True Blue Pistons - December 2011

The Official Blog

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 Saturday, December 31, 2011
Out with a Win

The Pistons made a New Year’s resolution: no more beating ourselves. Then they put it into practice about six hours ahead of schedule.

Just three games into a season they hoped would scrub the stinging memories of last year away, the Pistons said “enough, already.” You could see it with three minutes to go when Greg Monroe and Rodney Stuckey tore after a loose ball from opposite directions and wound up in a fearsome head-on collision that momentarily staggered both. You could see it with under 50 seconds left when Jonas Jerebko sprinted downcourt after a Pistons turnover gave Indiana an opening to cut further into a six-point lead that had already shrunk from 18. And you could see it with 20 seconds left when Monroe got his hand on an offensive rebound once, then again, and finally tipped it in to ice the 96-88 win over Indiana, which had dominated the Pistons just five nights earlier in the season opener.

“I think everybody had that feeling today,” Monroe said after his 19-point, 11-rebound outing despite being limited to 13 first-half minutes with foul trouble. “We’ve got a hungry bunch of guys in here. The first three games might not have shown it, but those games left a sour taste in our mouth. That’s now how we want to play this year. That’s now what we’re about this year. And tonight just showed, we’re trying to make a difference. We’re trying to win games. That’s the main focus every night.”

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Posted Friday, December 30, 2011
Still Searching

There might be a more forbidding set of circumstances facing a team looking for its first win of the season than to play Boston in its home debut and also scrambling to break into the win column after three losses to open its season. But it wouldn’t take long to scan the list.

The Pistons, after playing their best half of basketball and still trailing by seven at halftime, fell behind by 19 midway through the third quarter and fell to 0-3 in a 96-85 loss to the Celtics, who were boosted by the return of captain Paul Pierce, missing with a heel bruise in their first three games.

The Celtics got 3-point baskets on consecutive possessions to start the third quarter from Ray Allen and Pierce, forcing Lawrence Frank to call a timeout just 46 seconds into the second half. The snowball kept rolling downhill, though, as Boston shot 71 percent for the third quarter and stretched that seven-point lead to 25.

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Back to Boston

It might not tug at Lawrence Frank’s heartstrings quite like the two trips the Pistons take to New Jersey a week apart in early February will, but their journey to Boston tonight won’t be just another game for him, either.

Frank had plenty of options to jump back into coaching after New Jersey, where Frank spent 10 years on staff as either an assistant or head coach, fired him 16 games into the 2009-10 season. But he chose the job Doc Rivers offered to be his No. 1 assistant with complete authority to run the defense for an NBA title contender that hung its hat on defense.

It was the opportunity to work under Rivers and to coach the multitude of future Hall of Famers on Boston’s roster that appealed to Frank.

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Posted Thursday, December 29, 2011
Push for Progress

The high scorer no longer around talked to one of his ex-teammates after the team’s 0-2 start, both losses not especially close and rife with defensive lapses, and after the conversation he put this on Twitter: “We agree the guys just need a little time to gel and learn each other’s styles.”

Except it wasn’t Rip Hamilton talking to Tayshaun Prince. It was Peja Stojakovic talking to Dirk Nowitzki. Yeah, that Dirk Nowitzki. Of the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavs.

The Pistons and Mavericks might be miles apart in the current NBA reality, but the larger point remains: If a team with as much continuity and stability as the Mavs acknowledges that familiarity is an issue even for a team that didn’t change coaches, then it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the Pistons are scrambling to meet somewhere in the same chapter, never mind on the same page, less than three weeks since training camp opened.

It was just three weeks ago, in fact, when Lawrence Frank was meeting every player on his roster for the first time.

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Posted Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Party Poopers

If the price of discovering a star in the making was a loss in the highly anticipated debut of the Tom Gores era, the new Pistons owner would probably take that deal in a heartbeat.

Brandon Knight, the building block Joe Dumars added in the 2011 draft to go with Greg Monroe from the previous year’s lottery, made a strong case for a greater role – whether that’s starting eventually or seizing more minutes and greater control of the offense – with a scintillating second half that breathed life into a Pistons team struggling to score and get into its offensive sets with efficiency.

“Don’t worry about the results,” Gores would say a few minutes before a grand pregame rollout that left a 22,076 sellout breathless and the tipoff of what would become a 105-89 loss to Cleveland. “Do the right things every day.”

Knight did so very much right, making 10 of 13 shots, scoring 10 points and dealing three assists in an eight-minute stint in the third quarter to fuel a Pistons comeback, and finishing with 23 points and six assists.

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A Party for Detroit

Tom Gores promised a party, one that celebrates more than the launching of his era of Pistons ownership.

“We’ve got a good party tonight,” he said minutes before tipoff of the 2011-12 Pistons home opener against Cleveland. “Tonight is about celebrating Detroit and its comeback. That’s what we’re doing – we’re coming back. And we all feel it in our hearts. I know I do. This has been on my mind for a long time. I feel I have been trained for this my whole life. I grew up in sports; I grew up in Michigan. I feel like I am so ready for this challenge to help Detroit come back.”

The Pistons’ role in that? Doing the right things every day to build an organization that not just wins, but inspires.

Since Gores assumed ownership in June, he’s brought in president Dennis Mannion, with a rich background across all four major professional sports, and worked in tandem with Joe Dumars to hire Lawrence Frank. Gores said as the process of the sale neared completion that his first task was to learn as much about the organization, top to bottom, as he could and then take swift, decision action.

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Gores Echoes Frank

If the message Tom Gores delivered to the Pistons the day after losing the season opener sounded familiar, it probably wasn’t accidental. The theme was the same one Lawrence Frank has been hammering since training camp opened – and the one Joe Dumars lived as a player and imposed on the organization when he took over as Pistons president 11 years ago.

That message: success, measured in baseball by winning, is an everyday commitment.

“The same values – the work and the dedication – he had to get where he’s at today,” Ben Gordon said. “He wants us to take our jobs seriously every day. He told us great things can happen. He said he’s a kid from Flint that worked hard and was consistent with his work every day and that’s the same thing he wants us to do. He made it clear he’s here to support us and we’re all in this together. We’ve just got to take heed to what he said today and use that same mentality on the court.”

Gores was in Indianapolis for Monday’s season-opening loss to the Pacers and observed Tuesday’s practice at Dumars’ side. When it ended, Frank invited him to address the team.

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Posted Tuesday, December 27, 2011
BG: ‘Lawrence is frank’

Greg Monroe admits it: He was curious to see how Lawrence Frank would respond in Tuesday’s practice to the across-the-board disappointment of the particulars of the Pistons’ 12-point loss at Indiana in the season opener.

“I was,” he said, after a four-hour video session and practice had wrapped up on the eve of the home opener, capped with a Frank invitation to new owner Tom Gores to address the team. “And he had the same demeanor he had throughout training camp and every other day. We went in and watched film – we know we had a bad game – saw our mistakes. Then we came out here and went to work. That’s his mind-set. Every time you come to the gym, you’ve got to work. And I think everybody did a good job of that today.”

“Lawrence is frank – no pun intended,” Ben Gordon said. “He tells you like it is. Guys have to respect that. He lets us know what we’re doing wrong – he lets you know what he’s doing wrong. We have open communication. He got on us about our effort and things we needed to do. He’s very clear.”

Long before the Pistons and Pacers tipped off, Frank had made it clear that one game was just that – one game, the first in a 66-game season and a continuing process of familiarity and evolution. He scoffed at the idea that last year’s opener – when the Pistons squandered a seven-point lead in the final 100 seconds to lose at New Jersey – began a snowball effect that overwhelmed the season.

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For the first time since the Pistons installed him as head coach almost five months ago, the sparkle was missing from Lawrence Frank’s eyes late Monday night. The Pistons had just lost soundly to Indiana in the season opener, falling by 12 after not leading by a single point all night, and the quips were largely missing, the self-deprecating humor that Frank uses to disarm questioners absent.

He tried, once, when an Indianapolis radio guy asked a leading question about how impressive the Pacers, coming off a playoff season and bolstered by the acquisitions of David West and George Hill, looked in the opener before a packed house and a crowd thirsty for meaningful basketball again.

“What’s the big boulevard down there?” Frank asked. “I don’t know if there is going to be a parade this year. They’re a good team – it’s one game.”

Later today, when the Pistons convene for practice in advance of their own anticipated opener – for different reasons, mostly the advent of the Tom Gores era at The Palace and the vows made by ownership and Frank that the Pistons are dedicated to doing whatever it takes to win back their fans – I suspect we will see the other Lawrence Frank.

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Posted Monday, December 26, 2011

Lawrence Frank wanted a starting point. Now he has one. Not the one he wanted, but a starting point.

“They played smash-mouth basketball,” Frank said after his Pistons debut resulted in a 91-79 loss at Indiana in which the Pacers never trailed and led by as many as 24. “They dominated us in the paint. It’s cause and effect. Between their post-up and pick-and-roll play, our inability to keep the ball out of the middle of the floor, plus their desire to go get it … you look at the rebounding numbers, to have such a lopsided advantage like that, we put ourselves in a really bad spot. We’re supposed to be a no-middle, no-paint team. They were a better team tonight.”

As long as the Pacers were missing shots, the Pistons weren’t buried by their early turnovers, the frequent trips to the foul line Indiana was taking and the assault the Pacers waged on both backboards. Once those shots started dropping, good night.

It didn’t take long, either. Down five with 3:38 to go before halftime and hoping to get to the locker room within arm’s length of the Pacers to clean up their mistakes, the Pistons found themselves trailing by 13 just 79 seconds later after a Ben Gordon turnover and a Tayshaun Prince miss opened the door for consecutive triples from Paul George and Darren Collison.

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The Pistons could be a better team this year and not have any more to show for it. It’s as heavy at the top as it’s been of late with Miami, Chicago, Boston, New York and perhaps Orlando still harboring legitimate title hopes, but much stronger in the middle. The days of two or three sub-.500 teams cracking the playoff field in the East are probably history.

Nobody looks more certain to be improved than Indiana, which hosts the Pistons to open the 2011-12 season Monday night.

