NBA Season Preview: Detroit Pistons

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Thumbnail image for stuckey_dunk.jpgLast season: 27-55 in a season where a tidal wave of injuries washed over the squad (Ben Gordon missed 20 games, Tayshaun Prince 33, Richard Hamilton 36, and the list goes on and on). That can’t happen again, right? RIGHT?!

Head Coach: John Kuester who may or may not be good, we can’t judge based on last year. We do know he has gained experience juggling injury lineups.

Key Departures: Kwame Brown (consider that addition by subtraction)

Key Additions: Tracy McGrady, Greg Monroe, the amazingly athletic Terrico White

Best case scenario: A new owner that comes in just a few weeks into the season, then rather than make a ultimately needless push for one of the last couple playoff spots in the East they just start to blow it up and rebuild.

For that to happen: Piston fans are ticked at that last sentence. They see the enormous amount of injuries this squad had last season, it’s history of making the playoffs not far in the rearview mirror, and they think they can get back there.

And they really could if everything goes their way. If everyone can stay healthy. If they can defend. If Ben Wallace can keep up his resurgence in the paint (which means just be solid). If Greg Monroe can give them some offense down low. If Rodney Stuckey can not only score but also set up teammates. If the backcourt can drive the offense (because it has to) with Ben Gordon returning to his Chicago shooting form. If Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince can have good bounce back seasons. If Tracy McGrady has to give them something of quality.

That’s a lot of “ifs,” but if by some miracle all of that happens what do the Pistons get? A seven or eight seed, so they can be wiped out in five games by Miami/Orlando/Boston.

That is a fine outcome for a team building itself back up from the cellar (your Knicks, Pacers, Wizards of the world). For the Pistons, a team whose key parts are aging, that is not enough.

That’s why I say it is time to move Prince and start to rebuild. (I’d want to move Hamilton, and maybe Charlie Villanueva too, but with their deals that will be more challenging.) Like the car companies around them, it is time to reinvent the Pistons. There is no reason to wait. Start playing Monroe a lot, have Stuckey as your star — play him at the point but he may really be a two because he’s not a passer — and start to build this proud franchise back up.

More likely the Pistons will: Idle in place until a new owner gets in, then start the rebuilding process a little too late. But at least they start it.

These Pistons should be a little better than last year, only in that they can’t have that many injuries again. They have some nice players on the perimeter. But this is a flawed team.

Kuester has to get this team to defend. If they play defense as poorly as they did last season — fifth worst in the NBA — this season will be worse than Pistons fans imagine.

Tracy McGrady will not be as big a distraction as expected, but he doesn’t have much in the tank.

It’s just hard to get inspired looking at this Pistons roster right now — it is below average and not young. You want more for a proud franchise and fans that deserve better, but there is just not much here to see as a good future.

Prediction: 30 wins. This team has more talent on it than it showed in the injury plagued last year, but it is fatally flawed. This team could win more games if this roster stays together, plays some defense and stays healthy. But 30 seems about where they land.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

Minnesota Timberwolves Zach LaVine slam dunks the ball during the NBA all-star skills competition in Toronto on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect. Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates:

Splash Brothers showtime: Klay Thompson beats Stephen Curry to win Three-Point Contest

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TORONTO — It came down to the Splash Brothers. Because of course it did. Just like last season.

In the final round of the NBA All-Star Saturday Three-Point Shootout, defending champ Stephen Curry hit his first eight shots and set the bar high with 23 points — the best score of the night.

His backcourt teammate Klay Thompson responded by draining his last seven shots, which included the entire money rack, and put up 27 points — tying the event record.

That gave Thompson the upset win and the Three-Point Contest title.

Although, is it an upset if the second best shooter in the game beats the best?

“It was like déjà vu last year,” Thompson said. “Not gonna lie, I got nervous when he hit his first eight, and I didn’t think he was going to miss. But it was exciting, just coming back to Oakland [with the title], you know. Back-to-back years for Splash Brothers, it’s pretty cool.”

So does Thompson have bragging rights?

“(For) about 364 days, and then — but that’s a daily thing we do,” Thompson said. “We love to shoot against each other. You know, I’ve never been on a team with someone who shoots it better than me, so it’s a privilege to work with him every day. He makes me that much better.”

The Final round was two you expected — the Splash Brothers — plus one few did, Suns rookie Devin Booker.

Getting there was not simple. In the first round, Thompson set a high bar going first and putting up 22. Curry got hot in the middle, then hit the last two money balls to reach 21. James Harden and J.J. Redick ( who stayed behind the line this year) scored very solid 20s. Later 19-year-old rookie Booker put up a 20 to tie those two veterans. Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton (13 points) Portland’s C.J. McCollum (14) and home-town crowd favorite Raptor Kyle Lowry (15) got bounced. .

That left Harden, Redick, and McCollum in a tiebreaker, and the rookie calmly put up a 12 in 30 seconds to advance.

Booker took a step back in the final round with a 16.

Not that it mattered with the Splash Brothers in the building.