True Blue Pistons - September 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, September 28, 2012

Arnie Kander’s holistic approach to physical well being can be extrapolated to his perspective on what makes for a successful basketball team. His is a sort of a “chain is only as strong as its weakest link” view, a belief that a team composed of players who takes the time to get to know one another off the court will be better on the court for the bonds they’ve built.

If you read Thursday’s True Blue Pistons blog, you’ll know the Pistons strength and conditioning coach since 1991 is getting a good vibe about the brotherhood being forged by Lawrence Frank’s 2012-13 team. Here are a few of his observations on a number of the individuals with whom he’s gotten a chance to work this summer and the strides they’ve made during an off-season that might have been the busiest of his tenure.

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Posted Thursday, September 27, 2012

Brandon Knight is no longer the youngest Piston. At 19, Andre Drummond might hold that title for a few more seasons. Still, Knight is just 20, not an age when players generally ascend to leadership status.

Yet Arnie Kander, in his unique position as Pistons strength and coaching coach and universally acknowledged guru of all things to do with the body and spirit, sees in Knight the qualities that have made him an unmistakable team leader even as he’s about to embark on his first full NBA season.

“I can’t say enough about this kid,” Kander told me this week after again pulling Knight off the court after five hours of conditioning, drills and pickup scrimmaging with nearly all of his teammates already at the team’s practice facility. “We all see his work ethic. You see the time he puts into this. Nothing happens by chance.”

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Posted Wednesday, September 26, 2012

(Editor’s note: True Blue Pistons today concludes a five-part series examining the 15-man Pistons roster by position with a look at small forwards Tayshaun Prince, Corey Maggette and Kyle Singler.)

So durable and reliable has Tayshaun Prince proven over his first 10 NBA seasons, he’s given Joe Dumars the luxury of being able to invest the finite resources a salary-cap era demands in places other than backup small forward.

The Pistons have used a variety of journeymen (Darvin Ham, Mo Evans, Ronald Dupree, Jarvis Hayes) or unproven young players, such as Carlos Delfino, yet to fully win the confidence of their coaches. Once Prince forced his way into the lineup in the 2003 playoffs, shackling Tracy McGrady as the Pistons fought back from a 3-1 series deficit to oust Orlando, he averaged at least 33 minutes a game for nine consecutive seasons. A back injury that was the major factor in Prince missing 33 games in the 2009-10 season aside, he’s missed just seven other games combined over eight seasons.

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Posted Tuesday, September 25, 2012

When Swedish national team officials began to press Jonas Jerebko last spring, as the compacted 2011-12 NBA season wound down, his instincts were to sit out Eurobasket qualifying competition this summer. Pistons strength coach Arnie Kander supported him. As pleased as both were with Jerebko’s recovery from the October 2010 Achilles injury that cost him his second season, they didn’t want to overburden the tendon and further stall his career.

But as April turned to May and May to June, a re-energized Jerebko felt the itch.

“I just kept working out and working on my game and started discussing it with Arnie,” Jerebko, back in town after leading Sweden to its first Eurobasket berth, said this week. “I was like, ‘We’re not playing until late summer.’ I started thinking maybe a few games would be good for me to keep working and come back here in shape. So I changed my mind.”

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Posted Monday, September 24, 2012

(Editor’s note: True Blue Pistons today continues a five-part series examining the 15-man Pistons roster by position with a look at power forwards Jason Maxiell and Jonas Jerebko.)

Jason Maxiell’s elevation to the starting lineup sparked a dramatic turnaround to the 2011-12 Pistons season. Lawrence Frank is on record with his disdain for the concept of “incumbent starters,” but it’s going to be difficult for anyone to unseat Maxiell despite the apparent depth the Pistons enjoy at power forward.

Maxiell’s statistics don’t often jump out of the box score, but he’s the most physical player on the roster and likely the most assignment sure defensively – at least now that Ben Wallace is no longer around – and, not to be overlooked, he has the profound respect of his teammates and trust of his coaches to do the right thing and give his best effort.

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Posted Friday, September 21, 2012

(Editor’s note: True Blue Pistons today continues a five-part series examining the 15-man Pistons roster by position with a look centers Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Slava Kravtsov. Coming Monday: power forwards.)

If Greg Monroe, the guy who couldn’t get off of John Kuester’s bench in his first two games and now sits on the cusp of All-Star status, can make the same strides in the next two years as he did in his first two NBA seasons … well, at some point soon we’ll be talking about his place in Pistons lore.

And here’s the thing: As far as he’s come already, nobody thinks his career progress is slowing down anytime soon.

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Posted Wednesday, September 19, 2012

(Editor’s note: True Blue Pistons today continues a five-part series examining the 15-man Pistons roster by position with a look at shooting guards Rodney Stuckey, Khris Middleton and Kim English. Coming Friday: centers.)