“We’ve watched their (preseason) games, went through their playoff games from the year before – they’ve got great depth,” Lawrence Frank said of the Pacers, who pushed East finalist Chicago in each of the first four games of its opening-round playoff series before losing in five last spring. “They’re playing 10 guys.”

In addition to the core that played well enough under interim coach Frank Vogel to win him the full-time gig, Indiana traded for San Antonio’s George Hill and signed New Orleans power forward David West, a Pistons killer, in free agency.

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Posted Saturday, December 24, 2011

Maybe it’s a measure of how far Greg Monroe came as a rookie that there hasn’t been a ton of buzz around him this preseason. Maybe it’s a measure of how, well, measured a personality the Pistons’ second-year center really is that there isn’t proportionate chatter about a guy who averaged a double-double after last year’s All-Star break. Maybe it’s that the media focus has shifted to Detroit’s 2011 lottery pick, Brandon Knight, whose electric moments have piqued the interest of Pistons fans who recall the way Isiah Thomas energized a stagnant franchise 30 years ago.

Probably it’s a combination of all of those factors.

But make no mistake: Greg Monroe remains the guy who Joe Dumars compared to the anchor store of a mall as last season ended.

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Posted Friday, December 23, 2011

When training camp opened, Joe Dumars hoped he’d be able to find a veteran big man good enough to plug into the rotation from what began as a meager list of worthy free agents and dwindled quickly while he worked to wrap up negotiations with Rodney Stuckey. When journeyman Kwame Brown got a $7 million payday from Golden State, the market was set.

So there’s an opening for someone to grab minutes in a frontcourt anchored by Greg Monroe and filled out by Jonas Jerebko and Charlie Villanueva – in all likelihood, the contenders to start at power forward – plus Jason Maxiell and Ben Wallace.

A rookie picked late in the second round isn’t the most likely place to find a frontcourt solution, but Vernon Macklin hopes to defy the odds and earn the trust of Lawrence Frank. He took a good first step in Tuesday’s preseason finale after a 35-second cameo in the opener four nights earlier.

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Posted Thursday, December 22, 2011

At various stages of training camp, Lawrence Frank has said that he wants to find not necessarily his five best players so much as the five players who play best together. He’s also said that when he decides someone has earned a shot at playing time – either a starting job or a move into the rotation – that he doesn’t react to one- or two-game samples. Five games, more or less, is his litmus test.

Those are mileposts he won’t have had the luxury of passing in time for Monday’s 2011-12 season opener at Indiana. So who starts?

“I’ve talked to the team about it,” he said after Thursday’s three-hour practice, “but we’ll have to see based on health and on performance.”

Whoever starts at Indiana isn’t guaranteed of holding on to the position long term, not with such an abbreviated preseason.

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Posted Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Brandon Knight arrived at Kentucky highly touted and already known to NBA scouts. Then he struggled early in his freshman year on a team adjusting to the loss of five first-round draft picks before finding his footing over the season’s second half. The NCAA tournament was going to be big for him, the buzz went, if he still harbored a desire to head to the NBA as soon as possible.

Then Knight went without a basket against Princeton in the first round, missing all seven of his shots – until making the game-winner at the buzzer.

Lawrence Frank calls it the trait of “instant amnesia” – the ability to forget what happened on one play and move on to the next.

Knight has been the talk of Pistons training camp so far. It’s not that Joe Dumars and his staff are surprised by his talent – their delight when Knight unexpectedly slipped to No. 8 in last June’s draft was genuine – but, perhaps, by how quickly he’s exhibited a feel for playing point guard with all that it entails at the NBA level and by his utter lack of awe for his surroundings.

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Posted Tuesday, December 20, 2011

CLEVELAND – Intent on pulling a 180 from a nightmarish 2010-11 season, the appeal of a Knight and Daye backcourt might go beyond word play for Lawrence Frank.

With Ben Gordon out and Rodney Stuckey limited because he’s only been in camp four days – though Stuckey wound up playing 22 minutes in his debut, scoring 15 and knocking down all 10 of his free throws – Lawrence Frank started rookie Brandon Knight alongside Austin Daye at guard in the final preseason game, a 90-89 win at Cleveland.

For the seven minutes they were on the floor together in the first quarter, they sparkled. Daye scored 10 quick points, hitting both of his 3-point attempts off of feeds from Knight. Knight picked up four assists in nine first-quarter minutes as the Pistons built an early 10-point lead and racked up 30 first-quarter points.

They were even better in the final minute, when the Pistons capped a comeback on the backs of Knight and Daye. Knight ripped a rebound away from 7-footer Ryan Hollins to give the Pistons that resulted in a Will Bynum basket to pull the Pistons within one, then stole a Cleveland inbounds pass with six seconds left, a sequence that led to Daye knocking down the winning free throws.

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CLEVELAND – Jonas Jerebko’s Achilles tendon is so fully healed, he says it actually feels better than it did before he tore it in the 2010 preseason opener, costing him all of what should have been his second NBA season.

He’s added noticeable definition to his upper body and says he feels great. But you don’t spend more than a year removed from real basketball – full court, five on five – and not feel some effects.

