True Blue Pistons - August 2012

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.

Questions and comments on Keith's posts can be submitted via the Pistons Mailbag. Or follow Keith on Twitter.

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Posted Friday, August 31, 2012

For no more than a handful of NBA teams, the 2012-13 season will be assessed in the starkest possible terms: championship or bust. Miami, Oklahoma City, the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston and San Antonio fit that profile.

For everybody else, off-season analysis will be a little more painstaking. For many of them, it will be as simple as taking that next step. But toward what? Ask Pistons fans what the next step for their team should be and the answer more often than not comes back, “make the playoffs.”

That’s a worthwhile goal, but it doesn’t go quite far enough. Qualifying for the postseason can’t get in the way of winning championships, yet franchises starved for even modest success often succumb to impatience for just that quest: making the playoffs today. Transactions that provide an immediate boost sometimes come at the expense of sustained success.

Joe Dumars has avoided the quick fix these past few years, resisting any temptation to sink tons of money into a fabulously remodeled kitchen until the foundation was secured. The Pistons are now in position to start talking about various remodeling projects.

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Posted Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Slava Kravtsov might not be a guy whose statistics jump out of the box score, but nobody has to convince Pistons fans who remember their 2004 NBA title of the value of just such a player. Ben Wallace put together a pretty fair career without filling up every statistical column.

Pistons assistant general manager George David saw Kravtsov affect games out of proportion to what his numbers suggested during his recent visit to Europe to watch Kravtsov play two games for Ukraine and Jonas Jerebko one for Sweden as they competed on their national teams in European Championship qualifying games.

“One of the things that goes unnoticed with Slava is not just the blocks, but the amount of shots he alters,” David said, back in his office after returning to Detroit on Tuesday following Sweden’s 111-74 Monday win over Luxembourg led by Jerebko. “It was evident in both of the games I saw where there were quite a few possessions where a penetrating guard just didn’t go into the lane because he was there.

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Posted Tuesday, August 28, 2012

It’s good to be back in the gym after spending some time away last week for the NBA’s Rookie Orientation program. But it was a good experience at orientation, too, especially because I got to spend time with my teammates – Kyle, Khris and Andre. It was good for us to spend time together. We learned a lot.

I feel blessed to have had three other guys with me. Some teams only have one rookie – we had three others there, plus we also have Slava, our big guy from Europe, who I’ve yet to meet. We learned together. I talked to Kyle a lot about having a year under his belt of being a pro.

We learned from listening to former pros like Kareem, Spencer Haywood, Dennis Scott, Allan Houston, Avery Johnson. Chris Herren was a tremendous speaker. I’ve seen the “30 for 30” show about him, but it doesn’t do it justice. When you can really watch him and really hear him, the way he delivers his speeches, he’s an incredible speaker. Even if you have no drug problem to speak of, it’s just still great to hear his story.

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Posted Monday, August 27, 2012

Seven years to the day after stealing away from New Orleans in the predawn hours as Hurricane Katrina beat a relentless path to his hometown, Greg Monroe kept a watchful eye from afar as Tropical Storm Isaac threatened a similar fate for the people of the Gulf Coast.

Isaac, expected to reach hurricane status and make landfall on the August 29 anniversary of Katrina’s slamming of the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama coastline, swung west of Florida’s gulf shore overnight and is now bearing down on a target eerily close to New Orleans.

“After going through Katrina and just having to pay attention to it your whole life, every time one starts to form and all the news stations start to track it, you pay attention,” Monroe said Monday morning. “It’s something that you have to worry about. But you try to stay calm and get as many facts as you can, get to a safe place if you need to.”

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Posted Friday, August 24, 2012

If the accounting department notices a spike in the Pistons’ utility bills this summer, it’s not because Joe Dumars and his basketball staff are cranking up the air conditioning to combat the heat. It’s because the place has been overrun with basketball players who’ve kept the lights burning virtually since the regular season ended in late April.

“What’s taken place this summer has been encouraging,” Joe Dumars said late last week as another wave of players – Rodney Stuckey, Greg Monroe, Charlie Villanueva, Andre Drummond, Kim English and Khris Middleton – had wrapped up workouts with Arnie Kander and his strength and conditioning staff and a handful of Lawrence Frank’s assistant coaches.

