True Blue Pistons - February 2011
The John Kuester-Rip Hamilton impasse that’s hung like a mushroom cloud over the Pistons for the better part of two months has been resolved, both parties agree. Now the questions become if and when Hamilton can work his way back into the lineup and how reluctant Kuester will be to break up the nine-man group – devoid of the four most senior and most decorated Pistons – that produced one of the season’s most satisfying and entertaining wins.
Hamilton practiced Monday for the first time since suffering a groin injury on Feb. 5 at Milwaukee, which was his first appearance since coming out of the rotation after a two-point game in 20 minutes at Chicago on Jan. 10.
Those 20 minutes represent Hamilton’s only action in the team’s last 23 games. He missed three with the flu and nine more with the groin injury. In nine games, Hamilton was dressed and available but didn’t play. And in one – the Feb. 4 game against New Jersey, one night before he returned against Milwaukee – Hamilton was on the inactive list.
All that inactivity would necessitate a cautious return to the lineup under the best of circumstances, which haven’t been much in evidence during a season of restlessness and frustration. But the meeting of the minds between Kuester and Hamilton was a necessary first step that should at least allow the season’s final 21 games to be played out amid relative normalcy.
Posted Saturday, February 26, 2011
Jerry Sloan went out that door, Deron Williams followed and they apparently took the spell they held over the Pistons with them. Losers of 11 straight to the Utah Jazz, the Pistons rallied from seven points down in the fourth quarter and got contributions from all nine players John Kuester had available one night after only six Pistons played.
Among the Pistons who didn’t play were Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton and Ben Wallace – which means that the Pistons who played Saturday were as different from the predecessors who hadn’t defeated Utah since March 2005 as the Ty Corbin-coached Jazz were from the Sloan-Williams teams that ran roughshod over them all those seasons.
“I think it was a look into the future,” said Will Bynum, who contributed 11 points and eight assists – seven and three in the fourth quarter when the Pistons fell seven down, then went on a 12-0 run. “Better yet, maybe the future is now.”
Posted Friday, February 25, 2011
John Kuester has wrestled all season with an overwhelming number of decisions on lineup combinations and how deep to mine a bench filled with interchangeable parts. None of those challenges presented themselves in the season’s 60th game, perhaps the most bizarre yet in a season already saddled with restlessness.
Seven players either didn’t show up on time or at all for the morning shootaround in Philadelphia and none of them would play in the 110-94 loss to the 76ers on Friday night. Tayshaun Prince (stomach ailment, sore back) and Tracy McGrady (headache) notified team officials before shootaround that they wouldn’t be attending, as did Ben Wallace, excused to deal with a family matter.
Rodney Stuckey and Austin Daye arrived at shootaround near its conclusion. Rip Hamilton and Chris Wilcox never showed. Pistons vice president Scott Perry said on his pregame radio spot that any discipline would be internally handled, but the immediate impact was Kuester had six players at his disposal.
Posted Thursday, February 24, 2011
It takes guts to do what Danny Ainge did as the NBA trade deadline approached Thursday. When you have a team everyone considers good enough to win the NBA title as constituted, there is enormous risk in trading a young big man with a well-earned reputation as one of the league’s most rugged interior defenders. That’s what Ainge did in a deal that sent Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green.
It takes guts to do what Joe Dumars did, as well, as that same deadline approached. He stood pat. Not for lack of trying, the Pistons made no moves. And that’s no easier – with trades flying all around the league – when you’re the president of a franchise accustomed to long playoff runs, suddenly staring at the likelihood of a second consecutive season on the postseason sideline, than to roll the dice as Ainge did.
It takes guts to stand pat when there is a public clamor for action, when your team is openly frustrated by its own lack of success, when the losses mount and the unrest among fans still coming to The Palace swells proportionately.
Posted Wednesday, February 23, 2011
In the suffocating gloom of the near view, Wednesday’s loss to Indiana will be defined as the night that snuffed out realistic hopes of a playoff push by the 2010-11 Pistons. In the rosier glow of the long view, it could well be recalled as the night the Pistons passed the torch to a generation led by Greg Monroe and Austin Daye.
Monroe brought them back from a 16-point deficit with a career night – 27 points and 12 boards – and Daye put them over the top, coming off the bench to knock down exactly the type of big shot he’s beginning to make a habit. This one came with 11 seconds left and gave the Pistons a 101-100 lead – their first lead since late in the first quarter.
