We’re in an NBA lull at the moment. The Draft happened. Free agency has slowed to something less than a crawl, and the Pistons are certainly done working on their roster. Even summer league has come and gone. There’s not much to do, except turn our eyes to the future. The upcoming NBA season is only a few months away. Not much is going to happen between now and then. As such, it makes sense to take a look at where the Detroit Pistons currently stand.
Last year’s team was 29-53, but a lot has changed since then. Lawrence Frank has been fired, replaced by the bland, mediocre Maurice Cheeks. That’s a lateral move at best. However, the roster has also undergone significant changes. Beyond that, some young players will likely improve. Andre Drummond was very impressive as a rookie. He rebounded and blocked at a tremendous rate. He’s still raw, and he really needs to improve his free throw shooting, which will hopefully happen this season. Greg Monroe has already become a very good player, and has room to grow. Brandon Knight is only 21. This is his last chance to prove he can be a point guard and not an undersized shooting guard. I don’t think he will prove it, but you never know.
In the Draft, the Pistons added shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. KCP is a really good shooter, and will help space the floor. They also added Tony Mitchell in the second round, which could turn out to be a steal. Peyton Siva… will likely have a good career in the D-League or Europe.
Then, there was free agency. The Pistons made the biggest splash outside of Houston, adding Josh Smith. There are questions about how he will fit in. He’s not really a shooting guard. He can’t shoot away from the net. There could be spacing issues. However, he’s very good on defense, and he’ll dunk and rebound, and he’ll get his chance to play power forward from time to time, where he will succeed. It’s an interesting addition, at the very least. Detroit also added Luigi “GiGi” Datome out of Italy, a small forward who will help space the floor. Chauncey Billups is also back for a goodwill farewell tour. Also, Charlie Villanueva is still around. So, there’s that.
Overall, this roster looks like it will be better than last season, which is good. In fact, they should contend for a playoff spot. My opinion on the outlook of the Eastern Conference isn’t different than most. I think there are five playoff locks: Miami, Chicago, Brooklyn, Indiana, and New York. That leaves four spots. Philly and Charlotte aren’t going to contend. That leaves the following teams competing: Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Orlando, Toronto, Washington.
The Celtics and Magic are on the outskirts of the race, I think. I like what Orlando is doing, but I think they are a year away. Boston’s hopes probably rely on Rajon Rondo returning early and at close to full speed. So, I shall count them out. The Hawks I feel are pretty safe. I know they lost Josh Smith, but their roster is still pretty good, so I think they make it. The Raptors, like the Magic, are a year away I think. Masai Ujiri needs a little more time. Milwaukee I am iffy on as well, even if they bring back Brandon Jennings, which feels inevitable.
That leaves the Cavaliers, the Pistons, and the Wizards fighting for two spots. Cleveland is a team on the rise. Kyrie Irving is great, they have Mike Brown as a coach now, they added Anthony Bennett with the top pick, and they brought in Andrew Bynum. If he’s healthy, the Cavs could be as high as the five seed. The Wizards, if healthy, are probably even better. John Wall, Bradley Beal, Nene, and so on.
And so, all in all, if I were to rank the teams in the East right now, I’d have the Pistons in ninth, just outside the playoffs. They will probably finish around .500. One stroke of luck and they can make the playoffs. Cleveland has two players who have had injury issues in Bynum and Irving. Maybe the aged Knicks fall about, but I doubt it. Perhaps Detroit’s roster comes together better than I expect. Maybe KCP is ready to step in right away, maybe Drummond really picks up his play, and maybe Josh Smith blends with the team better than most expect. If so, the Pistons could definitely return to the playoffs. Sure, they’d only serve as first round fodder for a much better team, but it is a step in the right direction. If they don’t stagnate, of course.