True Blue Pistons - October 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 Wednesday, October 31, 2012

As good as James Harden was in his Houston debut - and, my, was he good - the Pistons had absorbed the bulk of his carnage and still had an 11-point lead to show for it early in the season opener's fourth quarter.

But the Rockets kept finding other ways to counter Detroit's defense - first slipping into their paint, then beating them back in transition, and finally launching a bombs-away assault from the 3-point line in a breathtakingly efficient offensive performance. And when the Rockets overcame the Pistons by outscoring them 33-15 in the fourth quarter for a 105-96 win, it was ex-Piston Carlos Delfino's four triples that carved the heart out of them.

"What did Carlos have? Three or four threes in the fourth?" Lawrence Frank asked when it was over. "There's always mistakes that are made, but they made us pay for mistakes by making shots. Harden, you can live with him going big because at one point Harden was going big and prior to (Jeremy) Lin hitting those two threes (early in the second half), they were 3 of 10 for threes. With that being said, the damage in the fourth quarter wasn't really precipitated by Harden as it was by others."

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Posted Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Tom Gores says his job is to be the impatient owner obligated to deliver championships, but he isn’t necessarily demanding overnight shipment.

“The first standard is to grow, to make progress” the Pistons owner said before tipoff of Wednesday’s season opener. “That’s the very first standard that we have. We would like to make the playoffs and I expect that, but there’s no ultimatum. There’s no ultimatum that says you have to make the playoffs or you’re gone. We don’t work that way.

“The ultimatum is we have to get better. We have to work hard. We have to show progress. I have to be a better owner, Lawrence has to be a better coach, Joe’s got to be a better GM. Life is about improving, every day.”

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Posted Wednesday, October 31, 2012

To borrow from Jim Mora – and you’ll have to mimic his whiny tone yourself – “playoffs?”

As in, can the Pistons make them … this season?

Maybe. Historically, a .500 record puts a team in the Eastern Conference mix. In fact, the 2012 playoffs – in the aberrant, 66-game regular season – marked the first since the 2004-05 season when no Eastern Conference teams qualified for the playoffs with a record of .500 or worse. Two such teams made the field in 2011, one in 2010 and three apiece in the four preceding seasons.

Joe Dumars and Lawrence Frank are clear about their intent for the franchise. They really don’t talk about the playoffs. The goal is to compete for championships. And while you can’t win the NBA Finals without first making the playoffs, franchises that lack the patience for the painstaking construction of a champion often wind up with a team good enough to make the playoffs but no possibilities beyond that.

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Posted Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Lawrence Frank’s video study has been broadened as he prepares the Pistons for their 2012-13 season opener. In addition to poring over everything there is to know about the Houston Rockets, he’s been watching TV reports and weather patterns affecting his family and in-laws in storm-battered New Jersey and New York.

“You feel defenseless when you have your family there,” he said Tuesday afternoon after the last full-scale practice in advance of Wednesday night’s opener. “You’re here, away from them. There’s a lot of guilt that goes into it when you’re not there to support them. You just try any which way of managing the situation from afar of trying to make sure your family is taken care of.”

Frank’s wife Susan and two daughters lost power at their New Jersey home, he said, and there might be some exterior damage to their house from the winds that spun as Hurricane Sandy reached landfall south of their location before being downgraded. His in-laws in his native Teaneck also were without power, while his parents in a Fort Lee apartment, he said, were fine. Frank has two brothers who live in New York City, one in the Bronx and one farther north in Manhattan. It was the southern tip of the island that bore the brunt of the storm.

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Posted Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pistons fans come in all shapes, sizes and stripes. For some, the Pistons are a 12-month obsession. For others, here’s a primer to catch you up with the 2012-13 regular season within hours of tipoff.

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Posted Monday, October 29, 2012

Over four weeks and eight preseason games, Lawrence Frank has evaluated and assessed individual players and different playing combinations and the effectiveness of various schemes and concepts. He might not have all the answers he’d like, or quite enough evidence to make decisions with utter confidence, but that doesn’t much matter. The regular season starts in two days and decisions are due.

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Posted Sunday, October 28, 2012

James Harden often carried Oklahoma City’s offense for eight-minute stretches last season. He was good at it, too. Good enough to be the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year. Now he has to carry Houston’s offense for 82 games.