It all will be buried in the morning-after recounting under the headline-grabbing dunk of Brandon Rush, fed cannily by Danny Granger after sucking Pistons defenders to him, for the game-winner with 5.4 seconds left. The loss leaves the Pistons eight games behind Indiana in the loss column with only 23 games remaining, the Pacers currently sitting in the No. 8 playoff spot in the East.
Monroe and Daye, though, took big steps in their progression to players around whom Joe Dumars will be looking to place complementary pieces.
Monroe’s 27 points were a career high, in large measure because his 17 shot attempts also were a career high. He missed a handful of shots in the first half that he normally makes, too, or his scoring total could have risen well beyond 30.
Posted Tuesday, February 22, 2011
The unofficial second half of the season looked a lot like the 57 games that delivered the Pistons to the All-Star break 15 games under .500 and clinging to playoff hopes by their fingernails. Against another struggling team, in another game the Pistons could have won but for a flat third quarter or a failure to make plays in the last two minutes, they instead lost, further deepening their hole in the Eastern Conference standings.
“All of our losses have been difficult,” Will Bynum said after the 108-100 loss to Houston, which came into the game 26-31 but outscored the Pistons 15-6 after two Bynum free throws gave the Pistons a 94-93 lead with under five minutes to go. “They’ve kind of pretty much been the same thing every time. We’ve got to figure out a way to execute better down the stretch and get stops.”
“It’s the same ol’,” John Kuester said. “You’ve just got to be smart coming down the stretch.”
Posted Monday, February 21, 2011
After having four days off of work, the Pistons took back to the court with an evening practice on Monday night. With the exception of Greg Monroe, who participated in the All Star festivities in Los Angeles, the entire team and coaching staff got a chance to relax, regroup and recharge while taking a break from the game of basketball. Many of them went back home to spend time with family and friends and most of the players ventured out to enjoy warmer temperatures than that of the snow blizzard that has recently engulfed metro-Detroit.
The All Star Break marks the halfway point of the NBA season and serves and a measuring stick to determine just how close or far off the team is to reaching the playoffs. At this point the Pistons are 4 1/2 games back of Indiana for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. There are 25 games left on Detroit’s schedule and realistically they need to win 15 or 16 of those remaining games to be a contender.
“You look at the first half and you just come in basically with a more positive mental approach and just try and really get a streak going,” said Ben Gordon on evaluating the first half of the season. “Every game counts now, especially if we’re talking about trying to get into the playoffs so it’s pressure time.”
That sense of urgency rings true among the team as a whole and they all agree that they all have to be on board in order to make a turn in the right direction.
Posted Wednesday, February 16, 2011
The Pistons could have made the All-Star break getaway game a lot more meaningful if they had managed to salt away a few more wins in the stretch of home games that led to Indiana’s visit. As it was, the 20-36 record they dragged behind them into Wednesday’s game left them seven games in the loss column behind both the Pacers and Philadelphia in the chase for the East’s final two playoff spots.
So the road back is a long and treacherous one, but at least it was a journey begun in the right direction with a 115-109 overtime win over a team that had gone 7-2 since changing coaches late last month.
“Let’s be honest – every loss compounds something,” John Kuester said of the struggle the Pistons face when they return for the final 25 games. “We need a couple of breaks.”
And even though the Pistons led virtually wire to wire – Indiana’s only lead of the night came at 3-2 on Mike Dunleavy’s triple 30 seconds into the game – there was a sense of foreboding as the Pacers stayed on their heels throughout the second half.
Posted Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Nobody knew much about Dennis Rodman when Jack McCloskey made him the Pistons’ second-round pick in the 1986 draft, as I wrote last week. But Joe Dumars knew something …
About his sister, at least.
“I knew him as Debra Rodman’s little brother,” Joe D laughed Tuesday when I asked him about his first impressions of Rodman. Dumars was entering his second season, entrenched by then as Isiah Thomas’ backcourt partner after moving into Chuck Daly’s starting lineup midway through his rookie season over veterans John Long and Vinnie Johnson, when Rodman arrived for training camp in Windsor as a rookie.
Posted Monday, February 14, 2011
As the Pistons floundered through the season’s first three months, they kept February in their back pocket. February was the month when they had nine of 13 games at home. It was their safety net.
Um … oops.
