To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of the Pistons demise have been greatly exaggerated.
Back in July when the defection to Chicago was made official, it was regarded as "the face of the franchise" leaving town. Ben Wallace was the identity of the Pistons since 2000, and he was gone no one knew what to think. This, just days after The Captain announced his retirement. Those were two big stories that pretty much took a hold of the city for weeks at a time. The words "traitor"and "greedy" were tossed around like rice on a wedding day. "Why?", was the question asked. Well, Chicago offered him a shit ton of money, and Joe D wasn't about to hand out that kind of scratch to a soon to be 33 year old center, who's skills were beginning to decline, and had become a bit of a malcontent. So he packed his bags and brings his energy and hustle (as long as he gets at least 10 offensive looks a game) to Chi-town. Leaving the Pistons with only 3 All-stars left on their team.
Sadly Inflatable Ben has a better Free Throw Percentage.
So out goes Ben, in come Nazr Mohammed and Flip Murray. Flip Murray was one of the best signings of the off-season. He was awesome off the bench in Cleveland's series vs. the Wizards last year, and can be that scorer off the bench the Pistons desperately need. Nazr was not brought in to replace Ben (all previous digs aside, the dude wasn't a 4 time Defensive Player of the Year for nothing), because no one available this off-season could. He was brought in to do something that Ben couldn't do, drive to the hoop, score 10-16 points a game, and hit a damn free throw. With Ben's departure, and Nazr and Flip's arrivals the focus of this team seems to be shifting to one of a offensive minded one. Don't get me wrong, the team can still play D. In fact, last time I checked, Tayshaun, McDyess, and Rasheed weren't exactly slouches on defense. If they can pick it up a notch, the chicken vs. egg question of "Did Ben make everyone better, or was Ben so good because of everyone else?" could be answered.
Mr. Big Shot's a straight baller fo sho.
Oh yeah almost forgot, lost in all the hoopla over who was leaving and coming in, the players that are still here. Chauncey Billups was a contender for MVP most of last year. He's in a contract year, and with every three Mr. Big Shot nails, more dollar bills will get thrown at him this off-season. Tayshaun will take another step toward becoming a superstar. Rip Hamilton will be doing his usual Reggie Miller imitation, except with a better grill. 'Sheed's gonna be 'Sheed. tossing up threes and getting T's Antonio McDyess will get an expanded role, and will probably rotate with Mohammed for the fifth starter.
The most intriguing subplot of the season will be how, and if, Flip Saunders uses the bench. I've already covered what i think we'll get from Flip Murray and Nazr Mohammed. Lindsay Hunter will be the caged animal unleashed on whoever the opposing team's top guard is. Dale Davis will sit there looking like Bubba from Forrest Gump, and try not to get tasered this season.The key will be Carlos Delfino. If he gets playing time and is happy, that's one more guy that Flip Saunders can use at guard or forward and can bring offense off the bench. If not, there will be a Darko part two in the making this year. With the news of Jalen Rose possibly signing with the team, somebody will lose minutes. Odds are it will be Delfino. The simple fact is, like most teams in the NBA, the bench has to produce for this team to go far.
It will be interesting to see how many minutes the young guys get. Jason Maxiell was tearing it up in the pre-season. He played nearly 25 minutes a game and averaged 15.9 ppg, 6 rebs, and 1.1 blocks. If he can keep up the intensity, the "Mad Max" signs will be popping up in full force. Amir Johnson is one of the last players to be drafted straight out of high school. In fact he won't be 20 until May of next year. So any appearance he makes this year will be in "Darko time". He did make enough of an impression last year in assorted blowouts, that I still remember him and his high flying dunks. Rounding out the roster this year are Ronald Dupree and Will Blaylock. Dupree returns to the Pistons after playing in Minnesota last year, and will be used in a very limited role. And by limited I mean if this guy's playing the Pistons are either up/down by 25 points in the 4th quarter, or half the teams hurt and the season's gone down the crapper. Blaylock was the last pick of the draft this year, and was expected to go much higher. Still he just took Alex Acker's spot as the team's sixth guard.
So what to I expect from this year's edition of your Detroit Pistons? Well nobody plays the "underdog" card better than the Pistons. They got a little cocky towards the end last year and got lazy. This team is just as good as the one that won the title in 2004. The question is can Flip Saunders bring his plans of converting this Piston team into an offensive juggernaut. I think he does, and the Pistons win the Central and the 2nd seed in the East behind Miami.
So there you go, and now one more reason to watch the Pistons...AUTOMOTION!