So Jerebko grins when he talks about his 2011 debut, the 17 minutes he spent on the court at The Palace last week in the preseason opener before fouling out.

“I had a tough game last game, but it was the first game in, I don’t know, 15 months or something like that,” he said after Monday’s practice before the Pistons flew to Cleveland for tonight’s preseason finale. “I’m not worried about it. Practice felt really good today, so I’ll be ready for tomorrow.”

“It takes time,” Lawrence Frank said. “I don’t care who you are. Look at anyone who’s had a layoff like that. Some guys, it takes months. It’ll happen.”

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Posted Monday, December 19, 2011

The Pistons play both of their preseason games against Cleveland – the finale comes Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena – and open The Palace regular season against the Cavs, as well, on Dec. 28, the season’s second game.

Does that complicate things for Lawrence Frank, eager to get as much installed at both ends of the court before the Dec. 26 season opener with Indiana but perhaps hesitant to show too much to the Cavs?

Not so much.

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Nov. 7, 2008 will be remembered in Pistons lore as the debut of Allen Iverson. It came in that season’s fifth game, at New Jersey, and resulted in their first loss of the season. But the significance of the night has now shifted for the Pistons. On the other sideline, Lawrence Frank was Nets coach. And in that game, Frank’s point guard, Devin Harris, scored 38 points. He shot 9 of 15 from the field, but 20 of 24 at the foul line, getting into the paint at will by slicing through the Pistons’ defense on one pick-and-roll play after another.

Iverson has moved on, as has Harris, and Frank, of course, is now coaching the Pistons.

And the pick-and-roll, which was never a staple of John Kuester’s offense, will be used to full effect this season, whether by Rodney Stuckey, Will Bynum, Ben Gordon or Brandon Knight, all of them confident that Frank’s system plays to their strengths.

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Posted Sunday, December 18, 2011

Rodney Stuckey can’t make up the week of training camp he missed in two days, but he expects to be caught up and comfortable in the week left until the regular season starts.

Stuckey participated fully in the 90-minute open practice held Sunday at The Palace, where fans were admitted free of charge with no parking fee and a free hot dog and Coke to the approximately 2,000 fans who attended.

But 90 minutes constituted an unusually light day at Camp Frank, where Saturday saw the Pistons endure a four-hour practice the day after opening the preseason. It doesn’t mean Stuckey is ready to get thrown into the fray just yet, though he feels fine physically, he said after Sunday’s open practice that concluded with about 30 minutes of full-court scrimmaging.

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Posted Saturday, December 17, 2011

To a degree not often realized when pride gets in the way of contract negotiations, common sense won the day in the dance between the Pistons and Rodney Stuckey. Stuckey, a restricted free agent, re-signed with the Pistons on Saturday, by numerous accounts a three-year deal in the ballpark of $25 million.

That alone – a three-year deal – makes it unique. Stuckey’s 25, has and will continue to log 30-plus minutes a night, and last year led the Pistons in scoring and assists. But Stuckey, undeniably, has been erratic. At his best, he shows the ability to be a certifiable All-Star. He’s got great size for a guard, great strength, great straight-line speed and good quickness for his size. Over the last month or so of last season, he was very good, and over the last five games, he was better than that, averaging 25 points and nine assists and shooting 50 percent.

That’s the Stuckey that Lawrence Frank believes he can get 100 percent of the time.

“We think he has huge upside,” Frank said after Saturday’s practice, which started with a one-hour video review of Friday’s preseason opener with Cleveland that helped Stuckey start catching up to speed. “We think there’s a lot more to his game as the years evolve.”

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Posted Friday, December 16, 2011

When the dust settles on whatever becomes of the 2011-12 Pistons season, the preseason opener will be remembered less as the return of NBA basketball from a lockout that cost 16 games than for The Palace debut of Brandon Knight.

Greg Monroe proved a year ago how foolhardy it is to write off a rookie who struggles out of the chute, and the converse holds, as well. Nobody should expect Knight to carry the Pistons to the playoffs on his slight shoulders, necessarily, but the things he showed off Friday night at least suggest that if he doesn’t become an NBA impact player at some point, something went terribly wrong.

In a game meandering around the way you would expect a preseason opener to meander – never mind one held just a week after training camps opened – Knight brought energy and order to the equation with a handful of electrifying plays in a ragged 91-87 loss to Cleveland replete with 91 free throws and 42 turnovers.

“He sees the court,” last year’s dynamite rookie, Monroe, said after he racked up another double-double with 12 points and 13 boards in 27 foul-plagued minutes. “He has exceptional vision. He made a lot of big plays for us. He’s only going to get better. He definitely, definitely came in and made some big plays.”

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Lawrence Frank never wants the focus to be on him, so ask him what significance he finds in the fact that he will take The Palace court tonight for the first time as Pistons coach and he says this: “There are a couple of things significant about it. One is I have great respect for the this franchise and the history of the franchise.

“But I think it’s the first step in what one of our missions is: to win the fans back of the city and the surrounding areas. It’s going to be on us. It’s on our plate. We’ve got to give the fans a reason to come and watch us and it’s going to start with how we play, how we conduct ourselves both on and off the court, giving them a brand of an exciting, hard-nosed, defense-first, unselfish approach. So this is the first step and we’ve got to earn it.”

