True Blue Pistons - August 2013
Jonas Jerebko and Gigi Datome will be competing for precious minutes a little more than a month from now as Pistons teammates. Minutes will be plentiful for them next week when they carry their underdog teams into Eurobasket competition.
Joe Dumars and Pistons assistant general manager George David will leave for Slovenia on Monday to watch the two Pistons play five games apiece over six days in the qualifying round of the 24-team Eurobasket 2013 tournament. Four groups of six teams each will play across the country with the top three teams in each group advancing to the second round.
Jerebko’s Sweden and Datome’s Italy are joined in Group D by Russia, Turkey, Greece and Finland. Finland is the longest shot of the bunch and Sweden is traditionally undermanned, though Jerebko and Charlotte’s Jeff Taylor give the Swedes two NBA players and a fighting chance. Jerebko helped Sweden qualify with his performance last summer.
Posted Thursday, August 29, 2013
Jason Maxiell might have been an undersized power forward, but he was a little more than that. He was also a solid emergency center who routinely won the confidence of his coaches for his ability to defend 7-footers in the post.
Even when Andre Drummond missed about two months last season, the Pistons often were able to bypass nominal backup center Slava Kravtsov in the rotation because of Maxiell’s unique ability to adequately defend players a half-foot taller.
They won’t have that security blanket this season, Maxiell signing with Orlando as part of the Pistons’ radical off-season makeover. Which made the hunt for a backup big man with their 15th roster spot all the more critical.
Posted Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Since Summer League ended in Orlando, I’ve been hanging around my family and spending a lot of time in the gym and relaxing. I was going back and forth from Greenville, where I grew up, to Athens, where I work out. That’s on the University of Georgia campus, about two hours from Greenville. So when I go to train, I would stop at my dad’s house in Atlanta, about halfway, and stay there for a little bit and then go home to Greenville.
My focus this summer is to improve my shooting, work on my ballhandling and getting in shape. That’s what I’ve been working on. My shot is improving. It’s just getting the reps and staying consistent. I took a couple of days off before I came up here, but now that I’m here I’ll be here until training camp starts.
I found a place, an apartment, when I came up here about a month ago to sign my contract. My mom and my business manager are going to help me get it furnished and really get settled in. I’m learning my way around, but for now all I really need to do is know how to get to The Palace and the practice facility and I’m good.
Posted Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Put aside the very few elite teams in the NBA and discard another handful guaranteed to be seated on the lottery dais next May and that leaves a vast middle class whose fates hinge on the resolution of all those games that come down to the last five minutes.
The Pistons figure to be in a lot more of that type of game this season than they’ve been in the last three or four years. And so for all of the Pistons Mailbag questions I’m getting on the identity of the starting lineup – and check in tomorrow, because there’s a bunch of them – here’s what I’m more curious about: Which group of five players will emerge over time to win the trust of Maurice Cheeks as the unit that deserves to close out those games that will determine success or failure in 2013-14?
Let’s start with this: Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings were very strong contenders for the 2013 All-Star game and they’re 27 and 23. Their best basketball is still ahead of them. That’s even more true for Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, who could stamp themselves as All-Star candidates as soon as this season. It’s safe to say they’re four of the team’s five best players and it would be an upset if Mason isn’t bellowing their names as starters on opening night, Oct. 30, against Washington.
Posted Monday, August 26, 2013
Kyle Singler spent most of his summer back home in Medford, Ore., monitoring from afar the waves of moves that added eight new faces to the Pistons. The two that had the most direct bearing on him were the free-agent signings of Josh Smith and Italian league MVP Gigi Datome, both of them in the mix for minutes at small forward – Singler’s natural position.
If you expected such news to irk Singler, guess again.
“I was definitely an interested observer,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting anything big to happen like it did and my whole outlook on it is that I think we’re a better team because of it. We have players in the right positions to have a very successful year and I’m excited about our new coaching staff. I’m really looking forward to next year, for sure.”