“We have young guys who are in the gym every day. They’re putting in really major work on their games. When you have a team of young guys the way we do right now, player development becomes extremely important. We’re seeing the transformation of a young team. The middle of August, your gym is full. That’s what happens with young guys. It’s not about resting your body because you made a long playoff run, it’s about developing your game and taking it to the next level. To do that, you have to put in a lot of hours and a lot of work to get there. That’s what we’re seeing right now.”

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Posted Wednesday, August 22, 2012

It would be an exaggeration to suggest the Pistons will go as far as Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight can carry them in 2012-13, but not entirely inaccurate to say the difference between the floor and the ceiling on their expectations will be determined by the amount of progress their two young franchise cornerstones can make over the summer.

The group of veterans headed by Tayshaun Prince, Rodney Stuckey and Jason Maxiell are more or less known quantities, though the Pistons are optimistic that a full season under Lawrence Frank and good health will propel Stuckey to his biggest season yet in his sixth NBA year. Then there’s a wave of rookies – five of them – for whom the Pistons have high hopes but aren’t necessarily writing in ink the name of anyone in the rotation.

But Monroe and Knight, 22 and 20, are pivotal figures, good bets to lead the team in minutes played along with Stuckey and perhaps Prince, though depth unlike the Pistons have enjoyed at small forward should lessen the burden on the 10-year veteran, now 32.

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Posted Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I got a little anxious, of course, when I saw the rookies who were my teammates during Summer League – Kim English and Andre Drummond and Kyle Singler – sign contracts when I hadn’t. I wanted to come up here and get some work in and find a place to get settled. I enjoyed being back home and working hard while I was down there, but it was a delay. I just tried to work out and make it work.

I left that all up to my agent. I knew he was going to do what was best for me, so I stayed home and was working out mostly by myself with my high school coach – I lifted weights, tried to do some light conditioning to stay in shape and did a whole bunch of work on the floor – so I would be prepared to come up here when it got done. I found out we had a deal on the Friday night before I came up. I flew out last Monday morning – I was going to come on Sunday, but it was my birthday; I’m 21 now – and got here that afternoon.

Home is South Carolina. I grew up in Charleston and I wasn’t that highly recruited coming out of high school. Besides Texas A&M, I had about two or three other big offers and then mostly it was small and local. I weighed the pros and cons and me and my family, we thought it was best for me to go to A&M and I think it worked out well.

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Posted Monday, August 20, 2012

The Pistons have 15 players with guaranteed contracts, the NBA limit. But they’re not taking the team picture just yet.

“We continue to search for the right pieces to add to this roster,” Joe Dumars told me late last week, before he and assistant general manager George David headed to Europe for a week to watch two of those 15 play for their national teams, Sweden’s Jonas Jerebko and Ukraine’s Slava Kravtsov. “We don’t feel like we’re done. We’re in the midst of a building process, so at this stage of building we could never say, OK, we’re done. We continue to look right now, every day.”

There’s a huge board with the depth charts for all 30 NBA teams on the north wall of Dumars’ office on the second floor of the team’s Auburn Hills practice facility. The Pistons’ depth chart shows plenty of options at power forward (Jerebko, Jason Maxiell, Charlie Villanueva, Austin Daye, plus Greg Monroe in the event both Andre Drummond and Kravtsov are good enough to chew up most of the 48 minutes at center) and small forward (Tayshaun Prince, Corey Maggette, Kyle Singler, Khris Middleton).

Depth in the backcourt, on the other hand, is comparatively thin: Brandon Knight and Will Bynum at point guard, Rodney Stuckey and rookie Kim English at shooting guard. As it stands now, it would be English of all Pistons rookies – Drummond, Kravtsov, Middleton and Singler, in addition – who might be most needed to fill a rotation spot even though he was drafted 44th, the lowest of the four Americans. (Kravtsov was not drafted in 2009 when he was automatically eligible.)

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Posted Friday, August 17, 2012

Charlie Villanueva doesn’t hope for playing time in the 2012-13 season, his fourth with the Pistons. All he hopes is granted him is good health. He’ll take his chances with everything else.

“Hopefully, I’ve put the injury-plagued season behind me,” he said this week after a workout with Arnie Kander and members of the Pistons coaching staff. “That’s my main concern, just staying healthy. If I stay healthy, everything will take care of itself. Just having a year under coach Frank – I didn’t play much last year, but I know the system already, so I should fit in perfectly.”

