Pistons fans have been spoiled over the years with the list of coaches that have graced the hardwood of the Palace of Auburn Hills. From the legendary Chuck Daly to the underrated Rick Carlisle and the much-travelled Larry Brown. Not much has been said, however, of the current man at the helm of the franchise, Lawrence Frank. And while it is difficult on any fan base when a team is going through a transition phase, one thing must be taken into consideration: the rebuilding of a team and franchise must start from the top. And the man in charge right now, Lawrence Frank, is the right man for that job.
Let's face it, the shortened season last year was a wash for both the Pistons and the NBA in general. The lack of a training camp and proper exhibition season – plus the wear and tear of a condensed season – wore on the coaching staffs and players throughout the league. This year, however, has allowed for much more growth and education on both sides of the ball. "It's been a big difference," says starting center Greg Monroe, "last year with the coaching change and everything. Just having a whole summer to communicate with our coaches has been a big difference."
"You're at a whole different starting point," Frank explains. "But with that being said, so is the rest of the league. Everyone had the same parameters. The fact that our guys have a foundation of our system and we can build upon that system, things are able to move at a higher pace and at a higher rate."
That said, it was pretty obvious last season that we weren't the most competitive team on the court every night. But by mid-season, it seemed as if the Pistons were starting to hit their stride – perhaps even starting to form an identity as a team. "We don't have one exactly yet," says Monroe. "Coach Frank wants us to be a defense-first team. I think we're an unselfish team. Multiple people that can score on any given night – you don't know who your lead scorer will be."
"We want to be a defense-first team," Frank explains, "we want to be a team that controls both boards. We want to be a team that's an attacking team, that's a high-assist, low-turnover team and a team that works to get the best shot."
Now, if that mindset sounds familiar, that's because this wouldn't be the first – or second, for that matter – version of a Pistons squad that we've seen with such qualities. "For the fans of the Detroit teams over the years – the best teams – those were also their bedrocks," Frank explains. "It started on the defensive end. They had to be able to dominate the glass. They were a very unselfish group, took care of the ball and they took good shots."
The three championship Pistons teams of the past quarter-century happened to have those things in common – plus, like Monroe says of this year's team, they played as a singular unit without a bona fide superstar. And while the nucleus of the 2012-13 Pistons are very young – centered around Monroe, second-year guard Brandon Knight and highly-touted rookie Andre Drummond – they have most certainly shown that they share some of those same characteristics with the champions of the past. "I'm building up as a player," Drummond says of the impressive start he's had in the preseason. "The success I've had so far, that's just the ground floor for me. I need to build to get better each and every day, so I'm not satisfied at all. I mean, it's great that I've played well those six games, but I'm still not done. I have a lot more work to do to get myself where I need to be."
With a sprinkling of veteran leadership in the locker room (Tayshaun Prince, Corey Maggette and Jason Maxiell have a combined 30 years of NBA experience) and a motivated core of young players, this season's squad has what appears to be the perfect balance of tried-and-true ballplayers with a few years under their belt and an energetic and hard-working hub of young guns. And with the personalities and commitment of the older players, it's only a matter of time before the torch is passed to the adaptive and hard-working youngsters.
Having gotten bigger in the low post, more versatile at guard and having a fantastic combination of players with positive attitudes are all things that mark the beginnings of a very special squad. "We got a lot bigger and more athletic," says Monroe. "Our rebounding is better, our rim protection has been a little bit better, but we still have a ways to go. We've made some improvements on the defensive end, and on offense, we're still finding our way."
While chemistry, hustle, experience and talent are what will win teams championships, it's important to also take into consideration the intangible role-players that every team yearns to have on their roster. Unfortunately for the Pistons, those are exactly the areas that are going to make or break this season. If Charlie Villanueva can stay healthy, in-shape and focused (remember, this is a guy who averaged 17 points per game in his rookie season with Toronto), Will Bynum can maintain his explosive punch off the bench and Jonas Jerebko can continue to wow fans with his hustle and energy, this is a team that can make the playoffs without a doubt. However, if Austin Daye cannot keep his confidence up, Drummond doesn't keep his head about him over the course of an 82 game season and Maggette can't stay healthy, then we're looking at a long season and another lottery pick again next June, folks.
Confidence and support, something the hometown Lions and Tigers have experienced in broken waves over the years, are things that also contribute to the success a franchise is able to make over the course of a seven-month season. And besides the guys who draw up the X's and O's in practice and during timeouts, the organization and facility also play a major role in the mental, emotional and physical environment in which the players compete.
Second-year owner Tom Gores has proven in a short time that he, unlike initial concerns brought to the table by local media, isn't allergic to spending money. Having renovated key areas within the 25-year old Palace of Auburn Hills – which you'll have to wait until opening night to experience fully – it is undoubtedly being shown to the team and community that this is a franchise that will not spare any expense to get back to the glory days, and they certainly haven't forgotten about the fans in doing so. With revamped suites, an updated concourse and signage throughout the facility – plus a couple more surprises that will be in place by 10/31 – it's truly only a matter of time before frustrated and fair-weather fans come flocking back to the red-and-blue.
With both the tangibles of the franchise and the intangibles of the team on good footing, look for this young, hard-working and versatile team to be competitive each and every night this season. | RDW
To beat the rush and get on-board as a Pistons fan ahead of the curve, go to pistons.com to sign up for their new fan clubs – tailored specifically for whatever type of fan you happen to be.