With Monday’s loss to Atlanta, on the heels of Sunday’s loss to Portland and Friday’s to Miami, the Pistons are now 3-6 in February. They’ve lost four straight at home – all to likely playoff teams San Antonio, Miami and Portland before Atlanta – sandwiched around a road win at Cleveland. And any talk of a playoff push now seems like giddy optimism.
“Obviously, it hasn’t been going the way we wanted it,” Charlie Villanueva said after Monday’s 94-79 loss in a glum locker room. “But … I’m just worried about the next game. Indiana. Get this (All-Star) break, four or five days, whatever it is, and try to finish off strong.”
The Pistons host the Pacers on Wednesday, a team that’s won seven of eight games since making a coaching change, and then they’ll be off until Feb. 22 when Houston comes to The Palace. At 20-36, the Pistons are now eight games behind Philadelphia and Indiana, sitting in the nos. 7 and 8 playoff spots, with just 26 games to go. It’s getting close to the point where a miracle kick would be required.
“It’s an area (of the schedule) we looked at and said it’s an important stretch,” John Kuester said. “Each game is important and we’re playing quality teams. We have to play at a higher level. There’s no question.”
The level they played at for the first 14 minutes and 30 seconds of Monday’s game would be just fine. There was 9:30 left in the second quarter when a Villanueva triple gave the Pistons a 39-24 lead. It was their sixth successful 3-pointer in six tries.
Posted Sunday, February 13, 2011
The Pistons entered Sunday six games in the loss column out of the final playoff spot in the East. They’ll enter Monday’s game with Atlanta seven games back. As the economists say, their season is trending in the wrong direction.
The season passed the two-thirds pole with Sunday’s crushing 105-100 loss to Portland – a game the Pistons trailed most of the way but led by two when Will Bynum hit two free throws with 1:48 left – that sends the Pistons a season-worst 15 games under .500 at 20-35. That means that the season’s final third is going to have to produced nearly as many wins as the first two in order for the playoffs to become a realistic possibility. The two teams occupying the final two spots, Philadelphia (7-3 in its last 10) and Indiana (7-1 since firing coach Jim O’Brien), are pulling away.
“Any loss right now just puts us in more of a hole,” said John Kuester, who wore his frustration and disappointment visibly after this one. “We’ve got to keep grinding things out. This is a tough week.”
Kuester made the decision early in the fourth quarter to ride a five-man second unit of Bynum, Ben Gordon, Chris Wilcox, Charlie Villanueva and Austin Daye, and that group – after seeing Portland expand a four-point lead after three quarters to nine in the first minute of the fourth – played with purpose in going on a 13-3 run to take the lead.
The only starters who saw any time in the fourth were Rodney Stuckey, a defensive substitution for Bynum to guard the bigger Andre Miller, and Greg Monroe, who came on for four-plagued Chris Wilcox, both with 36 seconds to play. And Kuester made it clear that it was as much for what the first group didn’t do as for how the second unit performed.
Posted Friday, February 11, 2011
Two weeks ago when the Pistons played at Miami, LeBron James had to go it alone. Dwyane Wade was out with a wrist injury and Chris Bosh down with a sprained ankle. It was basically the Cleveland Cavaliers of 2009, uprooted and transplanted to South Beach. The Pistons came within a few calls and an Austin Daye dunk of winning on a night James had to empty his holster, scoring 39 points.
Friday night he came to The Palace for his first visit as anything but a Cavalier and gave Pistons fans glaring evidence of why he chose to flee Cleveland and join forces with Wade and Bosh.
Content to play defense, run the floor and orchestrate a series of plays for highlight-reel consideration in newsrooms everywhere, James scored only 16 points in a Miami rout. Picking his spots for controlled bursts of furious basketball brilliance, James dished out 10 assists and grabbed eight rebounds.
Posted Friday, February 11, 2011
The first time I saw Dennis Rodman, we were in another country and he appeared to be from another world. It was the summer of 1986 when an early iteration of what would become NBA Summer League was being hosted by the Pistons at the University of Windsor for teams in their own division. Rodman had just been drafted a few weeks earlier by the Pistons, and that was a story in itself.
No one knew much about him, but NBA scouting guru Marty Blake invited Rodman to the Chicago predraft camp, where all the teams that had never heard of him wondered if Blake had lost his marbles. Rodman did nothing during scrimmages to warrant his invitation to Chicago.
