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Pistons present themselves as Eastern Conference heavyweights with Dwane Casey

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DETROIT – Pistons spokesman Mark Barnhill, introducing new coach Dwane Casey, said he tucked his notes for today’s press conference into his jacket pocket. Then, as he pulled them out, he discovered an old Pistons playoff ticket in the same pocket.

“It’s a bit of an omen and a bit of a challenge,” Barnhill said.

The ticket was for the Pistons’ best playoff performance in a decade.

“No pressure,” Casey said.

Actually, really, no pressure.

Detroit lost by only two points in Game 4 of the 2016 first round, getting swept by the Cavaliers in the game Barnhill referred to. The Pistons haven’t won a playoff game in the last 10 years and reached the postseason only twice in that span. A two-point loss was their best result.

They’re starving for only moderate success. The 59 wins and second-round loss that got Casey fired by the Raptors? That’d be a dream season in Detroit. Even just making the playoffs next year would be welcomed.

“Our time is now,” Casey said. “…The talent level on the roster is there.”

It better be.

The Pistons are too close to the luxury-tax line to use most of the mid-level exception. They surrendered their first-round pick in the Blake Griffin trade. They’re left with only the No. 42 pick in the second round.

“Whatever player we get, that would be great. But we don’t need another one,” Pistons owner Tom Gores said. “Like, we’re good. That’s why Dwane is here.”

That and $35 million.

The Pistons presented Casey with a favorable contract, a front-office head he knows (more on that later) and a solid roster. Detroit is probably better off trying to win now, because the alternative would be even trickier to pull off. With so many highly paid players stained by losing, the Pistons can’t easily switch paths and rebuild. Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson are close enough to their primes that the present should be the priority, even if this team maxes at pretty good.

Yet, Detroit’s brass couldn’t help but raise expectations even further.

“We have three very – we have a great roster – but very special players,” Gores said of Griffin, Drummond and Jackson.

That’s an overstatement. Besides, how much noise can Detroit make with the Celtics and 76ers rising the Raptors still hanging around?

“I feel very comfortable that we’ll have a product that will compete with the teams that you just said,” Gores’ advisor, Ed Stefanski, said. “We have to win games, as Tom said. But you don’t usually get to an organization and have three core guys like we have.”

Again, they’re talking about Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.

Griffin hasn’t made an All-Star team in three years, a drought players rarely escape. Drummond is a borderline All-Star in the East (and a tough fit with Griffin). Jackson has only once even sniffed the All-Star discussion.

Casey also praised those three – and Detroit’s last three first-round picks: Stanley Johnson, Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard. Johnson particularly drew attention from Casey, whose Raptors got swept by LeBron James‘ Cavaliers the last two years and lost the most lopsided six-game series in NBA history to Cleveland the previous year.

“Somebody said, ‘Well, what happened to Toronto in the playoffs? ‘Well, I said, ‘It’s about matchups,'” Casey said. “And Stanley Johnson is the best match up for 23 in Cleveland that there is, physically.”

Maybe Casey, with his strong record of player development, will help Johnson eventually compete at those high levels.

“We’re not developing,” Casey said. “We’re not two or three years away. We want to win right now.”

The Pistons are so confident in their current roster, they haven’t even hired a general manager or equivalent. For now, Stefanski – advisor to the owner with the title of “senior executive” – is running the show. It sounds as if that could continue for a while.

“We could make Ed GM tomorrow,” Gores said. “That’s easy. If you guys want a title, that’s kind of easy.

“That’s not the point. The point is we’re building an organization, not around one person, but around what our vision is.”

Stefanski said, no matter how the front office is assembled, Casey will report to him. And Stefanski will report to Gores.

After giving Stan Van Gundy massive control, the Pistons are dispersing power.

Casey is a good coach, and he’ll help. Stefanski has plenty to prove as a front-office head. Gores is still learning as an owner, a failed experiment (keeping Joe Dumars) and unfulfilling tenure (Van Gundy’s) behind him. The roster is solid, though unexciting, when healthy.

They’re now all in it together, awaiting a chance to deliver. Considering how modest external expectations are, maybe they will.

But as the Pistons overstate their standing, it gets harder to take them seriously.

Pistons kicked the can down the road – heedlessly

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

In their seminal set of transactions this offseason, the Pistons upgraded to a better, cheaper version of their previous shooting guard.

The bill – Marcus Morris already used as down payment – will come due next summer, when Avery Bradley becomes an unrestricted free agent. Will Detroit be better equipped to handle his free agency than Kentavious Caldwell-Pope‘s this year?

That’s the bet the Pistons are making.