It’s not a message Frank has felt the need to deliver to the team in such a direct manner, but it’s one they’ve essentially been living and breathing since training camp opened a week ago. Frank’s daily drumbeat is about playing hard, playing together, playing for and trusting one another.

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Posted Thursday, December 15, 2011

With only two preseason games, there figures to be a sense of urgency for a coach to use his core rotation players more than he usually would consider in a preseason opener. But with only two weeks between the opening of training camp and the regular season’s tipoff, it’s probably matched by a coach’s wariness of pushing players too hard and risking a preseason injury.

And for a Pistons team that lost two players for the season – Jonas Jerebko and 2010 second-rounder Terrico White – in the 2010 preseason opener, that sense of foreboding might win out.

But Lawrence Frank isn’t tipping his hand as to how he will distribute minutes when the Pistons open an abbreviated preseason schedule Friday night by hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers.

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A great shot-blocker can be a critical component of a great defense. But the absence of a great shot-blocker shouldn’t prevent a team from playing great defense. That’s Lawrence Frank’s message. And Pistons history backs him up. The greatest single Pistons season almost certainly was 1988-89, when the Pistons won the NBA title and went 45-6 through the playoffs after acquiring Mark Aguirre. Guess who led that team in blocked shots? Bill Laimbeer with 100 for the season, barely more than one per game. “All I know is you don’t have to jump very high to take a charge,” Frank shrugged when asked how you go about building a formidable defensive team without a 7-foot swatter protecting the rim. “Our roster is what it is. I never complain about a roster. I love the guys we have. But you have to make the most of what you have.”

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Posted Wednesday, December 14, 2011

If even Pistons players wondered what Lawrence Frank could possibly have found to fill 16-hour days over the weeks that turned into months between his hiring and the opening of training camp, now they know. Now they know he was dissecting each of their 82 game tapes from a year ago, breaking down the strengths and weaknesses of every player’s arsenal and figuring out the possibilities that would put each individual in the best possible position for success to better the odds of the ultimate payoff: team success.

“For me, coach Frank, he gets the best out of everybody,” Jonas Jerebko said Wednesday at Pistons media day. “He’s very vocal. He tells you how it is. He tells you right to your face, in front of everybody. You’re going to hear it if you do wrong. And I love it.”

Up and down the line, the refrain was much the same.

“He brings a lot of energy,” Ben Wallace said. “Everybody wants to go out and play hard for a guy where they know if they give their all on the defensive end, they’re going to get rewarded on the offensive end.”

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The surest first step to NBA contention is coming into possession of a great player who is also a great leader. The Pistons defied convention by winning the 2004 NBA title without the presence of an acknowledged superstar but with five players who took equal turns in the spotlight, the ultimate ensemble cast. They were led similarly: by a collective.

But Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace are the sole holdovers from the era that included five straight runs to the Eastern Conference finals, and just as the Pistons are getting younger so is their leadership core beginning to shift.

Jonas Jerebko, whose manic energy compels teammates match his passion, swears he won’t let anything less than 100 percent effort go unchallenged. Greg Monroe, who a year ago took everything in, says he won’t hesitate to voice his opinions this season. Even rookie Brandon Knight, less than two weeks removed from his teens, says leadership comes naturally to him.

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Posted Tuesday, December 13, 2011

It wasn’t often a thing of beauty, but the 30 minutes of scrimmage that Lawrence Frank opened to reporters Tuesday would have sent a wave of electricity through Pistons fans for the defensive intensity and the constant communication exhibited from a team that too often came up lacking in those categories the last few seasons.

Frank, as several players have noted over the first five days of camp, interrupted the scrimmage a handful of times over those 30 minutes to point out mistakes, most notably for the way the White team defended the pick and roll. Twice he awarded the other team three points even when an open 3-pointer didn’t fall – once before it could even be attempted – as a way of pointing out the defensive breakdown.

“Any time you’re going against yourself, there is going to be a plus on one side and a minus on the other,” Frank said. “This has been a planned buildup. In the half court, we practice for 2½ hours before we scrimmage, so in the half court it’s got to be very precise and we’ve got to do it perfectly. But now there’s slippage once you go full court. We’ve just got to keep on building to have the same execution when we go full court that we do in half court.”

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Nearly 4½ hours after practice began Tuesday, Brandon Knight finally nodded to assistant coach Steve Hetzel. More than a full hour after practice had ended, the Pistons’ rookie gave Hetzel the OK to go break down practice tape and get about the rest of his day. Not that Knight was finished, by the way. He was still intent on working with Arnie Kander and taking some treatment after that – all so he could come back Wednesday and go at it again.

In just the first five days of training camp, Knight has been everything he was advertised to be – intelligent, talented and incredibly diligent. And he’s been more than that, too. He’s also opened eyes with his readiness to step into an NBA rotation. Lawrence Frank does his best to deflect every question about individuals at this point, but there is a general sense of excitement building within the organization that the Pistons did very well for themselves when Knight unexpectedly fell to No. 8 in last June’s draft.

