Sunday, July 5, 2009

Detroit Pistons: 2009 Preview

About nine months ago, I wrote a pretty extensive evaluation of the now infamous Allen Iverson for Chauncey Billups trade. I don’t want to brag, but to be frankly honest I couldn’t have been more correct. Chauncey proved beyond any question that he is in fact a (much) better player than Iverson, and AI’s inability to coexist with his teammates proved one of Detroit’s greatest downfalls. But, as anticipated, the trade did open up more than 20 million dollars in cap space thanks to The Canswer’s expiring contract. Joe Dumars had a fortune to spend during the 2009 free agency, and it was all very exciting.

For years Joe Dumars has been one of the NBA's best executives. He pulled Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups out of no where and built a championship team around them. He drafted late first-round gems like Tayshaun and Mehmet and wheeled a trade to acquire Rasheed for next to nothing. Every Pistons fan huddled around one mantra: In Joe Dumars we trust. So give him $20 million dollars to play with and let's see what Joe can cook up.

Unfortunately, all the marquee talent is entering free agency in the summer of 2010, not 2009. Rather than wait that long, Joe took a shot at Carlos Boozer. Swing and a miss. Then he quickly tried for Hedo Turkoglu. Strike two. So what did Joe D do next?

He settled.

Earlier this week the Pistons signed Bulls sharpshooter Ben Gordon and Bucks power forward Charlie Villanueva each to five year contracts. Are they both good players? Yes. Are they all stars? No. (Did they both play for U-Conn? Yes.) But the real question is: Are either of them, or even are BOTH OF THEM COMBINED, adequate replacements for Chauncey Billups? The answer is a resounding Hell No.

So, if you were still wondering whether or not it was a good deal, here is the condensed version: what the Pistons essentially did was trade their best player, their leader, and one of the ten best players in the NBA in exchange for one terrible, painful season and loads of cap space, which they then converted into two role players. Verdict: bad trade.

Add to our problems that our two starting big-men, Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess, are leaving the team via free agency (likely destinations: Sheed to Boston, and Dyess to San Antonio). With Amir Johnson traded for a few extra million in cap space, our two remaining bigs, and likely starters look like this: Kwame Brown, and Jason Maxiell. Okay, so now you can plug Villanueva in at the 4 and bring Maxiell off the bench, but still. That still leaves Kwame Brown as the Pistons starting center. KWAME BROWN. To quote Timon from the Lion King, “…And Everybody’s Okay With This???!?!!

To balance out many of the more 'questionable' moves that Joe Dumars has made in the past four or five years, this past week he slightly redeemed himself by firing his buddy Michael Curry, also known as the worst head coach I’ve ever seen. My brother was the head coach for a high school girl’s team, and he showed better play-calling and clock-management skills than Curry did. I'm serious. And Curry was coaching in the NBA. That’s the highest level there is.

As of right now, July 3rd, a replacement for Curry has yet to be named, although Doug Collins’ named has been scratched off the list and Avery Johnson seems pretty likely. (Which would be awesome!) Whether Curry was fired on demands by Gordon or Villanueva or by current players or simply because he was a terrible coach is yet to be known. For more insight on the Curry firing (as well as heaps of fantasy football factoids) you can check out the recent post on my blog,, titled Pistons Fire Curry! This Pistons preview will be up on the blog too, but I decided to post in on facebook as well for more people to see.

So now the free agency excitement is all but over for the Pistons. The only real objective left for Joe is to try to use his remaining cap room to re-sign McDyess, but it’s unlikely that McDiggity will want to be back in blue considering all he wants at this point in his career is that elusive championship. Sad to say, the Pistons do not look like contenders for the 2010 title.

Barring any more drastic changes, our starting line-up looks like this: Stuckey at point, Gordon at 2, Tayshuan at 3, Villanueva at 4, and Kwame at 5. Rip will likely come off the bench, but even more likely than that he will fake an injury so he can spend the year on the bench pouting. You can be sure that when next season ends, Rip will not have any desire to re-sign and his expiring contract will give the Pistons some more cap room to go after another re-building piece of the puzzle. (But isn’t it annoying that we are suddenly in rebuilding mode even though we had a relatively young championship-caliber team only two years ago??)

We know what we’re getting from the 1, 3 and 5 positions. Stuckey is a developing score-first point guard, who needs to learn to control the game and play within himself. An outside shot and better perimeter defense would be nice to see too. (Basically, can we get Chauncey back please?) Tayshaun is a solid but not spectacular small forward, but I think his skills might be a good complement for our two new additions. Kwame is a unskilled seven-footer, who can give you a Darko-like 8 points and 6 rebounds on his best night. What Pistons fans are all dying to know is: what can we expect from Ben and Charlie?

