True Blue Pistons - August 2010

The Official Pistons.com Blog

About Keith Langlois
Award-winning journalist Keith Langlois, most recently lead sports columnist at The Oakland Press, joined Pistons.com as the web site editor on October 2, 2006. Langlois, who brings over 27 years of professional sports journalism experience to Palace Sports & Entertainment, serves as Pistons.com's official beat writer and covers the team on a daily basis.

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Posted Monday, August 30, 2010
Rarin' to Go
Jonas Jerebko endeared himself to John Kuester and his coaching staff last season with his relentless motor and wound up starting more games, 73, than any Piston. He followed up by starring for the Swedish national team this month in Eurobasket play, a pre-Olympic qualifier, averaging 25 points and 12 rebounds a game.

That logically makes Jerebko the odds-on favorite to again start up front next to Ben Wallace.

But Charlie Villanueva is going to training camp with the intention of winning the starting power forward position.

“That’s my mentality – to be a starter,” Villanueva said after a heavy workout Monday following a weekend spent celebrating his 26th birthday with friends and family. “But at the same time, I don’t want it to be given to me. I want to earn it. I believe I can be a starter in this league. I’ve done it before. When we get closer to training camp, I would like to sit down with (Kuester) and just share thoughts, expectations for my role, and just take it from there.”

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Posted Friday, August 27, 2010
Settling In
When the NBA schedule comes out, all players look to see when games fall that take them home. For Tayshaun Prince, it’s the two trips to Los Angeles every year to play the Clippers and Lakers. For Rip Hamilton, it’s going back to Philadelphia near his beloved Coatesville. For Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, it’s New York.

And for No. 1 pick Greg Monroe, it’s New Orleans, where he spent the first 18 years of his life before going away to college at Georgetown. His mother, Norma, and sister, Brittany, still live in the East Bank home in Jefferson Parish that they had to abandon for a month in 2005 while they waited for both the post-Katrina flooding and chaos to ebb. There’ll be a Monroe family reunion in early December when the Pistons visit the Hornets for a Dec. 8 game.

“I’m definitely looking forward to going home,” Monroe said this week after returning from last week’s NBA rookie orientation program in New York and starting to work out under Arnie Kander’s supervision now that his doctor has given him full clearance to resume activity after having minor toe surgery in late July.

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Posted Wednesday, August 25, 2010
'Perfect Place'
To anyone remotely familiar with the first decade of the new NBA millennium, it would be a tough call to pick what would have seemed the more astounding prediction had it been made a few years ago: Tracy McGrady signing for the veteran’s minimum in 2010 or the Pistons pegged to finish last in the Eastern Conference in the season ahead.

That’s where ESPN.com has the Pistons this week – ranked 29th in the NBA, ahead of only the woebegone Minnesota Timberwolves.

“Twenty-ninth? Out of 30?” McGrady said, slack-jawed, a week after signing with the Pistons for the veteran’s minimum, when I told him of ESPN’s projection for the Pistons. “Wow! Really? We’re going to surprise a lot of people. That’s all bull, anyway, those rankings. That’s insulting. If you look at the team they had last year, if those guys don’t get injured, they’re a playoff team. Really? What are they looking at?”

And when McGrady says “the team they had last year,” what he’s implying is that the team the Pistons will field in the coming season figures to better – in large part because he fully believes adding him to the lineup makes it an inevitability.

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Posted Monday, August 23, 2010
Camp Questions
Five weeks until training camp opens, five questions that will be bear watching leading up to the Oct. 27 season opener.

1. Who starts next to Ben Wallace?

Will it be last year’s rookie wunderkind, Jonas Jerebko? Or 2009 free-agent Charlie Villanueva? Or perhaps even 2010 lottery pick Greg Monroe?

Jerebko probably goes to camp as the favorite because you know what you’re going to get from him every night: supreme hustle, steady defense, a guy who’ll get you easy points by chasing down offensive rebounds or beating his man in transition. For his contributions in those areas, and the consistency of effort, Jerebko is always going to catch a coach’s attention.