Joe Dumars left little room for doubt about Smith’s role, saying upon signing the nine-year veteran from Atlanta that he would be the starting small forward. But the master plan also anticipates Smith spending a good chunk of his time – likely at least half of his minutes – at power forward. That means there’ll be an opportunity for at least one of Singler and Datome – perhaps both – to grab a significant role in the 30 minutes or so each game that Smith is either resting or playing power forward.
Posted Friday, August 23, 2013
Josh Harrellson became the 15th Pistons player under contract this week, bringing them to the NBA roster limit. But don’t make the mistake of thinking Harrellson is resigned to taking up the last spot on the bench.
“I think there’s always opportunity,” Harrellson said after a Thursday workout under Pistons assistant coach Rasheed Wallace and alongside Andre Drummond. “Nothing is set right now. We’ve got a new coach coming in. I know he’s going to start Greg (Monroe) and Andre. They’re both great big men; they’ve both got a bright future. I don’t know who’s going to be the backup center. Greg could stay at the four or he can stay at the five and I could play the four. I can shoot. I can stretch the floor.
“Who knows right now? I think there’s the possibility for minutes for anybody. It doesn’t matter who you are. I’m going to show them what I can do and I’m going to work hard every day and then it’s in the coach’s hands.”
That mind-set was as much the appeal for the Pistons with Harrellson as his skill set, which includes something that neither Drummond nor Monroe provide: a 3-point threat. The Pistons contacted several players, but targeted Harrellson, brought him in for a workout and left little doubt when it ended that he was their guy.
Posted Thursday, August 22, 2013
Rodney Stuckey was ticking off a laundry list of reasons why he’s excited for the season ahead, including his favorable impressions of the new coaching staff, the splashy additions of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings and the showings by Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond at USA Basketball’s July minicamp.
And then he wrapped it up with this: “And, most importantly, just having Chauncey back. He’s pretty much the glue that sticks everything together. He’s the most down-to-earth guy, has no ego, is willing to help anybody at any given time. Just to have him back on this team is going to help everybody. I think we’re all excited.”
When Chauncey Billups left the Pistons, it was early in Stuckey’s second season. Now Stuckey is the longest tenured Piston in terms of consecutive service and his six seasons pull him almost even with Billups, who lasted two games into his seventh season before the November 2008 trade that sent him to Denver, in overall service.
Posted Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Josh Harrellson’s path to the NBA was the road less taken. It wasn’t the four-lane freeway of AAU stardom and courtships from a college basketball who’s who, but country roads pocked with orange construction barrels.
His one big break, though, came as a Kentucky senior when the type of bad timing that had previously besieged him struck incoming hot-shot UK freshman Enes Kanter. While Kanter fought a losing battle with the NCAA over eligibility, Harrellson benefitted by playing nearly 30 minutes a game for a team that John Calipari and a freshman point guard named Brandon Knight would carry all the way to the Final Four.
The Pistons caught an eyeful of Harrellson that winter of 2010-11, assistant general manager George David spending many nights in Lexington. The Pistons needed a big man to pair with Greg Monroe and Kanter – who would become the No. 3 pick of Utah despite never playing a college game – intrigued them. Kentucky practices were the only opportunity to see him play as his eligibility battle dragged on.
Posted Wednesday, August 21, 2013
The summer’s been great. Busy, but great. I got married on July 27 and then went on a honeymoon to Puerto Vallarta in Mexico for a week. Right at the end of it, I got the call from Detroit saying the Pistons were going to sign me. Flew back in that night to Louisville and flew right here the next day to sign my contract, then flew to New York right after I signed here that same day and went to the Rookie Transition Program.
After that, I had a little camp in Louisville for a couple of days. It was T-Will’s camp – Terrence Williams, from Seattle like me, the first one from Seattle who went to Louisville, who I’ve known since I was a kid – and we had fun there. Now I’m here in Detroit, working out, and I’ll be here right until training camp starts.
Hearing the news that the Pistons had made the trade for Brandon Jennings and there was a roster spot for me was a great wedding present, absolutely. I was very excited about that. I found out on my honeymoon and I couldn’t wait to get back on the court.
Posted Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Andre Drummond turned 20 this month and now he’s starting to flex his leadership muscles. Seeing the dividends that spending much of the summer before his rookie season working out in Auburn Hills under Pistons assistant coaches yielded, he urged the three 2013 draftees to show up early, as well.