They had a breakthrough run to the 2016 playoffs, where they were the youngest team to qualify. But their ascension got sidetracked around Reggie Jackson‘s injury-plagued 2016-17 season. There’s a good case the point guard’s injuries contributed to his ineffectiveness, Andre Drummond‘s regression and the chemistry problems that plague losing teams.

The result: The Pistons had to face Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s restricted free agency with the luxury tax breathing down their neck and most of their players’ values in the gutter. Rather than spend its way out of the hole, Detroit kicked the can to next summer.

In the meantime, the Pistons got Bradley, who will earn about half of Caldwell-Pope’s salary this season. Bradley, two years older, is also better than Caldwell-Pope right now.

But the swap cost Detroit Morris, who was traded to the Celtics for Bradley. It also cost the Pistons Caldwell-Pope – though it didn’t necessarily have to.

They rescinded Caldwell-Pope’s qualifying offer after getting Bradley, clearing Caldwell-Pope to sign a one-year, $17,745,894 deal with the Lakers as an unrestricted free agent. But Detroit could have strengthened itself by keeping Caldwell-Pope restricted – even without actually trying to re-sign him.

If Caldwell-Pope accepted his $4,958,374 qualifying offer, the Pistons would have gotten another quality contributor at a bargain price for this season. They could have easily stayed under the tax with him earning so little. Would he have been somewhat redundant behind Bradley? Yes, but teams need backups, and Caldwell-Pope would have been a heck of a backup and trade chip. He would have held the right to veto trades, but any team dealing for him would’ve likely put him in a better position entering free agency. Barring a trade, Detroit would have entered next summer with both Bradley’s and Caldwell-Pope’s Bird Rights – doubling (or so) the odds of re-signing a quality shooting guard long-term.

If Caldwell-Pope signed an offer sheet elsewhere, it would have been required to be for at least two years (not including option years). So, that Lakers contract would not have been allowed. Whichever team signed Caldwell-Pope would’ve therefore likely been out of the running for another starting shooting guard next summer, easing the Pistons’ ability to re-sign Bradley.

As is, Detroit doesn’t have Caldwell-Pope this season, will have Bird Rights on only one starting-caliber shooting guard next offseason and will face a deeper pool of teams courting Bradley.

Rescinding Caldwell-Pope’s qualifying offer, clearing the way for his one-year, bet-on-himself contract with the Lakers was a huge favor to him. He didn’t have to lock into a multi-year deal in a market he found unfavorable. He’s earning more than triple what he would’ve on the qualifying offer while still getting a crack at unrestricted free agency next summer. There’s valuing in doing right by players who don’t quite fit the long-term plan.

I’m just not sure the Pistons are in a strong enough position to do a favor that big rather than exercising their collectively bargained rights. Graciously letting Caldwell-Pope walk just puts more pressure on everyone else.

Without Morris, the Pistons will need Stanley Johnson to step up this season. Tobias Harris can man one forward spot, but Johnson – the No. 8 pick in 2015 – is the ideal choice for the other. Johnson struggled his first two seasons, but he’s just 21, and it’s far too soon to close the book on him. Though I wouldn’t want to rely on him making a jump, Detroit has little choice.

The Pistons won’t be forced to lean on Stan Van Gundy’s other two first-round picks, power forward Henry Ellenson (No. 18 last year) and shooting Luke Kennard (No. 12 this year), quite as much. Detroit hedged with more experience – and expensive – veterans.

Langston Galloway might live up to his three-year, $21 million contract. But he’s just one forgettable season split between New Orleans and Sacramento away from the Knicks pulling his qualifying offer and the Pelicans signing him to just a two-year, $10,634,000 deal with a player option. It seems likely Detroit went well above market rate to sign the combo guard, a disturbing trend.

The Pistons got power forward Anthony Tolliver cheaper, for one year with the $3.29 million bi-annual exception. But that also means they can’t use the bi-annual exception again next year. Using the bi-annual exception this summer is not necessarily flawed. The Pistons knew it’d be useful now, and there’s no guarantee it would be next offseason. But preserving resources for the future seems to barely be a consideration for this franchise.

At least they convinced Aron Baynes to decline his $6.5 million player option, granting them more maneuverability. He was left with the $4,328,000 room exception in Boston.

Winning creates flexibility, as players on winning teams hold more value. Perhaps, Jackson getting healthy creates a ripple effect in Detroit that – with these new additions bolstering the roster – sparks a revival.

But the Pistons are poised to face the same luxury-tax issues they had with paying Caldwell-Pope this summer with paying Bradley next summer. Except Bradley will start free agency unrestricted, meaning Detroit will have even less control of the situation.

The Pistons just hope they win enough this year to confront that issue from a position of greater strength.

