London Calling

Pistons head abroad, hoping to mix winning, sightseeing

The Pistons depart Monday to play the Knicks in the O2 Arena.
Chris Trotman/NBAE/Getty Images
In Pistons parlance, Big Ben forever will refer to the menacing defender who anchored the 2004 NBA title defense won at The Palace of Auburn Hills, not the clock tower at the Palace of Westminster. And the crown jewels? They’re the three NBA championship trophies that adorn The Palace’s trophy cases, not the dazzling baubles housed under heavy security at the Tower of London.

Prince is Tayshaun, not Charles, William or Harry. Knight is Brandon, not Gallahad, Lancelot or Gawain.

So there.

All that said, sure, the Pistons are looking forward to taking a turn on the international stage when they’ll play a “home” game at London’s O2 Arena on Thursday against the New York Knicks, though the prospect of flying through the night and landing, wobbly-legged, on Tuesday morning and then being soon whisked off to practice is exhausting merely at the thought.

Lawrence Frank has been loath to talk about the excursion. Like most coaches, he blanches at any discussion of games other than the one at hand. Frank’s been asked about London ad nauseum for the past few weeks.

“It is what it is,” he said before Friday’s game at Milwaukee, asked about the aspects of the trip that take the Pistons out of the day-to-day rhythm of a typical NBA season. “Everyone has their own little schedule quirks. I don’t think anyone, when the schedule comes out in July or August, says, ‘Oh, we’ve got the best schedule in the league.’ They’re all little nuances. We’ve just got to focus on Milwaukee.”

And before Saturday’s game with Utah, “I just focus on what we can control. It is what it is. Right now, I’m going to focus on Utah and tomorrow we can talk about London.”

The players, of course, have been aware of the looming trip for weeks. Even if they tried to ignore it, there have been a series of security measures in place that required their participation in advance of the trip.

Several Pistons have experience playing internationally, including, of course, European natives Jonas Jerebko (Sweden, Italy) and Slava Kravtsov (Ukraine). Will Bynum played in Israel before the Pistons signed him in 2008. Due to the prospects of a lockout, Kyle Singler elected to sign in Spain after the 2011 draft and Austin Daye wound up playing in Russia for two months before the lockout ended.

Others, including Andre Drummond, have played in amateur all-star competitions in Europe. But Greg Monroe’s most exotic trip, he said, was a cruise with his family.

“I haven’t played abroad,” he said. “The closest thing I’ve been to international is I went to Mexico on a cruise with my family. But playing basketball, especially going overseas to Europe? No, my first time, so I’m definitely looking forward to it. No personal trips, no business trips.”

Rodney Stuckey attended the Eurocamp one year, accompanying Pistons assistant general manager George David for the combine scouting event in Treviso, Italy. And last summer, he went to Sweden for a week to visit Jerebko. But he’s never been to London.

“It’ll be a good experience,” he said. “We’re going to have a lot of stuff to do, a lot of appearances and stuff, but hopefully we’ll get a little free time to walk around and see the city a little bit. I’m excited. It’ll be a fun trip.”

Because the Pistons are the designated home team, Roundball One isn’t equipped to handle a traveling party that will push close to 200. It includes the official scoring crew, several members of the various entertainment teams and the normal support staff necessary to stage an event the magnitude of an NBA game.

The Pistons are using a larger plane chartered by the NBA and will be in London from Tuesday morning until their Friday morning departure, landing back in Michigan Friday afternoon. Their next game will be on Sunday when the Celtics – Boston, not central European – visit The Palace.

They’d like to come back culturally enriched, but more than anything, they’d like to come back with a win.

“What we can’t lose sight of is it’s a home game for us,” Frank said, meaning they’ll have one fewer game at The Palace with the perceived home-court advantage. “It’s a game. We’ve got to go there with the intent to win the game.”