Dedicated to D

Re-signing of key free agents would help spark Frank’s defensive revival

A post player like Jonas Jerebko will be key in the Pistons' defensive strategies moving forward.
Isaac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images
When Lawrence Frank convenes his team for the first time – likely Friday, though it probably won’t be the full Pistons roster quite yet as free agency won’t officially open until 2 p.m. – it won’t be too far into his opening statement when he gets around to the value of defense and the need to execute it better than what the videotape shows him from last season.

According to widespread media reports, the Pistons by midday Thursday had secured the return of two of their own free agents, Tayshaun Prince and Jonas Jerebko, while still hoping to close a deal with Rodney Stuckey, like Jerebko a restricted free agent.

“It’s going to mean a lot,” said Ben Wallace, whose own return appears imminent after he took his physical on Thursday, upon hearing the free-agent reports. “Tayshaun can guard form one to the four. Jonas can probably guard from the one to the five. With two versatile guys like that on the defensive end, it can only help.”

Their expected returns don’t come as a surprise – Joe Dumars said after last season that was the priority, and Frank seconded the notion within the past week. Those signings would go a long way toward giving Frank the personnel to give teeth to his blueprint, but Frank is going to make it clear that no matter who’s on the floor, good defense is a byproduct of teamwork, trust and mind-set.

“It’s a mentality,” he said in talking to a group of reporters recently. “Does personnel aid? Of course, but at the same time, no scheme – whether it’s on the offensive or defensive end – done without maximum effort has a chance at working. It’s finding guys who are committed to winning a championship. You have to have balance – you have to be in the top 10 in both defensive and offensive efficiency to get into the playoffs and start to make the climb. Especially when you look at the defensive decline this group has suffered over the years, defense has to be paramount.”

Frank probably doesn’t go consecutive minutes without wrapping his mind around one problem-solving solution or another, so it’s not uncommon to hear him tick off lists of goals or needs or bromides. Where defense is concerned, he talks about the six consequences possible when the paint is penetrated.

“If the ball gets into the paint, you can take a charge,” he said. “The shot can be blocked, there can be a deflection, there can be a steal, there can be an NBA foul. That sixth consequence – that two points – that can’t be the dominant thing. Last year – and I don’t want to get so crazy about last year – but it’s an area we have to improve in. We gave up a lot of layups. That comes down to a lot of different areas, a lot of different reasons why. But we have to get back, we have to get our defense set, we have to protect the paint.”

Getting Prince and Jerebko back would provide Frank with strong defensive options at the two forward positions. It also gives Frank the luxury of not having to use Austin Daye to guard the array of scoring aces at small forward across the league, from LeBron James to Paul Pierce to Carmelo Anthony in the Eastern Conference alone, but to use Daye’s offensive versatility to create matchup problems the other way.

Daye was at the practice facility – as was No. 1 pick Brandon Knight – on Thursday and reiterated the sentiments expressed earlier in the week by players from Ben Gordon to Ben Wallace regarding the optimism that attaches itself to the momentum of a change in ownership coupled with the energy that Frank’s hiring has brought to the franchise.

“We had to overcome a lot of things (last season),” he said, “but I talked to the guys and everyone around and I feel like this year we’re just going to have a lot more positive attitude because of the coaching staff we have around us. Everyone’s confident in each other and when you have that, it makes things a lot smoother. … I’m in a great situation now, coming in with some veterans and some young guys and I’m kind of in the middle. We’ve got a great coach and we’ve got one of the best GMs, so I’m looking to solidify myself on the team and have a great season.”

For the universal optimism to translate into progress and, ultimately, to wins, it’s certain to start with a mind-set that manifests itself on the defensive end. That mission gets easier with the expected return of their own key free agents.