What Off-Season?

Draft, Summer League first steps in critical Pistons summer

When Joe Dumars was asked the day after the 2011-12 season ended if the coming off-season would be his most important, he gave the answer I fully expected he would: “Every one of ’em is. You wake up today and it’s the off-season for us. We’ll be totally committed to, ‘How do we add to this team to make it better and how can we take this next step?’ ”

Of course, the right answer might have begun with, “Off-season? What off-season?” Increasingly, for executives, coaches and players, there is that part of the season when games are scheduled and that part of the season when you put in the work to make sure you still have a next season in your future.

Chief NBA decision makers are rarely in a position to take a summer to kick back. Even when you’re sitting on a nucleus poised to contend for the NBA title, there is critical tweaking required that can prove painstaking. When you only need one or two pieces, it is essential to consider every possibility to make sure they are the most ideal one or two pieces. You don’t want to squander the elusive window of opportunity because your complementary pieces were less than complementary.

But I also understood the questioner’s intent.

All off-seasons are critical, but the one Joe D and his staff face is critical in a different way. The Pistons won’t be players in free agency – not major ones, at least, given their cap situation – but there are plenty of other areas that probably will mean another summer without much hope of a Dumars family vacation.

The lockout affected the Pistons to a greater degree than most teams, for reasons we’ve enumerated here – none bigger than the fact that Lawrence Frank, a newly hired coach whose biggest strength might well be his degree of preparation, was left without a team until two weeks before the season began. Frank gets a full off-season this summer, one he’ll put to full use.

This will be the first full summer the Pistons get with Greg Monroe. Two years ago, remember, he underwent foot surgery coming out of Summer League and was sidelined for weeks leading to training camp.

No one will benefit more from a routine NBA summer than Brandon Knight. Frank believes fully that Summer League will provide a gaping opportunity for Knight to grow into a leadership role. Frank saw the effect Summer League had on Oklahoma City’s kiddie corps a few years back, with Kevin Durant showing up after his second season just to start the bonding process for young players who required NBA nurturing. The ball will be in Knight’s hands and he’ll be the most credentialed Piston who takes the court when they congregate in Orlando for practices in the days before the July 9-13 game schedule.

Vernon Macklin likely will be the summer entry’s starting center or power forward and it will be important for him – and the Pistons – to build off of his eyebrow-raising D-League stint.

Then there will be four newcomers, probably, who have a chance to join the young nucleus – Monroe, Knight, Rodney Stuckey, Jonas Jerebko and, the Pistons still hope, Austin Daye and perhaps Macklin: 2011 No. 2 pick Kyle Singler, plus this year’s lottery pick and two second-rounders.

The Pistons ideally will come away with improved frontcourt size and wing athleticism from the draft – we’ll take a look at the possibilities for them extensively in the seven weeks ahead of the June 28 draft – and then they can look to fill in the cracks in free agency. And if there’s a willing trade partner out there, Joe D has made it clear he’s eager to talk. He’ll be easy to reach. It’s not like he’s going anywhere this summer.


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