There might not be a worse team in the NBA this season than the Detroit Pistons. The organization is handcuffed considerably because ownership is in the process of selling the team, and that has left a very mediocre roster to sit and stagnate all summer, with nary an improvement to be found. After being one of the brashest free agent buyers last summer, the Pistons spent the summer of 2010 on the sidelines, which is basically where they are going to spend the bulk of the season unless they have a big move up their sleeves.
The problem for the Pistons revolves (somewhat unfairly) around the person of Rodney Stuckey. In Stuckey's rookie year, he inspired the organization's front office. His burly frame, aggressive driving and, let's face it, economical rookie scale contract led the team to feel secure in shipping off mainstay point guard Chauncey Billups so they could hand the position to Stuckey. One assumes that the team had hoped that his passing and shooting skills would eventually catch up to the responsibilities laid on his shoulders, but after two seasons that has not happened. Last season he was seventh from the bottom in assist rate for point guards (a statistical measurement of possessions ending in an assist) and he was sixth from the bottom amongst point guards in true shooting percentage at just 48%. By nearly no measurement is Stuckey a point guard, and yet with Rip Hamilton, Ben Gordon and Tracy McGrady on the roster, there aren't any minutes available for him at the off-guard spot, so the point is where he'll remain. The team was so convinced that Stuckey had what it took to lead a team at the point of attack that they designed the rest of their team around that fact. Simply put, it has not worked out the way they had hoped and the team looks horribly imbalanced as a result.
That isn't to say that the rest of the team is really all that great either. Yes, injuries did a number on the Pistons a year ago, with Hamilton, Gordon and Tayshaun Prince all missing major time with injuries, but it's hard to imagine them helping the cause all that much given the state of the rest of the roster. This team has absolutely no reliable options in the post, which puts tremendous pressure on the backcourt to create an inordinate amount of offense for the team, which isn't really the skill of the players they are employing. Hamilton doesn't create offense, he runs himself ragged off of screens and then finishes an offensive possession. Gordon is a streak shooter who likes to create offense for himself, but his career average of 3.0 assists per-game show how interested he is in using that skill to help others. Both guys shot horribly last season, though, because they weren't being fed regularly by a quality playmaker (Hamilton: 41%, Gordon: 42%), nor did they have quality post scoring to suck in defenses and open up the perimeter for them.
That's part of what made this summer so quizzical for the Pistons. While on the one hand they didn't have a lot of financial flexibility (they are $4-million away from the luxury tax threshold) and they are curious to see the whole team healthy for a full season, it isn't as though this team is good enough to assume that a full season together is going to do anything besides de-value their assets. Yes, Tayshaun Prince has an $11-million expiring contract, but at 30-years-old and coming off of the most injury-riddled season of his career, you're taking a big risk that he'll have a terrific campaign that inspires a team to overpay for him at the deadline. With clubs like Toronto and Cleveland in possession large Traded Player Exceptions, and clubs like New Jersey and Minnesota far enough below the cap to absorb some major salaries outright themselves, an expiring contract doesn't have the same value it usually would. When teams can simply relieve a fellow club of a large contract without having to send ANY money back, expiring or otherwise, it knocks the worth of an expiring deal down quite a few pegs.
It's hard to get much of a read on the future of this franchise while they are in the process of searching for new ownership, but the immediate outlook is crystal clear – and it ain't pretty. Joe Dumars may have put together one of the most unconventionally successful rosters of the last decade, but he's going to have to start proving that wasn't a fluke soon before his reputation as an executive becomes little more than a lone bright spot amongst a whole sea of darkness.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP
PG – RODNEY STUCKEY
The thing is, at this point the Pistons have so thoroughly overplayed their hand with regards to Stuckey that they couldn't even trade him based on his potential anymore. They've been so determined in their desire to hand over responsibility to the 6-5 guard that there isn't anyone who follows the NBA that isn't intimately aware of his limitations as a player. He's either a point guard that can't pass or a shooting guard that can't shoot, and his nearly 6, 100 career minutes are simply too large a sample size to write off the evidence to date. He'll be a restricted free agent at the end of the season and it's hard to see the team opting to keep him if he puts up another season like the last two. This team needs a real point guard in the worst way and they can't afford to keep him as an overpriced backup given their other salary obligations. It's a story to keep an eye on, though, in case a contract year brings out a quality in Stuckey's game that has yet to reveal itself to the Pistons organization.
SG – RICHARD "RIP" HAMILTON
At 32-years-old and declining rapidly both in terms of health and play, the contract of Rip Hamilton is only going to get harder to move from here on out. In one sense the team has to continue starting him in an attempt to keep his value from falling off of a cliff, but in another sense they have to make sure that they can free up enough minutes for Ben Gordon in an attempt to justify the $48-million still owed to him (remember, Gordon is coming off of a career-worst year). Still, the priority has to be getting Hamilton and his rapidly declining PER onto someone else's books as soon as possible, so that means plenty of minutes and plenty of touches, which means that the Gordon reclamation has to wait until Rip has been relocated.
SF – TAYSHAUN PRINCE
There are plenty of NBA clubs that would love to get their hands on Prince; he's still a long and active defender and he has been a model of consistency for his entire career. Plus, the Pistons are motivated to move him because they are looking to the future with guys like Austin Daye and Jonas Jerebko breathing down his neck for minutes. Still, is any team going to give up meaningful assets to net him? Would any club that could use his services really feel the need to part with a first-round pick or young players to get their hands on a 30-year-old who could bolt at the end of the season? The Pistons have made it clear they won't dump a guy that is arguably their best player, but at the same time they risk losing him for nothing if aren't realistic about what they can get back for him on the open market.
PF – GREG MONROE
Sure, Charlie Villaneuva wants to challenge for this role and Jerebko actually played much better at this spot than at small forward a year ago, but when you grab a player with the seventh pick in the draft you have to consider starting him right away. That notion becomes doubly true when you're a very bad team and are in need of the kind of skills he provides (passing, big-man offense, passing, ability to create a shot, passing) at his position. This club needs an offensive anchor to run things through, and Monroe could provide that purely on the basis of his playmaking at the high post. Seriously, is Charlie Villanueva really much of a threat to improve upon those skills at this point in his career? C'mon now. It's Monroe's spot to lose and it says here that no player on the Pistons has the ability to unseat him heading into the season.
C – BEN WALLACE
It's probably safe to say that Wallace was something of a revelation last season. Left for dead after stints with Chicago and Cleveland, Wallace returned to the Pistons and was reborn, averaging 8.7 boards, 1.2 blocks and 1.2 steals each night in only 28.6 minutes. Sure, expecting him to do it again, after another year has been added to his body, could be asking a lot, but his shocking turnaround last season has certainly bought the guy reason enough to try. Besides, in case you haven't been paying attention, this team is pretty thin up front, so it isn't like there are any players pushing him out of the way with the quality of their play. He may be in the twilight of his career, but Wallace is still the most dependable big man they have to trot out every night.