True Blue Pistons - October 2013

Keith Langlois
About Keith Langlois
Award-winning journalist Keith Langlois, most recently lead sports columnist at The Oakland Press, joined 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'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 Thursday, October 31, 2013

All those butterflies Kentavious Caldwell-Pope admitted were fluttering in his belly as he anticipated the whirlwind of his first night as an NBA basketball player were calmed, if just a little, by a familiar face on the opposite bench.

The latest in a line of lottery picks who’ve enabled the Pistons to hasten their rebuilding, Caldwell-Pope played 27 minutes in Wednesday’s opening night win over Washington, much of them spent guarding a player he first met long before they would become McDonald’s All-American teammates in the spring of 2011 and then departed for competing SEC schools.

But Bradley Beal was targeted as a one-and-done player even before launching his first 3-point basket at Florida, while Caldwell-Pope needed to prove his merits to NBA scouts for all of his two seasons at rival Georgia.

Continue reading What a Start >>

Posted Wednesday, October 30, 2013

America turns its clocks back Saturday night, but as with most aspects of life Chauncey Billups is a few steps ahead of everyone else.

Mr. Big Shot ratcheted the clock back six or seven years in his first game that counts at The Palace since being traded away in November 2008, not only making big shots but infusing a team bristling with promise but aching for his leadership with the confidence to withstand the kind of late runs commonplace in the NBA.

“Feels like home. Feels like old times,” Billups said of hearing The Palace roar to life after a huge fourth-quarter triple, of which he dropped two in and around more subtle moments every bit as critical to the 113-102 opening night win over Washington. “It felt good. The energy in this building sounded familiar. I hadn’t seen that in a while around here. It felt really good. We fed off of that.”

Continue reading What a Start >>

Posted Wednesday, October 30, 2013

If the season goes the way Tom Gores envisions it, there’ll be a lot more celebrations just like the kind that erupted when Josh Smith’s buzzer 3-pointer beat Washington in the preseason finale at The Palace. And he’ll be there to high-five players more often than not.

“I was behind the scenes in many ways the first couple of years,” the Pistons owner said before Wednesday’s season opener, his third since buying the team. “Trust me, I’ve spent so much time on the Pistons. My house is consumed with it, my family is consumed with it, I’m consumed with it. The first few years were really transition time and a lot behind the scenes, and I feel like now that things have developed, it’s time for me to be here.”

Planning for the summer of 2013 began virtually from the moment Gores purchased the Pistons two years earlier and picked up momentum with the June 2012 trade that sent Ben Gordon’s contract to Charlotte, opening the way for the $20 million-plus in cap space the Pistons carried into July. They used it to sign Josh Smith in free agency and acquire Brandon Jennings, Chauncey Billups and Gigi Datome.

Gores said those signings showed something about the Pistons and opened eyes, even among his inner circle.

Continue reading Gores: ‘We Want to Win Now’ >>

Posted Wednesday, October 30, 2013

It wouldn’t quite reflect the Pistons’ preseason to say Maurice Cheeks didn’t extract all the answers he’d hoped to get out of it. It would be more accurate to say Cheeks barely had time to ask the questions before Brandon Jennings, Rodney Stuckey and Gigi Datome went on the injured list.

With Jennings and Stuckey ruled out for tonight’s season opener with Washington – Stuckey, after this morning’s shootaround, said he would be ready for Friday’s game at Memphis – Cheeks will start Chauncey Billups and Will Bynum at guard. That has enormous ripple effects on the rotation Cheeks might have anticipated, of course, though getting Stuckey back before the week is out and Jennings perhaps as soon as a week from now would restore order quickly.

But the Pistons go into the opener feeling confident that even if they don’t know all they’d like to about themselves, they can confidently state the following:

Continue reading Ready to Roll >>

Posted Tuesday, October 29, 2013

If you’ve ever put together a jigsaw puzzle, you know the frustration of getting close to finishing only to discover a few missing pieces. Now imagine putting it together without an idea of what the finished product looks like.

Maurice Cheeks had a few months to contemplate how he would utilize eight new pieces handed to him by Joe Dumars, but the NBA demands the puzzle be completed by 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and he’s still scrambling to figure out what form the completed picture should take.

What’s certain is that Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond will start in the frontcourt. Drummond will be the first to come out of the game, probably with about four minutes left in the first and third quarters. He’ll likely be replaced by Kyle Singler, nudging Smith to power forward and Monroe to center.

Continue reading Decisions, Decisions >>

Posted Monday, October 28, 2013

The Pistons might not get Rodney Stuckey back in time for Wednesday’s season opener, but they know it won’t be long before he’s in the lineup. Brandon Jennings should follow in short order, hopefully before the first week of November closes.

The Pistons knew from the moment they signed Josh Smith last July that the frontcourt of Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond would be their bedrock. Until their backcourt is fully reloaded, the Pistons will lean on those three even more than they anticipated.

Continue reading Frontcourt Fit >>

Posted Sunday, October 27, 2013

The status of their backcourt has dominated Pistons health concerns, obscuring the absence of a player 99 percent of their fans have never seen and know little about. But Gigi Datome’s ability to penetrate their consciousness could take a dramatic turn for the better as soon as Monday.

He’ll test the foot that began bothering him during September’s EuroBasket tournament, in which he played 11 games as the offensive focal point of the Italian national team, and the hamstring he clutched at during the Oct. 5 open practice the Pistons held at The Palace, the only fleeting glimpse fans have had of the 6-foot-8 Italian league MVP who comes to the Pistons with a reputation as a remarkable shooter. And if they feel as good as they felt on Sunday, he’ll plunge into his first full practice in more than three weeks.

“If everything is OK, I practice a whole practice,” he said. “If not, I’ll step out when my body will tell me. There is no rush. I want to come back at the right moment, for sure as fast as possible, but if you rush this stuff maybe you’re going to become a bigger problem later. So better to listen to my body and wait for the right moment.”

Continue reading Gigi Getting Close >>

Posted Saturday, October 26, 2013

It won’t appear on their lengthy injury report, but the Pistons these days are sporting a stiff upper lip. Their goal of incorporating eight new players into a cohesive unit was undermined less than a week into training camp. By the 10-day mark the availability of their expected starting backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Rodney Stuckey for the season opener was imperiled.

They got a dose of relatively good news on Saturday, though, when Stuckey – who had his thumb X-rayed and re-examined on Friday, two days after breaking the tip of it by slamming it in his car door – was cleared for limited basketball activities. Stuckey, now wearing a hard plastic splint over the end of the thumb, which he said he wouldn’t wear when playing, wouldn’t rule out being ready for the opener. It will come down to his pain tolerance and the functionality of the thumb.

Maurice Cheeks said he wouldn’t necessarily have to see Stuckey go through a five-on-five practice before using him in a game, but would prefer it. The Pistons have three more days of practice scheduled before the opener.

Continue reading A Dose of Good News >>

Posted Friday, October 25, 2013

Among the half-dozen or so attributes that elevates Andre Drummond to the 99th percentile of the world’s 7-footers in athleticism is his sideline-to-sideline quickness. What will elevate him to a similar stratosphere in the pantheon of NBA centers is that he’s every bit as quick from ear to ear. For the many ways he’s impressed the Pistons in the 16 months since they drafted him, his mental acuity ranks right near the top of the list.

Combine his quick-study proclivity with his work ethic and you get the week over week gains Drummond has put into evidence. The leap the Piston saw from him from Summer League to training camp to the regular season a year ago exceeded their hopes for him, which were already considerable.

And that’s why that while the Pistons aren’t banking on Drummond to develop into a go-to scorer at any time in the immediate future, neither would they be surprised if he assumes such a role well ahead of anyone’s timetable

Continue reading Quick Study>>

Posted Wednesday, October 23, 2013

It might be playing out on a level a few planes below Andre Drummond’s, but the nascent career arc of Tony Mitchell’s is following the same trail: impressive but raw in Summer League, progress made in the intervening months before training camp, flashing signs in preseason that the part of the sky his outrageous athleticism allows him to touch is the only limit.

After watching Mitchell in Orlando three months ago, Joe Dumars said, “The word for Tony Mitchell is intriguing. He’s an exceptional athlete, but Tony also has a good feel for the game.” He also said, “We can bring Tony along and not have to rush him and allow him to grow and learn and figure things out.”

A few months later, just before training camp opened and he’d seen Mitchell working with Rasheed Wallace in the team’s practice facility, Dumars said, “There’s no rush to throw him out there, but I think Tony’s going to compete. He’s not going to back down. He’s not going to just stand at the back of the line and wait. I think he’s going to try to fight his way out there to see if he can get minutes.”

Continue reading Mitchell's Mission>>

Posted Tuesday, October 22, 2013

If Chauncey Billups could have scripted it, he might have done it just the way Tuesday’s seventh preseason game played out. Big lead, big collapse, now … let’s find out about ourselves.

“I was kind of happy it was a tie game with six minutes to go,” he said after the Pistons held on for a 99-96 win over Washington after losing every inch of a 22-point halftime lead. “That’s how you learn. You learn to execute and slow down and make the right plays when the game’s on the line, not necessarily when you’re up 18.”

Indeed, if the Pistons could take their sublime first half – when they shot 67 percent and assisted on 22 of 26 baskets – and their poised finish and forget about the messy 18 minutes in between, it was a beautiful night.

Continue reading Pistons Hold On >>

Posted Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Pistons came into training camp with three broad evaluations to be made with regard to Maurice Cheeks’ playing rotation to carry into the regular season. Now down to the final two preseason games on which to base that evaluation – the two games Cheeks declared last week to be his targeted dress rehearsals – in appears likely that they’ll go into next week’s season opener with 2½ of those evaluations still incomplete.

That pushes some or all of the following decisions into the regular season:

Whittling the backcourt to four contributors – Rookie Peyton Siva was always a long shot to crack the rotation, given the three veteran point guards ahead of him in the pecking order. But lottery pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – because of his ideal size and defensive and 3-point-shooting potential – was at least a candidate to unseat one of the four veteran guards available to Cheeks.

Continue reading Preseason: Incomplete >>

Posted Monday, October 21, 2013

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has taken his job title – shooting guard – to heart, leading the Pistons in shot attempts until Greg Monroe nudged ahead of him by one in Sunday’s game at Orlando, the sixth of the preseason. The Pistons love everything they’ve learned about their 2013 lottery pick since choosing him eighth last June – his defense, his motor, his character and his commitment – and they’re unshaken in their belief that his shot will eventually fall.

But first they know he needs to take a deep breath, slow down a little and exercise a tad more discretion regarding the quality of shot he’s taking.

“He’s just trying to find his way because he really is a good shooter,” said Chauncey Billups, who’s counseled Caldwell-Pope and spent time watching videotape with him, reviewing his shot selection. “As I’m trying to tell him, good shooters take good shots.”

Maurice Cheeks, whose great gift as a point guard was setting up shooters in their sweet spots, also has talked to Caldwell-Pope about the importance of choosing shots wisely.

Continue reading Learning Curve >>

Posted Monday, October 21, 2013

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has taken his job title – shooting guard – to heart, leading the Pistons in shot attempts until Greg Monroe nudged ahead of him by one in Sunday’s game at Orlando, the sixth of the preseason. The Pistons love everything they’ve learned about their 2013 lottery pick since choosing him eighth last June – his defense, his motor, his character and his commitment – and they’re unshaken in their belief that his shot will eventually fall.

But first they know he needs to take a deep breath, slow down a little and exercise a tad more discretion regarding the quality of shot he’s taking.

“He’s just trying to find his way because he really is a good shooter,” said Chauncey Billups, who’s counseled Caldwell-Pope and spent time watching videotape with him, reviewing his shot selection. “As I’m trying to tell him, good shooters take good shots.”

Maurice Cheeks, whose great gift as a point guard was setting up shooters in their sweet spots, also has talked to Caldwell-Pope about the importance of choosing shots wisely.

Continue reading Learning Curve >>

Posted Sunday, October 20, 2013

ORLANDO – If bad things indeed happen in threes, the Pistons can exhale. On top of Rodney Stuckey breaking his thumb by getting it caught in his car door and Brandon Jennings suffering a fractured jaw courtesy of an impacted wisdom tooth, food poisoning took down Will Bynum. Tack on Chauncey Billups taking a scheduled maintenance day off and Maurice Cheeks was down to two healthy guards for the sixth preseason game Sunday night at Orlando, rookies Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Peyton Siva.

Hey, at least it made his decision-making process pretty easy.

Cheeks tried to give Siva, the only one available with any meaningful point guard experience, a short rest early in the second quarter. In three possessions, the Pistons committed two turnovers and missed a shot rushed as the shot clock was winding down. Their eight-point lead shrunk to three and one minute later, Cheeks rushed Siva back into the game.

Continue reading Caught Short >>

Posted Saturday, October 19, 2013

Upon further review, maybe all the hand-wringing over Greg Monroe’s transition to power forward was for naught.

Most of the analysis of Monroe’s move focused on how he’d adapt defensively, specifically how he’d cope guarding “stretch fours” – the burgeoning crop of power forwards comfortable shooting 3-pointers.

Monroe got a major dose of it in the Pistons’ second preseason game when Miami started Shane Battier at the position, but the Heat are more the exception than the rule.

Continue reading Big vs. Small >>

Posted Friday, October 18, 2013

The Pistons are still figuring out exactly what role Chauncey Billups will play this year. Does he start or come off the bench? Will he function as the point guard or play off the ball next to Brandon Jennings or Will Bynum?

And while those aren’t trifling decisions, in a larger sense they won’t really affect the substance of what Billups will provide. He’ll be the guiding force in how the team harmonizes away from the basketball court and he’ll provide a sense of order for them whenever and however he’s used over the course of 48 minutes.

But his return to action Thursday night at Cleveland – after taking three games off as he sets his own path during his 17th NBA preseason – had one subtle yet important effect on how Maurice Cheeks employed the players expected to fill out the rest of his rotation.

Continue reading One Healthy Return >>

Posted Thursday, October 17, 2013

CLEVELAND – The Pistons were down 13-8 midway through Thursday’s first quarter. Two possessions later, they were up 14-13 on 3-point baskets from Josh Smith and Will Bynum. The passes that set them up were fairly unremarkable, elegant only in their simplicity. They had one other thing in common. Both were delivered by Chauncey Billups.

“That’s just kind of my game,” Mr. Big Shot said after returning from a three-game absence as he sets his own pace in his 17th NBA preseason. “Even though I never played baseball, my motto is just to hit singles. Make the game easy. I’ve never been the home run type of player. But I believe that when I play that way, it’s contagious. You make the easy play as opposed to making the home run play. Hopefully, these guys will take heed of that and say let’s everybody play like that.”

The Pistons made too many tough plays look tortuous in their 96-84 loss to Cleveland, turning the ball over 22 times. The Cavs turned their miscues into 29 points, 12 in the fourth quarter when they outscored the Pistons 26-17. Billups was responsible for only two of the turnovers despite logging 28 minutes, 17 in the first half.

Continue reading Cold in Cleveland >>

Posted Thursday, October 17, 2013

Sometime between 90 and 120 minutes before tipoff of every NBA game, head coaches are obligated to meet with reporters. In smaller markets where the home team is scantily covered, those sessions usually don’t amount to much. In media-saturated markets – New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington, Los Angeles – they take on a different tone.

That’s where many writers assigned not to a single team but to the league at large call home base. And so when Maurice Cheeks met the media before Wednesday night’s game at Chicago, there was a fair amount of national NBA writers swooping in to take the temperature of a Pistons team that offers compelling new storylines – Andre Drummond’s ascension, the free-agent additions of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings, and, of course, how Drummond, Smith and Greg Monroe will manage to simultaneously thrive in an oversized frontcourt.

Somebody asked Cheeks about the training camp battle at shooting guard – the only starting position seemingly up for grabs, when everyone’s healthy.

Continue reading Battles Deferred >>

Posted Wednesday, October 16, 2013

CHICAGO – Maurice Cheeks wants the Pistons to force turnovers, pressure for 94 feet, play constricting half-court defense otherwise and get out and run. The Chicago Bulls gave his team a working seminar in his preferred style during brilliant stretches of basketball Wednesday night at the United Center.

A full house came mainly to see the return of Derrick Rose, playing before the home crowd for the first time since shredding his knee in the 2011 playoffs, and that contributed to an unusual preseason atmosphere. Rose is back, all right – he had 18 points on just six shots, hitting 9 of 10 free throws, in 14 first-half minutes and finished with 22 points in 22 minutes – and the Bulls are again the gold standard in the Central Division.

“He looked like the old Rose is what he looked like to me, the old Rose,” Cheeks said. “One time he got in front of our bench, got a handoff from somebody and two, three dribbles, he was at the rim. He didn’t look like he lost a stop to me. He was as quick as he’s ever been.”

For the Pistons to challenge the Bulls this season, they’ll need to develop the type of defensive cohesion and mind-set Chicago has manufactured over time since adding Rose and hiring Tom Thibodeau five seasons ago. It’s the kind of stuff that doesn’t happen overnight and is especially elusive when a team is without its top three guards, as the Pistons again were missing Brandon Jennings, Rodney Stuckey and Chauncey Billups.

Continue reading Bull-Rushed >>

Posted Tuesday, October 15, 2013

If freak injuries happen in threes, the dwindling number of healthy Pistons guards better avoid black cats, ladders and all other symbols of doom and superstition.

Within a few minutes last week, the Pistons got news of Rodney Stuckey slamming the tip of his right thumb in his car door and Brandon Jennings experiencing stabbing tooth pain. Turns out Stuckey had a broken thumb that required surgery and the insertion of a screw and Jennings, the team announced Tuesday afternoon, has an impacted wisdom tooth and a hairline fracture of the jawbone at the base of that tooth.

Stuckey will have an X-ray taken at the end of next week, two weeks removed from his surgery, while Jennings will be immobilized for three weeks and re-evaluated at that time.

Continue reading Banged-Up Backcourt >>

Posted Tuesday, October 15, 2013

If Rodney Stuckey makes it back for opening night, as the Pistons legitimately hope, and Brandon Jennings’ lingering issue with his wisdom teeth resolves itself, then they won’t have to rely on this year’s lottery pick, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, to nearly the same extent as they did on Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Andre Drummond before him.

And second-round rookies Tony Mitchell and Peyton Siva happen to play at the two deepest positions on the team, power forward and point guard.

So it could be a while before the results of the 2013 draft come into evidence. But the Pistons feel like they went 3-for-3 on draft night based on early returns.

Continue reading Rookies Rising >>

Posted Monday, October 14, 2013

When Flip Saunders arrived to take over the Pistons from Larry Brown, he scanned his roster and fairly salivated at the thought of employing the zone defense schemes he learned at the feet of his college coach, Bill Musselman, via a five-man Pistons unit peppered with All-Defense candidates.

There was only one problem.

“We looked at it like, ‘We don’t need that. We’re just going to stop ’em,’ ” Chauncey Billups recalls. “We were always such a great one-on-one team. Obviously, this team is a little different. This team is a lot more athletic than we ever were.”

Continue reading Zoned In >>

Posted Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Pistons, nearly halfway through the preseason and just 17 days away from the season opener, are beginning to see the outline of their likely playing rotation come into focus.

There are a few certainties that won’t be much affected by the final five preseason games. Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings are virtual locks to be in the starting lineup Oct. 30 when Washington opens the regular season at The Palace. Chauncey Billups will play a significant role, either as the starter next to Jennings or coming off the bench at either guard spot.

Rodney Stuckey likely would have been the starter next to Jennings, based on Cheeks’ praise for him as the team’s best defender, before breaking his thumb last week. He had surgery on Friday to repair a broken distal phalanx – in layman’s terms, the tip of his thumb – and the Pistons announced he’ll wear a splint and be evaluated in two weeks. If all goes well, there’s a fair chance Stuckey could be back in time for the regular-season opener.

Beyond that, here are three players who have solidified their status in the first two weeks of training camp:

Continue reading In or Out >>

Posted Saturday, October 12, 2013

NEW YORK – Andre Drummond went to the foul line three times in the first quarter at Brooklyn, which employed a Hack-a-Dre strategy against him in Summer League, and made all three.

The NBA winced.

The Pistons threw the ball into Drummond, mid-post to the right of the basket, midway through the second quarter, with massive Brook Lopez guarding him. Drummond turned and coolly flicked in a 10-foot hook shot.

The NBA shuddered.

Drummond wreaked his share of havoc as an NBA rookie despite a limited role in which his offensive post game was non-existent and his foul shooting was execrable.

And the Pistons would live with holes in those parts of his game as long as he still dunked, rebounded, blocked shots and provided a generally menacing presence. But he’s showing signs of becoming more than just a dominant specialist.

“It’s amazing,” Maurice Cheeks said of Drummond’s superb second-quarter stretch in which he scored eight points, grabbed four rebounds, collected two steals and blocked a shot as the Pistons, now 2-1, took the lead and went on to a 99-88 win over Brooklyn before a packed Barclays Center crowd ready to cheer on the refortified Nets.

Continue reading Pistons Snip the Nets >>

Posted Saturday, October 12, 2013

When Joe Dumars took over the Pistons 13 years ago, the Los Angeles Lakers were the reigning NBA superpower, having lured Shaquille O’Neal as a free agent to join a precocious hot-shot named Kobe Bryant. While every other team in the league searched for a superstar duo to match the Lakers strength for strength, Joe D was busy mining the draft, trade and free agency routes to put together a team that within four years of his ascension to Pistons president would beat those Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals.

His thinking: Unless I find two better than Shaq and Kobe, that’s not a realistic formula.

The NBA is a copycat league, always has been. Today’s reigning power is the Miami Heat, who came to The Palace this week as two-time defending NBA champions, a team assembled in one day three years ago when Pat Riley signed LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in free agency.

What works for the Heat is surrounding those three with shooting, placing an ever greater premium on 3-point marksmen. Good luck to the franchise building off of that model, though, unless it starts the construction with someone in James’ stratosphere at the core of it.

Continue reading The View from Miami >>

Posted Friday, October 11, 2013

When Kyle Singler checks into games this season, he’ll almost always be playing with two of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe or Josh Smith up front. Brandon Jennings, Chauncey Billups and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are on board since Singler’s rookie season ended.

It doesn’t take Singler’s Duke bachelor’s degree to acknowledge the talent around him is up dramatically over last year, which Singler split between starting at shooting guard and small forward.

The Pistons believe Singler will be a better player in year two, in part because of the unexpectedly heavy work load he won as a rookie but even more because they see in Singler a player who performs better when he’s surrounded by talented players.

Continue reading Singular Singler>>

Posted Thursday, October 10, 2013

Remember when the Pistons had a crowded backcourt? Like, two days ago? The ranks were thinned, swiftly and bizarrely, in the hours leading to Thursday’s second preseason game with Miami, a 112-107 loss despite huge games by Andre Drummond and Will Bynum.

First came news that Rodney Stuckey broke the tip of his right thumb when it was smashed against his car’s door jamb Wednesday. He’ll undergo surgery on Friday. The Pistons gave no timetable for his return, though when Stuckey broke his hand in the preseason as a rookie he missed about eight weeks. A typical time frame for a broken bone is six to eight weeks, but the Pistons will know more after Friday’s scheduled surgery.

Also unavailable to Maurice Cheeks against Miami were Brandon Jennings (discomfort from a wisdom tooth), Peyton Siva (a lingering calf injury that has caused him to miss all of training camp) and Chauncey Billups, whom Cheeks said would pick and choose which preseason games he would skip. Billups played 20 minutes in Tuesday’s opener.

Continue reading Heat Hang On >>

Posted Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Pistons have five guards, each offering Maurice Cheeks something a little different, for four spots in his rotation. That means somebody from the group of Brandon Jennings, Chauncey Billups, Rodney Stuckey, Will Bynum and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is destined to be on the outside looking in.

“You can’t,” Cheeks said of squeezing all five into the rotation. “How can you do it? I don’t think you can do it. It wouldn’t be fair to the guys that are playing.”

Jennings is the likely starter at point guard and Billups offers shooting and game management hard to replace. It might not be conclusive of anything that they lined up as the starters in Tuesday’s preseason opener, but neither should it be dismissed. They’re the two surest to include in Cheeks’ four-guard rotation.

You can pretty much move Rodney Stuckey into the same category, based on Cheeks’ unsolicited praise of him after Wednesday’s practice.

“All I can say is that Stuckey has been … concepts, the way he’s played, has been very good,” Cheeks said. “Very conscientious of the things we’ve been doing. It would be easy for me to say that he’s probably been the best defensively, in terms of knowing where to be, what to do. Defensively, he’s been very good.”

Continue reading 5 Guards, 4 Spots >>

Posted Tuesday, October 8, 2013

It was three minutes into the third quarter and a good hour after the Pistons had safely tucked away their first preseason win. Nursing a 29-point lead, they dug in for another adventurous Maccabi Haifi possession, which ended in a turnover 14 times in the first quarter alone.

Two ball reversals and three options blunted, Haifa found Brian Randle along the baseline about 20 feet from the basket. Josh Smith, in precisely the spot required, sprinted out from the block to challenge the shot, which fell meekly into the hands of a teammate.

If the Pistons are going to play defense with that much effort and that much commitment to their assignments, they can get away with at least a few of the offensive inefficiences and perceived weaknesses some expect after their summer roster makeover.

“We’ve got to be long and athletic and that’s what we were doing,” said Smith, headliner along with Brandon Jennings of the eight new players Joe Dumars added to the roster since last season. “We were keeping those guys out of our paint, affecting shots if they got in there and when they did, we were trying to limit them to one shot and get out and run.”

Continue reading Pistons Ride Defense >>

Posted Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Teams don’t spend much time scouting the opposition in preseason, focusing instead on their own training camp experimentation with the playbook and lineup combinations. That goes double for tonight’s Pistons preseason opener against a completely foreign opponent, Israeli Super League reigning champion Maccabi Haifa.

Since that June win over the dynastic Maccabi Tel Aviv franchise – Will Bynum’s old team – Haifa has lost its star point guard, Gal Mekel, to the Dallas Mavericks and on Monday night lost 130-89 at Phoenix before a police escort to the airport and a commercial flight to Detroit.

“I don’t know anything about ’em, but we’re mostly going to focus on ourselves,” Maurice Cheeks said. “That’s what I’m going to do in these preseason games, focus on the things we’re trying to do as opposed to worrying whether they run 20 screen and rolls or 30 down screens. We’re going to try to do the things we’re capable of doing.”

Continue reading Billups to Start>>

Posted Monday, October 7, 2013

A half-dozen Pistons wrapped up Monday’s practice with a spot shooting competition from around the 3-point arc. Chauncey Billups smoked the field, a nod to not just his acknowledged shooting prowess but to his competitive streak and ability to embrace a challenge.

They’re the qualities that propelled him to leadership and made him an attractive target in free agency when Joe Dumars, after refortifying his roster, knew what was still missing was what Billups offered in volume – the ability to project a confident aura amid the chaos of an NBA season or a game down to its critical final possessions.

That’s why he’s likelier to finish games than to start them, where it would be more difficult to keep a 37-year-old’s minutes in check. And Billups expects to be on the court to shepherd a young team rippling with athleticism and potential through those turbulent moments. “Yeah, absolutely,” he said Monday. But if he’s not, well …

“One thing I will tell you, if I’m not, I’m just not,” he said. “Ain’t no riff. No big deal. Hopefully, we win it and no big deal. I’m not going to ruffle no feathers. I’m not here for that.”

Continue reading Still a Big Shot>>

Posted Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Pistons found out a few things about themselves in the opening week of training camp, but there’s only so much to be learned in an intramural setting. This week, they get to beat up on somebody else, and the variety of opponent will stretch their boundaries in a hurry.

From Israeli league member Maccabi Haifi on Tuesday to the defending NBA champion Miami Heat on Thursday, both at The Palace, the Pistons will face opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of style and athleticism. Their week will end with a trip to Brooklyn to face a Nets team fortified with ex-Celtics Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

Both Miami and Brooklyn figure to have very stable starting units and nearly established rotations. For the Pistons, starting jobs and rotation spots are on the line. Here are three issues that should start to come into focus for the Pistons in the week ahead.

Continue reading Week 2: Looking Forward>>

Posted Saturday, October 5, 2013

They’re a long way from an open book just yet, but Saturday’s open practice at least revealed a few things to the estimated 5,000 fans who showed up at The Palace to see the public unveiling of Maurice Cheeks’ first Pistons team.

Here are three quick impressions of the Pistons based on Saturday’s scrimmage and glimpses of practices over the past week:

KCP ahead of schedule – Just as a year ago, when Andre Drummond showed the Pistons flashes of greatness in the Orlando Summer League but gave no assurances coming out of July that he’d be ready for anything approaching a significant role during the regular season, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is on a similar trajectory.

The Pistons left Orlando three months ago convinced they’d made the right call on taking Caldwell-Pope with the eighth pick. They loved both his physical gifts and his willingness to stick his nose into the fray. But they were no more certain he’d crack the rotation than they were a year ago with Drummond.

Continue reading Week 1: Looking Back >>

Posted Friday, October 4, 2013

Andre Drummond followed up the worst game of his entire rookie season – no points, one rebound – with his first game that gave glimpses of greatness.

Two nights after earning only six minutes at Sacramento in his fifth NBA game, Drummond put up 22 points and eight boards, hitting 8 of 10 shots, as the Pistons pushed Oklahoma City to the final minute before losing on the road.

Sitting on the Oklahoma City bench that night, Maurice Cheeks was struck by what could be.

“I saw his potential – we saw his potential,” Cheeks said after wrapping up the fourth day of a Pistons training camp where Drummond, by all accounts, has left his mark. “Even now, just watching him, the way he rebounds the ball, the way he runs the floor, the agility that he has is something special. Just watching him on a daily basis now, you see how special a player he can be because of his agility and his hands.”

Continue reading Bread and Butter>>

Posted Friday, October 4, 2013

Maurice Cheeks has been churning his lineups pretty consistently in training camp workouts, but the one consistent element has been Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith playing together as a frontcourt unit, the better to speed their comfort level.

One byproduct of that is to limit Josh Harrellson to playing only one position: center.

“They’ve been putting Dre and Greg on the same team,” said Harrellson, whom the Pistons signed to put the finishing touches on their summer roster makeover. “So other than that, I’m probably the only big we’ve got that can go against Dre, so I’ve been playing mostly the five.”

But when the Pistons stop beating up on each other and start playing other teams in preseason games next week, might Harrellson get a chance to work his way into the mix at power forward, where his outside shooting and rugged frame offers a unique blend of talents that could help spread the floor on one end and clog the paint on the other?

Continue reading No. 3 With a Bullet>>

Posted Thursday, October 3, 2013

Maurice Cheeks could go several different ways with the one starting position likely up for grabs in Pistons training camp, but a lot of things fall easily into place if Kentavious Caldwell-Pope wins the shooting guard spot.

And he just might.

“Today, he had an excellent day,” Cheeks said after the Georgia rookie knocked down a few long jump shots and got after it defensively in his one-on-one battle with Rodney Stuckey in a highly competitive scrimmage.

Continue reading KCP Makes a Move>>

Posted Thursday, October 3, 2013

Joe Dumars and Maurice Cheeks would get it if Gigi Datome’s head was swimming and his legs wobbly after playing 11 tough games for his national team in EuroBasket competition, hopping on a plane and landing in Detroit, immersed in a new culture, less than 48 hours before Pistons training camp began.

His teammates? That’s another story.

“Those guys that are trying to get his minutes, they don’t care,” Cheeks said of the 6-foot-8 dead-eye shooter the Pistons signed off of an MVP season in the top Italian league, where he led Rome to the finals. “In fact, they’re glad he was over there playing. It’s the NBA. You’ve got to come in and fit in and try to make your mark.”

Continue reading ‘So Happy to be Here’ >>

Posted Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Maurice Cheeks has ended his morning two-a-day practices by singling out a player to shoot a free throw to decide whether or not the Pistons can hit the showers or run sprints. On Tuesday, rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope stepped to the line and knocked it down. On Wednesday, Italian sharpshooter Gigi Datome – a 93 percent foul shooter during his MVP campaign last season – saw his shot go in and out.

Cheeks offered a reprieve and called on Chauncey Billups, who closed out too many wins to remember for the Pistons by draining clutch free throws in the final minute to protect narrow leads.

Billups declined the opportunity, instead nominating Andre Drummond to carry his team’s hopes of avoiding extra duty. A 37 percent foul shooter as a rookie who can expect to be intentionally fouled until he makes teams rue such strategy, Drummond stood before the entire team, coaching staff and front office and swished his do-or-die try.

Continue reading Exclamation Points >>

Posted Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Pistons might not figure out exactly what they have on offense in time for their Oct. 30 season opener. The best way to ensure they don’t have to tunnel out of trouble whenever the light comes on is to play lock-down defense from opening night forward.

And that’s their expectation.

“We’re a defense-first team,” Will Bynum said. “We’ve got the length, we’ve got the size, we’ve got the quickness. We know defense wins games and that’s what we’re all about right now, just trying to get the principles down and get through this rough training camp.”

Andre Drummond’s presence was felt on the defensive end during his rookie season even as he was only learning NBA personnel and style of play. With a greater role ahead this year, his impact projects upward. Adding Josh Smith’s defensive versatility gives the Pistons two defensive game-changers in the frontcourt. Cheeks will demand on-ball pressure from his point guards, and in Brandon Jennings, Bynum and rookie Peyton Siva he has players with the quickness to accommodate his vision – to force turnovers, steer defenders to his shot-blockers and create transition scoring chances.

Continue reading Defense First >>

Posted Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Fans clamored for more of Andre Drummond during a season the Pistons entered with organizational caution for expectations on their callow rookie. They can stop the hand-wringing, it would appear.

“I’m going to put him out on the floor, for sure,” Maurice Cheeks said as the Pistons opened training camp. “I’m not looking not to play him. I’m looking to play him. He’s going to be out on the floor. I don’t know any other way to say it. He’s going to be out on the floor and I think with him on the floor we can be pretty good.”

Drummond said Monday that he weighed in at 275 pounds when the team went through their pre-camp physicals, which puts him 20 pounds under his weight last winter even though his body fat index hovered between 5 and 6 percent at the time, he said. The conditioning issues that contributed to limited minutes over the early months last season are no longer a factor.

Continue reading More Minutes >>