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After a prolonged off-season that gave Joe Dumars and Lawrence Frank an inordinate amount of time to see how the other works and thinks, Joe D chuckled in amazement over how thoroughly prepared Frank seemed to be for whatever topic of discussion arose between them.

“Whatever you talk to him about, he’s already thought about it,” Dumars said. “He’s already probably broken it down, written it out, thought it out. You’re not going to walk into Lawrence’s office and discuss something with him that he hasn’t thought about and put some time into it.”

That level of preparedness should serve the Pistons well in this most unusual of NBA seasons, where the lag time from training camp’s onset to regular-season opener is 17 days and games will be squeezed into a tighter window than usual, curtailing practice time and forcing coaches to be ever more creative with their use of players – and of players’ time.

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Posted Monday, December 12, 2011

After more than 14 months away from the game, it would surprise no one if Jonas Jerebko had to scrape off a few more layers of rust than the next guy.

What would surprise his teammates, at least, is if Jerebko doesn’t take a sandblaster to the situation and grind away until he’s back to the dynamo who worked his way into the starting lineup as a second-round rookie two years ago, before a preseason Achilles tendon tear wiped out his second NBA season.

“Jonas is a workaholic,” Will Bynum grinned. “Jonas was up in Chicago at Tim Grover’s working out with me. Jonas is ready. He was ready to play last year. I’m not worried about Jonas at all.”

Jerebko, who returned to the Pistons when he and Joe Dumars shook hands on a four-year contract last week that allowed him to start training camp Friday on time, declared himself “150 percent” ready to go and said he feels no lingering after-effects of the injury.

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When Tom Gores was asked at his introductory press conference six months ago if he was prepared to spend the money required to be the best, he didn’t blink: “It’s not about the money,” he said, “it’s about the value. We’re going to be hard, Joe (Dumars) and I. ‘If you’re on board and we’re paying, then we expect value and that means full value.’ We’re prepared to spend if we feel the value is there.”

It hasn’t taken long for Pistons players to take notice that money is being spent to accommodate putting them in the most advantageous positions to succeed.

There are the improvements to the practice facility, including the enormous wall signs enumerating Lawrence Frank’s building blocks for success. There is the staggering expansion of the locker room at The Palace, where the Pistons will have a sanctum that rivals any in the NBA. There are the breakfast and lunch spreads during training camp to save time and ensure nutritional needs are met.

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Posted Sunday, December 11, 2011

On the other side of the wall that separates the basketball court at the Pistons’ practice facility from reporters waiting to interview players after practice, the cacophony of defensive communication, whistles blowing and sneakers smacking the hardwood could be heard loudly and clearly.

It seems like Lawrence Frank’s message is being received exactly that way by his players, too.

“He’s in charge,” Will Bynum said, bathed in perspiration after a three-hour practice, the first of Sunday’s two practices on the first day NBA teams could go twice. “He’s definitely a leader. And he holds everybody accountable. That’s a big difference – he holds everybody accountable. Everybody is treated the same.”

“He’s doing a lot of teaching (on the) defensive end,” Charlie Villanueva said. “He’s teaching us how he wants us to play defense, talk, communicate, and if one guy messes up, we keep doing it again until we get it right.”

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Posted Saturday, December 10, 2011

Two important people didn’t share the overwhelming consensus that the sorry conclusion to the 2010-11 season marked the end of Tayshaun Prince’s nine-year run with the Pistons: Tayshaun Prince and Joe Dumars.

When an equally critical third voice – Lawrence Frank’s – weighed in, then it really became a matter of Prince deciding whether he wanted a fresh start elsewhere or to be a part of returning the Pistons to the elite level he helped them establish at the front end of his career.

“When the season was over, it wasn’t a situation where, ‘I’m done here,’ ” Prince said after Saturday’s second day of training camp. “No matter how bad things get, you’ve got to always leave your options open and I did that. I looked at the other teams that were interested, I saw the position they were in and the position they wanted me to be in and this was the best situation.”

Prince had a good vibe about what Frank’s installation as head coach would mean, as well, and that was reinforced when the two sat down earlier in the week.

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When Joe Dumars has found time between negotiating Rip Hamilton’s buyout and Rodney Stuckey’s next contract and getting his rookies into camp and dotting the final I on Tayshaun Prince’s deal – and in the course of laying the groundwork for the next series of moves – he’s engaged himself in conversations with his peers around the NBA.

And they’ve all had the same reaction to the frenzied pace that began last Monday, when they could at last begin conversations with player agents: Wow. Crazy.

“Every GM I talk to right now, everybody’s talking about just trying to get our guys signed,” Dumars said, “worried a little about restricted free agency – is somebody going to make a big offer? I talked to one guy, he said, ‘There’s usually a rhythm to it. You take care of your guys first. You look at other free agents, then you look at the minimum guys. You have time to do that (in other years). Now you’re trying to compact it in and do everything at the same time. It’s a lot of work right now.”

When somebody asked if Dumars could appreciate fans being restless at the thought of the bulk of the roster from last season returning, after Prince’s re-signing, he smiled and reminded everyone that he’d been back in business for mere days and pointed out the number of young players who factor heavily into the mix.