But Jack McCloskey already knew about the gangly kid from tiny Southeastern Oklahoma State. Trader Jack was a few steps ahead of his time. The Pistons were one of the very few teams to have their trainer accompany the scouting department to Chicago to check out prospects medically, so maybe only Mike Abdenour came to learn that Rodman was one sick puppy while in Chicago, explaining his lethargy.
So the Pistons got Rodman with the 27th pick, three picks into the second round, when the NBA was a 24-team league. That was a star-crossed draft, filled with tragedy, from Len Bias to Chris Washburn, William Bedford and Roy Tarpley. Among first-rounders, only No. 1 pick Brad Daugherty would grow into an All-Star.
Posted Thursday, February 10, 2011
John Kuester doesn’t allow questioners much latitude when they suggest any particular game qualifies as important. “Every game is important,” is his standard comeback. He’s never been more right. Sitting at five games in the loss column out of the final playoff spot, each of the Pistons’ 29 remaining games is important.
They’ve reached the point where they can’t afford to lose many, if any, winnable games. Beyond that, they’ll probably need to steal a win or two from the column heading of improbable wins.
So every game is important – some are just more important than others.
Posted Wednesday, February 9, 2011
It was the ultimate trap game for the Pistons. Sandwiched between home games against star-studded title contenders, a February road trip to a restless, angry, win-starved, lottery-bound opponent buoyed by a recent uptick in play and smelling victory for the first time in almost two months.
The Pistons aren’t going to necessarily press Wednesday’s win at Cleveland in the metaphorical scrapbook of their memory bank, but the bench-fueled win was one they couldn’t afford to return to The Palace without.
Not with a 20-33 record and flickering playoff hopes that might swing on however many wins they can scratch out among the four games in six days they face leading to the All-Star break, starting with Friday’s visit by Miami. And not with the certainty that a loss to a team that had dropped 25 straight games – an NBA record – would forever link them in infamy.
Posted Tuesday, February 8, 2011
No one could have predicted the gulf that would separate Pistons opponents on consecutive nights in the dead of winter-swept February when the NBA schedule came out last summer. But the Pistons headed for Cleveland late Tuesday night to play the 8-44 Cavs, owners of an NBA-record 25 consecutive losses, on the heels of hosting the NBA’s runaway leader, San Antonio, which left The Palace with a gaudy 43-8 record after a 100-89 win that was closer than the score suggested.
And the Pistons absolutely, definitively, flat-out, simply can’t afford a loss to the Cavaliers – not for their fragile self-confidence and certainly not for their flickering playoff hopes.
“It’s tough going down there,” Austin Daye said. “It’s a loud arena, but I think we should be able to handle it fine. We have a veteran squad, guys who have been in that type of situation where a team hasn’t got a lot of wins. They’re a desperate opponent. Hopefully, we can do a good job down there.”
Posted Monday, February 7, 2011
Aside from Greg Monroe’s participation in the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge, the Pistons will have limited presence at the NBA’s All-Star Weekend. But if the Pistons can’t go to the All-Star game, then at least the All-Star game is coming to the Pistons, sort of.
In the heavy home schedule leading up to next week’s All-Star break, no fewer than seven NBA All-Stars will be coming to town. The All-Star parade through The Palace starts Tuesday night when San Antonio, sporting a gaudy league-best 42-8 record, comes to town with two All-Stars in tow, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.
The Spurs felt snubbed, too, because they expected point guard Tony Parker to join the party.
After a quick visit to Cleveland on Wednesday night, where the Cavs are expected to be lugging an NBA-record 25-game losing streak – they’ll set the mark, breaking their own record of 24 straight losses set 29 years ago, by losing at red-hot Dallas on Monday night – the Pistons return home on Friday for the first visit of the season by Miami and its three All-Stars: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Posted Saturday, February 5, 2011
Rip Hamilton came off the bench for the first time since Jan. 10 and Tracy McGrady scored 20 points to help the Pistons to an 89-78 victory over the Bucks on Saturday night in Milwaukee.
Hamilton’s DNP status for 13 consecutive games created questions about his relationship with the organization, but his contributions to Saturday’s game indicate Hamilton could still provide a spark as the Pistons plow through a key portion of the schedule in an attempt to resuscitate their playoff chances.
“I didn’t know I was going to play tonight,” he said. “You know, it was a surprise to me. But they put me out there, so like I always say, be a pro about it and try to perform.”
Posted Friday, February 4, 2011
The Pistons’ season started off horribly wrong at New Jersey with a near-certain win turned into a loss in the final seconds. Another loss to the Nets on Friday night, a little more than three months later, might have effectively ended their season – horribly.