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Posted Friday, August 20, 2010
X Factor
It speaks to both John Long’s amazing longevity and Tracy McGrady’s boundless talent that their careers overlapped long enough for them to be briefly teammates. It also wasn’t mere happenstance. When Isiah Thomas used the No. 9 pick in the 1997 draft on the lanky McGrady, who’d burst onto the national college recruiting scene only the summer before as a late bloomer out of central Florida, he wanted to make sure he had some trustworthy veterans around to shepherd McGrady’s early NBA career.

So that’s how the 18-year-old McGrady and the 41-year-old Long were teammates for a while in Toronto, Long well remembering his first impressions of McGrady.

“I knew he had all the talent in the world,” Long recalls 13 years later with McGrady now joining his hometown Pistons, for whom he played parts of 10 seasons in three stints and was a member of the 1988-89 NBA champions. “We went to Barbados during the summer for a mini-training camp and I saw the potential there immediately. I saw that this kid could be unbelievable if he had somebody to work with him and guide him. I was right about the talent level.”

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Posted Thursday, August 19, 2010
Jaw Dropping
The viral video of Terrico White’s scene-stealing role in the impromptu slam-dunk competition that broke out during this week’s rookie photo shoot, staged in conjunction with the NBA’s rookie orientation program, looked awfully familiar to me.

I’d seen the same performance, essentially, a little more than a month ago in Las Vegas. It was July 13 and the Pistons Summer League team had a day off from game competition, so they worked out for an hour or so at the practice court at Cox Pavilion on UNLV’s campus. As it was breaking up and players were milling about, gathering their bags or getting treatment from assistant strength coach Dave Boyer or grabbing a bottle of Gatorade, White started throwing down some fairly routine dunks at one end of the court.

With a backpack on.

Then he shed the backpack and went to work. For his finale, he did the 360 with the between-the-legs flourish you see at the rookie shoot that’s become an Internet sensation.

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Posted Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Eagle Eye
When Joe Dumars is considering free-agent or trade acquisitions and has any concerns about physical durability, Arnie Kander is his go-to guy. It usually doesn’t take long for Joe D to get an informed opinion, because the Pistons’ universally admired strength and conditioning coach usually gives himself a head start.

“I look at guys all the time (on tape),” Kander said. “You never know. Any time I hear a rumor, I get the tapes out and start watching. Because you never know what the possibility is.”

So Kander had a pretty good working knowledge of Tracy McGrady when his agent, Arn Tellem, called Joe D less than two weeks ago to say McGrady would like to join the Pistons. Actually, Kander’s had a working catalog on McGrady for a long time.

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Posted Monday, August 16, 2010
‘Chip on My Shoulder’
Tracy McGrady told Joe Dumars he would be willing to accept any role John Kuester assigns him, but he made it clear – just as he did to media questioners in his Pistons unveiling on Monday – that he is coming to training camp to compete for minutes and the broadest role possible.

Something about that rubbed Chicago Bulls management the wrong way, which caused what appeared a likely Bulls-McGrady union to unravel after he worked out for them earlier this month. But it was exactly what the Pistons wanted to hear. One of the most dynamic NBA players of his generation, at 31, feels he has plenty still to offer and feels the Pistons will give him an honest shot to display it.

“I wanted to play basketball,” said McGrady, who’ll wear No. 1 for the Pistons. “That’s what I told (Dumars). I wanted to play basketball. If anybody knows me, I don’t show a lot of emotion, but I have a chip on my shoulder. I carry things in the back of my mind. That’s what really motivates me.”

That gives McGrady plenty in common with his new teammates, driven to prove last season’s stinging disappointment was a fluke. When talks broke off with Chicago, McGrady had agent Arn Tellem call Dumars and see if the Pistons were interested, Tellem telling Dumars that McGrady had long admired the culture of the organization, that he was willing to come off the bench and that he would take the NBA veteran’s minimum salary for the chance to re-establish his place in the game.