We’ll see.

And nobody will see it sooner than the Pistons. If their season opener needed any added intrigue, it came Saturday night with the out-of-nowhere trade that shipped Harden to Houston – a team the Pistons not only host in Wednesday’s opener, but play again to wrap up a six-game road trip on Nov. 10.

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Posted Friday, October 26, 2012

Perfect at home, perfectly imperfect on the road. The Pistons routed Atlanta to wrap up the preseason Friday at The Palace, a 104-88 win that made them 4-0 at home and 0-4 away from the friendly confines.

That bodes well for the season opener, when Houston visits next Wednesday, and rather ominously for the next six games that comprise the season’s longest road trip in both number of games, days away from home and distances traveled.

The common denominator in the home/road dichotomy for the Pistons is the aggression with which they play at home and the absence of it on the road. Best example: After failing to corral a first-half offensive rebound in Wednesday’s loss to Minnesota at Winnipeg, the Pistons dominated the glass against Atlanta. They finished with a 48-30 advantage and for a good stretch of the first half the Pistons had as many offensive rebounds as Atlanta had total rebounds.

“That’s the thing we put emphasis on in practice,” said Jason Maxiell, who helped set a tone with two put-back baskets in the first eight minutes. “Attack the paint, attack the paint. The first (half) against Minnesota, we had no offensive rebounds, so we tried to come in tonight and attack the boards, offensively and defensively.”

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Lawrence Frank doesn’t think about number of wins or making the playoffs, but about the steps necessary to make winning seasons and playoff appearances possible. Yet it’s fair to say that talking about the postseason is irrelevant until the Pistons prove themselves a competitive road team.

And so far this preseason, they haven’t been. Wednesday’s loss at Winnipeg made them 0-4 and the last three losses, especially, have included some worrisome stretches. The Pistons gave up 40 points to Milwaukee in the third quarter to fall out of contention. Their last two games – at Miami last week and against Minnesota in Winnipeg on Wednesday – were all but over by the end of the first quarter, trailing the Heat by 16 and the Timberwolves by 17.

They fell behind the Bucks by 28, the Heat by 35 and the Timberwolves by 29 at one point in those games.

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Posted Thursday, October 25, 2012

Lawrence Frank has maintained all along that the Pistons’ rotation would be more fluid than static. That’s as much the case as it’s ever been, by all available evidence, with the preseason down to its final game.

“The more and more I watch, the one thing that’s clear – very similar to last year – is there may not be a true rotation,” Frank said after Thursday’s practice, the day after the Pistons lost to Minnesota in Winnipeg, Manitoba, making them 0-4 on the road and 3-4 overall for the preseason. “It’s not a given. You’ve got to earn it. Another guy’s going well, hey, it’s that guy’s night. Until we can get consistent play, that’s basically how you’ve got to coach.”

Frank previously had said he hoped to use the last two preseason games as approximations of both the rotation and substitution patterns for next week’s regular season start. But the Pistons have struggled to stay close in road games – they trailed by 29 in the first half against Minnesota – and that might have contributed to Frank rethinking the virtues of establishing a firm rotation just yet.

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Posted Wednesday, October 24, 2012

WINNIPEG, Manitoba – It was one game. And it’s still only the preseason. And it was in a place they’d never been before and likely won’t ever see again.

Still, there’s probably no explanation Lawrence Frank could possibly find satisfactory for the way the Pistons played in the first half against a Minnesota team minus Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, when they fell behind by 29 points, shot 27 percent and failed to grab a single offensive rebound despite 24 chances.

“First half, we pretty much just let them do anything,” Rodney Stuckey said. “We let them do whatever they wanted. We weren’t assertive. They just outworked us, got every loose ball. We just played bad.”

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Posted Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Andre Drummond has been good, bordering on really good, and he’s certainly lapped all reasonable expectations through his first six preseason games for a kid who turned 19 in August. But if you’re worried that he’ll become complacent … well, don’t be.

“I wouldn’t call it success,” he said when I asked him if his early showings had given him greater confidence in his NBA future. “I would call it a new stepping stone for me. I’m building up as a player. The success I’ve had so far, that’s just the ground floor for me. I need to build to get better each and every day, so I’m not satisfied at all. I mean, it’s great that I’ve played well those six games, but I’m still not done. I have a lot more work to do to get myself where I need to be.”

