Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Lockout Cools Pistons’ Draft Fire

Lockout Cools Pistons’ Draft Fire
By Steve St-Pierre

When its collective bargaining agreement expired July 1, the NBA locked out its players after failing to reach a new deal with owners. The timing’s unfortunate for anybody associated with the league but especially teams anxious to begin developing their new rookies.

The Pistons, who had the No. 8 pick in the first round of the 2011 NBA Draft, might have wound up with the biggest steal of the year in Kentucky point guard Brandon Knight. Detroit had every intention of taking a power forward at No. 8, anticipating Knight being off the board as early as No. 3. It just wound up working out that none of the teams drafting ahead of the Pistons had a dire need at point guard.

“We targeted big guys initially, but we said if those guys were gone, we would take the guy with the best value,” says Joe Dumars, Pistons President. “It was a talent we didn’t think we could pass up.”

“I’m definitely happy to be here in Detroit,” Knight says. “It’s a great feeling to be picked by Detroit. It’s a great city with a great tradition.”

When Knight was initially selected with the eighth pick, he wore an expression that screamed disappointment. Yet, he insists his only frustration stems from slipping in the first round.

“I think I reacted that way because I’m just a serious guy, and that’s always been my nature to be calm and collected,” Knight says. “Like I said, there’s a great tradition here. They have won three championships, and I’m hoping we can add to that.”

Detroit is also pleased with their second-round selections: Duke combo forward Kyle Singler at No. 33 and Florida power forward Vernon Macklin at No. 52.

“These are some good people,” Dumars says of his draft choices. “These guys have been raised the right way. Their families have done an incredible job with them, and we’re happy to have these guys represent us on a daily basis.”

Some argue Knight could wind up being better than the only point guard selected ahead of him, Kyrie Irving of Duke. The Cleveland Cavaliers took Irving with the No. 1 overall pick despite the fact he only played 11 games as a freshman due to a toe injury.

“(Knight) may have been the most impressive guy in terms of the interview process in Chicago,” Dumars says. “Just an off-the-charts guy…we spent a lot of time with him in Chicago. Everybody on the staff spent time with him.”

Though the Pistons were targeting a power forward in the beginning, it couldn’t have worked out better for them than to land a top point guard. It was Detroit’s most glaring need as the team has yet to find a replacement for former star Chauncey Billups. Rodney Stuckey, who the Pistons had hoped would settle into the role, is a restricted free agent and much more suited to play shooting guard.

Now, the Pistons can comfortably pencil in Knight as their starting point guard, splitting the minutes there with veteran reserve Will Bynum. If the team opts to re-sign Stuckey, he’ll likely share minutes at shooting guard with veteran Ben Gordon. Disgruntled swingman Rip Hamilton remains on the roster, though he could be traded or bought out whenever the lockout ends.

“We’ll end up adding more talent to this team,” Dumars says. “(Knight) can play in the backcourt with the other guards we have, and we’ll allow him to grow.”

Local media has already begun comparing Knight to Billups.

“The comparison is because he can shoot so well,” Dumars says. “(Knight) can really shoot the ball so well. When you name the best-shooting point guards, he’ll be one of those guys.”

As for their frontcourt, the Pistons still have plenty of depth. Greg Monroe remains the team’s starting center, and they have every intention of re-signing restricted free agent Jonas Jerebko, who will likely start at one of the forward positions. The other starting spot could go to Austin Daye, who hopes to finally have an opportunity to play consistent minutes.

The NBA’s free agency period will resume as soon as the lockout ends. Besides Jerebko and Stuckey, the Pistons have four unrestricted free agents in forwards Tayshaun Prince, Tracy McGrady, Chris Wilcox and DaJuan Summers, who has already signed a two-year contract to play in Italy.

Though the lockout forbids teams from any kind of player movement or contact, it doesn’t stop teams from being able to hire or fire coaches. The Pistons, since firing John Kuester, have interviewed five candidates for their head coaching vacancy: Mike Woodson, Bill Laimbeer, Lawrence Frank, Kelvin Sampson and Patrick Ewing. Since Detroit is the only team currently without a head coach, they haven’t felt rushed to make a decision.

Whoever becomes the Pistons’ next head coach knows it will be a prerequisite to play his new young players, particularly Knight.

“It’s not about years or anything like that,” Dumars says. “It’s just about trusting that this kid is going to get better. You draft a kid like this, the way they get better is you allow them to make mistakes. You’re not going to put them out there and put them in a position that they have to be perfect or else. You have to live with some mistakes with a young player.”

If there’s one thing to keep Pistons fans enthused during this lockout period, it’s knowing that the franchise is committed to adding talented players with the right mentality and commitment to winning.

“Brandon told me he’s tough, although he’s a little, slim guy,” Dumars jokes. “He told me he’s tough, so we believe that. There is no question about Kyle and Vernon’s toughness.

“But by and large what I’m saying is these guys epitomize what we’re about going forward.”