Just six years ago, the Detroit Pistons were NBA champions, and practically just yesterday they were in the Eastern Conference finals against the Celtics vying for a shot at another title. The mighty have fallen hard, and it now appears that Joe Dumars is rebuilding his franchise around the likes of Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva. Last season brought a last-place finish to Detroit for the first time in nearly a decade, and a few more in the near future wouldn't be too surprising. The Pistons are in trouble.
2009-10 Record: 27-55 (fifth in Central Division, 12th in Eastern Conference, missed playoffs)
Celtics' record vs. Pistons: 223-122 all time, 2-1 last season
Familiar faces: Richard Hamilton, Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva (all played at UConn), coach John Kuester (former Celtics assistant coach)
Key additions: Tracy McGrady (free agent), Greg Monroe (draft), Terico White (draft)
Key losses: None. The Pistons have everyone coming back this season.
Burning question: Can the Pistons get more out of Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon?
When Dumars and the Pistons began to clear out salary cap space three years ago, conventional wisdom was that they were gearing up for the pursuit of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
But then they blew their space a year early, spending all their cash in the summer of 2009 on Villanueva and Gordon. Between now and the summer of 2014, the Pistons have a combined $79.2 million invested in those two players — and at the moment, both are nothing more than glorified bench scorers.
They've both got to step it up. We've learned countless times in this league that you can't win a championship when you're paying superstar money for your role players — and the Pistons are certainly in danger of doing exactly that.
If the Pistons want to be a winning team again, they need Villanueva and Gordon to fill the massive voids left by the departures of Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace, two huge pieces of their dynasty last decade.
That means more than just scoring — it means rebounding, it means defense, it means all the intangibles that make a team a winner. It's asking a lot, but it has to be done.
2010-11 outlook: These Pistons lost 55 games last year. And if you think they're going to improve at all now, then you must think an awful lot of Tracy McGrady. — this is mostly the same team you saw last year, with only a couple of minor tweaks. It would be more than a little surprising if the Pistons magically figured it out this season and morphed into a playoff team. Don't hold your breath.
Did you know? John Kuester was an assistant coach with six different teams between 1995 and 2009 before landing the head coaching gig in Detroit. In addition to Boston, where he spent two years as an assistant to M.L. Carr, Kuester held positions in Philadelphia, Detroit, New Jersey, Orlando and Cleveland. He was hired by the Pistons in 2009 to replace the fired Michael Curry.