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Posted Friday, December 9, 2011

The Pistons just wrapped up their first training camp practice and here are the highlights of the post-practice buzz from Joe Dumars, Lawrence Frank and a number of players:

Tayshaun Prince sat on the sidelines, but it was strictly because of formalizing the contract signing. Prince is back in the fold. The Pistons will practice once tomorrow and, according to the new CBA, can begin two-a-days on Sunday. Frank said he expects to do so, but will monitor the conditioning level.

Joe D said there is a verbal agreement to buy out Rip Hamilton, as was reported earlier in the day, but he couldn’t speak to the details because they haven’t signed off on the deal yet. So he couldn’t divulge why a buyout instead of the amnesty provision allowed by the new CBA. The likely answer, though, is that a buyout means Hamilton didn’t get the full value of the remaining two years on his contract. The amount of the buyout, under the rules of the old CBA, at least, would be divided over the two years left on his contract for cap purposes.

Dumars said the Pistons will have “a mid-level exception – there are three (different ones) now” at their disposal and he held that out as one possible, perhaps likely, avenue to add another veteran big man to the frontcourt.

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Posted Friday, December 9, 2011

And so, and at last, back to basketball. Here are the things to watch as the Pistons get ready to open training camp:

1. Lawrence Frank’s impact – The buzz I got on Frank from several who’ve known him best and longest say that players will respond to him for a few overriding reasons. One, he’s overwhelmingly positive. Even after some of New Jersey’s most demoralizing losses once the roster got torn up, practices the next day would be charged with energy and upbeat. Two, he’s so thoroughly prepared – for every imaginable situation – that players quickly come to believe that he will put them in the best position to win games. On those fronts, Frank promises to be a breath of fresh air for players who clearly were beleaguered by the events of the past few seasons.

2. Greg Monroe’s development – Monroe proved last season that he has a bright future, proved it by displaying relentlessly consistent improvement even in the face of a tumultuous season. He comes back a thoroughly confident player ready to start growing into a leadership role commensurate with his status as a core building block. What bears monitoring with Monroe is (1) the ways Frank devises to use him – he’s already spoken of using him as a “hub” of the offense – and (2) if that constant improvement continues after he gets reacclimated following an idle off-season.

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Posted Thursday, December 8, 2011

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 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.

That doesn’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.

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Posted Wednesday, December 7, 2011

When the Pistons parted with Greg Monroe before the lockout froze interaction between NBA players and their franchises on July 1, the marching orders for his off-season had been long established. The next step in the remarkable career arc Monroe began etching across basketball’s horizon when he moved into the starting lineup in January was to develop a reliable mid-range jump shot.

And no matter the constraints the lockout put upon the normal learning process of a young player, Pistons management didn’t lose a wink of sleep over how Monroe would attack that mission.

“I took a whole lot of shots,” Monroe said Wednesday after a workout at the Pistons’ practice facility, where the population swelled again with the arrival of Monroe and restricted free agent Jonas Jerebko in advance of Friday’s training camp opener. “Pick-and-roll shots, a lot of movement stuff, spot shots – any kind of mid-range jump shot you can take, I pretty much worked on it this summer.”

Monroe was about to have his first extended sit-down with new Pistons coach Lawrence Frank, where he was eager to hear Frank’s thoughts on the role devised for him this season. Frank has spoken about using Monroe as a “hub” – running plays through him from any one of five spots, which means Monroe is going to be a more integral part of the offense this season than last, when most of his scoring came off of offensive rebounds or improvisational cuts to the basket. Monroe, for his part, is ready for expanded responsibilities – on the court and in the locker room.

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Posted Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Pistons won’t have Kyle Singler this year and Brandon Knight faces a crowded backcourt fight for minutes. So as unlikely as it seemed on draft night, it’s possible that Vernon Macklin, the 52nd pick last June, could be the Pistons rookie with the clearest path to a spot in the rotation.

Much remains uncertain, of course, with training camp’s scheduled Friday start looming. Free agency will have a major effect on all 30 rosters. The Pistons have two unrestricted free agents, Tayshaun Prince and Chris Wilcox, while Rodney Stuckey and Jonas Jerebko are restricted.

But if Wilcox signs elsewhere and the Pistons don’t make a comparable move to bolster their frontcourt in free agency, then the pool of big men starts with Greg Monroe, Charlie Villanueva and Jason Maxiell. Ben Wallace would make it four if, as seems more likely than not, he returns to fulfill the two-year contract he signed after the 2009-10 season. The Pistons could get minutes at power forward from Jerebko, should they re-sign him, and even from Daye.

Macklin, though, projects as a genuine rim protector, a skill set that could get him consideration for a role under a new coach, Lawrence Frank, who has made clear his intention to improve the Pistons defensively. That was Macklin’s hope over a long off-season, at least, which is why he both resisted any overtures to play internationally and based his training in Los Angeles for the proximity it afforded him to other NBA players and the lessons they could impart.

