NBA Preview: Detroit Pistons


Last season: They are a rebuilding team, so you don’t expect them to be good and the 25-41 record reflected that. But they flew under a lot of people’s radar because they are just not that interesting to watch. They are not good on offense, not good on defense, they have a couple nice players but not the kind of explosive, dynamic players that make you stop flipping channels. If Piston fans want to know why Greg Monroe goes unnoticed it is that – the team is uninteresting to watch.

Key Departures: Finally, slowly, GM Joe Dumars seems to be starting to do away with the veterans on the roster and commit fully to the rebuild. At least let’s hope so. Ben Gordon was sent packing for the expiring contract and big arms of Corey Maggette. Ben Wallace also seems about to retire. We think. But you never know.

Key Additions: They picked up the big risk/big reward player of this last draft in Andre Drummond, the big man out of Connecticut. I like the pick, it was a good risk for them. He’s young, his effort is immature (meaning inconsistent) and his offensive game is immature as well. If he puts in the work and grows up, in four years he could be the second best player in this draft and a steal. Or, he could be a bust.

Also added are Corey Maggette and rookies Kim English, Khris Middleton and Kyle Singler.

Three keys to the Pistons season:

1) Will Greg Monroe keep improving, and will anyone notice? It’s not just fans and media that underrate and overlook Monroe — he did not get a USA Select Team invite this summer when he should have. Last season he put up much better numbers than Roy Hibbert — Monroe had more points, more rebounds, shot a higher percentage and Monroe had a PER of 22, Hibbert 16.8 — but everyone raves about Hibbert because we see the Pacers. We see him.

Monroe also is not flashy — he scores on little jump hooks and clever moves around the rim, not thundering dunks. He’s not a highlight machine. What he is maybe the second best center in the East (behind Andrew Bynum) and he is just entering his third season. If he keeps improving people will not be able to ignore him anymore — and there is no reason to think he will not get better. He needs to improve most on the defensive end, he needs to get stronger. He needs to be a force on both ends of the floor. He is not yet complete. But he shouldn’t be overlooked.

2) How will Lawrence Frank fit together a roster with redundant parts? Monroe may be spending more time at the four this season because the Pistons need to let Andre Drummond learn on the job. That gives the Pistons maybe the biggest front line outside of Los Angeles but it means coach Frank needs to get similar players to work well together.

It’s the same thing in the backcourt — the Pistons finally moved Rodney Stuckey from the point to the two-guard spot last season so Brandon Knight could step in. And Knight gave them 12.8 points a game but shot just 41.8 percent and still didn’t dish a higher percentage of assists to teammates than Stuckey. Knight shows some talent but he looked every part the rookie at times last season and needs to mature his game, get teammates involved more and become more efficient. Some Pistons fans are sold on him, I’m not yet.

3) Will Joe Dumars finally trade Tayshawn Prince and stop keeping veterans around? For the past couple years, the Pistons have lived in the kind of ugly middle ground of the NBA — trying to rebuild while keeping veterans on the roster so they are not too bad. That is a terrible way to rebuild. If you are going to rebuild through the draft, do what the Rockets and Magic have done and get bad so you can get picks and free up cap room. The Pistons need to go all in and get over their mistakes from the 2009 free agency period — get rid of Tayshawn Prince, Charlie Villanueva, Jason Maxiell, anyone who is not part of the rebuilding process. Go all in. (That said, with Monroe and this roster they will not be as bad as some.)

What Pistons fans should fear: Life in the middle. The worst thing to be in the NBA is a team stuck in the middle — getting between 35 and 42 wins a season, hoping to get an eighth playoff seed and get routed in the first round, never being bad enough to get a really high draft pick. You can’t improve that way. Detroit has a couple potential stars on this team, particularly along the front line, but they have to be smart and build on this now, not just live in the middle of the NBA.

How it likely works out: Another pretty middle of the road season. Monroe is going to play well whether he plays the four or the five. He should be at an All-Star level. Knight will improve, although how much remains to be seen. It may be a couple years before we know how good Drummond can be — or how good he is willing to work to be — and there are other potential guys like Singler that could be interesting. But mostly the Pistons are just not going to be very good, and not likely a playoff team.

Prediction: 31-51 but their should be hope for the future based on Monroe, based on what Drummond might be, and with that record on the chance of a good bounce in the lottery to get one more star.

Cavaliers star LeBron James: Raptors ‘in a better place than we are right now’

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It’s not enough to say the Raptors have the Eastern Conference’s best record.

The Celtics had the East’s best record last year, and most people thought the Cavaliers were better. Cleveland had a better point difference and more star power – LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – than Boston. The Cavs confirmed that notion by cruising past the Celtics in a five-game conference finals.

The Raptors have been the Eastern Conference’s best team this season.

They rank fourth in the NBA in offensive and defensive rating, the only team top five in both categories. Led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, their starting lineup has embraced a more dynamic offense with more 3-point shooting and passing. Toronto’s bench is the best in the league.