“I got Peyton (Siva) to come to town, Tony’s (Mitchell) coming in the next day or two and Kentavious (Caldwell-Pope), too,” Drummond said. “I’m making sure all the rookies come in. Last year, I was here real early. I’m like, ‘You guys need to get here early. Just because you made it to the league, don’t think you can come back when all the veterans come back.’ ”
After Siva experienced his first brisk workout, he acknowledged to Drummond that he felt winded and was happy to have the six weeks until training camp opens to acclimate.
Posted Monday, August 19, 2013
Andre Drummond soaks up a little knowledge from Rasheed Wallace every day they spend together. One of the most searing lessons so far: Don’t engage him in a game of H-O-R-S-E.
“I played with him the other day – it wasn’t fun,” Drummond grinned after a Monday workout. What did coach Wallace throw at his prodigy?
“Everything. The little side corner shot with his feet against the out-of-bounds line. The shot from the track line (that runs behind the basket), over the hoop, made it in. And then the two-ball thing. He’s a natural. I don’t know why I did it to myself. I have no idea why I did it.”
Rasheed didn’t pitch a shutout, though.
“I got him with a couple of things. He can’t dunk still, so I had to do some things he couldn’t do.”
Posted Friday, August 16, 2013
There can’t be many more daunting challenges in the NBA spectrum than the one Peyton Siva stared down last month. As the No. 56 pick in the 2013 draft, the Louisville rookie went with the Pistons to Summer League knowing he had a little more than a week to give a team with more than $20 million in cap space to fill their roster a reason to save one of the 15 precious spots for him.
He also knew the Pistons wanted to showcase the players they expected at the time to be a part of their 2013-14 roster, including top picks Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Tony Mitchell and blossoming star center Andre Drummond.
Now factor in the Summer League variable of unfamiliarity among teammates and the inevitable chaos that ensues when players desperate to win a contract, either with an NBA or foreign-based team, play with frantic energy, and an environment that can make a point guard look overwhelmed can be easily created.
Posted Thursday, August 15, 2013
(Editor’s note: Fourth in a series that looks at the five first- or second-year Pistons who participated in Summer League practices or games last month. Next: Peyton Siva.)
Andre Drummond might not have participated in more than one Summer League game if not for the major chunk of his rookie season he missed recovering from a back injury. He probably wouldn’t have suited up for more than a couple if not for the need to get in peak shape for the Team USA minicamp later in July. And he surely wouldn’t have played in all but one of the five but for the groin injury that limited Slava Kravtsov to just two games.
But once Drummond was all in, he figured he might as well go ahead and dominate Summer League.
And so he did.
“What I said to him after Summer League was, ‘You went down and did what you were supposed to do. You’re supposed to go down and be a presence and every time you step on the floor, you have to be a presence,’ ” Joe Dumars said. “He’s growing. We want to see him continue to grow, but he’s taken all the right steps.”
Drummond stuffed the stat sheet prodigiously in Orlando, averaging 15.5 points, 14.8 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 2.0 blocked shots a game. The Pistons asked him to stretch his boundaries there, giving him more post touches in a week than he probably got all of his rookie season, and it resulted in 20 turnovers over his four games, all part of the learning process.
Posted Wednesday, August 14, 2013
(Editor’s note: Third in a series that looks at the five first- or second-year Pistons who participated in Summer League practices or games last month. Next: Andre Drummond.)
Over his final three Summer League games, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope averaged 18 points, shot 19 free throws and found his 3-point stroke. If there were sighs of relief, they weren’t coming from Joe Dumars and Maurice Cheeks. The No. 8 pick in June’s draft had already made an impression on them, even as he missed 13 of 14 shots from the 3-point line over his first two games.
“After the first couple of games, when his shot wasn’t falling, Mo said, ‘I love this kid. I love what he’s doing on the court.’ You don’t worry about a guy’s shot the first day, the first time he steps on the court,” Dumars said. “You watch to see how he plays, how he adjusts, how he’s defending, running, getting into people, rebounding, steals. He was doing all those things. Those are the things that jump out and caught our eye.”