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Posted Monday, December 5, 2011

Things again inched a little closer to normal Monday for the NBA. At the Pistons’ practice facility, where Ben Wallace and Charlie Villanueva were first through the doors last week when NBA teams were allowed to make their gyms available to players, three more players showed up to join them on Monday: veteran guards Ben Gordon and Will Bynum and second-round rookie big man Vernon Macklin.

Coaches are now allowed to talk to the players who show up – they couldn’t last week – and Macklin reported that at 10 a.m. sharp, when the rule was relaxed, there was Frank, introducing himself.

There likely will be a few more visitors over the next few days in advance of Friday’s start of training camp, which will be just one week removed from the Dec. 16 preseason opener against Cleveland at The Palace.

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(Editor’s note: continues its series on the makeup of new head coach Lawrence Frank’s staff of assistants with a look at Brian Hill)

The people who’ve been with Lawrence Frank the longest and know him best are convinced he would have fought his way to the highest levels of the coaching profession one way or another, but Brian Hill certainly helped Frank ascend a few rungs of the ladder quicker than he might have otherwise been able to do.

When Frank was at his first career crossroads – cool to the idea of following Kevin O’Neill from Tennessee to Northwestern in 1997, as he had followed him from Marquette to Tennessee three years earlier – it was Hill who cracked the door for Frank to the NBA. And it was Hill who made the unusual move, midway through the 1998-99 season, of taking Frank off the road as the team’s advance scout and making him a part of his immediate coaching staff, so impressed was Hill by Frank’s interaction with players on the occasions he got to work with them.

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Posted Friday, December 2, 2011

Ben Wallace has another year on his contract and an open invitation to return. The ball is in his court, which means Big Ben has been on the court – of course – figuring out if his magnificently sculpted body can bear up to one final NBA season.

“I just want to get in the gym a couple of more days, get up and down, pound that hardwood and see what happens on the off days,” he said after his second straight day of workouts at the Pistons’ practice facility since NBA teams were given the OK to make them available to players. “That’s usually when you can tell. If I come in here and go hard for two hours, 2½ hours, go home and can’t move the next day, that’s not a good sign. But if I can get up and get around and run behind the kids and do my usual, that tells me my body is getting strong.”

He said he feels better than he did a year ago at this point, a little less certain about his conditioning than he was upon his return to the Pistons two years ago. “Legs were strong, back was strong – if I can get to that point, there won’t be a question whether I play again or not.”

One enticement to returning will be to erase the sting of last season, when the uncertainty of ownership hovered over every aspect of the franchise.

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If I talked to a dozen people from Lawrence Frank’s past since his August hiring – and it’s been at least that many – close to every one of them said this or something that could substitute: “He’ll leave no stone unturned. Preparation will not be an issue for the Pistons under Lawrence Frank.”

So despite an interim between the start of training camp and the start of the regular season so short as to risk whiplash – and all of it compounded by squeezing free agency and a summer’s worth of dealings into a matter of days – fear not: The Pistons will be ready for their expected Dec. 26 opener.

“We’ll be ready to play,” Frank told me this week, gearing up for the Dec. 9 opening of camp with office hours that begin and conclude deep into darkness. “We’ll be far from a finished product, but our goal is to get better every day. You use this time we’ve had for a bunch of different plans and yet, at the same time, you’ve got to be very flexible.”

One of the areas that will demand flexibility of Frank is the level of physical conditioning he senses from the team when it’s assembled. As you would expect of Frank, whose thirst for information is a universal source of wonder among peers, he’s studied the effects of the NFL lockout on players when their own compressed training camps opened.

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The mantra Lawrence Frank has instituted for these Pistons – “Earn Your Way Every Day” – hangs in enormous letters atop the wall along the north side of the basketball court at the team’s practice facility. You can’t miss it. Around the corner, the mandate Tom Gores gave his ownership of the Pistons – “Be Impactful” – dominates the west wall. Arnie Kander has a whole new array of conditioning aids affixed at the northwest corner of the building in colors that span the Pistons’ palette – red, white and blue.

Charlie Villanueva, entering the building for the first time in five months, took a look around and beamed.

“It feels good. Colors everywhere – ‘earn your way every day’ – it feels good to be here. I feel some life and I’m excited. I can’t wait to get this thing rolling.”

On the first day NBA teams’ practice facilities were available to players since the lockout that began on July 1 was conditionally resolved, pending ratification of a new labor agreement, Villanueva and Ben Wallace were the two Pistons who took advantage of the opportunity. Many others are still spread across the country and Villanueva expects several teammates to start trickling in by early next week. He said he’s been in frequent contact with Austin Daye, Ben Gordon, Tayshaun Prince and Wallace and said Gordon, especially, had indicated he would be joining him at the team facility soon.

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Pistons Priorities
So, what now for the Pistons? Though Joe Dumars and his staff had more than five months since the end of the draft and the start of training camp and put that time to the best possible use, the sudden coming together of the new collective bargaining agreement that ended the 149-day lockout has all 30 NBA front offices scrambling – scrambling to understand the fine print of the CBA, deciding how it affects their rosters given the new salary-cap implications, figuring out how to fill out those rosters within those constraints and gauging the moves the new working agreement will require other teams to make.

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