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Posted Friday, August 13, 2010
'A Lot Left'
Chicago native Will Bynum knew all about the reputation of Tim Grover, who rose to prominence two decades ago when Michael Jordan made him his personal trainer, long before last summer. But it wasn’t until the summer of 2009 that Bynum, coming off his first full NBA season, had the status and the wherewithal to become one of Grover’s select few pupils.

One of his gym mates last summer was Tracy McGrady, fresh off of microfracture knee surgery and about to enter the final year of a contract that last season paid him $23 million. McGrady wasn’t around Grover’s gym quite as much this summer, focused more on proving to teams that at 31 he still had much to offer, but Bynum saw enough in the two or three times their paths crossed to believe the Pistons got a steal for the veteran’s minimum of $1.3 million.

“He’s got a lot left,” Bynum said Friday at the Pistons’ practice facility. “Last year I saw him working extremely hard and I know it was kind of frustrating at times because he was still going through some pain. But now it’s been a lot longer time period where he’s healed and Arnie (Kander), you know, he works magic. So I’m sure he’s going to work some magic with him, as well. But he’s still got a lotta lotta game left and I’m sure he’s going to help us out a lot.”

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Posted Thursday, August 12, 2010
‘Bright, Talented’
The predraft book on Greg Monroe categorized him as highly skilled but lacking athleticism. Monroe would be the last one to beat his own chest, but the very suggestion makes him come as close as he’ll ever get to bristling. “If it were track and field,” he said after the Pistons made him the No. 7 pick in June’s draft, “it would be a problem.”

Arnie Kander rolls his eyes, too, when he hears the rap that Monroe lacks the athleticism to emerge as an NBA difference-maker.

“They do an eight-stage test and come up with this formula,” the Pistons’ strength and conditioning coach said this week of NBA draft combine testing. “His vertical, his shuttle speed. We’re not training those things. You’re looking at an entire athlete together, meaning his visual components on the court, his reactions on the court, within basketball. That’s very different than running a shuttle drill or a vertical.

“Basketball is a reaction game. That’s where a lot of my testing is – teaching it one way and then calculating the speed they can get in the other direction. I think (Monroe) is actually a very good athlete. He’s got to get a little stronger, he’s got to get a little more explosive, but what I’ve seen so far I’m very impressed by.”

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Posted Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Banner Motivation
Along the south wall at mid-court of the Pistons’ practice facility hang the franchise’s three NBA championship banners. Fourteen smaller banners commemorating conference or divisional titles adorn the east wall. Ben Gordon gazes at them every day as he continues rehabilitation from ankle surgery and forges ahead.

“I look at these banners every day and that’s what I want to get back to – the years they won,” he said this week between sessions under Arnie Kander’s supervision. “That’s why I came. This is a great organization. I don’t say that because I’m playing here. I’ve always admired the Pistons, even before I was in the league. I still feel the same way and I’m still expecting great things from us.”

Gordon, like Charlie Villanueva and Will Bynum and other players who’ve passed through the practice facility in recent weeks, is aware of, surprised by and drawing motivation from the low regard the Pistons are being accorded by NBA analysts this summer, as if their 27-win season was the product of a fully formed team instead of one decimated by injury on top of trying to integrate eight new players to the roster.

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Posted Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Win-Win
When Joe Dumars smoked out potential trade partners following his team’s 2008 Eastern Conference finals playoff exit, losing to eventual NBA champion Boston in six, the Houston Rockets were one of the teams most interested in plucking off a few core pieces of the Goin’ to Work Pistons.

Tracy McGrady was in play, but the asking price was steep: Houston wanted both Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton.

Two years later, the price has come down considerably. For the veteran’s minimum, the Pistons will have one of the most dynamic offensive players of his era joining them for the 2010-11 season after reaching a contract agreement with McGrady.

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