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.