It’s precisely the message Joe Dumars and Lawrence Frank would want to hear from Drummond, but it wouldn’t surprise them. Because it’s also precisely the attitude he has projected since his first Summer League practices.

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Posted Monday, October 22, 2012

In Lawrence Frank’s quest to play faster, the Pistons might get a shot in the arm from their bench.

Brandon Knight attacked Lawrence Frank’s challenge to hasten his growth into leadership the way he attacks every other challenge: full speed ahead. As part of his vision of a leader, Knight wanted to make sure his teammates had no misperceptions that his interests were anything but for the betterment of the team.

“I know, and anybody else can tell you, I’m one of the hardest workers on the team,” he told me in September. “I’m working on guys thinking I’m one of the more unselfish guys on the team. That’s going to come with time, as well. Guys know I have the Pistons’ best interest at heart. At the end of the day, I want the Pistons to win.”

Through six preseason games, here’s tangible evidence of Knight’s efforts to prove his unselfishness: He took nearly 12 shots a game as a rookie, but not quite six per game so far in the preseason.

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Posted Sunday, October 21, 2012

In Lawrence Frank’s quest to play faster, the Pistons might get a shot in the arm from their bench.

In a game in which they scored just 85 points in Saturday’s win over Charlotte, the Pistons scored 22 of those points in transition. The second unit – at least if the outline of a rotation Frank’s substitution patterns have suggested holds – holds the potential to enable the Pistons to get out and run more than they have in recent seasons.

The starting lineup appears set: Greg Monroe, Tayshaun Prince, Jason Maxiell, Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Knight, the same group that went 21-21 down the stretch last season to pull the Pistons out of their 4-20 start.

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Posted Saturday, October 20, 2012

When the Pistons shot 19 percent and trailed by 16 after one quarter in what would become a 27-point loss at Miami, Lawrence Frank hoped it would impart a lesson on the merits of effort and aggression to the Pistons.

It did … for one quarter. The Pistons smacked around Charlotte at The Palace on Saturday night the way they were manhandled by the Heat 48 hours earlier, leading by 16 and holding Charlotte to 22 percent shooting.

They just didn’t maintain their chokehold for 48 minutes, as Miami had done to them. Charlotte came back to get within nine points after three quarters and kept clawing, taking a one-point lead with three minutes left on a 3-pointer by ex-Piston Ben Gordon. The Pistons then closed on a 10-4 run, giving Frank something to trumpet to his players: They at least stayed poised when things looked their bleakest.

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Posted Friday, October 19, 2012

For nearly three weeks, the Pistons experienced almost remarkably good fortune with regard to injuries. Across the NBA, where stars from Derrick Rose to Dirk Nowitzki are set to still miss weeks or months, the Pistons won’t generate much sympathy for the left calf muscle Corey Maggette strained in Thursday’s loss at Miami.

Maggette played just two minutes of the first quarter Thursday when he pulled up lame near mid-court and limped to the bench. His lower leg was wrapped, wires running from the leg into his waistband likely connected to an electrical stimulation device to expedite healing, as he walked gingerly to Arnie Kander’s training room after Friday’s practice.

Lawrence Frank declared him “day to day,” though it would be an upset if Maggette is back in time for Saturday’s home preseason game with Charlotte. If it’s a typical calf muscle injury, two weeks would be about as soon as Maggette could be reasonably expected to return, with some injuries of that type lingering considerably longer than that.

So the Pistons will employ the time-honored NBA edict: next man up.

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Posted Thursday, October 18, 2012

MIAMI – If the Pistons thought the defending NBA champions might ease back into things, the Miami Heat quickly disabused them of that notion. After returning from two games in China, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh came out full of sound and fury Thursday. Smothering the Pistons on the defensive end – they held Detroit to 19 percent shooting in the first quarter – the Heat led by 16 after a quarter and 27 at halftime in their first home game since winning the 2012 title.

While every Pistons shot seemed rushed – by Lawrence Frank’s count, the Pistons missed 18 shots within 2 feet of the basket in the first half alone – Miami shot an endless array of unmolested shots and Heat players cut to the basket unimpeded with alarming frequency early. The Pistons played Miami even in the second half of the 105-78 loss, but that did little to provide Frank solace.

