Chisholm: Euphoria has faded over Pistons' off-season moves

Tim Chisholm
9/2/2009 1:50:52 PM
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Season Previews: Detroit Pistons - Team Preview Archive

Detroit started the summer as the focus of the off-season world. They'd traded for Allen Iverson's massive expiring contract at the start of last season, and already possessed the large expiring deal of Rasheed Wallace, and many saw them as having the pick of the free agent litter. After a disappointing season there were promises of changes and fans waited with baited breath to see how the team would be reconstructed this summer.

In short, though, they kinda weren't.

There was a day-one euphoria that came with the signings of Ben Gordon and Charlie Villaneuva, two of the more coveted free agents on the market, but that euphoria quickly faded. While there is always a certain excitement that surrounds acquiring new players at the start of the free agent period, especially when one can nab guys other teams want, it doesn't take long for reality to dampen the thrill. Ben Gordon is poised to make roughly $10 million per year, and the club was only nine months removed from extending Richard Hamilton's contract for three more years. That's over $20 million for one position next year on a team that still doesn't have a true starting centre. Assumptions raged that Hamilton must be on the move, because there is no way Gordon was being signed to re-ignite a shooting guard controversy that begun during Iverson's tenure, but it was quickly explained that Gordon would instead be one of the league's most expensive sixth-men – a role he continually lamented in Chicago.

Villaneuva as a signing makes a little more sense. He is a more offensively potent version of Rasheed Wallace, but he brings a sliver of his overall basketball I.Q. and none of his defensive ability. That shouldn't dampen the signing too much, though, because at $35-million over five years, it's actually a pretty good deal for a guy as versatile as Villanueva. However, his and Gordon's are not the kind of signings that teams used to contending make to invigorate their fan base. In fact, it's arguable that these moves don't even put them securely into Playoff contention after improvements in Toronto and Washington. It's likely that these signings, combined with first-time head coach John Keuster getting his feet wet in the big chair, will have the club fighting for one of the last post-season berths, much like they were a year ago. All that money, and the team's future is just as uncertain now as ever.

In fact, in all likelihood this will wind up being something of a transitional year for the club. Last year was the end of an impressive era, and this year bridges the gap between the past and the future. Eventually Rip Hamilton (and maybe even Tayshaun Prince) will need to be traded to free up minutes for future assets (like rookie Austin Daye) and in order to try and get some legit talent to help lead this disparate assemblage of talent back to the upper-reaches of the Conference. The amount of time it takes for Dumars and his crew to accept that reality will determine the amount of time it takes for the Pistons to start moving unfettered towards whatever their future might be. Right now they have one foot in the past and it's hard to see how that's going to work given the philosophical shift at hand with this summer's moves.

It's so hard to pin down exactly what is happening with the Detroit Pistons. They have some talent, no doubt about it, but it's hard to see how it all fits together. It's very unlikely that this roster makes it through the whole season unchanged, though, considering all of the awkwardly assembled parts, so it may well turn out that this entire preview is rendered moot before the season really kicks into gear.


Last year was supposed to be Stuckey's breakout. He was handed the reigns to the team within days of the season starting and yet by season's end he had some Pistons faithful calling for Will Bynum, a former third-string point guard, to start after an electrifying end to the season (including a Pistons-record 26 fourth-quarter points against the Bobcats). Stuckey has proven that he's not a true point guard, which is okay in and of itself, but he doesn't make up for it by being much of a scorer either, averaging just 15 ppg last season on awful 39% shooting. If he wants to keep his "point guard of the future" moniker alive in Detroit he's going to have to work harder this season to justify it to an increasingly skeptical fan base.

Let's be honest; how long can Hamilton possibly retain this spot? No matter how effusively the Pistons are saying that he and Gordon can co-exist at one spot, there is no way after all of the locker room tension a year ago with Iverson that they'll be looking to keep this tandem together long term. In all likelihood they are trying to keep their bargaining position strong with regards to Hamilton trades, though with cap space at a premium a team would have to really feel he could make a difference to pull the trigger on a deal for him.

Prince was the perfect player for the old Pistons, the kind of "stick him on whomever" guy that made that defensive club work. Now, though, where does he fit? He's not a great scorer (with a career average of 12.6 ppg) and the team is presumably looking to increase their offensive output, but it could be argued his defensive abilities are needed now more than ever. He'll probably be asked to guard more big forwards to help make up for Villanueva's deficiencies, and that may keep him closer to the basket for more rebounds, but other than that we'll have to wait and see what this season is going to mean for Prince's future as a member of the only NBA club he's ever known.

It could be considered the shock of the summer, when the Bucks in cost-savings move renounced Villanueva's rights outright. Even if they were looking to avoid overspending, retain your guy to see what you can get in a sign-and-trade situation. Either way, Milwaukee's loss is Detroit's gain, and Villanueva is likely going to get the first opportunity of his career to be an undisputed starter on his club. Despite only playing 27 minutes per game last year, he averaged 16.2 points and 6.7 boards and if he could only find that elusive consistency he could start moving forward in his career. It seems like everything for him has stalled since leaving Toronto after finishing as the runner-up Rookie of the Year (besting Deron Williams and Danny Granger), but with a fresh contract in hand he's ready to start proving himself as an NBA starter.

This is sort of a starter-by-default situation. Wilcox really doesn't have the size to be a truly effective centre in the NBA, but it's either him, Kwame Brown or a broken-down Ben Wallace, so Wilcox it is. He's a guy who seemed like he had turned a corner before inking a fresh deal in Seattle in 2006, but he flat-lined after that and has been a relative non-entity since. He's a classic case of never-ending potential (buckets of athleticism and a high-percentage offensive guy) and if the Pistons can find a way to move Hamilton in the next while, the first item on their wish list in return would be someone to replace Wilcox at this position. If Wilcox proves too soft, the club may even be compelled to start Jason Maxiell here, despite his six-foot-seven frame, in an attempt to inject some oomph into this starting five.

Richard Hamilton (Photo: The Canadian Press)


(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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