- Actual record: 30-52
- Pythagorean record: 31-51
- Offensive rating: 107.7 (15th of 30)
- Defensive Rating: 111.7 (28th of 30)
- Arena: The Palace of Auburn Hills
- Head coach: John Kuester
- Points per game: Rodney Stuckey (15.5)
- Rebounds per game: Greg Monroe (7.5)
- Assists per game: Rodney Stuckey (5.2)
- Steals per game: Greg Monroe (1.2)
- Blocks per game: Ben Wallace (1.0)
On a team that had veteran players who had played key roles on a championship team (Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace) as well as a former perennial All-Star (Tracy McGrady), it’s a bit strange to say that the team’s most mature player was a rookie who didn’t even turn 21 until after the season ended.
Calling Monroe, the team’s first lottery pick since 2003, a bright spot, does him a disservice. At times, he was the only thing about this team that was watchable. He’s possibly the only player who was on the active roster who would’ve fit in and contributed on the hard-nosed, intelligent, tough championship teams in 1989, 1990 and 2004. Monroe’s final season stats aren’t eye-popping, which is part of the reason he didn’t get the league-wide attention he deserved. But he continuously improved as the season progressed and after the All-Star break, he was arguable the best non-Blake Griffin rookie in the league. Dan Feldman already laid out the many on-court accomplishments of Monroe:
If I wanted to discuss Monroe’s worthiness, I could tell you no rookie since Chris Webber in 1994 scored more points per game on a higher shooting percentage.
But, the very reason Monroe was snubbed by voters — the subtle, selfless and quietly efficient way he plays — is exactly why he would’ve fit in so seamlessly with those great Pistons teams of the past. Here was what I wrote after Monroe was jobbed in the Rookie of the Year and All-Rookie Team voting:
The thing that hurts Monroe when it comes to awards voting is the same thing that made him such a solid player for Detroit this season: subtlety. Watching the Pistons, it was pretty common, especially in the second half of the season, to glance at the box score in the third quarter or so and say, “Wow … Monroe has 12 points and 10 rebounds already?” He’s not particularly explosive or athletic. He scored points by taking good shots, by crashing the offensive glass and by using craftiness around the basket to make up for his lack of athleticism. He’s a throwback player to the earlier 2000s Detroit teams — selfless, hard-working, smart and largely anonymous outside of Detroit. Monroe’s advanced stats clearly make him one of the five best rookies in the league this year. Monroe was also hurt by the fact that the Pistons were not just bad this season, they were unwatchable, perhaps the most boring and predictable team in the NBA to watch on a night-to-night basis. That doesn’t change the fact that Monroe was absolutely Detroit’s best player this season when you factor in production, attitude and upside.
Those are all great reasons to be hopeful for Monroe’s future as a player. But his rookie year also showed that he has great promise as a leader. Veteran players this year were benched for not listening to the coach in-game, they verbally castrated the coach in front of the team, they openly mocked his shortcomings to the media and a few even skipped a shootaround as a sign of protest. In that backdrop of major turmoil, there was Monroe, quietly taking that same embattled coach’s advice to focus on rebounding and defense if he wanted to earn minutes and doing just that after having an up and down preseason that resulted in two straight DNP-CDs to start his career. More importantly, the negativity and competing agendas in the locker room didn’t seem to phase Monroe, even as a young, impressionable player. Here’s what he told Matt Watson after the season:
When asked whether it was difficult to play through all of last year’s drama, Monroe essentially confirmed the need for more focused teammates.
“Nah, because [the problems] never had anything to do with me, they had to do with my teammates. I don’t want to sound selfish, but I just tried to focus on what I had to do to help the team win,” he said.
The Pistons don’t have the roster or salary flexibility for a quick turnaround, but they have at least one young player who embodies the principles that made the franchise great, and that’s no small thing considering the season they just had.
Drafted Greg Monroe
Yeah, Monroe was the best player and easily the key transaction. But I’ve covered his merits above. So we’ll do the runner-up key transaction here.
Signed Tracy McGrady to veteran’s minimum deal for one year
McGrady doesn’t figure to be a part of Detroit’s long-term plans and with the team only winning 30 games, it’s not like he was a difference maker. But, because the pending sale of the team made adding salary via the mid-level exception out of the question, taking a flyer on a once-great veteran like McGrady was about the only type of move Joe Dumars could make in the offseason.
