Detroit Pistons 2015-16 Season Preview
2014-15 Record: 32-50, No. 5 Central Division, No. 12 Eastern Conference
Roster Additions: G Reggie Bullock, G Steve Blake, F Ersan Ilyasova, F Marcus Morris, F Danny Granger, F Stanley Johnson (rookie, No 8), C Aron Baynes, G Darrun Hilliard (rookie, no. 38), F Adonis Thomas, F Eric Griffin (rookie, undrafted)
Roster Subtractions: F Caron Butler, G John Lucas III, F Quincy Miller, F Greg Monroe, F Tayshaun Prince, F Shawne Williams
SBN Affiliate: Detroit Bad Boys
The Detroit Pistons began their current rebuilding project just over a year ago, bringing in coach Stan Van Gundy in the spring of 2014 to turn around a team that went 29-53 for the 2013-14 season. Van Gundy was also named President of Basketball Operations, allowing him to orchestrate his own roster moves.
The Pistons started the 2014-15 season ice-cold, losing 23 of 28 games heading into late-December. By then, Van Gundy had enough of highly compensated forward Josh Smith and his poor shot selection, waiving him before the calendar hit 2015.
Over the next month, Detroit responded to the dismissal of Smith by winning 12 of its next 16 games. Point guard Brandon Jennings, theretofore considered a player with shot selection issues in his own right, turned his season around by averaging 19.8 points and 7 assists per game on 43.9 percent shooting from the field and 39.4 percent from deep from Dec. 22 to Jan. 24, when he ruptured his Achilles and was put on the shelf for the rest of the season.
Center Andre Drummond put up 13.8 points and 13.5 rebounds per game for the season, and Van Gundy kept the ship afloat after Jennings' injury by squeezing some solid production out of backup-point-guard-turned-starter D.J. Augustin. When an opportunity to acquire guard Reggie Jackson from the Oklahoma City Thunder presented itself at the trade deadline in February, however, Van Gundy shipped out Augustin, forward Kyle Singler and a future first-rounder for the fourth-year guard who wasn't meshing well with his teammates in OKC. The Pistons got 17.6 points and 9.2 assists per game out of Jackson to end the season, but missed the Eastern Conference playoffs by finishing 32-50. Still, Van Gundy had jettisoned a few key players left from the previous regime in Detroit and had brought in a point guard he liked to run his system.
This past summer, the Pistons made no real attempt to hang onto big man Greg Monroe, who had accepted a one-year qualifying offer the offseason prior in order to become an unrestricted free agent in 2015. He signed a max deal with the Milwaukee Bucks in July, allowing Drummond to become the unquestioned leader in Detroit's frontcourt and franchise building block.
The Pistons rebuilt their power forward rotation by trading forwards Caron Butler and Shawne Williams to the Milwaukee Bucks for forward Ersan Ilyasova in June, then acquired Marcus Morris from the Phoenix Suns -- along with veteran forward Danny Granger and guard Reggie Bullock -- in exchange for a future second-rounder in July when Phoenix was trying to clear room to obtain forward LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency. As an effect of Aldridge signing with the Spurs, Detroit was also able to acquire center Aron Baynes from San Antonio when they needed to clear out some contracts, as well. Jackson was given a five-year, $80 million extension and just like that, Van Gundy had totally revamped his roster from a year ago.
Heading into the 2015-16 season, Detroit has plenty of hope that they can reach the playoffs, but they have a few questions to answer: Can Drummond take the next logical step in his career and become an All-Star center? What will happen when Jennings returns to the court in mid to late-December? Remember, Jackson signed a huge deal with the Pistons in the offseason to man the point guard position for the ostensible future. Will Jennings accept a backup role and not be a disruption to the team? Will he have any trade value coming off a catastrophic injury?
Detroit is hoping that Ilyasova, Morris and Baynes integrate themselves into the frontcourt alongside Drummond to provide some depth and more chemistry than was brought previously by Smith and Monroe. Ilyasova, a career 37 percent 3-point shooter and Morris, who's hit 36.3 percent of his career threes, should provide more spacing for Drummond to operate down low.
Rookie wing Stanley Johnson is expected to be a force from outside, hitting 37.1 percent of his threes in his lone year at Arizona, while guard Kentavious Caldwell Pope improved from shooting 31.9 percent from deep his rookie season to 34.5 percent his second year in the league and should provide a solid wing rotation with guard Jodie Meeks, a career 37.3 percent shooter from beyond the arc.
The Pistons have plenty of floor-spacers up and down the roster to complement Drummond. If the fourth-year big man can take his game to the next level -- he hit just 51.4 percent of his shots last season, down from 62.3 percent the year before but is one of the best offensive rebounders in the league -- Detroit could compete for a playoff spot in the stacked Central Division.
But with Jennings' injury hanging over the franchise until at least December, which limits his trade value and will likely leave him on the roster until he's healthy, the Pistons may struggle to develop a solid identity moving forward until he either proves proves he's capable of playing alongside Jackson or gets sent out of town. Consider that Van Gundy was willing to scrap Smith last December for no return, however -- so we may still see some roster-shakeup in Detroit before 2016.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter