10 predictions, sane and insane, for the 2013-14 Detroit Pistons season

Although my presence at PistonPowered has become inconsistent over the past few months (that might be putting it kindly … I might be the Charlie Villanueva of PistonPowered right now, just collecting paychecks* and occasionally chucking threes), I assure you, I’ve still been lurking. And like many commenters, I share a great sense of optimism for the season.

* Note: Paychecks don’t actually exist at PistonPowered

Part of the reason my writing has become so sporadic is simply that this team became exhausting to write about. Although I’ve been a Pistons fan for my entire life, my first full season writing about the team was the 2009-10 season — the beginning of the John Kuester era. I don’t need to recap how dreadfully boring the past four seasons of Pistons basketball have been — you’ve all been paying attention. The challenge for me during that stretch has been trying to find fresh angles and interesting analysis to offer about a team that, let’s face it, had very few redeeming values. Once the abundant positives of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond were covered, once all of the many appropriate Jason Maxiell jokes were made, once all off the ridiculous commenters were properly insulted, there was very little of value that I could offer to the conversation.

I’m as excited for this season as I was during any approaching season in the most recent golden age of Pistons basketball. Not because I expect this team to be as good as any of those teams — they most assuredly won’t be. But because there are no shortage of interesting, meaningful storylines that will be worth following throughout the season. Whether those storylines ultimately end up playing out favorably or unfavorably, the results are going to be compelling — a high stakes failure, though certainly not what I’m rooting for, can ultimately be as interesting to watch as the more preferable exceeding of expectations. The uncertainty is what is appealing to me this season. The lead-ups to the past four seasons have simply been exercises in self-delusion — any non-ignorant fan could look at those rosters and know those teams were going to suck, those coaches were going to fail and that there was next to no talent on those rosters. Whether the Pistons win or lose this season won’t be a question of talent — they have it.

So, what better time than now to throw out a bunch of way-too-specific predictions with almost no supporting data? Don’t worry though … I’m not the type of writer who makes ridiculous predictions and then forgets about it. This column is bookmarked and we’ll revisit it after the season to see how badly I missed the mark.

1. The Pistons will have their first All-Star since Allen Iverson.

Despite a sound statistical case that Greg Monroe has played near an All-Star level the past two seasons, because of the team’s general irrelevance and terribleness, the Pistons have had no realistic shot at an All-Star. That changes this year. Monroe, already very good, is out to prove he’s worthy of a max extension. Prized free agent acquisition Josh Smith has been about as close to being an All-Star without actually being one as a player can get for most of his career. Brandon Jennings hasn’t ever played close to an All-Star level, but probably thinks he has and has plenty of motivation to prove critics from his Milwaukee days wrong. All three are very good bets to have breakout seasons, but none will represent the Pistons in the All-Star game because …

2. Andre Drummond will be an All-Star and win the Defensive Player of the Year award.

As we’ve seen in the preseason and his limited minutes last season, Drummond is capable of putting up astoundingly gaudy numbers. His play and personality have attracted national media attention (he’s arguably the darling of Grantland) and will continue to, his athleticism will continuously get him prominent highlights on SportsCenter and he’s one of the funniest social media personalities in the league. As we know, All-Star selections require both performance and buzz. Drummond is positioned to deliver both better than anyone on the Pistons, and those factors will be enough to garner him a spot on the Eastern Conference roster.

As for Defensive Player of the Year, it won’t go to the player who should win it, LeBron James, because he’ll have to settle for another MVP. It won’t go to the most recent defensively dominant big man, Dwight Howard, because voters will be too influenced by the non-basketball ‘Dwightmare’ drama that has been going on for, what, like four straight offseasons now? So how about giving it to a likable, defensive game changer with outlandish numbers on a much-improved team?

3. Tom Gores will be annoying in a good way.

Gores has received some criticism for not showing his face much around the Palace since purchasing the team. But in all honesty, would you show your face around the bunch he inherited? With splashy offseason moves and an exciting roster, Gores finally has a chance to show off and brag about his investment. So expect a lot of scenes like this, with a goofy poofy-haired guy in too-tight jeans and too much exposed chest hair celebrating big wins with the players. Expect that to be hilarious every time and expect it to really annoy opposing teams but really endear Gores to Pistons fans.

4. Charlie Villanueva will be annoying in a bad way.

Although I’ve made my share of jabs at Villanueva, I’m far from his harshest critic among Pistons fans. Hell, I’ve even made occasionally tepid efforts to defend the guy. In the last year of his dreadful failure of a contract, on a team with enough talent to never have to worry about playing him and already with his new coach questioning his conditioning, Villaneuva is sure to be at optimum fan-irritating levels this season. For exhibit A of his lack of self-awareness, check out his tweets during yesterday’s amazing Detroit Lions game:

 

 

 

 

 

So much in that series — first, classic Charlie V move to leave a back-and-forth one possession game with over a minute left, then be upset when it has a wild ending that he missed; second, pretty funny that he blamed Romo for a meltdown that Romo had nothing to do with — did Romo get the holding penalty on Dallas’ final possession that stopped the clock when Detroit had no timeouts? Did Romo play poor pass defense on Detroit’s final drive?; third, LOL at Tony Romo … I can’t imagine a more embarrassing fellow athlete to clown your performance. Never change, Charlie. Unless we’re talking about changing teams … because in that case, totally change.

5. Rodney Stuckey will have a good season.

I once devoted an entire book chapter to my belief that Stuckey is the symbol of everything that has gone wrong during the second half of Joe Dumars’ tenure as team president, so I obviously have not been on the board of trustees of the Stuckey fan club (hypothetically speaking though, since no Stuckey fans exist … JK JK). Admittedly, I haven’t been a fan of his game, his lack of development and the free reign and seemingly limitless minutes the Pistons have given him in his career to develop into … whatever it is they thought he could develop into.  But criticisms aside, I also like to think I’ve been fairly realistic about what Stuckey is — a limited upside, versatile guard who can give quality minutes in the right situation at either backcourt spot. His size and athleticism will both come in handy for the Pistons this season, as will his knack for getting to the line. As soon as he returns healthy from his freak offseason injury, he’ll carve out a valuable rotation spot off the bench where his lack of shooting is less glaring an issue and give productive minutes all season.

6. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will not.

In the longrun, Caldwell-Pope will be fine. He seems hard-working, he’s strong, athletic and a prototypical NBA perimeter defender and his shooting mechanics aren’t bad. But expect his offensive inconsistencies from Summer League and preseason to carry over into the season. The Pistons desperately need shooting and they can ill-afford a slow start to the season, so if KCP’s shot isn’t falling early, they have other rotation options in Chauncey Billups, Kyle Singler and, when he gets healthy, Gigi Datome, they can try. If Caldwell-Pope makes an impact as a rookie, it won’t be until later in the season.

7. Greg Monroe will get traded.

I closed my eyes when I typed that (impressive, right?). I don’t want the Pistons to trade Monroe because I think it will be nearly impossible to get equal value for him, but I’m also not convinced they want to pay him max money when Smith is making near that amount and Drummond most assuredly will be getting the max in time. That’s a very expensive frontcourt on a team that has always operated within a budget and could use upgrades at other positions. I fully expect Monroe to continue to improve and having a season that justifies him receiving the max deal he’s earned to this point in his career. As that realization becomes more clear, other teams will notice and, more importantly, be willing to invest high level assets for Monroe. I think the Pistons will be offered a package for Monroe that features a really good shooting guard or small forward this season and I think they will take it. Also, any commenter who interprets ‘really good shooting guard or small forward’ as ‘Rudy Gay’ will immediately be banned for life.

8. The point guard play will stabilize, but still underwhelm.

Early in the preseason, a Milwaukee Bucks writer I follow on Twitter wrote something like (paraphrasing … can’t find the exact tweet), “Brandon Knight just really clumsily tried to split a double team. That will lead to TOs if he does that a lot.” Sorry Bucks fans … good luck with that. One thing I will absolutely not miss about the past two seasons — all of the storylines pretending that Knight is a can’t-miss prospect simply because he’s hard-working. He’s likely not a starting-caliber NBA point guard. Now, he’s some other team’s reclamation project. I’m not rooting against his success by any stretch — I root for everyone’s success, with the exception of a few commenters who I openly root against. But it became frustrating to try and find silver linings in Knight, generally, being a poor basketball player during his Detroit tenure. He has a chance to figure it out, and I honestly hope he does, but I’m glad I don’t have to watch the struggle to do it anymore.

So what are the Pistons left with as an alternative? Jennings will be less shot-happy, particularly early in the season, as he tries to ditch the reputation of playing selfishly that he earned in Milwaukee. Less shots for Jennings will be good for this offense, and his speed and passing in the open court should be good for the team’s bigs. Will Bynum will continue to mix great plays with occasional sloppiness, but his ability to create shots for himself and others, particularly Drummond, will prove valuable when the offense is stodgy or the pace needs to be picked up. Billups will provide a comfortable security blanket for when either of the aforementioned become too erratic.

The trio will combine to provide more consistent play, but by the end of the season, Jennings’ shoot-first tendencies and the fact that Bynum is old and Billups is really old might have the Pistons still considering options to upgrade the PG spot in the future.