Charlie V has had a series of nagging injuries that have managed to derail each of his first three Pistons seasons. Plantar fasciitis, back spasms, a broken nose, muscle pulls … you name it, there’s been something crop up that always quashed whatever momentum Villanueva had been able to establish. He was among the team’s top players for the first several weeks in each of his first two Pistons seasons, then after a strong start to training camp last year a mysterious ankle injury cropped up that knocked him out for the first half of the lockout-shortened season.

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Posted Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Greg Monroe turned 22 just two months ago, but in terms of service time with the Pistons he’s now smack in the middle of the roster. He holds seniority on Brandon Knight, Corey Maggette and the five rookies – Andre Drummond, Slava Kravtsov, Kyle Singler, Khris Middleton and Kim English – though Monroe is younger than Kravtsov, Singler and English

Among the players who hold rank over Monroe, only Tayshaun Prince and Rodney Stuckey are virtually assured spots in the starting lineup at his side. Jonas Jerebko almost certainly will be a big part of the rotation and Jason Maxiell is the incumbent starter at power forward, while Charlie Villanueva, Austin Daye and Will Bynum will come to camp looking to win roles.

By virtue of his two years of experience, his place at the center of the franchise’s future and the respect he’s earned by the way he goes about his business, Monroe’s voice is becoming one of the most important on the team.

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Posted Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Since Summer League ended in the middle of July, I spent some time in Los Angeles and then came back to Oregon – finally. I hadn’t been back to my home in Medford – that’s just south of Portland – since I went to Spain last summer. It’s the longest I’ve been away from home and it definitely feels that way because after spending nearly a year in a foreign country, being around different people, it feels like it’s been an even longer time.

I actually have a place along with my sister, Katen, in Los Angeles. She works there for a social networking company that markets Twitter and Facebook accounts for athletes, so I spent about a week in LA and then came back to Medford. That’s where I’ve been ever since. I’ve been playing a lot of golf, hanging out with my friends and just relaxing, trying to enjoy the nice weather in Medford and catching up to people I haven’t seen in a while.

My brother, E.J., will be a senior at Oregon this season. Eugene isn’t too far away, so I’ve gone there with him for a day or so and worked out with him at Oregon and the people around the school and their program, working out with their guys.

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Posted Monday, August 13, 2012

No one knows for sure when Andre Drummond and Slava Kravtsov will earn the trust of Lawrence Frank and push their way into the Pistons’ rotation. But the Pistons are preparing for any contingency, which means Greg Monroe’s summer – which he enthusiastically calls “a very productive summer for me” – has been at least partially devoted to preparing to play power forward in case the two 7-footers lock up available minutes at center.

“They basically said I need to be prepared to play power forward,” Monroe told me after a lengthy workout Monday at the team’s practice facility. “They’re looking for at least one of those guys to be ready, so I’ve started to prepare myself to be ready to play the four. We’ve been working on stuff to have me in those positions.”

Monroe feels the transition would be relatively seamless, especially on the offensive end.

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When Tom Gores became Pistons owner, he made it clear that the appeal for him went far beyond basketball. The Pistons, he vowed, would do everything in their power to strengthen the fabric of community in the places where their fans lived and worked. Perhaps the most tangible evidence of his vision came to life Sunday night, when the Come Together Foundation was launched with the honoring of three Impact Award winners from across Michigan at a special concert performed by Sheryl Crow at DTE Energy Music Theatre.

Darnell Hall of Detroit, Natasha Thomas-Jackson of Flint and Catrina Harvey from Grand Rapids were the inaugural Impact Award winners for their work in nourishing the imaginations, bodies and spirits of young people in their cities. Along with the awards comes a $25,000 grant given to each organization the three honorees represent.

“In a nutshell, these kids are able to dream,” said Hall, a Detroit police officer honored for his work with the Think Detroit PAL program. “This money the Pistons are giving to PAL will make my job easier because it’s giving these kids opportunities to keep their dreams alive.”

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Posted Friday, August 10, 2012

So … how does this affect the Pistons? The Dwight Howard trade – now that it has at last found a life form it’s able to inhabit … what does it mean for a Pistons team that over the summer added two players big enough, if perhaps not yet quite experienced enough, to bump and grind with the NBA’s best big man just in time to see him switch conferences? We’ll get to that in a minute. First things first: How it affects the Pistons most immediately, perhaps, is the effect that the removal of the Howard bottleneck will have on the NBA trade pipeline.