Maybe it’s just because I’m a biased Pistons fan, but I’ve never liked either of these guys. Gordon has always stuck me as a me-first shooter who would rather score 40 points than win the game. No question that he is a great shooter, and a better shooter than Hamilton. But can he be a team player on Detroit, or will he be more interested in being our leading scorer? Does he play defense or just save up energy for the offensive end? Why is he black but has a British accent? (I know, he was born in the U.K., but it’s still annoying). Gordon is known as one of the NBA’s best fourth-quarter scorers, but struggles with turnovers and mental mistakes. His consistent 41% three-point shooting will be a nice addition, but that’s pretty much all he gives us.
The most important thing to know about Charlie Villanueva is that he ails from a disease known as Alopecia, meaning he cannot grown hair anywhere on his body. If you start to google his name, the third option down is “Charlie Villanueva eyebrows.” Great. Aside from being hairless and eyebrow-less, Charlie’s game is pretty good. Versatile is the word that comes to mind. He has been one of the more underrated forwards in the NBA for a while, but giving him $35 million over 5 years might change that completely. Villanueva is a 6’11”, 240 pound athlete with an outside shot. He can elevate to block shots and play above the rim and is a great passer for a power forward. I got the inside scoop from an avid Bucks fan named Zach Vinson, who informed me that while Villanueva has the ability to go off for 40 points on any given night, he is also a bit lazy and has a tendency to drift around the perimeter and settle for outside jumpers. Zach also reported that Villanueva doesn’t usually extend much effort on the defensive end, and but when he does he is pretty effective. Sounds a lot like Sheed to me, but since Charlie is younger, more athletic, and certainly less of an idiot, I’m actually pretty excited to see him in Pistons blue. In fact, even though Gordon comes with a higher price tag, I’m more excited to see what Charlie can do and I think he will make a bigger contribution to the team.

So although the two players we signed aren’t exactly a dream come true, it’s certainly a good thing that the Pistons did something. If we hadn’t signed anyone at all, not only would the Billups trade be all for naught, but we would be a 30 or 35 win team next year. With Gordon and Villanueva on board, the Pistons basically guarantee themselves another playoff appearance and hopefully give themselves a shot to get out of the first round, depending on the matchup. I can’t see our playoff seed being any higher than fifth or sixth. We have the makings of a 40-42 team, with the upside being at most 50 wins. Next summer, when LeBron, Wade, Bosh and so many others are deciding what to do with their futures, the Pistons will be paying almost 20 million a year to Gordon and Villanueva and using the Hamilton-created cap space to sign another average role player.

As a way of wrapping this up, let’s take a look at the rest of the action thus far in NBA free agency and discuss its implications. In order of importance, the following moves have already occurred: Ron Artest to the Lakers; Trevor Ariza to the Rockets; Shaq to the Cavs; Richard Jefferson to the Spurs; and Vince Carter to the Magic. Hedo Turkoglu is yet to sign, but he is moving somewhere, either the Blazers and Raptors.

Here’s my analysis:
The Magic made themselves worse; they essentially turned Hedo into Vince, and also lost their fourth and fifth best players (Lee and Alston) in the process. The Lakers and Rockets swapped small forwards; Artest is better now but Ariza is more promising for the future. I’d call it a wash, but it does bolster Kobe’s chances of winning another ring next year. The Cavs landed the big dumb out-of-shape brute known as Shaq in exchange for Ben Wallace and Pavlovic, which in my opinion doesn’t make them any better. The Spurs added a scoring wingman who should fit in nicely, while the Bucks were able to save some money for next summer by losing Jefferson and Villanueva. The biggest losers so far are the Rockets, who lost Artest and will probably lose Yao for the season with yet another prolonged injury. The Bulls lost Gordon to the Pistons which takes away their best scorer and may slow the development of Derrick Rose, and the Nets will actually be better off replacing Vince Carter with Courtney Lee and saving money in the process. All in all, a busy summer for the elite teams who are vying for a 2010 championship, and a dull summer for those lesser teams holding out hope for the much anticipated summer of 2010.

Then there are the Pistons, an middle-of-the-road team that still thinks they are elite, and who proved their point by signing a couple of mediocre role players. Absolutely brilliant.

In Joe Dumars we trust?

After the Darko pick, the Chauncey trade, and now this …

Sorry Joe, but I don’t think so. Not anymore.

No comments:

Post a Comment