Thursday, May 31, 2012

Pistons Drafting No. 9, Targeting Big Man

Pistons Drafting No. 9, Targeting Big Man
By Steve St-Pierre | @Steve_Courtside

The 2012 NBA Draft Lottery has come and gone, and the Pistons wound up staying where they were at and have the No. 9 pick in the first round of next month’s draft. Once again, they will be looking to acquire a big man.

This year’s draft class features a number of power forwards and centers, with Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, Kansas’ Thomas Robinson and Connecticut’s Andre Drummond expected to go well before Detroit’s on the clock. Instead, the Pistons will target several second-tier post players, including forwards John Henson of North Carolina, Perry Jones III of Baylor, Terrence Jones of Kentucky, Jared Sullinger of Ohio State and center Tyler Zeller of North Carolina.

The Pistons’ greatest need heading into the draft is a defensive-minded power forward to plug alongside center Greg Monroe. Jason Maxiell, a long-time Pistons reserve who wound up starting last season, has the option of opting out of the final year of his contract and becoming a free agent. While both sides are hoping for a return, the team knows it must find a legitimate long-term starter at power forward.

Henson would appear to be the best fit amongst the group of second-tier big men. Sullinger has a similar game to Maxiell but is better offensively. The Joneses are both arguably better suited for small forward, which Detroit has plenty of right now with starter Tayshaun Prince and reserves Jonas Jerebko and Austin Daye. Zeller, if drafted by the Pistons, would likely back up Monroe at center, though they could play together at times with Monroe sliding to power forward.

With the draft being held June 28, the Pistons have less than a month to work out and interview prospects. Clearly, the organization wants to get back to tough, defensive-minded, blue-collar basketball that it played when the team was most successful. The Pistons want somebody who brings that style and will embrace playing in the Motor City.

“To me, it’s the foundations on the defensive end,” says Lawrence Frank, Pistons Head Coach. “That’s when – despite everything – we have to maintain focus to get that one stop.”

“(It’s) about doing the right thing,” adds Tom Gores, Pistons Owner. “We have to represent a quality product in Detroit. We have to represent what we stand for in Detroit.”

The Pistons are already well-prepared for this summer’s offseason and have been in constant communication as a franchise.

“I’m pleased with the communication,” Gores says. “I can call Joe (Dumars, Pistons President) anytime. Joe calls me anytime, so I’m pleased…

“…In Joe and Lawrence, they’re talking every day. Part of our culture is to make sure communication is open and that you’re always speaking because when you talk and you communicate, good things happen…I can call Joe anytime. I’ll call Lawrence anytime. We have open communication.”

A year ago, the Pistons – along with the rest of the NBA – had a lockout to deal with, which cancelled both summer league and a full training camp. Once the Pistons have completed the draft, they’ll be able to participate in summer league play and have an entire offseason to finalize next season’s roster. This will also give the coaching staff the ability to make some tweaks to the playbook and integrate the new players.

“When we start next year,” Frank says, “we’re gonna have a lot of different, special situations that have happened to us both good and bad to incorporate into everything we do.”

“Hopefully, everybody this summer will work on what we need to work on and get ready for next season,” adds Prince.

What the Pistons do during the 2012 NBA Draft will set the tone for what will undoubtedly be a crucial offseason for the team’s development and overall growth. At No. 9, the Pistons know they won’t be getting a star player. However, they’ll need to make sure they get a player who fits their needs and gets them closer to returning to the postseason.

“We’ve just got to come in, and next year we’ll have a full training camp,” says guard Rodney Stuckey. “That’s gonna help out a lot. We’ll see what changes and stuff happen.”

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Wallace Undecided On Retirement As Pistons Miss Postseason

Wallace Undecided On Retirement As Pistons Miss Postseason
By Steve St-Pierre | @Steve_Courtside

For a third straight season, the Pistons have missed the NBA Playoffs, finishing this year with a record of 25-41. Yet, the organization is filled with optimism that it’s finally headed in the right direction.

“After an extremely slow start at 4-20, to the group’s credit, they stayed together, kept on fighting for each other, and really the beginning of February…was the beginning of the turnaround,” says Lawrence Frank, Pistons Head Coach. “We had a bunch of non-competitive games. Then, we came back home and started to play at a higher level.”

