When the Pistons open the home portion of their season on Friday against Oklahoma City, the pre-game fanfare won’t be all that.
No banners to raise. No pre-game speeches. No glow from any division title or from yet another appearance in the conference final. No pride, really, taken from anything that happened last season.
Check that—maybe they could raise a “2008-09: Glad THAT’S Over!” banner.
It’ll be one of those fresh starts with several new faces. So many key players from last season’s drama are gone: coach Michael Curry, whose tenure becomes more soiled by the day thanks to player retrospectives; Allen Iverson, the petulant superstar; Rasheed Wallace, the ticking time bomb; even nice guy Antonio McDyess wears another uniform this year.
The proceedings get underway tonight in Memphis—Iverson’s new haunts—and only Rip Hamilton remains from the sordid love/hate triangle he formed with Curry and Iverson.
Not since 2000-01 have we gone into a Pistons campaign with so little to expect.
That was the George Irvine year, which was followed by Rick Carlisle and instant success in 2001-02.
Not since 2000 have we looked at the Pistons, shrugged, and said, “The playoffs would be nice—but don’t count on it!”
Marty Mornhinweg’s bar isn’t very high.
Or is it?
Blakely likes the Pistons’ blend of veterans and young talent, plus the comfort level of new coach John Kuester, who Blakely said has been looking very head coach-like in training camp—in control, confident, relaxed.
The further Curry’s stint as coach gets in the rearview mirror, the uglier it looks. Kind of the opposite of when you approach the scene of an accident.
Curry had precious little control or respect last year, and that was highlighted once again when Hamilton, of all people, sided with Iverson in blasting the rookie coach for his lack of honesty with players.
“M.C. lied to us a million times,” Hamilton was quoted the other day, talking about discussions Curry had with Iverson and him about playing time and coming off the bench.
Wow—a million times? That’s a lot of talking!
Point received, Rip.
So only Hamilton remains, and he’s impressed me—so far—with his attitude, willingness to lead, and overall excitement over what he feels will be a high-powered (potentially) Pistons offense—what with the additions of free agents Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, plus the maturation of last year’s holdovers and the NBA debuts of rookies like Austin Daye and Jonas Jerebko.
Kuester’s team has to defend, though, to have any real chance of attaining Blakely’s projection of 50 wins and playoffs. Trouble is, Kuester and his teams have never been attached to the word “defense,” at least not with a pin. Maybe with worn out Velcro.
New set of Pistons: Gordon (left) and Villanueva
Yet they talked about it a lot in camp, did Kuester and his players, and now there’s even some scuttlebutt that oldtimer Ben Wallace, signed from near-retirement this summer, might be a starter once again. Big Ben’s presence in the paint has, once again, been producing rebounds, blocked shots, and batted away passes. In the exhibition season.
Kuester told us several months ago that he believed Wallace to still have something left in the tank. And Ben’s play during the pretend games hasn’t belied that.
But there are 82 “real” games to play, and Wallace isn’t a spring chicken.
As you probably know, I really don’t do predictions here. But if you gave me one of those “do it or the girl gets it” threats, I’ll tell you that 42-44 wins seems realistic. Whether that’s good enough to make the playoffs, I don’t know.
“I don’t know.” That might as well be the Pistons’ slogan for this season.