Around the same time the Great Recession hit Detroit, something happened to what felt the Midas Touch (Darko aside) Detroit Pistons General Manager Joe Dumars possessed. The Recession crippled Detroit as bad as any city in the country. City Mayor and former Pistons guard, Dave Bing resorted to bulldozing buildings and vacant houses, downsizing a city once that once stood for the blue collar industriousness of an entire nation. Across the way in Auburn Hills, a team built on the same ethos as its city, right down to their gritty slogan, “If it ain’t rough, it ain’t right,” paralleled the city’s decline. Sport imitating life?
It was a swift fall from NBA grace (59 wins in 2007-08 to 39 wins in 08-09 to 27 wins in 09-10) for the Eastern Conference’s standard bearer of the mid-2000s, but the team changed for the worse, just like its home city. For Detroit, it appears to be a surface-level change. The auto industry might be smarter, leaner and more efficient, but the labor force still drives the final product. The Pistons? Dumars? Not so sure Charlie Villanueva for over $35 mill and Ben Gordon for $58 million is smart, lean or efficient.
I’ve read and heard Joe’s supporter’s claims that his hands have been tied over the past few years while Pistons’ ownership was in limbo. It’s hard to believe that line when Dumars is on the hook for the above amnesty-worthy contracts or the severely flawed, 54-game Allen Iverson experiment. Did Joe just get lucky with Billups, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, the Wallaces and Larry Brown? Or is he a savvy GM chomping at the bit to build one more winner?
For the here and now, the Pistons are about as exciting as bread sandwiches. They’re a mix of young and old with two ties to the championship squad of 2004 remaining: Prince and Big Ben Wallace. Rip Hamilton and his mask have finally departed, leaving the two-guard spot to the aforementioned Gordon; a 6’3” guard whose style and physique recall the Microwave, Vinnie Johnson. In Detroit, Gordon’s efficiency has taken a slight dip to his pre-Pistons career, but his opportunities have dried up—minutes/game (down 15%), shots/game (down 30%)—and impacted his productivity. At point guard, Rodney Stuckey may or may not return, but what impact does this 50 Cent doppelganger really have? Is there a drastic drop-off from Stuckey to Will the Thrill Bynum or rookie guard, Brandon Knight? The lineup data at 82games.com says yes as Stuckey consistently appeared in the Pistons most productive lineups. The backcourt isn’t depressing unless you’re in search of the next Isaiah/Dumars or Billups/Hamilton. If you’re cool with an average-to-slightly-above-average backcourt, then you’ll love Detroit’s backcourt.
Nine of out of ten basketball fans agree the chief (no Parish) reason they tune into Pistons games is to see Greg Monroe. The remaining one of ten is player’s families and Jonas Jerebko fans (don’t sleep on Jerebko). In his first season in Detroit, Monroe showed a keen and practical basketball mind. Imagine a bespectacled Monroe reading the channels and dimples of a basketball. This is the guy I see. At 6’11”, Monroe’s smooth and comfortable passing out of the high or low posts, provides coverage on the boards and proved capable of scoring—although we didn’t see him presented with too many scoring opportunities as a rookie. New coach Lawrence Frank has referred to him as a “hub” on offense. I like it, but I’m not sure if it’s more of a compliment to Monroe’s versatility or an indication of the rest of the Pistons’ offensive woes.
After the toxic stench that permeated last year’s locker room and nearly led to a mutiny; a new owner and coach probably make the early season feel like one long Sunny Sunday morning. Rip, T-Mac and Kuester have all left the building, leaving Dumars and Frank to work overtime to rebuild this team. Success won’t happen overnight and it’ll take some creativity to escape the Gordon/Villanueva mistakes, but as the architect of the only NBA champion of the past 20 years to not revolve around the gravity of at least one superstar, Joe’s proven capable of being successful by taking a different route.