Detroit came up short in their bid for another championship series appearance, after racing out to the Eastern Conferences best record. The team looked fully loaded once they added veteran Chris Webber
for the playoff push, but came up short in the Eastern Conference Finals at the hands of LeBron James
and the Cavs.
One of the major reasons for the teams failure to advance was the porous play of Chauncey Billups
throughout most of the playoffs. Billups played last season on the final year of his contract and played well during most of the regular season. But Webbers arrival coupled with an uncertain future may have led to Billups post-season woes, not typical for the one-time finals MVP.
Despite a second consecutive ECF loss, the Pistons didnt panic and attempt to dramatically alter their roster. The team made quick work of Billups and signed him to an extension that will see him stay a Piston for the remainder of his career. The nucleus of the team that has won one title and contended heavily in the East for years will remain intact for another few seasons, as Antonio McDyess
elected to bypass his opt-out and will remain with good friend Billups for at least the next two years.
But perhaps the most important element of their off season was defining a future to support the veteran cast in the present, and eventually replace them in the future. The team picked up the option on forward Jason Maxiell
, which was a no brainer from managements perspective.
Maxiell showed great progress from years one to two and was insulted that he wasnt initially invited to participate in summer league. Maxiell actually ran into Joe Dumars
s office and demanded he be included, showing his work ethic and commitment in the process. He slimmed down considerably and then put up a few dominant performances in Las Vegas, leaving a lot of hope for what he might be able to bring in the future.
The Pistons then re-upped their other young forward, Amir Johnson
. Johnson hadnt received much playing time over his first couple of seasons, but has performed very well in summer league, pre-season, the D-League, and in spot duty for the team. Maxiell and Johnson will have a larger role for the team this year and should have ample time to transition into prominent roles as Wallace and McDyess fade to the background. His three year, 11 million dollar contract might end up looking like a steal down the road.
The team also added two very promising young backcourt players in Rodney Stuckey
and Arron Afflalo
. Stuckey is just the type of combo-guard who can learn from Billups and take the reins in a few seasons while still providing support minutes right away. Afflalo is as hard a worker as youll find from this rookie class, and has the type of defensive ability and perimeter shooting that should fit right into the Pistons system. Cheick Samb
may also surprise as a project big-man with his length, athleticism, and his timing on rebounds and blocks, but dont expect him to see rotation minutes any time soon, especially with Nazr Mohammed
s weighty contract on the books for the foreseeable future. Depth Chart:
[c]courtesy of Synergy Sports Tech: Findings are of players NBA offensive percentile rank[/c]Strengths:
Championship experience and team chemistry are the hallmarks of this team. Detroits starters have all played at least three seasons together, and their offensive and defensive cohesiveness is nearly flawless. They are not as high powered an offense as the Suns or as tight a defensive club as the Spurs, but they are extremely efficient on both ends of the court.
Despite Rasheed Wallace
s reputation as a perimeter chucker, he still spends a good deal of time operating in the post and is lethally efficient with his turnaround baseline jumpers. Rip Hamilton is constantly in motion and disrupts opponents defenses as they try to track him, Billups is a threat to pull-up for the transition three or simply shoulder his way past a weaker defender and put up a soft floater or mid range jumper. Tayshaun Prince
and Antonio McDyess
simply fill in the blanks with hustle and solid all-around games.
Assuming Jarvis Hayes
and Rodney Stuckey
provide solid contributions this season, the Pistons will have real depth for the first time in years. Nazr Mohammed
may be overpaid, but he is a solid backup center who provides defense and limited, but efficient offense. Jason Maxiell
looks poised to take the role as primary back-up big with his intense style and surprising offensive game.
Flip Murray is in a contract year and has been the talk of Pistons camp with his slimmed down physique and aggressive play. Murray wanted a contract extension from the club and looks to be holding his end of the bargain up in the early going with his commitment to improvement.
Incorporating the newer players into the Detroit attack will be a challenge, but all seem to have the mentality and work ethic to blend as a unit. Weaknesses:
The biggest concern for the Pistons should probably be complacency and the disgruntlement it can bring. The club has been on the edge of another finals appearance for two straight seasons, but has suffered embarrassing defeats in successive seasons.
Coach Flip Saunders had to deal with a number of locker room distractions in each of the past two years, both that could be attributable to the teams inconsistent performances. Rasheed Wallace
is the vocal and spiritual leader of the Pistons and hes had his issues accepting Saunders as an authority figure at times. Once adversity hits this club, are they going to be able to buckle down and focus, or will they let their own personal issues cloud the path toward another finals bid? Outlook:
Ideally, the incoming youngsters will add a certain spunk and hunger to the team that it has seemingly lacked over the past couple of seasons. Its understandable to lose a little focus after a championship series, but this Pistons team is better than their one ring would suggest. Perhaps two seasons removed from their title run, the team can finally find new motivation within its ranks to achieve that level of performance again. Theyre certainly capable.
One of those motivators could be the improvement that many Eastern Conference opponents have made, namely the Boston Celtics. The Pistons have been virtually unchallenged in the East for the better part of four seasons, and have really shot themselves in the foot by playing inconsistently because of a lack of true competition. With a more challenging regular season ahead of them, the Pistons will get a true test of their mettle for the first time in a while.
Look for Detroit to remind the Eastern Conference who they are and have their best season since 2004-2005, keeping their focus and being prepared to take on all comers and not perform as lackadaisically during larger stretches of the regular season.
What they do in the playoffs remains to be seen. Saunders has yet to prove he can handle this team fully, but he was on the verge of a title just three seasons ago. With a few new soldiers and a few hard lessons learned, this team may have another run in it.