From the first practice run by Maz Trakh, who accompanied Cheeks from the staff at Oklahoma City, Caldwell-Pope’s quick hands were apparent. His practices followed the course of his five-game Summer League performance – the shot wasn’t there at first, but the totality of the rookie’s game emerged day by day. At 6-foot-6 with long arms and quick feet, he’s a candidate to instantly help the Pistons on the defensive perimeter even if the offensive adjustment isn’t immediate.
Posted Tuesday, August 13, 2013
(Editor’s note: Second in a series that looks at the five first- or second-year Pistons who participated in Summer League practices or games last month. Next: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.)
The Pistons will go into the 2013-14 season asking of Tony Mitchell what they asked of Andre Drummond a season ago: No matter when and where your opportunity to play might arise, make sure that every time you step on the floor your athleticism makes itself felt.
“His message is to be the best athlete on the floor at all times,” Pistons assistant general manager George David said. “And what I mean is, it can’t just be for scoring. He’s got to use his athleticism to impact a number of different things on the court. The more things he can impact with athleticism, the quicker and the more impressive his improvement is going to be.”
With Drummond coming farther faster than anyone could have anticipated and with the addition of Josh Smith in free agency, the Pistons are now vastly more athletic up front than they were heading into the 2012-13 season. Greg Monroe is entrenched ahead of Mitchell on the depth charter at power forward, Smith figures to spend a good chunk of every night playing there when Monroe isn’t, and veterans Charlie Villanueva and Jonas Jerebko further crowd the position.
Posted Monday, August 12, 2013
In a summer when the Pistons made waves, no one created a bigger splash than Josh Smith. Joe Dumars met with the nine-year veteran at the first opportunity when the door to free agency swung open on July 1 and less than a week later the two sides came to a contract agreement.
With Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond already established as frontcourt starters, the pitch to Smith was obvious. He’s penciled in as Detroit’s starter at small forward, where his length, athleticism and defensive prowess should give the Pistons consistent matchup advantages.
On the surface, that would appear to limit the opportunities for Kyle Singler, who moved into the Pistons’ starting lineup in the season’s ninth game as a rookie and never left. The Pistons won that night, after a nightmarish 0-8 start, and no one regarded it as mere coincidence. Singler played in all 82 games, averaging 8.8 points and 4.0 rebounds in 28 minutes and shooting a respectable 35 percent from the 3-point line.
Posted Thursday, August 8, 2013
Among the 24 players who suited up for the USA Basketball Showcase in Las Vegas last month that included Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, there were seven point guards and three shooting guards. All three shooting guards – Dion Waiters, Klay Thompson and DeMar DeRozan – lined up for the same team.
The guards on the White team – Drummond’s team – were Jrue Holiday, Kyrie Irving, Mike Conley and Ty Lawson. There was never a moment that team didn’t have two point guards on the court.
In scrimmages over the three days of minicamp practices, more often than not the backcourt combinations were point guard-point guard.
If you’re looking for trends, the one emerging isn’t that NBA teams are looking to pair point guards so much as they’re going to be more inclined to put their two best guards on the floor together, regardless of position – or perceived position, more specifically.
Posted Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Unlike a season ago, when they hit the road for a brutal six-game trek through the Western Conference less than 24 hours after a crushing opening-night home loss to Houston, the Pistons will get a chance to gather some momentum at The Palace in the 2013-14 season’s first week.
The Pistons host Washington on Oct. 30 to open the season, play at Memphis two nights later and then return for three more home games before embarking on their annual November trip west while the circus takes over The Palace.
Those first five games will give first-year coach Maurice Cheeks the opportunity to fit seven newcomers into the mix among a more friendly environment, but three of those games come against legitimate NBA title contenders Memphis, Indiana and Oklahoma City. The Pacers and Thunder comes to The Palace on Nov. 5 and Nov. 8. The Pistons would do well to build momentum fast, too, because they’ll be on the road plenty down the home stretch of the regular season.
Posted Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Joe Dumars and John Hammond were both in Las Vegas late last month checking in on their young big men with eyes on cracking the United States national team roster, Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe and Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders. But the Pistons and Bucks bosses left for home without broaching the possibility of swapping point guards.