9. The coaching situation will stabilize, but still underwhelm.

Maurice Cheeks is a retread coach who hasn’t distinguished himself as anything but in two previous coaching spots. I expect the Pistons to be better this season because they have more talent, not because they hired one retread coach to replace another. Best case scenario is that the team plays hard for Cheeks, gets off to a strong start (or at least not a disastrously crippling start like the previous two coaches were known for) and, within a year or so, the team has improved enough that Joe Dumars can hit the market for an upgrade. There’s little evidence to suggest that Cheeks is going to suddenly figure out how to be a difference-making head coach in the NBA. It rarely happens that coaches have multiple failures with other teams then put it together elsewhere. That’s not really a knock on Cheeks though — the NBA is full of retread coaches. Unless you have one of the few best or few worst, coaches have very little positive or negative impact on a team. If Cheeks can get the Pistons to maximize their talent and play competently, he’ll have a job for a couple of years. Then, once the team has improved enough to truly need a difference-making (and expensive) coach, Dumars can look for a replacement and Cheeks will have done enough in two years of helping the Pistons improve to be in play for other head coaching gigs.

10. The Pistons will be the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.

That’s a pretty big jump for a team that would probably just be happy to sneak into the playoffs as the eighth seed. But really, if you believe in the defensive potential of a Drummond and Smith-led frontline, the matchup problems Smith/Monroe/Drummond create and believe that the backcourt can stay modestly healthy and run a competent offense, moving up into the fifth spot is not that big a stretch.

Along with the aforementioned, for this to happen, we’d have to be working with a few givens. The Heat, Pacers and Bulls are the consensus top three, in some order. Charlotte, Orlando, Philadelphia and Boston will catch you next season. So that leaves eight teams — the Pistons, Knicks, Nets, Raptors, Wizards, Cavs, Raptors and Hawks — competing for those five spots. The Knicks and Nets were playoff teams last season and should be this season, but they’re really old too. It’s not far-fetched to think at least one will take a dive down the standings this season. The Hawks were a playoff team and lost Smith to free agency, but I also think they had an underrated offseason (Paul Millsap was a nice get) and I’m a huge Al Horford fan. So we’ll pencil the in for the fourth seed. To get the fifth seed, the Pistons would have to rely on age/injuries pushing the Knicks and Nets down and they’d have to hope they improve at a more rapid rate than the Raps, Wizards and Cavs. Improbable? Absolutely. Impossible? Not at all.

Who wouldn’t love to see the Pistons and Hawks rekindle their two-year rivalry from the Grant Hill-Dikembe Mutomobo years that also included two of the most hideous jersey designs ever?

From the Vault

I’m going to add a little recurring feature to my Monday columns this season … looking back at some of the worst stuff I’ve written over the years. Enjoy the first installment.

So everyone here knows about my Will Bynum infatuation. In fact, I’ve long argued that Bynum is the superior player to Rodney Stuckey. That point isn’t far-fetched, although it is certainly debatable, and some key stats back the position. But I took it a step further for MLive in 2010 and tried to decide whether Bynum or Stuckey (or both!) should be looked at as a franchise cornerstone at the point guard spot:

The Pistons have a problem that many teams would love: two young, promising point guards, both who have experienced some NBA success, both who should continue to get much better.

But who’s the guy?

Stay tuned for my column later this season when I discuss how Peyton Siva and Kim English could’ve been the next Isiah/Dumars.

Top Tweet

Which Piston was the best Twitter personality this week? Each Monday, I’ll hand out this meaningless award.

There’s a Pistons fan on Twitter named Karl. This is not hyperbole — he’s the most persistent, odd Pistons fan I’ve ever encountered. Anyone who writes about the Pistons has probably been bombarded by Karl with the same questions over and over again (for me, he kept insisting for months leading up to last year’s draft that the Pistons would be crazy to pass on Arnett Moultrie in the lottery … I’m sure every other writer has a story about a question Karl bashed them over the head with as well).

Anyway, a big talking point for Karl related to Josh Harrellson was splitting hairs over whether he’s a center or power forward (as if that distinction matters anymore in today’s NBA). Keith Langlois of Pistons.com posted a story about Harrellson and Karl immediately responded, worried that Harrellson did not meet some arbitrary height minimum to be a NBA center (incidentally, Ben Wallace did pretty well as an undersized center).

 

Now, I suspect that weird, random and uninformed commentary from fans is just something that every athlete deals with. But I thought it was cool that Harrellson took the time to politely say that was a really stupid question:

 

Unfortunately for Harrellson, it opened the floodgates for this series of questions that seem like they were posed by a curious (but still ignorant) 7-year-old. Oh well. Keep fighting the good fight, Josh. Also, who is taller? A cloned version of yourself standing on the real you’s shoulders or a giraffe?

We’re going to try out a weekly mailbag feature …

This will only be as successful as your participation, but I’d like to kick off a PistonPowered mailbag next week. If you have questions about the team, the NBA, grooming tips, this week’s episode of Raw … basically, whatever’s on your mind (seriously … no question is too weird for me to consider), send away. You can email me at patrickhayes13(at)gmail(dot)com or find me on Twitter @patrick_hayes. We’ll see how it goes next week.

Also, I haven’t been around here much lately … according to Feldman’s posts, am I obligated to end every post by writing, “Read my thoughts at NBC’s Pro Basketball Talk?”

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