Rodney Stuckey missed the first 27 games of his rookie year on a team that judged success by the harshest standard – championship or bust. Yet by the time that 2007-08 season ended, Stuckey was a rotation fixture and a central piece of the franchise’s future.

That was five years and three Pistons coaches ago. But there is a renewed foundation for the belief that Stuckey is ready to justify the optimism in which Joe Dumars and the organization viewed him coming out of that season.

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Posted Tuesday, September 18, 2012

It’s starting to feel like home. I just finished getting all my furniture, my bed, everything into my new place last week. My parents are coming to visit me shortly from their home in South Carolina. My sister, Brittney, who is 24, came up with me the first time I came to Detroit. She’s about to start a new life, too, moving to Los Angeles and getting into the concierge service business.

I’m starting to get adjusted on the basketball court, too. I’ve been learning a lot from coach Frank. Before the vets get in during the mornings, coach Frank takes all the rooks out on the court and teaches us defensive schemes. Those teaching sessions have really helped me. We started playing pickup games last week and those sessions with coach Frank have really helped me feel more comfortable out on the court. I’m seeing the things he’s talking about and I’m applying them to when we’re out there.

Now I’m able to play in the flow of the game. It’s helping me on the defensive end, but it’s really helping me on the offensive end as well. I think there’s a direct relationship. Instead of thinking about the game, now when I’m out there I’m more or less just playing the game instead of worrying and wondering where I should be or thinking about the last play. In order to play in this league, I’m going to have to be able to guard somebody and play team defense.

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Posted Monday, September 17, 2012

(Editor’s note: True Blue Pistons today starts a five-part series examining the 15-man Pistons roster by position with a look at point guards Brandon Knight and Will Bynum. Coming Wednesday: shooting guards.)

When training camp opens in two weeks, Brandon Knight technically enters his second season. But in many tangible ways, Knight’s rookie experience will carry on. Robbed of a real rookie season by the lockout, Knight is about to exit the off-season he would have experienced in 2011 – a Summer League in which he got to quarterback his team, long training sessions at the Pistons’ practice facility under the supervision of strength coach Arnie Kander and the aid of the team’s assistant coaches. His first real training camp and full complement of preseason games is yet to come.

“In a lot of ways, the growth process for him is such a different growth process than what is normal,” Pistons assistant general manager George David said. “And put quotes around the word normal. He was a freshman entering the league, he entered in a lockout year and he entered a little over a year removed from high school with a new coach who he met less than a week before a training camp that was much shorter than usual.

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Posted Friday, September 14, 2012

The Pistons were kicking along at 4-19 last winter when Lawrence Frank inserted Jason Maxiell in the starting lineup at power forward. Playing their third game in three nights, the first two blowout losses at Milwaukee and New York, they lost at New Jersey but played hard and had a shot to win in the closing seconds. From 4-20, they went 21-21 down the stretch.

It would be gross oversimplification to credit their dramatic about-face to Maxiell’s insertion, especially since it didn’t fundamentally change the rotation. Frank’s interior foursome continued to be Maxiell, Greg Monroe, Jonas Jerebko and Ben Wallace.

But it also would ignore reality to write off the lineup switch and the resulting record turnaround as coincidence. And Lawrence Frank, who trusts his instincts but studies the numbers, wouldn’t dare to do so.

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Posted Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Pistons will have at least six new faces on the roster this season, five rookies plus trade acquisition Corey Maggette. But the contention Lawrence Frank made as last season ended – that their greatest opportunity for progress rested on internal improvement – likely will be the case for the 2012-13 season. Off-season gains made by young players Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey and Jonas Jerebko are the Pistons’ surest path to immediate progress. And toward that end, Frank is greatly encouraged by the signs of summer.

“I’ve been very impressed with our guys in terms of the amount of work they’ve put in,” he said. “It was a very productive summer.”

Frank said he or his assistant coaches would attempt to spend time with everyone on the roster on their turf. With the exception of Ukrainian center Slava Kravtsov, they were able to do exactly that, including a nine-day visit to Sweden and Jerebko for John Loyer. Pistons assistant general manager George David traveled to Ukraine and Cyprus to catch two of Kravtsov’s Eurobasket games last month and had dinner with him.

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Posted Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Pistons have roster commitments to the NBA’s full complement of 15 players and are bringing in five rookies. But Will Bynum appears to have a clearer path to playing time this season than last.

The June trade that sent Ben Gordon to Charlotte could very well limit the amount of time Rodney Stuckey is available to play point guard behind starter Brandon Knight. With Gordon out of the picture, the first guard off the bench – at least as the roster stands today – comes down to Bynum and second-round rookies Kim English and Khris Middleton.