“This is a great group of guys,” adds forward Tayshaun Prince. At the beginning of the season, we didn’t have the opportunity to get as much practice time as we would like, but things happen. We all wish we could change something that we did…I think we’ve learned from it, and hopefully we can move on to next season in the right frame of mind and get off to a better start than we did this season.”

Even the organization’s new head boss was pleased with what he saw in his first season at the helm.

“I’m proud of the fact they came back, and they did their thing,” says Tom Gores, Pistons Owner. “They worked hard. They did all the things that Detroit stands for…the culture was reset this year. I am very proud of the folks, and we made a lot of progress.”

The Pistons did a tremendous job of establishing a young nucleus of center Greg Monroe and guards Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey. They also got solid play from longtime veterans Prince, Jason Maxiell and Ben Wallace, who has likely played his last game but has yet to officially call it quits.

“It’s one of those things, I’ll have to think about it a little bit,” Wallace says. “It’s tough to walk away from the game when you’ve got so many people in the game who keep asking you to come back. Do I think it’s time for me to retire? Yeah, but people are asking me to come back obviously because they see something in me that I really don’t see in myself right now. We all feel good to be wanted.”

“Look, we’ve talked about it throughout the year,” says Frank. “Ben Wallace – it’s been an honor just to watch him every single day. One of the great competitors who have played this game. From White Hall, Alabama, undrafted, initially diagnosed as a two-guard to then come down and be one of the great defensive players that have played the game, bring a championship to this city, and to be able to still play at a high level at his age and to impact the game every single time he steps on the court. To be the ultimate professional in terms of how he approaches his job.”

Wallace’s teammates insist there’s still a place for him on the Pistons’ roster.

“It’s just been a pleasure,” Prince says. “Hopefully, this is not the end of the road. But if it is the end of the road basketball-wise, it definitely won’t be end of the road as far as the friendship and the family experience. We’re all hoping he will return.”

“He’s a Hall-of-Famer,” adds Stuckey. “He comes in each and every day, acts professional. He’s a hard worker. The crazy thing is he still could play a couple more years if he wanted to…we always tell him that we want him here. Ben’s a phenomenal teammate. He does anything for anybody, so of course we’d love him back.”

Besides Wallace, the Pistons’ only other unrestricted free agent this summer is veteran reserve Damien Wilkins, who will also likely be invited back next season. Additionally, Maxiell has the option to opt out of the final year of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent. Vernon Macklin and Walker Russell, Jr. are restricted free agents.

The 2012 NBA Draft Lottery will be held May 30, when the Pistons will find out which pick they’ll have in next month’s draft. The team could also look to improve its roster in free agency this summer, where they’ll be armed with the mid-level exception as well as the ability to use the amnesty clause on either veterans Ben Gordon or Charlie Villanueva.

“Anything’s possible,” Gordon admits. “That’s always in the back of your mind, but until you’re told something or until you hear something, you just always assume you’re gonna be here.”

“I can’t worry about things I can’t control,” adds Villanueva. Whatever happens, happens. (I just have to) stay healthy. That’s one of my goals. Stay healthy and keep working. Keep staying in the routine that I’ve been staying on with Arnie (Kander, Pistons Strength and Conditioning Coach).”

“I’ve been here through the tough years, so hopefully I can be here when things turn around,” Gordon says. “That’s my commitment from when I signed my contract, and that’s where I stand on that.”

Many in the organization believe the majority of the team’s improvement will come from within.

“We’re open to everything, but I don’t want to discount or take away anything from how good our players were this year,” Gores says. “We started 4-20. We were a pretty good team. There (were) a few games we didn’t finish because we were just jelling and coming together, and we did have a short season to deal with. I’m not saying we shouldn’t look at the possibility of making changes, but I’m also saying that we have great players on this team.”

“We know we have a lot of work to do,” adds Frank. “Hopefully, it just gives us an opportunity to reflect in terms of getting off to a better start and building some momentum going into the offseason.”

Surely, the Pistons will be preparing for what should be a relatively active offseason, one way or another. But for now, they’re just focusing on the positives that came from this condensed campaign, including the overall atmosphere that ownership has created in Auburn Hills.

“We have made a lot of changes,” Gores says. “Hopefully, we’ve reenergized The Palace this year…part of our job is - even when we're having tough times - to make it right for the fans. You can't always guarantee wins, but you can guarantee the experience, the moment that you walk in the door, that it's a good experience for the fans.

“Hopefully, we’ve done that.”