LeBron, whose Cavaliers host the Raptors tonight, via Joe Vardon of

“They’re in a better place than we are right now because they’ve had more consistency and they’ve had their guys in the lineup for the majority of the year,” James said after the Cavs’ morning workout. “So, they know what they want to accomplish. They know who they are at this point in the season. Obviously, you guys know about us, we’re still trying to figure that out.”

This is so obviously correct. It’s just surprising to see LeBron put it so directly, though it’s unsurprising he’s hanging on the Cavs’ instability to date.

Kevin Love and Isaiah Thomas were injured for long stretches, and Thomas and several others were traded. Coach Tyronn Lue is on a leave of absence.

But the Cavaliers made those major trades because they were struggling, and this new group won’t necessarily simply figure things out with time. Defensive problems persist. Lue’s health is unclear.

LeBron understandably remains confident in himself, even as the Cavs enter the postseason as a middling seed. He’s also setting up a narrative of Cleveland coming from behind if it advances to the NBA Finals. We’ll see whether it happens.

Tonight likely won’t be a referendum, though. Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Kyle Korver and Larry Nance Jr. are out for the Cavaliers. That roster instability still exists.

If LeBron dials up playoff intensity tonight, that could send a warning to Toronto, though I’m not sure it’s necessary. As far ahead as the Raptors are right now, after Cleveland soundly eliminated them the last two years, I think everyone knows it’s a couple months too early to properly assess these teams’ relative places.

Report: Optimism remains for Kawhi Leonard returning this season

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Kawhi Leonard reportedly planned to return for last Thursday’s Spurs-Pelicans game – but didn’t.

A couple games later, and Leonard remains out. Will he actually play again this season?

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Leonard resumed working out in San Antonio on Feb. 27 and is feeling “much better,” according to the source. Eleven games remain in the regular season, but there remains optimism he will return this season, the source said.

Sources told ESPN that Leonard’s target date to return from the quadriceps tendinopathy that has kept him out for all but nine games this season has always been “mid-March.”

It’s March 21. We’re nearing the end of what anyone would consider mid-March.

A month ago, Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich said time was running out for Leonard to return and acclimate to the lineup. But Popovich has sounded more open lately to Leonard – whose own doctors must still clear him – returning whenever the forward is ready.

San Antonio (41-31, tied for fifth in the West) has probably done enough without Leonard to make the playoffs. The Spurs have a 3.0-game buffer over the Nuggets and 3.5-game buffer over the Clippers for playoff position.

But San Antonio would become far more dangerous in the playoffs – a threat to any team, including the Rockets and Warriors – if Leonard returns to full strength.

First, he must just get back on the court at all, and maybe that’ll happen sooner than later. The way this injury has gone, though, it’s hard to believe anything until we see it.

LeBron James on NBA play-in tournament: “No, no, no. That’s wack.”

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It’s a long way off, but there has been some discussion in the league office — and some momentum built up in some corners — for a play-in tournament for the NBA playoffs. While multiple variations of how this would work are in play, it involves some combination of teams seeded seven to 10 in a few single-elimination (or home-and-home) games to see who gets into the 16-team playoffs. The goal is to keep more teams — and more fan bases — engaged in the playoff chase longer.

LeBron James is not a fan. Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“No, no, no,” James said Wednesday. “That’s wack. That’s wack. Why? You got to earn your spot to be in the postseason. No consolation for finishing last. That’s corny. That’s corny. That’s wack. To play for what? What are they playing for?”

So, how do you really feel?

“[Make the playoffs by winning the tournament], even if my record is better than yours? Nah, that’s wack,” James said.

As fans, we love drama and unpredictability — it’s what we love about March Madness, the upsets that ruin our bracket — and a play-in tournament would bring some to the often predictable NBA table.

However, LeBron has a point. Using the Western Conference and the current standings as an example, how excited are fans and the front offices of the Jazz and Nuggets going to be about an extra game or two for the right to get smacked down by Houston in the first round? Or for the Timberwolves to maybe be out after a game where they lose to the Clippers in a play-in, rather than getting to take on Golden State? Will this really sell well?

The only way this gets backing of most players and the union is if it could help shorten the season — if television and other revenue from these games allowed the 82 game season to drop to 72 (or whatever) and keep the money the same, then players would listen. However, that much money seems unlikely.

Maybe a mid-season NBA Tournament held in one city could generate the needed revenue to shorten the season. Maybe. But that seems more likely than a play-in.

Kyle Korver to miss Wednesday vs. Toronto after death of his brother

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I can’t imagine what this is like.

Cavaliers’ sharpshooter Kyle Korver will not be with the Cavaliers for an interesting showdown with Toronto on Wednesday night due to the death of his younger brother, Kirk. Korver has been given a leave of absence from the team.

Kirk Korver, 27, played four years of college ball at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

There are four Korver brothers, all of whom played college basketball or at a higher level. Kirk was the youngest of them, he reportedly fell seriously ill about a week ago.

Our thoughts are with the entire Korver family.

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