“They got it every which way,” he said. “They owned the paint.”

“I was disappointed,” Tayshaun Prince said. “The only real plus you can get out of this game is if you want one day to be where they’re at, look what they did to you today. No matter if this was the first game after their championship or anything, those guys are going to come out like that all the time. Hopefully, our guys can understand – the young guys that we have – if you want to win in this league, if you want to compete for a title, you’re going to have to play like that every night.”

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Posted Thursday, October 18, 2012

MIAMI – Back in the golden NBA era of the ’80s, before the Bad Boys were fully formed, the Lakers and Celtics countered each other’s personnel moves every season with an eye toward better matching up with their arch-nemesis in the NBA Finals.

As the Pistons inched closer to contention, Jack McCloskey adopted the same tack. To beat the Celtics and emerge from the East, the Pistons needed a power forward to neutralize Kevin McHale, or at least to contain his damage.

It’s not that simple any more in the salary cap era, where dynasties rarely took root and championship windows open and close more rapidly.

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Posted Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Pistons have four preseason games down, four to go. Lawrence Frank says the last two of those will be dress rehearsals for the Oct. 31 season opener. That means Thursday’s game at Miami and Saturday’s game at The Palace against Charlotte represent the last best chance for players to secure their spots in Frank’s rotation.

Frank says he’s never had an ideal number of players in his rotation and doesn’t have a magic number in mind now for how deep into his bench he’ll dip on a regular basis.

“It’s always been based on how the parts fit to me,” said. “You’re probably not going to play 11 guys. Ten is probably the max you’re going to get in there. The rotation can go anywhere from 7½ to 10.”

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Posted Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Lawrence Frank gets closer to determining a starting lineup and a rotation with each passing game, but only by increments and only because he’s running out of evaluation opportunities. On a night his starters played unevenly as the preseason hit the mid-point, Detroit’s second unit was the group that allowed separation between them and the undermanned Orlando Magic.

“They changed the game,” Lawrence Frank said of a unit that consisted of Andre Drummond in the middle, flanked by Jonas Jerebko and Kyle Singler with Corey Maggette and Will Bynum in the backcourt. “When they came in as a unit it was 20-18 Orlando. By the time those guys came out, it was 42-28. It started on the defensive end. I think we held ’em to 14 points, 33 percent shooting. We turned it over one time and shot 70 percent during the whole second quarter.”

Orlando is taking a big step backward this year, the new Magic management team that includes ex-Pistons executive Scott Perry as assistant GM opting for a total rebuild in the trade that made Dwight Howard a Los Angeles Laker. But even by their revised expectations, these weren’t the Magic who’ll line up come the regular season. Out for Orlando on Tuesday were presumed starters Arron Afflalo, Jameer Nelson, Glen Davis and Hedo Turkoglu plus 3-point shooter J.J. Redick.

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Posted Monday, October 15, 2012

After 10 practices, Lawrence Frank scripted a plan for how players would be used over the first three preseason games. Now that they’re in the books, along with three more practices, he’s pushed the reset button.

Following each practice and review of what the videotape reveals, Frank ranks the players on his roster, top to bottom. Over time, patterns emerge. That’s begun to happen, he said after Monday’s practice, and while he wouldn’t give any hints to the form taking shape, the evidence should start to trickle out this week in the way players are used Tuesday against Orlando and Thursday at Miami.

“You’ll get a little more normalcy,” he said of his substitution pattersn now compared to how he will use players in the regular season. “For tomorrow, you may see some different combinations so I can evaluate what they look like. But each game, you get closer and closer. Maybe not tomorrow, but starting maybe past that is look at what a first-half rotation would look like and to build it so by (preseason games) seven and eight, then you can look at what a real rotation would look like. There’s still a lot of competition and things are always fluid.”

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Posted Sunday, October 14, 2012

Nothing is done randomly in Lawrence Frank’s universe. So when the Pistons unveiled their spectacularly redone locker room as Frank’s first Pistons season opened, it wasn’t coincidence that Brandon Knight’s dressing stall was located adjacent to Greg Monroe’s. When the Pistons drafted 18-year-old Andre Drummond in June, Frank made certain he would be influenced by the two very serious young leaders taken in the two preceding drafts, and so Drummond’s locker is now right next to Knight’s.