The next day, on July 26, Hammond called his former boss and asked, “Do you have any interest in Brandon Jennings?”
“I don’t know,” Dumars replied, intrigued but cautious. “Do I?”
It wasn’t that Dumars needed to be convinced of Jennings’ talent or his fit on a roster that, in his mind, needed someone with more of a playmaking bent at point guard. It was that he feared the price would be too high. When Hammond let him know he wasn’t asking for any draft picks, merely a trade based on Brandon Knight and the contracts of Khris Middleton and Slava Kravtsov to satisfy salary-cap parameters, the wheels were set in motion for a deal that came together very quickly.
Posted Monday, August 5, 2013
Peyton Siva got married on the last Saturday of July. His wedding present from the Pistons arrived a few days later. Last week’s trade that sent three players to Milwaukee in exchange for Brandon Jennings opened two roster spots, clearing the way for Siva to spend the 2013-14 season in the NBA instead of looking for a spot overseas.
The Pistons signed Siva, whom they drafted with the 56th pick in June and then watched as he made a strong case during Orlando Summer League to stick, to a contract on Monday.
The flip side of the Jennings trade is that it further crowds Siva’s point guard position. He’ll come to camp No. 4 on the depth chart behind Jennings and two players with long Pistons histories signed as free agents in July, Chauncey Billups and Will Bynum. Brandon Knight, who went to Milwaukee in the trade along with Khris Middleton and Slava Kravtsov, could have moved over to shooting guard to ease the logjam, but Jennings is strictly a point guard.
So is Siva, and in Orlando he showed why an NBA team would want to keep him around. Over four games – Siva sat out the finale with a minor ankle sprain – spanning 104 minutes, Siva committed a mere six turnovers while racking up 24 assists. In an especially frenetic opener, filled with Brooklyn Nets hopefuls trying to crack the back end of a top-heavy roster on minimum-wage contracts and playing with appropriate desperation, Siva committed one of the game’s 45 turnovers.
Posted Friday, August 2, 2013
As established NBA stars with open invitations to return to Team USA for next summer’s World Cup sign on, it might leave no more than a handful of open berths for the 28 players who gathered last week in Las Vegas hoping to catch the eye of USA Basketball officials.
It behooved all of them to make the most of their opportunities to impress. Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond did just that, Pistons assistant general manager George David said.
“I thought both guys were able to show the USA Basketball staff the reason they were invited,” David said. “Greg was able to show, as a post player, his great feel for the game – for passing, for making the right play. He showed his ability to post up and create scoring opportunities for himself.
“I thought Andre did so, as well. He had a great presence on the floor and was able to show what he could add through his ability to play above the rim. What I was hoping for was each guy to be able to demonstrate what they do best and basically show why they got the invitations. I came away with tremendous pride for what both of them were able to do in the week, not only in the game, but in the week. I told both of them they should feel good about themselves for what they showed.”
Posted Thursday, August 1, 2013
Joe Dumars had a checklist of attributes he hoped to add with a lottery pick and more than $20 million in cap space. He added athleticism with Josh Smith, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Tony Mitchell. He injected perimeter shooting with Chauncey Billups, Gigi Datome and Caldwell-Pope. He got bigger on the wings with Smith and Caldwell-Pope.
The lottery pick expended, the cap space allocated, he then looked at the roster, figured he had a team ready not only to make a playoff push but perhaps to arrive at mid-April making a high seed very uncomfortable with the idea of a first-round matchup against the Detroit Pistons, and decided to seize the opportunity to land a point guard closer to being ready to lead that charge.
Brandon Jennings arrives in Detroit feeling on the one hand liberated, his trying experience with the quirks of restricted free agency finally behind him, and on the other hand, no doubt, feeling a little agitated that among the many point guards from the landmark 2009 draft class who’ve already signed lucrative extensions with their original teams or are in line to do so – Steph Curry, Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Ricky Rubio – he was overlooked.
If there’s a chip on his shoulder, he’ll have to make room in a locker room that figures to be crowded by newcomers with similar motivational impetus.