29-53, 4th in Central Division, 11th in Eastern Conference
94.9 PPG (22nd)/98.8 Opponent PPG)
Chauncey Billups (FA-Los Angeles Clippers), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (draft-8th overall), Luigi Datome (international FA), Josh Harrellson (FA-China), Brandon Jennings (sign/trade-Milwaukee), Tony Mitchell (draft-37th overall), Peyton Siva (draft-56th overall), Josh Smith (FA-Atlanta).
Projected Starting Five
A new coach, a couple of new additions, the return of a former NBA Finals MVP—there is optimism at The Palace of Auburn Hills for the first time in awhile.
Maurice Cheeks comes in as the Detroit Pistons’ fourth coach in six seasons, following two years of Lawrence Frank (54-94), two years of John Kuester (57-107) and a year of Michael Curry (39-43). Detroit’s last winning season was 2007-08, when they were 59-23 under Flip Saunders and reached the last of their run of six consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference Finals, and the Pistons’ last playoff appearance was in Curry’s lone year as coach, 2008-09.
Cheeks spent three-plus seasons in Portland, where he was 162-139 and made the playoffs twice, and three-plus seasons in Philadelphia, where he was 122-147 and made the playoffs once. Most recently, he worked for Scott Brooks in Oklahoma City, where he was given much credit for the rise to stardom of Russell Westbrook.
The Pistons will need similar results from Cheeks with regards to newly acquired Brandon Jennings, who signed a three-year, $24 million offer sheet as a restricted free agent and wound up coming across Lake Michigan in a sign-and-trade deal with the Milwaukee Bucks. Jennings has a reputation as a volume shooter/scorer, but one who has shot just 39.4 percent in four NBA seasons—35.4 percent from downtown—while averaging 5.7 assists and 17 points per game.
The other big addition is forward Josh Smith, the talented, but often enigmatic, talent from the Atlanta Hawks. Smith’s per game numbers dipped in 2012-13 from career-best levels the previous season, but he still averaged 17.5 points and 8.4 rebounds to go with 4.2 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.8 blocks. The problem with Smith is a tendency to settle for jump shots, even though he has an excellent handle and is extremely athletic. Smith shot just 30.3 percent from 3-point range for Atlanta last season, but that lack of success didn’t stop him from hoisting 2.6 treys per night. His free-throw shooting also cratered last season to a career-worst 51.7 percent. But that was still worth a four-year, $54 million free-agent deal.
The assumption early on is that the Pistons will look to live large—as in a frontcourt of promising second-year man Andre Drummond and young veteran frontcourt performer Greg Monroe teamed with Smith playing as a big 3.
Chauncey Billups, the MVP of the NBA Finals when the Pistons won their last title nearly a decade ago in 2004, is back to provide veteran leadership and—it is hoped—at least some of the efforts that earned him the nickname “Mr. Big Shot.” The Pistons have plenty of backcourt depth with first-round pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope—player of the year in the Southeastern Conference last season—and returning combo guards Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum. Of course, Detroit also has Kyle Singler and draft pick Peyton Siva fighting for playing time.
In the frontcourt, the Pistons also have some roster decisions to make. They’re heavy at the 4 with rookie Tony Mitchell and holdovers Charlie Villanueva and Jonas Jerebko and they signed Italian sharpshooter Luigi Datome to provide depth and much-needed 3-point shooting from the 3 spot. As the roster currently stands, Josh Harrellson, who played in Puerto Rico and China last year after playing out a couple of 10-day contracts with the Miami Heat, has a chance to stick around as a big body.
Jennings responds to the teachings of former All-Stars Cheeks and Billups and adds at least a modicum of efficiency to his offensive game and the presence of Smith and Drummond at the defensive end covers up some of his defensive weaknesses. Smith understands that shots can, in fact, be taken from less than 18 feet and complements the inside dual threat of Drummond and Monroe with a renewed reliance on slashing and driving. Billups has enough left in the tank to also mentor young Caldwell-Pope, who takes over the starting 2 spot around midseason as Detroit wins 48 games and finishes just below the powerbrokers in the East (Miami, Indiana, Brooklyn, New York, Chicago).
Smith and Jennings provide cheap entertainment in late-game situations by trying to find ways to get the ball away from each other. Drummond’s propensity for foul trouble forces the Pistons to go smaller, with Monroe at the 5 and Smith at the 4 in many situations, and Datome, Mitchell and Singler struggle to provide a legitimate threat at the 3. Billups is done like last night’s dinner and Caldwell-Pope learns there is a difference between being the alpha dog on a bad team in a bad collegiate conference and playing against the likes of Dwyane Wade, Joe Johnson, Paul George and DeMar DeRozan as a shooting guard in the Eastern Conference. The Pistons struggle to win 35 games and only stay in the playoff hunt thanks to the tankathons being conducted in other Eastern Conference cities.
38-44, 4th in Central Division, 8th in Eastern Conference, first-round cannon fodder for Miami