Foundation Work

In stressing draft’s impact, Gores hints at how Pistons will build

The Pistons aren't likely to adopt the Miami model in building a title contender.
Jesse D. Garrabrant /NBAE/Getty Images
TV ratings for the 2011 NBA playoffs have spiked, a phenomenon anecdotally credited to Pat Riley’s sales pitch that wed LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Dwyane Wade. And all those casual fans new to the NBA could be forgiven for believing the fail-safe way to build an NBA champion is through free agency.

And maybe it is – when the stars align themselves the way they did for Miami last summer, anyway. But that was a once-a-millenium moon shot under conditions most NBA cities can’t replicate. You’ll notice the three lead actors, all free agents at the same time, chose not to set up stage in Toronto or Cleveland, but Miami.

For however much home-state Pistons fans love Michigan, we will all admit – proudly, in the majority of instances – that Detroit holds much more in common with Cleveland and Toronto than with Miami.

So waiting for those stars – superstars, in fact – to align themselves over the Detroit skyline is not likely to be the game plan Joe Dumars and Tom Gores discuss when they get together Friday morning to launch the new era, the Tom Gores era, of Pistons basketball.

One of the most encouraging things among the many heard in Gores’ pitch-perfect introductory press conference Thursday at The Palace was his repeated and unprompted references to the draft, now less than three weeks out. One of the NBA franchises to change hands most recently, Phoenix, has made a habit of selling its first-round picks. Rajon Rondo was one of them.

It doesn’t appear the Pistons will be in that business. Asked about the roster, Gores said he thought there was a good base, and talked about the smashing success last year’s lottery yielded for the Pistons in Greg Monroe.

“The draft is very important,” he said. “That’s part of the very first right decision.” And: “We made a great draft pick last year. That’s a great base. We’ve got to make sure we do that again.”

About these NBA Finals: There’s another participant, you know. Somebody had to act the foil and the Dallas Mavericks volunteered. Down the stretch in the fourth quarter of a landmark Game 2 comeback to tie the series Thursday night, nobody stood taller than Dirk Nowitzki – not LeBron, not D-Wade, not Chris Bosh.

Footnote: Nowitzki was the No. 9 pick in the 1998 draft, one considered not very potent at the time, not unlike this one is presently viewed. The top three picks that year: Michael Olowokandi, Mike Bibby, Raef LaFrentz. Vince Carter was a human highlight reel but never mastered the lonely moments of winning time. Inarguably, the two best players from that draft were Nowitzki and Paul Pierce, taken ninth and 10th.

The Pistons finished one spot out of the money that year and they knew it. They had the 11th pick and took Bonzi Wells. They would not have traded Dirk Nowitzki or Paul Pierce, as they did Wells, swapped for Portland’s 1999 first-rounder before ever playing a game for the Pistons.

They don’t think they’re slotted one rung too low this time. Gores’ desire to get that No. 8 pick right is grounded in more than recent history and hope. The sense around the offices on Joe Dumars’ floor at the practice facility is that the Pistons are going to come away with a good player from this draft. It might not be someone who has the first-year impact Monroe had, but two or three years from now, they think there’s an honest shot that they’ll have a player as important to the franchise as Monroe quickly became.

Joe D said last month, when the Pistons learned their lottery fate, that it was more likely than not the Pistons would draft for size. The logic fits: The Pistons need another interior presence with Ben Wallace nearing the end and Chris Wilcox a free agent, and big men are the strength of the lottery.

As of early June, it looks like you can cross four names off the board. From all indications, Kyrie Irving, Derrick Williams, Enes Kanter and Brandon Knight will be gone. They might not be the first four picks, but it’s as close to certain as it gets in this draft that somebody in the top seven is going to grab those four.

If Utah takes Knight at No. 3, then the pick of intrigue becomes Toronto at No. 5. That assumes that Cleveland, picking fourth, will go big after taking Irving at No. 1. Kemba Walker is a possibility to land with the Raptors. One spot behind them, Kawhi Leonard is believed on the short list for Washington, which also is thought to be enamored of Jan Vesely’s athleticism as a nice target for John Wall’s fast-break lobs.

If 4-5-6 go Kanter-Walker-Leonard, then the draft sets up nicely for the Pistons. Sacramento, picking No. 7, is most likely to pick a guard. And if Knight and Walker are gone, the sudden possibility that Jimmer Fredette – apparently doing wonders for his credentials in workouts across the NBA – goes ahead of the Pistons’ pick will have materialized. He would fit needs across the board for the Kings, who must consider Fredette’s marquee appeal in a year that selling tickets and galvanizing support to publicly fund a new arena in some capacity have to be priority concerns for the Maloof ownership.

That would give the Pistons a broad array of choices among the big men they are likely considering: Vesely, Jonas Valanciunas, Bismack Biyombo, Tristan Thompson, perhaps Donatas Motiejunas or Marcus and Markieff Morris.

Some are more ready to help now, some might have higher ceilings, but somewhere in there – very likely, at least – is a player who would prove that ideal bookend to the ideal centerpiece the Pistons plucked from last year’s draft, Monroe.

And maybe 13 years down the road, some future NBA Finals will pair a flashy team built from the free-agent firmament against the blue-collar Pistons, who made the best use possible of their rare visits to the draft lottery.