It is instructive whose locker is next along that north wall in the horseshoe-shaped configuration: Corey Maggette’s.

When Drummond had his eye-opening NBA debut last week against Toronto, scoring 12 points and grabbing seven rebounds in 23 minutes, Maggette was first in line to make sure the rookie put the night in perspective.

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Posted Saturday, October 13, 2012

MILWAUKEE – The Pistons, prepared to be patient with Andre Drummond, have very deliberately attempted to not overinflate expectations for a kid who turned 19 in August. Now they just need to get Andre Drummond to cooperate.

In two extended preseason stints, Drummond has provided enough glimpses of the spectacular that it might be as hard to keep him out of the lineup as it will be to tamp down those expectations.

In 25 minutes, Drummond put up 19 points, 10 rebounds, two blocked shots and two assists, teaming with fellow 2012 draft picks Khris Middleton and Kim English to provide the highlights for the Pistons on a night there weren’t many beyond them. The 108-91 loss featured a 40-point third quarter by Milwaukee, which expanded a nine-point halftime lead to 28 before the rookies led a comeback that chopped 15 points off their deficit.

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Posted Friday, October 12, 2012

TORONTO - In the fight for a rotation spot among the crowded forward positions, exhibiting a unique skill or disproving a suspected weakness is one way to catch Lawrence Frank's attention. Kyle Singler and Austin Daye took steps in that direction Friday night with their first action of the preseason.

Neither one shot the ball particularly well, which put them in good company. The Pistons missed their first nine shots and shot 35 percent in their 82-75 loss to Toronto. Daye shot 2 of 11, Singler 4 of 12.

But if Daye is going to factor at power forward, he'll have to defend well enough inside and hold his own on the boards. It was a mixed bag on the first score - Toronto's Ed Davis fought his way inside of Daye a few times en route to a 12-point night - but Daye did use his extraordinary reach and quickness to the ball to grab nine rebounds, more than anyone on either side.

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Posted Friday, October 12, 2012

TORONTO – Wherever the trail takes the Pistons and Toronto Raptors from here, their fork in the road began with the 2011 NBA draft.

After the Cleveland Cavaliers took Kyrie Irving with the No. 1 pick, they were expected to take the player many felt was the big man with the most tantalizing potential in the 2011 draft class with the No. 4 pick. That was Jonas Valanciunas. Perhaps because of contract buyout entanglements and the understanding that the 7-foot Lithuanian teen wouldn’t come to the NBA for at least another year, the Cavs passed and instead took Texas freshman power forward Tristan Thompson.

Toronto was picking fifth and – expecting Valanciunas to be long gone – was believed leaning toward taking Brandon Knight.

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Posted Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Pistons won’t be a prolific 3-point shooting team this season – their roster just isn’t set up for it – but they hope to be an efficient one. Among their starters, only Brandon Knight is more than an infrequent 3-point shooter, though Rodney Stuckey had his best season from the arc a year ago and hopes to continue to progress. Off their bench, Charlie Villanueva and Austin Daye would represent a 3-point threat … if they can crack the rotation. Ditto for rookies Kim English and Khris Middleton.

They can win without beating the opposition from the 3-point line, of course, but they probably aren’t going to win many games when they get outscored 33-0 from behind the arc. Astoundingly, that was the blueprint in Wednesday’s preseason opener.

If you see the glass as half full, it speaks well of the totality of their game that they could spot Toronto 33 points and win anyway. If the glass is half empty, the combination of leaky perimeter defense and impotent perimeter offense is likely toxic to their chances to mount a playoff challenge.

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Posted Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Slava Kravtsov might yet prove more ready to shoulder a spot in Lawrence Frank’s rotation, but Andre Drummond gave tantalizing glimpses that the future could be every bit as bright as the grandest dreams of Pistons fans in his NBA debut.

Drummond had barely broken a sweat in Wednesday’s preseason opener, a 101-99 win over Toronto, before he’d made a handful of impressive plays.

A minute after entering late in the first quarter, Drummond speared an offensive rebound and scored on the put-back. On the next possession, he took Will Bynum’s perfect lob pass off of a pick-and-roll play to throw down a dunk.

