Along with many others, I have high hopes for the Detroit Pistons and their upcoming season. From the revamped roster, to the brand new Little Caesars Arena opening in downtown Detroit, there’s a lot to be optimistic about. After the team’s dud of a 2017 season, these Pistons are looking to return to the success of the 2015-2016 season and build on from that. However, it’s much easier said than done, as there are plenty of question marks for the franchise heading into the 2018 campaign. I’ll be looking into what I consider some of the most prominent of the bunch, and explain how this season will set the tone of what Pistons basketball will be looking like for years to come.
1. How much longer will Stan Van Gundy continue to serve a dual-role in the Pistons’ front office?
With established NBA coaches in Los Angeles’ Doc Rivers and Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer stepping down from their respective front office positions, you have to wonder how much longer Stan Van Gundy will hold the same distinction with the Pistons. However, in contrast to Rivers and Budenholzer stepping away from front office decision making in order to focus on the coaching aspect of the team, the consensus seems to be that President-SVG has done a much better job with the organization than coach-SVG. This raises the question, if Van Gundy does to decide to settle with only one job, does he step down as President, leaving any and all decision making to GM Jeff Bower, or does he take on full-time front office responsibility and search for a new head coach that can better utilize the assets on this Pistons team? While either of these scenarios is more than realistic, it’s also not too far-fetched to see SVG get shelved by the franchise if owner Tom Gores isn’t satisfied with the team’s progress after this upcoming season. On the contrary to all of this, it’s also very possible that SVG remains both head coach and President of Basketball Operations, so long as a successful season from the Pistons is attached to it; only time will tell.
2. What will it take for Avery Bradley to stay in Detroit?
Many major sports media outlets, including the likes of ESPN and Bleacher Report, were very critical of the Marcus Morris for Avery Bradley swap, on both sides. While Morris is a solid rotation forward for any team and also one of the NBA’s best contracts, it’s obvious that the newly acquired Bradley is the far superior player in the transaction. So, why are so many striking down Detroit for making a trade that brings them a better player for what was essentially a 2020 second round pick? Three words: unrestricted free agent. Bradley is an expiring contract and a player that Boston not only had to, but could afford to lose, after signing the prize of this off-season’s free agency in All-Star Gordon Hayward. Along with coming off the books after this upcoming season, Bradley is also one of the most movable contracts after inking a bargain four year, thirty-two million dollar contract in 2014. For now, the Pistons have their guy at the shooting guard position, but what will team have to do to lock him down for the foreseeable future? First off, some team could be forking over upwards of twenty million annually for his service, that much is clear and the front office knew this when they pulled the trigger on this deal. But another question comes to mind: How much will the Pistons’ success this season factor into his decision? Bradley is used to winning, whether it be next to Hall of Famers in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett while coming the bench or with the Isaiah Thomas-led Celtics where he played in a featured role with the team. Bradley will be one of the premier players on this Pistons team, and it’s almost guaranteed that a playoff berth is required to get anywhere in contract negotiations next off-season.
3. How will Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson bounce back from their disappointing seasons?
It was made evident in 2015 that Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson were the backbones of this Pistons team. After acquiring Jackson in February 2015, he was given the keys to the franchise and after a rough patch to end the 2014-2015 season, he took them and ran. He became the leader and arguably the best player on a Detroit team that surprised most with a forty-four win season en route to a hard fought sweep against the eventual champion Cleveland Cavaliers. It was a great first step for a team that hadn’t seen the postseason since 2009, and everything was looking up for the Detroit Pistons. But then, everything changed. On October 10th, 2016, it was announced that Jackson would miss the first six-to-eight weeks of the 2016-2017 season with knee tendinitis, and the Pistons hopes of contending for a top-6 seed in the East came to a screeching halt. Jackson eventually returned after a near .500 start from the team, but he just wasn’t the same. It was blatantly obvious Jackson wasn’t one hundred percent, as he had lost his explosiveness that brought fans to love him the year prior. Hand in hand with the struggles of “Action Jackson” came the downfall of franchise center Andre Drummond. While his stats didn’t drop the way Jackson’s did, he still lost much of his effectiveness on the offensive end. The Jackson-Drummond pick and roll was the main focus of the Pistons attack throughput 2016, culminating in an all-star campaign from Drummond and the aforementioned playoff berth. With the two at their best, the Pistons were a bonafide playoff contender; with their struggles, came a string of losses ending in a 37-win disaster of a season. Jackson has been rehabbing his knee throughout the summer, while Drummond has looked noticeably slimmer and looks to build on his past successes after going through surgery to repair a deviated septum in his nose. A bounce back season from this formerly dynamic duo is needed to bring this Detroit team out of the NBA graveyard.
4. Will Stanley Johnson finally prove his worth to the team?
The Pistons made quite a few under-the-radar moves over the past few months. They brought in combo guard Langston Galloway early on in the free agency period, checking off a couple of needs for the second unit. The team drafted Duke sharpshooter Luke Kennard, who dazzled during the Orlando Summer League, proving to be much more than just a spot-up shooter, as he can be a secondary playmaker and showed flashes of being a solid shot creator. The team then went out and signed Eric Moreland, another Summer League standout, to a three-year contract. The Pistons lack of veteran leadership was evident last season with the loss of fan-favorite Anthony Tolliver, along with vets Steve Blake and Joel Anthony. The team addressed that need by bringing back Tolliver on a one-year deal, a move the forward felt coming as soon as he left the team for Sacramento last offseason. The question is, what will all these new acquisitions contribute to the Pistons’ playoff chase this season? Galloway and Kennard will battle for reps as the fourth guard on the roster, while Tolliver will shift between both backup forward positions. Moreland likely will struggle for playing time with Detroit’s depth at center, but is a nice option to have. All in all, the Pistons are looking at some of the best guard depth they’ve had in recent memory, and also have solid forward depth in the re-signed Reggie Bullock, Tolliver, and Jon Leuer(?) behind the starting lineup. The performance of these newest Pistons will be crucial to the success of the team and round out what I think was a very nice overall summer for Stan Van Gundy and company.
Featured Image – Nathaniel S. Butler (Getty Images)