Summer Stock

Off-season hard work pays off for Pistons young core

The Pistons have a roster loaded with young talent for the upcoming season.
Pistons photo
The Pistons will have at least six new faces on the roster this season, five rookies plus trade acquisition Corey Maggette. But the contention Lawrence Frank made as last season ended – that their greatest opportunity for progress rested on internal improvement – likely will be the case for the 2012-13 season. Off-season gains made by young players Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey and Jonas Jerebko are the Pistons’ surest path to immediate progress.

And toward that end, Frank is greatly encouraged by the signs of summer.

“I’ve been very impressed with our guys in terms of the amount of work they’ve put in,” he said. “It was a very productive summer.”

Frank said he or his assistant coaches would attempt to spend time with everyone on the roster on their turf. With the exception of Ukrainian center Slava Kravtsov, they were able to do exactly that, including a nine-day visit to Sweden and Jerebko for John Loyer. Pistons assistant general manager George David traveled to Ukraine and Cyprus to catch two of Kravtsov’s Eurobasket games last month and had dinner with him.

“As a staff, we tried to touch every single one of our guys,” Frank said. “I did a lot of traveling between going to LA with Greg when he was out there with Kevin Love, meeting with Austin (Daye) when he was out there, going to Vegas and not only seeing Greg, Brandon and Andre (Drummond, all at Tim Grgurich’s August camp), but also going to see Tay (Prince) and Austin in between sessions when they were working out at Impact with (Joe) Abunassar.”

Dee Brown traveled to Chicago to work with Will Bynum. Stuckey spent almost his entire summer at the practice facility with Steve Hetzel and Brown. Charlie Villanueva was another frequent practice facility guest and Corey Maggette, another Abunassar client, has been continuing his rehabilitation from knee surgery under Arnie Kander’s supervision.

Jason Maxiell, Villanueva and Monroe all got to spend some unique time with the coaching staff for several days while practicing with the Summer League team in Orlando, where Knight and Daye joined Drummond and fellow rookies Kim English, Kyle Singler and Khris Middleton, all of whom have been fixtures in Auburn Hills for several weeks.

Frank saw Monroe make big gains, starting with the time he spent with him in June during his Los Angeles workouts with Kevin Love, a player Frank admires for his motor and the way he’s changed his body since coming to the NBA.

“Greg has had a tremendous summer,” he said. “The intensity he’s worked at has increased. His thirst has been unbelievable. He’s lived in this facility. He and Roy Rogers have spent more time together than Roy’s spent with his wife and kids, which his wife and kids are probably happy about. It’s Greg being here, first one in the gym every morning, going to LA and working out with Kevin Love, doing the strength stuff, going to Vegas, coming to Summer League. His work ethic, his willingness to do what needs to be done in order to take the next step as a player, I think he’s definitely made strides.”

While Frank was bouncing from place to place, he was getting everyday reports from his staff on the activity inside the practice facility. Invariably, that included Stuckey.

“He had an unbelievable summer,” Frank said. “He was in here every single day. You reap what you sow. You get out of it what you put into it. Rodney continues to put more and more into his game. And he’s still a young player at 26. He’s seen a lot of change in terms of coaches and teammates. Just the stability, and his desire to be a really special player and to build upon all those bright spots he had during that 20-game stretch last February to March when he was healthy, his future is very bright.”

It didn’t take Frank long to grasp the businesslike approach that preceded Knight to the NBA. On the eve of last season’s opener, Frank was in his office nearing midnight when he looked out and saw Knight working on his own.

“Brandon, again, great work ethic,” Frank said. “He put a lot into it whether he was here or in Florida. He’s going to try to get every ounce of ability out of him and just has a great drive and pursuit. He’s a learner. He wants to know. He’s going to ask questions. He’s going to continue to get better.”

Organizationally, the Pistons are bullish on their future, including a salary cap situation that will provide an opening for significant roster adjustments next summer, and for what the impact of the rookie class will mean down the road. The immediate future is more dependent on the gains made in the off-season by the core of that future. All signs are positive on that front.