So they didn’t lose – and two players whose career arcs have intersected a few times since that opener were a big part of the reason why.
Austin Daye was a starter on opening night, but a few weeks later he wasn’t merely out of the starting lineup but the rotation as well. Greg Monroe didn’t get off the bench in the opener, nor the home opener two nights later, but soon began to get spot minutes, built from there into a regular turn into the rotation and a month ago emerged as a starter, averaging 11.5 points and 9.2 rebounds over the past 15 games.
He bettered those numbers in Friday’s big win over the Nets, going for a career-best 20 points – that despite an 0-of-5 showing at the free-throw line – to go with 11 boards, two assists and two blocked shots. He was going up against two New Jersey lottery picks, franchise center Brook Lopez and power forward Derrick Favors, taken four spots ahead of him in last June’s draft. Monroe, who played 42 minutes and all of the last two quarters, guarded Favors much of the first half and Lopez for most of the second. And he bettered their combined numbers of 20 points and nine boards.
Posted Thursday, February 3, 2011
You wouldn’t get very far down any credible list of the Pistons’ organizational assets without tripping across the names of Greg Monroe, Austin Daye, Jonas Jerebko and Rodney Stuckey. Given their age, production and contract status, in fact, there’s a decent chance they would comprise a consensus top four in one order or another.
What they have in common, besides representing the cream of Joe Dumars’ last four draft hauls, is that all would be taken higher – in most cases, much higher – than where the Pistons drafted them.
John Kuester went out of his way twice in the last two days to credit Joe D and his staff – vice president Scott Perry, personnel director George David and scouting director Doug Ash have been constants in that time, with scouts Durand Walker and Harold Ellis integral to the last few drafts – for providing what essentially shapes up as the Pistons’ nucleus for the foreseeable future.
A quick review of the 2007, 2009 and 2010 drafts – the Pistons traded out of the 2008 first round, when they were picking 29th – shows just how right Dumars got it each time.
Posted Wednesday, February 2, 2011
If the Pistons miss the playoffs, they won’t incur a more damaging loss on their 82-game schedule than the one Charlotte inflicted to punctuate a day that began with a blizzard and ended in an avalanche.
Charlotte, on the final leg of a wearying six-game road trip that sent the Bobcats to the West Coast and back, is one of the teams the Pistons must beat out to land one of the East’s last two playoff berths.
And after a sluggish first half in which they shot under 40 percent and were outboarded 28-16, a fast start to the third quarter had them on track to score a win that could have launched them to a big February that features nine home games among their 13 – seven of those home dates in a 15-day span leading to the All-Star break that began with Charlotte.
But the Bobcats buried them with a fourth-quarter burst, a 10-0 run in the first two minutes that became a 13-0 run and finally a 16-1 run to give Charlotte an 18-point lead with eight minutes left. The Pistons cut it to seven and had two chances to cut further into the lead in the final three minutes, but lost 97-87 to fall five games behind Charlotte in the loss column for the final playoff spot.
“This one hurts a lot,” Austin Daye said, “especially since that’s a team we are trying to chase down in the East.”
The fourth quarter opened much like Sunday’s in New York, when the Knicks got a 3-pointer on the first possession to snap a 91-all tie and the Pistons had an answering triple from Charlie Villanueva rim in and out, fueling a 10-2 Knicks run that blew open the game. This time it was Daye, seconds after Stephen Jackson’s triple – Jackson killed the Pistons with a season-high 39 points – doubled the Bobcats’ three-point lead, who had a clean look at a corner triple but saw it rim out.
Posted Tuesday, February 1, 2011
The Green Bay Packers pulled off an NFL rarity, landing a Super Bowl berth only after winning three consecutive road playoff games. But the reality is even more impressive. First the Packers had to beat two other playoff contenders, the Giants and Bears, to even make the postseason. The playoffs for the Packers began, if you will, before the playoffs began.
And so it is with the Pistons. They have 34 games remaining in the regular season, but you can think of them almost like an extended playoff series. And the first round of the unofficial playoffs is February. If the Pistons don’t win February … well, first things first.
Let’s talk about February. Of those 34 remaining games, 13 come in the month ahead and they define February as their make-or-break month. By the time it’s over, Pistons fans should either have a firm idea what it will take to make the playoffs or their focus will have shifted to the NBA draft lottery process.