Offseason grade: C-

Stanley Johnson drains late three, Pistons beat Rockets 114-109

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HOUSTON (AP) — The Detroit Pistons gave some of their young and seldom-used players a chance to play Friday night, and it helped them beat the Houston Rockets.

Boban Marjanovic, Detroit’s 7-foot-3 backup center, led the Pistons with a career-high 27 points with 12 rebounds off the bench and Stanley Johnson hit a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 32.4 seconds left before adding two free throws to lift the Pistons to the 114-109 victory Friday night.

“It was great and we had a bunch of guys out there that really wanted to play,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “They weren’t bogged down by the way the season has gone. They had great enthusiasm to play. I don’t care when it is in the year or what the situation is that’s a big part of this is just having a great enthusiasm to play and those guys just did.”

The Rockets led by two after a dunk by Montrezl Harrell before Ish Smith made a basket to tie it. James Harden missed a 3-pointer on the other end, and Johnson’s 3-pointer made it 110-107.

Harden missed another 3-point attempt, and Johnson added the free throws to make it 112-107. Harrell added a layup after that but Tobias Harris tacked on two more free throws with eight seconds left.

Harden finished one rebound shy of a triple-double with 33 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds. He said players getting rest was no excuse for what happened on Friday night.

“Whoever is in the game has to know what they’re doing on both ends of the floor,” he said. “And just go out there and try to execute.”

The Pistons used a 12-1 spurt, capped by four points from Marjanovic, to cut the lead to 94-93 midway through the fourth quarter. Houston missed seven straight shots in span before Eric Gordon ended the drought with a 3-pointer to make it 97-93.

A 3-pointer by Johnson tied it with about three minutes left before Harden made a pair of 3-pointers sandwiched around a layup by rookie Henry Ellenson to give Houston a 105-101 lead.

Ellenson finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds in his first career start.

Coach Mike D’Antoni rested starting center Clint Capela and said he’ll rest other players in the last three regular-season games after Houston clinched the third spot in the Western Conference on Wednesday.

However, Harden and Patrick Beverley won’t be among those who will sit out because they refused when he asked them.

Reggie Bullock made back to back 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter to get the Pistons within 6. But Houston made the next six points to extend its lead to 93-81.

Smith got the Pistons within 1 point with a jump shot with about nine minutes left in the third quarter before Houston used a 10-3 run, with two 3-pointers from Harden, to make it 69-61 midway through the period.

The Pistons scored seven straight points, with five from Harris, to cut the lead to 76-73 with about two minutes left in the quarter.

But Houston outscored the Pistons 9-2 the rest of the quarter to lead 87-75 entering the fourth. Lou Williams scored the seven points in that span and Harden capped the run with a reverse layup.

Houston led by as many as 11 in the first half and was up 54-52 at halftime.

TIP-INS

Pistons: Michael Gbinije missed the game with a respiratory infection. … Smith finished with 20 points. … The Pistons had just six turnovers. … Andre Drummond had 15 points and 11 rebounds.

Rockets: Harden made seven 3-pointers for his 35th game this season with at least four 3-pointers. … Beverley had six points and a career-high 13 rebounds.

THEY SAID IT

Marjanovic on his career-best performance: “I’m more happy because we won this against a very, very good team. We just played hard like you’re supposed to do.”

ANDERSON’S RETURN

Ryan Anderson returned after missing the last six games with a sprained right ankle. He had nine points, three rebounds and a block. D’Antoni said before the game that he’d limit him to 20 minutes in his first game back, but played him for just 13 minutes, where were all in the first half.

 

More AP NBA: apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Isaiah Thomas scores 41 for Celtics in 113-109 win over Pistons

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BOSTON (AP) — Isaiah Thomas scored 24 of his 41 points in the fourth quarter and the Boston Celtics held off the Detroit Pistons 113-109 on Monday night to extend their winning streak to four games.

Jae Crowder added 21 points and Al Horford scored 13 for Boston, which had to rally after Detroit surged midway through the fourth quarter and the teams traded the lead.

Andre Drummond had 28 points and pulled down 22 rebounds for the Pistons, who outscored Boston 60-38 in the paint and outrebounded the Celtics 51-44. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 18 points for Detroit, which lost its third straight.

Thomas extended his run of games with at least 20 points to 32 in a row and carried Boston down the stretch, making nine free throws in the fourth quarter while going 15 for 15 from the line.

Boston led 109-107 with 31 seconds left and gave the Pistons a chance with a backcourt violation. Reggie Jackson drove for a layup, but missed and Jonas Jerebko pulled down the rebound for Boston, then held on tight. The Pistons ended up fouling Thomas, who hit both free throws and added two more with 7.5 seconds remaining.

