely destroyed for doing nothing.  It just goes to show that if you speak loudly, people will leave you alone.)  It's possible that fires up their core, but at their advancing ages, I doubt it.  More likely, it signals a self-fulfilling prophecy to them that they aren't good enough anymore.  For a team whose collective psyche isn't exactly strong, that might be a problem.

The other issue is Michael Curry.  He's saying all the right things right now, but when things start to get hard, why should the players listen to him?  Flip Saunders had a very good track record and it didn't take the Pistons long to tune him out.  Now, you're bringing in a first-year coach to inherit the club.  I worry Curry will be a bit out of his league.

Finally, this may be their last run.  Rasheed is a free agent after the year, Rip Hamilton is the year after that, and Tayshaun Prince the year after that.  It would not shock me to see Dumars make a big move during the season.  If he does, I expect Detroit to drop a bit, though their future will likely be brighter.

Truth is, Detroit's strong drafting over the years will likely save them this year.  Rodney Stuckey showed a lot in the playoffs last year, leading the Pistons to a key road win in the Orlando series and acting as a spark in the conference finals.  He's going to get more minutes this year and I expect him to keep playing well.  Johnson, meanwhile, is Detroit's Andray Blatche, and though I don't know if handing him a starting job is the answer, the fact that he's impressing Curry has to be good for Detroit.  I was not high on Arron Afflalo coming out of UCLA, but he should slide right into Lindsey Hunter's role as the defensive stopper.  Collectively, those three and Jason Maxiell infused a lot of talent into Detroit last year.  They should do even more this season.

They can't account for Detroit's core dropping off again, but they'll keep the Pistons afloat, at least for one more year.

Prediction: 53-29, second in Central, third in East.

Previously (predictions are me/Jake/Truth)...