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.
3. Jonas Jerebko’s return – After missing all of his second season recuperating from an Achilles tear, all reports on Jerebko’s physical and mental readiness are off the charts. Jerebko – whose return is expected after multiple reports have him returning to the Pistons as a restricted free agent – worked on his body, coming back stronger, and if he’s retained his athleticism and flexibility, Frank is going to have a versatile defender whose infectious enthusiasm will translate to winning basketball.
4. Brandon Knight’s readiness – The Pistons don’t have a gaping need at point guard – especially not if Rodney Stuckey, another restricted free agent, returns – but if Knight indeed has the high ceiling predicted for him, and if he shows flashes early that it’s already within his grasp, then a wealth of options will be at Frank’s fingertips.
5. Managing the perimeter – Unless or until Joe Dumars can find a satisfactory trade solution to thin out the perimeter – Stuckey (if he’s back), Knight, Prince, Austin Daye, Rip Hamilton, Ben Gordon, Will Bynum – it will be incumbent on Frank to figure out the combinations that work best and the opportunities that would allow some among that group to find minutes at other positions, Daye at power forward or Stuckey or Hamilton at small forward, for instance. We’ll get our first glimpse at his vision in just a week: the Pistons open the preseason by hosting Cleveland next Friday at The Palace.