Greg Monroe, D.J. White, DeSagana Diop

NBA Preview: Detroit Pistons

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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.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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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.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

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

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

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: