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.