He swatted an Ed Davis shot at the rim away with his left hand to start the second quarter, then a few possessions later he and Bynum teamed up for another lob dunk. A minute after that, Drummond created a turnover by using his 7-foot-6¼ wing span to deflect a Toronto pass that resulted in another Bynum lob dunk, this one to Corey Maggette.

Drummond finished with 12 points, seven boards and two blocked shots in 22 minutes. Perhaps equally impressive, he did not commit a foul or a turnover, evidence that the moment wasn’t too big for the 19-year-old rookie taken No. 9 by the Pistons in last June’s draft.

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Lawrence Frank has 17 players on his roster and vows to give each of them an honest shot. But to do it, he has to eliminate a handful of them from consideration for playing time in each of the Pistons’ eight preseason games.

The same group that started the last 43 games of the 2011-12 season when healthy – Tayshaun Prince, Jason Maxiell, Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey – will start tonight’s preseason opener against Toronto, Frank said after Wednesday’s morning practice. But the starting lineup could change throughout the preseason, and for certain the playing group will be altered from game to game.

“There are going to be games where guys are told ahead of time, ‘This isn’t going to be your game,’ ” Frank said. “In terms of core minutes, the most you can really stretch (the playing rotation) to is 11. That’s the most. You may play 13 guys, but in terms of guys getting good, legitimate minutes, you’re looking 10, 11, 12.”

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Posted Tuesday, October 9, 2012

For fans who want to see the Pistons flying up and down the court – pretty much all fans – take heart: Lawrence Frank is right there with you. Fans within earshot of the team’s bench last season could frequently hear Frank exhorting the team to “push, push, push” whenever a defensive rebound was secured and the 24-second clock began ticking down.

They might hear “push, push, push” a little less often this season, not because he’s any less desirous of a faster tempo but for a number of other reasons, foremost among them: The Pistons don’t figure to need as much prodding the second time around.

Maybe it starts with Brandon Knight, who enters the season as the starting point guard off of a full and thoroughly productive off-season that finds him stronger and more confident with a clear leadership role. As one of the league’s fastest players and superbly conditioned, running suits Knight ideally.

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Posted Tuesday, October 9, 2012

It might not be the approach Lawrence Frank would use were he a classroom teacher responsible for making sure every student was capable of moving on to the next grade at semester’s end. But he’s an NBA coach charged with winning games, so he teaches at a pace appropriate to achieve that end.

That means the five Pistons rookies are basically in sink-or-swim mode.

“What we’ve said is it’s going to take you extra time to figure it out,” Frank said. “You can’t retard the progress of the group because you have so many new guys.”

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Posted Monday, October 8, 2012

Late in Monday’s Pistons scrimmage to wrap up practice, Greg Monroe checked out and Austin Daye replaced him. No, Daye isn’t making the radical switch to center. Jason Maxiell slid over to guard Slava Kravtsov. That’s one way to thin out the crowd at power forward, where Daye is jostling with Maxiell, Jonas Jerebko and Charlie Villanueva.

That’s four players for two spots, all of whom have been NBA rotation regulars at some point in their careers.

“We’re going to continue to evaluate,” Frank said. “You’ve got to see. I don’t want to be in a game with a lineup that we haven’t worked on. We’re only nine practices in, but we have a long list of combinations we want to look at. We have some interchangeable parts and we’ll continue to evaluate guys at different positions.”

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Posted Saturday, October 7, 2012

Nearly a week and eight practices into training camp, with the preseason opener just three days away, impressions that lead to decisions are being made – but those decisions are still at least a few weeks away. The traditional definition of training camp is that which takes place leading to the preseason opener, but for practical purposes – and, more importantly, to Lawrence Frank’s way of thinking – training camp is really everything that leads to the first regular-season game, 24 days away.

Let’s take a look at the five storylines worth watching I set forth on the eve of training camp and see what we’ve learned in the past week – based on Saturday’s open scrimmage, two glimpses of scrimmaging Frank opened to reporters last week and interpreting the comments of Frank and others over that time.

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Posted Saturday, October 6, 2012

Two years might seem a lifetime ago given the distance Greg Monroe has traveled, but he remembers well the feeling of being a half-step behind every play in the awkward early days of training camp.

