Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Enthusiasm Mixed As Pistons Begin Season

Enthusiasm Mixed As Pistons Begin Season
By Steve St-Pierre

With a new owner and head coach at the helm, the Pistons were expected to be a team on the brink of starting over with a fresh crop of new players to wash the losing stench that has plagued the franchise the last few seasons. Yet, the roster remains mostly intact, and this team is going to be a tough sell for fans in the Motor City.

In an extended offseason, the Pistons brought in Tom Gores, Pistons Owner, who in turn hired Lawrence Frank, Pistons Head Coach. Gores also assisted Joe Dumars, Pistons President, in drafting point guard Brandon Knight out of Kentucky. Then, before the start of preseason, the front office negotiated a buyout of longtime off-guard Rip Hamilton, whose frustration with the franchise had rubbed off on many – if not all – of his Pistons teammates.

When the organization drafted Knight last June, it appeared the Pistons were declaring the need for a new playmaker to run the offense and spread the floor. Along with promising frontcourt players Greg Monroe, Austin Daye and a re-signed Jonas Jerebko, a foundation was put in place to market to Pistons fans as part of the new era in franchise history.

This entire outlook has changed, though, since the Pistons re-signed small forward Tayshaun Prince. Like Hamilton, Prince had appeared to be done in Detroit. It was widely assumed that he would leave in free agency and sign with a title contender. The Pistons already had two players in Daye and Jerebko who were ready to battle for the starting small forward spot.

Prince decided to stay with the Pistons. Whether it was for more money, to reestablish his legacy within the franchise or to simply be a part of turning the organization around, Prince signed a four-year contract to remain in Motown. As a result, the team keeps a versatile forward who helped guide it to a championship in 2004, but the young players take a back seat.

The Pistons also re-signed guard Rodney Stuckey this preseason. After drafting Knight, the team appeared set on moving Stuckey to shooting guard, his natural position in the NBA. As of this moment, however, Frank is starting Stuckey at the point and Ben Gordon at shooting guard. Knight and reserve point guard Will Bynum are sharing minutes with the second unit.

Furthermore, the team has elected to not use its amnesty clause this season, meaning that they are giving players like Gordon and Charlie Villanueva one more chance to prove their long-term value to the organization. Ben Wallace, the only other holdover from the 2004 championship team, is also back for one more season but will likely see spot minutes off the bench. He will see time at center behind Monroe and at power forward behind Jerebko and Villanueva.

Overall, this just does not seem like a team ready for a new regime. The Pistons have an opportunity to develop their young talent and sell their fans on a desire to change the culture while ridding themselves of players who provided little in the ways of winning games or bringing leadership to the locker room. Yet, their young assets continue to get pushed to the side in favor of other players who, despite possessing talent and skill, have been unable to gel and produce wins.

Pistons fans know this, and they are not going to support this product. This is a city with the perennial contending Red Wings, the promising Tigers and the up-and-coming Lions who have just clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 1999. Most fans are not going to miss out on any of that to follow a Pistons team that continues to lose games and remain without an identity.

It is painfully obvious that this current Pistons group is not a championship contender or even a playoff threat at this point. Most fans will not follow the team until they get back to winning. If the team wants to keep any of its remaining diehard fans, though, they will need to utilize their young assets if they are truly selling the concept of change.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Pistons Set To Waive Hamilton; Invite Others To Camp

Steve St-Pierre
Sports Writer
In Play! Magazine

The Pistons continue to make several moves to their roster. A day after re-signing forwards Tayshaun Prince and Jonas Jerebko, the team has decided to part ways with longtime shooting guard Rip Hamilton.

Detroit has also invited several free agents to training camp. Those players include Damien Wilkins, Walker Russell, Jake Voskuhl, Kareem Rush and Brian Hamilton. Wilkins has a good shot of sticking with the team to back up Ben Gordon, who is now penciled in as the starting shooting guard to replace Rip Hamilton.

Since the Pistons are buying out Rip's contract, they will still have their amnesty clause available to use on another player if/when they choose to do so. Rip was owed roughly $20 million, but the buyout is reportedly worth about half of that. He is expected to sign a two-year deal with the Chicago Bulls.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Pistons Agree To Terms With Prince, Jerebko; Waive White

Steve St-Pierre
Sports Writer
In Play! Magazine

The Pistons have reportedly agreed to terms with free agent forwards Tayshaun Prince and Jonas Jerebko. They have also waived reserve guard Terrico White.

