Last year we debuted the “Highs and Lows” system — previewing the NBA season by predicting the respective ceiling and basement for each team. Same theme, different season…
Added: Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Austin Daye, Chris Wilcox, Ben Wallace, DaJuan Summers, Jonas Jerebko
Lost: Rasheed Wallace, Allen Iverson, Antonio McDyess, Arron Afflalo, Walter Herrmann, Amir Johnson
Ceiling: Playoffs, 7th-8th seed
At different points during the summer, I wrote that the Pistons are a team without an identity, a group without a defined go-to guy, and a franchise with an uncertain (at best) idea of which direction they’re headed. Those questions can be answered early this season, but not without some experimentation. New coach John Kuester has already been tinkering with different lineups in the young preseason: Last night he rolled out one where Will Bynum played the point, Ben Gordon the two, and Rodney Stuckey was at small forward. Kuester has been starting Ben Wallace at power forward while new acquisition Villanueva is out injured, and — while the coach says it’s simply to rest their legs for later — veterans Tayshaun Prince and Rip Hamilton seem to be slowly drifting away from their longtime roles as V.I.P.’s in Detroit. It makes sense on paper to hand over the scoring reigns to Gordon and everything else to youngsters like Stuckey and rookie Austin Daye and kick off a period of rebuilding, but in real life it’s more complicated, seeing as the Pistons are a mix of kids who want to play and older guys with well-deserved egos who are owed some respect. If Kuester can get these parts working together, he has potential for a quality team with potent offensive and stingy defensive ability, playoff experience, athleticism, depth, and crunch-time poise. The regular trips to the Eastern Conference Finals are no longer a realistic outlook, but avoiding the Lottery shouldn’t be too hard to manage.
Basement: 9th-10th seed, no playoffs
The pessimist (or maybe just the Pacers fan) in me says Rip is done, Tayshaun is running on fumes and due to shatter at any moment, Kuester is wet behind the ears, Gordon will let his jacking get in the way, Daye isn’t ready yet, and Stuckey is overrated. He also says the frontcourt depth and talent pool is a sorry sight: Villanueva is soft and fragile, Wilcox is maddeningly inconsistent, Wallace is an artifact, and if you offered Joe Dumars Frankenhood in exchange for Kwame Brown, Joe D would take the deal ASAP. Jason Maxiell is a player, but he’s one of those guys who is infinitely better on a good team rather than a mediocre one. The pessimist then looks at the fact that Detroit’s most entertaining player — and from what we’ve seen since the ’09 playoffs — arguably their best and hardest-working guy, Bynum, makes less than $1 million. He says that’s not a good thing.
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