30 Teams in 30 Days: Can Detroit Pistons make breakthrough as franchise moves back downtown?
Since the Warriors downed the Cavs to take the 2017 NBA title back on June 12, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the long summer offseason.
NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2016-17 to the team with the best regular-season record — as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
Today’s team: Detroit Pistons
2016-17 Record: 37-45
Who’s new: Avery Bradley (trade), Luke Kennard (Draft), Langston Galloway (free agency), Anthony Tolliver (free agency)
Who’s gone: Aron Baynes, Marcus Morris, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
The lowdown: Partially damaged by injuries to Reggie Jackson, the Pistons went 37-45 and missed the playoffs in what was a mild disappointment, considering they play in the East.
While the Pistons weren’t lacking in personnel moves, the biggest “move” of the summer happened when they packed their bags and left Auburn Hills.
Yes, this season will usher in a new era with the club — or rather, a return to the old — when they begin play in Detroit for the first time in almost four decades. They’ll tip off at Little Caesars Arena, the spanking new addition to the expanding downtown sports complex that includes the NFL’s Detroit Lions, the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings and MLB’s Detroit Tigers. No other city can boast of having four teams in one downtown area (Philly’s four teams are south of downtown). It’s a credit to the big fish who want to revitalize the city and feel sports is one way to get dollars flowing, at least on game days.
The good news is the Pistons should draw well if only because of the honeymoon period that accompanies the grand opening of a new arena. The not-so-good news is the team, on the surface anyway, isn’t bringing a loaded roster or anyone who qualifies as a sure-fire star.
It’s not for the lack of trying. Stan Van Gundy, the coach who doubles as head personnel honcho, has made a variety of moves since taking the job, only to fall short of the goal of finding a star. Therefore, the Pistons are a hodgepodge of pretty good players who haven’t been able to lift the team among the elite, even in the watered-down East.
The latest addition is Bradley, who essentially was gifted to Van Gundy once the Celtics needed to clear salary cap room to sign Gordon Hayward. Bradley is a very consistent guard who should help right away. He has a solid shooting stroke and although he doesn’t rack up the steals, brings value as an on-ball defender. The Celtics weren’t thrilled with having to surrender him.
Bradley is, however, on the last year of his contract, which is both good and bad; he has motivation to play well in his walk year, yet could also be one-and-done in Detroit.
As a precaution, the Pistons added depth at the spot, drafting Kennard and signing Galloway to a team-friendly $7 million a year. Kennard didn’t have the buzz that JJ Redick did at Duke, but over the course of last season he developed greatly as a shooter with range, enough to be taken seriously in the NBA draft. He followed up with solid play during summer league. Galloway is with his third team since February, having been traded from the Pelicans to Sacramento in the DeMarcus Cousins deal. He works hard and shows value as a rotation player, especially defensively.
One of two leftovers from the Joe Dumars regime last season (Andre Drummond being the other) was Caldwell-Pope, a consistent presence at the swing positions but perhaps not a budding star. Van Gundy was patient with Caldwell-Pope but eventually the money tightened up, enough so that Caldwell-Pope’s time in Detroit was up once he reached free agency and demanded a multi-year deal.
Unfortunately for him, money became sparse everywhere else as well this summer, and his fallback plan was a one-year deal with the Lakers.
Morris was a favorite in Detroit because his aggressive play was a throwback to the Bad Boys era, but he was sacrificed to Boston in the deal to get Bradley, a price that wasn’t at all steep.
The only other interesting development that relates somewhat to the Pistons happened in Los Angeles, where Doc Rivers was stripped of his front office power by Clippers owner Steve Ballmer. In doing so, Ballmer cited the need to keep the coach and GM as separate entities in order to establish boundaries and stimulate healthy discussion between the two jobs.
According to an ESPN report, commissioner Adam Silver had privately expressed concerns to NBA owners about the coach-GM model. As it is, only Gregg Popovich and Tom Thibodeau enjoy both titles in addition to Van Gundy; Pop has five championships to lean on while the Wolves had to give both jobs to Thibbs in order to get him.
What does this mean, if anything, for Van Gundy in Detroit?
In three seasons under Van Gundy the Pistons have won 32, 44 and 37 games, a somewhat reasonable amount considering what Van Gundy inherited from Dumars. As a coach, Van Gundy’s reputation is very respectable and his players (Dwight Howard excepted) have enjoyed playing for him.
As a personnel guy, Van Gundy’s moves haven’t elevated the Pistons just yet. His drafts (Stanley Johnson, Henry Ellenson), free agent signings (Boban Marjanovic) and trades (Jackson, Tobias Harris) have made a mild impact so far.
Tom Gores, the owner, is a Van Gundy fan and so there’s no outward sign of distress. But as the team moves into a new arena and looks to tap into a new fan base while keeping much of the old, the urgency to win and make regular trips to the post-season becomes paramount.
What Van Gundy needs most is a superstar, which gives him something in common with about two-thirds of all NBA teams.
Coming Next: Denver Nuggets
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