Prince will sign a four-year contract worth $27 million, while Jerebko's deal is also four years at $16 million. White, a combo guard, missed his entire rookie year last season with a broken foot.

Jerebko's signing comes as no shock, but the re-signing of Prince is surprising given the Pistons' amount of young forwards and several other teams' interest in the veteran Prince.

Ben Wallace appears ready to play one more season after taking his physical today. Training camp begins tomorrow, when the Pistons are expected to officially announce the signings of Prince and Jerebko. They are also likely to continue discussions with restricted free agent guard Rodney Stuckey.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Lockout Ends; Pistons Eager To Play

Lockout Ends; Pistons Eager To Play
By Steve St-Pierre

The NBA Lockout, which began July 1, is finally ending after players agreed to ratify a deal with the owners. Both free agency and training camp will begin Dec. 9, and a 66-game season will commence Christmas Day.

NBA teams are already allowed to negotiate with player agents, but no contracts can be signed until the start of free agency. Players are allowed to use team facilities, but team personnel cannot be present during basketball-related activities and are still not permitted to have any contact with players.

The Pistons can finally begin working on their roster. The nine Detroit players currently under contract are Will Bynum, Austin Daye, Ben Gordon, Rip Hamilton, Jason Maxiell, Greg Monroe, Charlie Villanueva, Ben Wallace and Terrico White. Both Jonas Jerebko and Rodney Stuckey are restricted free agents, while Tracy McGrady, Tayshaun Prince and Chris Wilcox are unrestricted free agents.

Daye and Pistons second-round draft pick Kyle Singler spent the lockout playing overseas. Daye played a couple months in Russia but has since returned to the States. Singler, on the other hand, has been playing in Spain and has decided to remain there for the rest of the season. He anticipates signing with Detroit this summer.

The first order of business for the Pistons will likely be signing rookies Brandon Knight and Vernon Macklin. The front office also anticipates making quick decisions on Jerebko and Stuckey. Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams have three days to match any offer sheets signed by restricted free agents.

As previously reported during the lockout, the Pistons will have a chance to begin a rebuilding process with a potential youth movement. Prince is not expected to return, and Wallace could still opt for retirement. Likewise, the team will continue to shop Hamilton on the trade market. This should allow the franchise to begin building around younger players like Monroe, Knight and possibly Daye, Jerebko and Stuckey.

With this new labor deal, an amnesty clause has been granted that allows teams to waive one player with pay and have 100 percent of that player’s salary removed from the team’s payroll. The amnesty can be used once prior to any season of the new CBA but only for contracts in place as of July 1, 2011. The Pistons had been expected to utilize the clause by waiving either Hamilton, Gordon or Villanueva but are said to prefer taking their time before making a decision.

With Singler staying in Spain, and the possibility of losing both Prince and McGrady, the Pistons will work to add depth to the small forward position. Daye would likely be the starter if the season began today, but they will need to re-sign Jerebko as well as look to a veteran free agent backup.

The power forward spot is also wide open. Jerebko and Villanueva will likely battle for the starting role, with Maxiell and Macklin both likely to see spot minutes off the bench. It’s also possible the Pistons could acquire another center and move Monroe to power forward.

More likely, Monroe will remain the team’s starting center. Wallace, should he elect to return, will be penciled in as the backup in what should be a more limited role. The Pistons won’t have significant cap space this offseason to pursue a veteran big man unless they decide to utilize the amnesty.

At shooting guard, Gordon and Hamilton will continue to battle for minutes as long as both are on the active roster. Clearly, one will need to go in order for the other to flourish on a consistent basis. At this point in his career, Hamilton would be a better fit on a championship contender, allowing Gordon to play the necessary minutes he needs to resurrect his NBA career.

In a perfect world, Knight would start the entire season as the Pistons’ point guard. However, Stuckey will battle for the spot if he re-signs with Detroit. Bynum, too, is not going to take a backseat without a fight. That said, neither Stuckey or Bynum have been able to solidify the role in recent years, and Knight is a promising lottery pick who surprisingly slipped to the Pistons at No. 8 in the 2011 NBA Draft.

Certainly, the team has several options for its rotation this season. Lawrence Frank, Pistons Head Coach, has had a great amount of time to go over the various possibilities in his head. He’ll also continue to receive guidance from Joe Dumars, Pistons President, and their new leader Tom Gores, Pistons Owner.

It’s an exciting time to be a fan of Detroit Basketball. It’s the beginning of a brand new era in franchise history. For the players, it’s a chance to get back to playing the game they love and to give the fans the show they’ve been so patiently waiting for.