“I see it as an opportunity,” Bynum said after Tuesday’s scrimmage at the team’s practice facility at which nine of the 15 players with guaranteed contracts participated. “Hopefully, it stays as it is and I’m going to get the chance. I’m definitely going to be ready. I put a lot of work in, a lot of time in with coach Frank, just understanding what he wants out of me.”

Bynum is suddenly fourth on the Pistons in seniority, trailing only Tayshaun Prince, Jason Maxiell and Rodney Stuckey. But he’s played for three different head coaches in his first four seasons and, as a point guard, feels it’s a little like a quarterback playing for different offensive coordinators every year.

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I’m getting settled in Detroit, just having arrived here last week after spending a month of good family time. I hadn’t seen my family very much at all for the last whole year, so it was great to get some quality time with them. We took a trip to the Oregon coast, I got a chance to go up to the University of Oregon and work out with my brother there, and I went down to LA for a while and got to spend some time with my sister.

I went in spurts with my workouts – I’d work out for a week or so and then take some time off. Back home in Medford, I didn’t do a lot of working out because there really isn’t anybody to work with there, but when I was with my brother E.J. in Eugene, there were people around so I got stuff done out there. It was a long season for me in Spain, so I needed to take a little time away from the gym, but now I’m ready to get going again.

Medford is south, on the California border, right in the middle on I-5 – everything in Oregon is on I-5. On the other side of the mountains, it’s pretty flat and there’s not a lot there. My grandfather has a great story. He was coming to watch me play Little League baseball and he said the whole way there he must have hit about 100 jackrabbits, just flying across the road. He loves telling that story.

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Posted Friday, September 7, 2012

Brandon Knight was born eager. So he’s been restless this week, waiting for Arnie Kander to turn him loose as he nurses a mild case of plantar fasciitis while his teammates have logged the first full-court scrimmages of the off-season at the Pistons’ practice facility.

“Arnie wants me to take it slow,” he said, the last one still in the gym, getting called away only when Kander pops his head out of the training room to beckon the team’s 20-year-old point guard for a therapy session. “Me, I’m trying to get out there now. But as soon as I get out there and start doing something, he’s ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa.’ ”

In the broader sense, Knight is even more eager to get training camp rolling and, beyond that, his second season.

“Some of the things I wish I would have been better at last year, I think I will show this year because I’ve gotten so much better at them,” he said. “That’s why I’m very excited about the season. I can’t wait. I’m going to be able to do a lot more things as far as getting guys involved. I’m looking forward to getting guys to play harder and to want the basketball and look for me as a player that is going to help them have a good game, somebody that’s making everybody around them better.

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Posted Tuesday, September 5, 2012

Jason Maxiell came to the Pistons as a four-year college player at a nationally prominent program to a roster as loaded with frontcourt savvy and depth as just about any in modern NBA history. Ahead of him on the depth chart for Flip Saunders’ first season, 2005-06, were Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess, Dale Davis and Darko Milicic, still considered a prospect of considerable potential at the time.

That team went 64-18. There was little opportunity for Maxiell to play, yet by season’s end he had managed to win the respect of all those hard-edged vets for his willingness to both listen and compete.

If there’s a measure of how fast the world turns over on an NBA player’s career, it’s that a mere seven years later the roles have completely reversed. Maxiell is now a Pistons graybeard and prepared to take Andre Drummond under his wing, in the same way the Wallaces and McDyess and Davis were so freely giving of their time and advice to him – once he proved worthy.

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Posted Monday, September 4, 2012

Growing up in Connecticut and going to a boarding school, St. Thomas More, where I could walk to class, I never really felt I needed to drive anywhere. So I never got my driver’s license. I knew that had to change when I came to Detroit. So I got my driver’s license last week. I’ve known how to drive since I was 15 – never on the streets, but in parking lots or somewhere private. I’ve been catching rides to the practice facility with Kim and Khris, my teammates, and Khris lives just down the street from me. I guess I can start to give him a ride sometimes now.

It’s been a good summer for me. The Las Vegas camp I went to with Greg and Brandon was great. It was a learning experience for all of us. We went out there and learned something new every day. It was like being in a classroom – we broke the game down every single day. We did a lot of drills during the day and at night we’d play basketball. There was no media, nobody watching us – it was real, hard-core basketball.

I know Greg said I was “a beast” on the boards out there, but I was just playing hard. That’s all. I played hard and he noticed how hard I was playing. I’m glad he noticed and I think we’ll be a good combination together this year. We played on the same team in Vegas. It’s fun to play with Greg. We play high-low – he can go high, I can go low, then I go high and he’ll go low. We’re interchangeable bigs.

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