But, from the standpoint of being a fan of McGrady finding a way to extend his career, he had a fantastic season. He showed unselfishness that is sometimes rare in alpha-dog superstars who have always been relied on to score a lot of points. He showed versatility, playing both wing spots and proving to be the Pistons’ best halfcourt playmaker at the point guard position. He even improved defensively, as noted by Mike Payne early on in the season:
Warning– stat nerdery. If you have access to Synergy, take a look at McGrady’s defensive stats. On 49 defensive possessions so far this season, Tracy is holding his man to 29.7% shooting. That makes him the 13th best defender in the league so far this season– regardless of position.
McGrady’s defense held up, too. For the season, opposing players shot 36 percent with McGrady defending them. He also developed fantastic chemistry with Monroe, which made them really fun to watch when they were on the court together. McGrady’s play was a surprise, and if it were not for his involvement in the Philly shootaround incident, I daresay he could’ve even been called a full-on bright spot this season.
Will Pistons match 1990s mark of three straight seasons without a playoff appearance?
When Chuck Daly took over the Pistons in 1983, the team began a run of nine straight playoff appearances. Then Daly left, the roster aged really quickly, Jordan’s Bulls ascended and the team made questionable moves (particularly trading Dennis Rodman for Sean Elliott) that compounded the problems. The team hit bottom and went three straight seasons without making the playoffs.
It’s hard not to see the parallels between that version of the Pistons and this one. And maybe Joe Dumars’ involvement as a player in the first doomed him to repeat some mistakes of the past. But after eight straight playoff appearances, a clumsy rebuilding on the fly attempt and two straight playoffs-less season, the Pistons could tie that 1990s streak unless young players on the roster quickly and significantly improve or the Pistons somehow pull off a heist in a trade.
Why this season ranks No. 59
Covering the entire season for PistonPowered, I’m sure no one is interested in more debate on whose to blame in the failed coach-players relationship, whether or not Dumars should be fired for allowing the roster to become the mess that it is and just how much the sale of the team actually impacted the on-court performance this season. I daresay those topics have been beaten into the ground.
Instead, this season ranks No. 59 because it was depressing watching key members of a championship team be a part of the mess. Prince and Hamilton, in particular, seemed to be the unhappiest Pistons this season. Both let those frustrations boil over publicly. Both were absolutely ill-equipped to deal with being on a young team not talented enough to be considered close to a contender. It was sad watching that because both guys have meant so much to the organization, because both provided signature moments during the fantastic run the team had from 2003-2008.
It has been suggested that the Pistons would’ve been better off trading Prince and/or Hamilton well before this season, when their values were much higher and while the team was still a playoff contender. And after how things played out, it’s hard to argue the opposite. But I think I found an answer to the question of why, even after losing the team’s two best players, Billups and Ben Wallace, deals involving Prince and Hamilton never happened over the years when reading Halberstam’s Breaks of the Game. Halberstam talks about the Portland Trail Blazers holding on to key players that won a title as compliments to Bill Walton even after Walton had gone:
“He (Portland GM Stu Inman) was in the process now of creating a team without Walton. The Walton team was dead. Its demise was hard to accept because it had been so brilliant. It had been the kind of team professional basketball men spent their entire lives dreaming about, wanting only to have a small share of it. Yet it had actually come together in Portland, in no small part because of his (Inman’s) handiwork; he had seen the different pieces before they were even pieces, and it was difficult to realize that a team as fine and young as that could be gone just as quickly as it had come together. Many of the people connected to it, including the fans, were still living in the past, waiting for the magic to strike again. (Coach Jack) Ramsay was a little that way. He still looked at (Maurice) Lucas and (Lionell) Hollins and (Bobby) Gross and thought of the past and the good days. Sometimes, a few of his players thought he coached as if Walton were still there. Some of the younger players wondered why he had not come down harder on Lucas and why he seemed so tolerant of Hollins. Some of them thought he was physically afraid of Luke. The truth was different. Ramsay was tolerant of Lucas and Hollins because they had been part of that championship team, and part of that moment. He was not alone; some of the players themselves, Lucas, Hollins and Gross especially, were still in a way rooted in the past, waiting for things to happen that would never happen again.”
This Pistons team doesn’t exactly mirror that Portland team, but that description of Portland’s downfall is as close to a perfect description of what has happened to the Pistons over the last few years as anything I’ve ever read.