Boston led 54-46 at halftime and 79-70 after the third quarter, which was full of missed shots and big bounces off the rim.

The Pistons came out strong in the fourth, capitalizing on some sloppy plays by Boston and pulling within reach on a 9-2 run. Morris hit a 3-pointer, just the second of the game for Detroit, to pull the Pistons within 88-86 and the Pistons regained the lead a few minutes later when Boston sent Caldwell-Pope to the line by fouling him on a 3-pointer.

Caldwell-Pope made all three to put the Pistons up 91-90 – their first lead since going up 27-26 in the second quarter.

The lead went back-and-forth until Thomas’ three-point play with 4:13 left put Boston up 99-98.

Detroit got within a point again when Drummond’s two free throws with 2:46 left made it 104-103, but Thomas answered again with another 3-pointer and Boston held off the Pistons the rest of the way.

TIP-INS

Pistons: Detroit was 1 of 15 on 3-pointers in the first half. … Coach Stan Van Gundy called President Donald Trump’s travel ban “scary” when asked about it before the game, saying the policy reminded him of Japanese internment camps and Hitler’s treatment of the Jews. “It’s starting to get really, really scary stuff now. We’re getting into the days of, now we’re judging people by their religion – trying to keep Muslims out.” … Detroit sent F Henry Ellenson and guards Michael Gbinije and Darren Hilliard to Grand Rapids of the D-League.

Celtics: Marcus Smart hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer that gave Boston a 26-25 lead after the first quarter. … Horford returned after missing the previous two games with a strained groin. … G Avery Bradley (sore right Achilles’ tendon) missed his seventh straight game. Coach Brad Stevens said Bradley is getting closer to being able to practice, but was not sure how soon he could play again.

 

Watch as DeMar DeRozan drop 40, lead Raptors to 109-91 win over Pistons

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TORONTO (AP) — DeMar DeRozan scored 40 points and Jonas Valanciunas added a career-high 32 as the Toronto Raptors opened their season with a 109-91 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night.

DeRozan made a career-high 17 field goals on 27 shots and was a perfect 6 for 6 from the free throw line, while Valanciunas was 10 for 15 from the field to go along with 11 rebounds. Valanciunas’ previous career high was 31, also against the Pistons, on Jan. 12, 2015.

Tobias Harris had 22 points and Marcus Morris had 17 points and nine rebounds for the Pistons, who lost for the eighth time in their last 11 games against Toronto.

DeRozan broke Vince Carter‘s opening-night record of 39 points, set against the-then New Jersey Nets in 2003. Alvin Robertson is the only other Toronto player to record a 30-point opening-night game, in the franchise’s first-ever game, also against New Jersey, in 1995.

Pascal Siakam, drafted 27th overall in June, became the first Toronto rookie to start a season opener since Valanciunas in 2012, and rose to the occasion, hauling in nine rebounds to go along with four points in 21 minutes.

Despite falling into a seven-point deficit 2:09 into the game, the Raptors went in front on a jumper by DeRozan with 6:47 to go in the first quarter and led the rest of the way.

DeRozan and Valanciunas steadied the ship in the opening quarter, driving to the basket and drawing fouls. They were a combined 13 for 13 from the free throw line and scored 15 and 10 points, respectively, as the Raptors took a 33-23 lead after one quarter.

While Detroit responded against Toronto’s reserves in the second, drawing within four points early on through Morris, Valanciunas returned to the game and added another 11 points as the Raptors pulled into a 58-46 halftime lead.

DeRozan provided much of the fireworks in the third quarter, scoring 21 points as Toronto pulled away to lead 86-71 going into the final 12 minutes.

TIP-INS

Pistons: C Andre Drummond took a hard elbow to the face from Valanciunas at the start of the game and remained down on the court. Detroit was forced to burn a full timeout, but Drummond returned to the court. . Henry Ellenson, Detroit’s first-round draft pick last June (18th overall) went scoreless in two minutes of play, while second-round selection Michael Gbinije (49th overall), had two points in two minutes.

Raptors: C Lucas Nogueira (ankle) sat out. . DeRozan started his franchise-record eighth straight season opener, breaking a tie with Carter. . Kyle Lowry‘s basket with 3:58 remaining in the first quarter broke the monopoly of Valanciunas and DeRozan, who had scored all the points up to that point. . First-round draft pick Jakob Poeltl became the first Austrian to play in the NBA. He finished with two points in 13 minutes. . Oct. 26 is the earliest date that Toronto has ever had a home opener. . The Raptors are 13-9 on opening night and have won four straight.