The Pistons have added Kyle Singler, Khris Middleton and Kim English to their perimeter over the past two drafts – picking up healthy doses of size, athleticism and perimeter shooting in the process – and they’ve seen plenty from the three rookies in the days leading to camp to be confident in their futures. But the combination of heavy legs after the first week of camp and adjusting to the pace of NBA basketball was evident in their wayward jump shots at Saturday’s open scrimmage at Oakland University.

“It’s training camp,” Monroe said afterward. “Everybody is a little bit fatigued after a whole week of training camp, a few two-a-days, so we have to fight through it. Every team in the league goes through this – some legs not here. A lot of those shots you see today, they’re going to fall for us, so we’re not worried about it. Now we’re going to start to get back to being fully prepared and get our bodies back right to start these preseason games.”

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Posted Friday, October 5, 2012

Greg Monroe is suddenly a middle-aged Piston. Not by the calendar, necessarily, where it shows he’s just 22. But in years of service, with two seasons under his belt, Monroe can pull rank on six players already. That thought made even him step back a minute on the eve of training camp.

“In the team meeting, I talked about how I went from being the youngest guy on the team to last year having two guys with less experience to now (six) guys that I have more experience than. So I’m trying to grow up a little faster and be more of a leader.”

To the extent that leadership is partly a function of comfort, the summer prepared Monroe well for taking on broader responsibilities. He went to Summer League in Orlando, in large measure to establish a mentorship role with Andre Drummond, and put in work from coast to coast, Los Angeles to Washington, but nowhere more than in Auburn Hills. Given his status as the team’s top performer and one of the centerpieces of their future, he understood it was his time to steer a course. The evidence can be seen – heard, rather – in training camp practices.

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Posted Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Pistons have buzzed about the leadership qualities they see in NBA veteran Corey Maggette, but Maggette made clear whom he sees as the player destined to emerge as their unquestioned leader. The subject after Wednesday’s three-hour practice got around to the emphasis Lawrence Frank has placed on communication throughout training camp when Maggette, toward the end of a typically thoughtful answer, volunteered that “the leader of this team, Brandon Knight, is doing a tremendous job getting these guys together, talking as much as possible and also helping the young guys as well.”

Let’s take a timeout here to recall that Knight, 20, is younger than 15 of the 16 other players in camp, an elder to only Andre Drummond.

“I can see in him a leader,” Maggette expounded. “He’s the point guard. He’s the leader of our team. He’s the one who’s going to be having the ball in his hands and making the calls. He can do that. He has the ability to be the leader of this team. I call him the ‘franchise player.’ He probably doesn’t like it, but that’s what I consider him as. This is a guy who can set the tempo for everybody. If you watch this camp, the way he’s played – aggressive on both ends of the floor – that’s what a leader does. I’m going to keep calling him a leader.”

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In players like Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight and Kim English, the Pistons quickly came to see the self-motivation each possesses. They didn’t need any prodding to invest hours of sweat equity in their games and the franchise’s future. But Rodney Stuckey prodded, just the same.

He started midway through last season, enjoying the best stretch of his career under a coach whose handling brought out the best in him, when he began encouraging teammates to spend good chunks of their off-season working out in Auburn Hills.

So no matter who else was in the gym over the summer, Stuckey was the constant: doing ballhandling drills with Knight, or shooting drills with rookies English and Khris Middleton, or working with assistant coach Steve Hetzel at one end while Monroe and Andre Drummond worked with Roy Rogers at the other. If they gave out gold stars for attendance, Stuckey’s sheet would have been full weeks ago.

Joe Dumars called it the best off-season he’d seen from Stuckey, and when it was over, Stuckey was hailing it as a successful off-season for the team all around.

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Posted Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Now that Rasheed Wallace is back in the NBA, if you roll down your window chances are you can hear his piercing voice bellowing instructions to New York Knicks perimeter defenders from his perch in the paint.

Everything about Rasheed was loud, which at times made him a lightning rod of controversy but always elevated him to esteem within his own locker room. Players loved playing with Rasheed, for his willingness to be the target of opposition fan abuse to the way he covered for their defensive gaffes.

The Pistons haven’t had a rim protector quite like him since he departed as a free agent following the 2008-09 season, though Ben Wallace’s return to the roster that following season at least gave them a defensive identity. Now, though, the additions of young and athletic 7-footers Andre Drummond and Slava Kravtsov give Lawrence Frank a dynamic the Pistons sorely lacked in his first season.

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Posted Wednesday, October 3, 2012

When the Pistons swapped Ben Gordon for Corey Maggette, they knew they were getting a guy who has spent as much time at the foul line as anybody in the NBA over the last dozen years. They also knew they were getting an expiring contract, one that gives them the potential to be as much as $25 million under the salary cap next off-season.

What they might not have been quite as certain about was Maggette’s fit in the locker room.

By all accounts, they could not be more pleased with the leadership presence Maggette is assuming as one of only two 30-somethings on the roster, Tayshaun Prince the other.

I got my first inkling of Maggette’s willingness to lead when he showed up at The Palace in early July, and when asked his impressions of how he saw himself fitting in, brought the conversation around to helping young players find their way.

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Posted Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Andre Drummond loved his first NBA practice and can’t wait for more. But the guy with hundreds of them under his belt might be the better source for putting it into perspective. And Tayshaun Prince was pretty upbeat about day one of Lawrence Frank’s second season as Pistons coach, too.

“The tone was great,” Prince said, a day after underscoring the importance of establishing the proper tone on the first day of training camp. “But I expected it to be great because we have a lot of young guys who bring a lot of energy to the table. As long as you’re out there with Brandon, believe me, there’s going to be a lot of energy out there.”

The Pistons have six newcomers, veteran Corey Maggette plus five rookies. That helped stretch Tuesday’s morning practice to three hours, but Frank happily concurs that it’s an apples-and-oranges comparison from this training camp to last. With a full off-season to indoctrinate the rookies, including Summer League, they already had a framework of understanding in place.

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The pushup challenge Arnie Kander gave to Austin Daye? No sweat. But while Daye was bulking up this summer – he hit his target weight of 218, about 20 pounds more than he was when he returned from Russia after the lockout’s resolution in December – Kander was devising ever more devious ways to torment the troops.

“I hate it,” Daye said of the new contraption the Pistons’ strength coach designed over the summer. “I really hate it. It’s 10 times worse than pushups. I hate it.”

How to describe it? It’s sort of a basketball version of football’s time-honored blocking sled. Where a football sled is intended to keep offensive linemen low, however, Kander’s sled – he calls it “the monster” – is built for one and designed to build functional strength meant for basketball, staying upright and holding your position. You push it forward or pull it backward, but the key is to exert a consistent level of force that requires great balance.

“You can’t do it without strength,” Kander said. “Your legs have to be strong, your arms have to be strong, your shoulders, your back. There are four wheels and there’s a base underneath with carpeting, so if you lift it – 270 pounds, without weights (that can be added) – it hits the carpeting and doesn’t stay on the wheels. If you try to push it down, it hits the carpeting – it won’t go anywhere. You have to have the perfect balance to get it to move and even then it’s not easy. It has to be perfectly level, which require basketball mechanics. Pulling it backwards – which is Rasheed Wallace in the post – you can’t lean back. It has to be pure mechanics to do it correctly.”

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Posted Monday, October 1, 2012

The declarations of confidence and optimism that echoed throughout the practice facility as the Pistons answered questions Monday on media day were genuine, founded on a summer of exemplary work across the board.

“I’m excited,” Brandon Knight said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that have been working their butts off this summer. Greg (Monroe), big-time worker. All our rookies. All those guys have been working big-time. Stuckey. All our guys have been working hard and I can attest to that because I’ve been here as well. Just the amount of work these guys have put in makes me confident in them and their abilities and what we’re going to be able to do this season.”

It’s a pretty safe bet, of course, that an eerily similar tone was struck at 29 other NBA media days. The key will be how the Pistons react to adversity – which is where last year comes in.

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There is a short list of questions on the minds of Pistons fans for the season ahead. Can they contend for a playoff spot? Will Greg Monroe challenge for an All-Star berth? How high is 19-year-old rookie Andre Drummond’s ceiling?

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Training camp opens Tuesday and Lawrence Frank has many other questions to sort out before those big-picture items will resolve themselves.

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