Detroit Pistons 2014-15 preview: Suffering franchise pins hopes on Stan Van …

October 26, 2014 Posted by admin

AUBURN HILLS — During five seasons of near-historic franchise futility, the Detroit Pistons didn’t make the playoffs. No one on their current roster has played a postseason game for them. They failed to sign their biggest free agent in years this summer, one who already played for them.

So what basis is there for hope this season?

It starts with Stan Van Gundy.

In the quintessential players’ league, the Pistons showered their new head coach with the kind of power (he also is president of basketball operations) and financial security (five years, $35 million) to stamp his imprint on the franchise immediately.

Love or hate such empowerment — and there is ample argument both ways — the leadership-starved Pistons will open their 2014-15 season Wednesday trying to end the second-longest postseason absence in franchise history.

Their only longer postseason absence, six years, lasted through a 1982-83 season which also was the last time the Pistons fielded a season-opening roster with no player who had participated in the NBA Finals before.

They almost duplicated that feat this year, until trading for Joel Anthony late in training camp.

What the Pistons do have is Van Gundy, the former Miami and Orlando coach who took the Magic to the 2009 finals and quickly recognized the cultural reclamation project at hand in Detroit.

“There are habits to change,” he said. “When you’ve lost for a long time, you get into losing habits. Nobody wants to lose and a lot of times guys don’t even realize the habits they’ve fallen into because they’re still NBA players and they’re playing well. I think they want to change. It just has to be more consistent.”

Jonas Jerebko enters his sixth season with the Pistons, making him the senior member of the roster.

The Swedish power forward never has played in a postseason game and Van Gundy will be his fifth head coach.

“We’ve all been through this stuff and seen what happened,” Jerebko said. “I’ve been in Detroit for all my years in the NBA so I really haven’t had no consistency in my years here. I’m hoping that this is the year to just see how it’s supposed to be.”

The Pistons feature many of the same elements that left them 29-53 and outside the playoff picture for the fifth consecutive year last season.

Stan Van Gundy quickly has made himself right at home at The Palace of Auburn Hills. The biggest differences are a big infusion of perimeter shooting and Van Gundy having the freedom to refurbish a roster which he pushed through three-hour daily practices in preseason.

The big-three front line is intact and Van Gundy has not ruled out using Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith together again, though that isn’t his preference.

Brandon Jennings is still the point guard but the Pistons’ perimeter rotations largely remain up in the air, partly because of injuries to shooting guards, partly because no one has seized control at small forward.

But there is shooting this year. The four perimeter newcomers signed via free agency — D.J. Augustin, Caron Butler, Cartier Martin and Jodie Meeks — all shot 39 percent or better on 3-pointers last year. The Pistons, who were next-to-last in NBA 3-point shooting last season, needed their talents.

And despite Monroe positioning himself to potentially break up the big-three line himself by taking a short-money contract in exchange for becoming a 2015 unrestricted free agent, the Pistons still have high hopes for building around Drummond, who rode the bench this summer for the gold-medal-winning U.S. World Cup team and last year became the NBA’s most prolific offensive rebounder in 16 years, with 440.

Drummond may not have to rely exclusively on pick-and-rolls, lob dunks and offensive rebounds to score this year.

Van Gundy has said the Pistons intend to run more offensive sets for the third-year center, and the seven preseason games bore out that claim, to what degree the exhibition season can be trusted.

Drummond is developing his low-block presence, and also a hook shot which has become acceptably accurate. No one is expecting miracles, and there still is Drummond’s horrendous free-throw shooting to consider, but he shot 9 of 9 from the floor in one preseason game.

“I’m very comfortable with the ball now,” Drummond said. “My teammates have a lot of faith in me, when I do get the ball, that I’m going to make the right decision with it, whether to score the ball or dish it back out to them to make open jump shots.”

Andre Drummond (0) will become more of an offensive focal point in Stan Van Gundy’s system. Van Gundy said Monroe has been the most consistent Piston in training camp. He said the fourth-year big man hasn’t had a single bad day in practice.

Still, Monroe will miss the first two games of the regular season after an impaired-driving conviction, and even after he returns seems the most likely member of the big-three line to come off the bench, pending Van Gundy’s final decision.

Van Gundy said he would enter training camp with an open mind about the big-three line and seemed more enamored of it after he saw it during preseason.

“You certainly have to play it at times,” he said. “When you’re going to play LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, I think in a lot of cases Josh (at small forward) is our best matchup. So they’ve got to be able to function together.”

Some of the preseason big-three usage was a function of injuries to shooting guards Meeks (lower-back stress reaction, out until mid-December) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (knee strain), but the latter is expected back for the regular season and likely to start if healthy.

Butler or Kyle Singler figures to start at small forward.

A key for the Pistons could be point-guard depth. Brandon Jennings last year finished sixth in the NBA in assists, with 7.6 per game, and now has help from Augustin, who rescued the Chicago Bulls’ season after Derrick Rose was injured last year.

Singler, a jack-of-all-trades type whose hybrid game endears him to every coach, said he and Augustin are something of kindred spirits.

“I love playing with him because you know what he’s going to do,” Singler said. “He’s not predictable but he’s very consistent — similar, kind of, to me, in that you know what you’re going to get. And he’s just fun to play with. He shares the ball. And when he was in Chicago, I’m sure guys would say the same thing about him.”

Singler said whoever is playing point guard — Augustin, Jennings, or rookie Spencer Dinwiddie — will benefit from the minimized confusion of having perimeter players out of position.

“If you’re switching positions, as a point guard, it’s just hard in a game to manage,” Singler said. “You know who’s on the court but it’s tough to get a rhythm, tough to get a feel for what’s working and what’s not.”

Off-the-court restructuring was just as sweeping as the new roster upgrades, high-tech scoreboards and exterior signage that fans will see at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

Van Gundy hired former New Orleans Hornets general manager and head coach Jeff Bower as general manager, and they were given freedom by owner Tom Gores to scrap the old hierarchy.

Scouting staff and middle management were expanded, which was responsible in a big jump in basketball operations staff, from 33 last year to 43 today.

Van Gundy listens to them, too.

Detroit Pistons general manager Jeff Bower (left) said front-office employees “all feed off of” Stan Van Gundy (right). Van Gundy and Bower meet daily, and also meet with a broader group of middle managers weekly, so the various scouts, analytics numbers-crunchers and assistant general managers can exchange ideas.

“We all feed off of Stan’s direction,” Bower said. “And communication is the foundation of it all. We’re looking for the best ideas to help grow the franchise. Just because you’re heading up one area doesn’t mean you don’t have insight that could be helpful in another area. That’s what this is all about, getting the best ideas from everyone.”

The immediate dilemma for Van Gundy is identifying his starting lineup and how he plans to rotate players.

That includes separate plans for Wednesday’s season-opener at Denver, when Caldwell-Pope may be available again but Monroe will be suspended, and then what to do when the latter returns for Saturday’s home opener against Brooklyn.

“There are a lot of things to consider and I’m not sure I have the answer,” Van Gundy said. “And I’m not sure I’ll have it by Nov. 1, either. Obviously, we’ll put a lineup out there Nov. 1, but that’s going to take some time. Our whole lineup thing is going to take some time to figure out.”

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Article source: http://www.mlive.com/pistons/index.ssf/2014/10/detroit_pistons_2014-15_previe.html

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