There were many teams holding on to players and salary slots just waiting for the phone to ring, hoping some of their spare parts could be turned into better parts and maybe a free lottery ticket as well. Everybody envisioned the likelihood that Howard was going to wind up going to the Lakers and everybody understood there was almost no chance Orlando and Los Angeles could do the deal without bringing in at least a third party, and perhaps a fourth and a fifth.

GMs talking about trades they found moderately attractive were telling peers they’d get back to them – code: let’s see if we can do better by picking on the bones of the Orlando-Lakers trade. Now they can get back to them. The music has stopped. Everybody’s now scrambling for a chair.

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Posted Wednesday, August 9, 2012

I literally did not take one day off from basketball for almost a full year, from USA Basketball last summer until after our Orlando Summer League ended this year. Then I took about four days off. You know how I spent it? My dad and I went to Las Vegas and watched the Las Vegas Summer League. My dad already had his plane ticket because he bought it before the draft – you figure you’re going to be in Las Vegas for Summer League, but then I found out the Pistons were going to play in Orlando.

But it was fun. I spent all day at the gym watching games. I watched some games with Doug Ash, our personnel director who was out there scouting. I needed the break. I worked out the day of the draft, then came to Auburn Hills the next day and got in a workout on my own. After Orlando, I flew home to Baltimore for a day, then went to Vegas, then went back to Columbia and got up a lot of shots at Missouri.

I watched all of our Summer League games at least twice on DVR and I transferred them to my laptop. I also watched about 10 Pistons games from last year – I had already watched them, but I watched them again and knew what I was watching now. I know what we’re trying to do defensively and what we’re trying to get offensively.

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Posted Tuesday, August 7, 2012

By the time the regular season starts, never mind by the time a few dozen games have been played, the images of the first preseason game usually have evaporated into the mist. More often than not, whatever we thought might have been significant at the time has been rendered inconsequential.

But when you look at the Pistons’ preseason schedule announced the other day and see the first two games come against Toronto, you can’t help but be mildly intrigued by the prospect of seeing Andre Drummond match up against Jonas Valanciunas.

The two young centers – Valanciunas just turned 20 in May, Drummond turns 19 on Friday – have much to prove in the NBA, of course, but their potential is tantalizing. And if they both hit their marks, they could become the Eastern Conference’s dominant big men whenever Dwight Howard vacates the premises, forming a rivalry that could go a long way toward dictating the future of their franchises.

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Posted Monday, August 6, 2012

Corey Maggette was limited to 32 games by injury last season. Check that: by “injuries” – to his knee, to his Achilles tendon, to his lower back. Given the 13 years of NBA wear on his tread, it’s fair to wonder if Maggette’s body is telling him it’s had about enough.

Arnie Kander listens and observes the body at a different level, though, and it didn’t take the Pistons strength and conditioning coach long to get to the root of Maggette’s injury-plagued 2011-12 season with Charlotte.

“All on one side of the body – knee on the right, Achilles on the right, lower back on the right,” Kander said. “And there’s a particular reason for that. We’re addressing that.”

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Posted Friday, August 3, 2012

Andre Drummond’s coaches and teammates alike found him a willing and eager listener and learner during their time at the Orlando Pro Summer League last month. Arnie Kander can confirm their assessment.

If you wonder what the guru who sees things others cannot sees in a player described by many as a physical wunderkind, it’s all good stuff.

“What an incredibly attentive young man,” the Pistons strength coach said of Drummond this week. “You ask him, ‘Andre, what did we talk about yesterday?’ He’ll repeat it, verbatim. He’s really taking it in, taking it home with him.

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Posted Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Every now and then, halfway through a Pistons Mailbag answer, it becomes clear that the subject is better addressed in a different forum. So it was the other day while answering a question from Sam of Ann Arbor.

“I used to love the Pistons,” he started, going on to talk about the acquisition of Rasheed Wallace and the magical run through the 2004 playoffs that culminated in the franchise’s third NBA title. He admitted to being a “fair-weather fan” and wanted to know if this was the season he should come back into the fold. And he asked the question that is never far down the list for any Pistons fan: What about the playoffs?

Let’s start with that. Making the playoffs next season is a realistic goal. But there are 15 teams in the Eastern Conference and there are probably 14 of them – all but Charlotte – who believe the same. If everybody stays healthy, if young players make the expected career progressions, if veterans don’t suffer any unexpected or premature regression, if newcomers find a niche without disrupting the equilibrium … yeah, it’s a complex formula, but I don’t think you’ll find anybody conceding the postseason is a pipe dream in early August.

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