The Big Picture

Stability, franchise cornerstones point to bright Pistons future

Brandon Knight is one of the Pistons' bright spots of the season.
Allen Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images
With just three games left in the season for the Pistons, I know some casual fans might look at the overall record and wonder how much progress they’ve really made. The bottom line, I believe, is that they’ve made a great deal of progress. With a new coach, a new system and a new point guard, it’s no surprise this team started slowly. That would be an understatement – 4 and 20 is about as slow as you could start.

But this team never gave up on themselves, the coaches never gave up on them and, after that 4 and 20 start, the Pistons were very competitive. They had a blowout loss or two, but they also managed a blowout win or two. For the most part, they slugged it out with everybody – even the teams we think are going to compete for the NBA title – and they’re going to finish very close to or over .500 after their slow start.

If you look at the last two-thirds of the season and carry that through to next year – even without any draft choices or any changes to the roster – you’d say these guys can compete for a playoff spot next season. Not only that, they play hard, they play smart and they play together. They have young players who are getting better and they’re fun to watch.

A big part of what should make Pistons fans feel very encouraged about the future starts away from the court. The Pistons forever were a very stable franchise under the ownership and the guidance, really, of Bill Davidson, one of the greatest sports owners of all time who in the end won championships in the NBA, WNBA and even the NHL. When Mr. D died and the franchise was put up for sale, there was instability.

Enter Tom Gores after at least a year of uncertainty and, frankly, everything has changed now. I don’t think you can underestimate that, from the players to the coaches to everybody involved in Pistons basketball. There is now stability. Everybody knows who the boss is and that the boss is more than willing to do what it takes to put a winning product on the floor. He cares about the franchise and cares about this team and is in it for the long haul. That makes all the difference in the world to all of us who care so much about the Pistons.

Now add to that a rock-solid coach in Lawrence Frank, who I believe has the near-perfect disposition for coaching at this level, plus a staff of assistant coaches who are great teachers and a team that truly has three or four young cornerstones in place. It’s pretty easy to get excited about the future, near-term and long-term.

When you talk about cornerstones, you start with Greg Monroe, who should win the Most Improved Player award this year. Although there are some great candidates elsewhere, his numbers to me seem the most compelling. He’s among the leaders in offensive rebounds and is a truly solid option in the paint who can score with either hand and is a nightmare to guard on most nights.

Then you go to rookie point guard Brandon Knight, who has proven beyond all reasonable doubt that he’s going to be a standout point guard in our league for years to come. Exhibit A would be the game he had against the Cleveland Cavaliers. You can’t play any better than he did against the Cavs – 11 of 12 shooting, 28 points and seven assists.

Everybody knows the talent Rodney Stuckey has and the fact he can take it to the basket with the best of the guards in the greatest league in the world. And you can’t help but notice the energy boost and the productivity that Jonas Jerebko gives you at either small forward or power forward when he comes off the bench.

I look at that group of four and I’d be surprised if the Pistons let any of them get away anytime soon and I don’t think they want to be anywhere else. They all can see the light at the end of the tunnel and they want to be here when the Pistons are back in the playoffs and competing for NBA titles.

Add to that the fact the Pistons will get themselves a good choice in what the experts say is a very deep draft and I look for Joe Dumars to find another cornerstone type of player to follow Greg and Brandon. If you do that, and keep some other players who have been very productive this season, especially a glue-guy veteran like Tayshaun Prince, I think they’ll truly be able to play with anybody next year.

I found the Chicago game earlier this week tremendously encouraging. The Bulls had everything to play for, they had everybody healthy and they were very lucky to beat the Pistons in overtime. I think you’d be hard-pressed if you were an oddsmaker to give anybody a better chance to win the NBA title than the Bulls. If you can play with what appears to be the best team in the league and they leave The Palace lucky to win a game that was important to them, you can see just how far the Pistons have come this season.