Season preview: Detroit Pistons
The Pistons' core remains formidable, and a few youngsters are set to break out
Can neophyte Michael Curry push the right buttons with this perennial contender?
If the Pistons don't play well early, the trade deadline could be interesting
SI.com will analyze each of the NBA's 30 teams as regular-season tip-off approaches. For a complete list of team-by-team breakdowns, click here. The information in the "Go figure" category below is provided by Roland Beech of 82games.com.
Pistons at a glance
Last season: 59-23; lost in Eastern Conference finals to Celtics
Notable additions: Kwame Brown (FA)
Notable losses: Jarvis Hayes (signed with Nets), Juan Dixon (signed with Wizards), Theo Ratliff (signed with 76ers), Lindsey Hunter (unsigned FA)
Coach: Michael Curry (first season as NBA head coach)
Reasons for hope
1. The core is still intact. The Pistons return all the key players from their 2007-08 team, which recorded its seventh straight 50-win season and reached the conference finals for the sixth consecutive year. Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace are former All-Stars with championship rings. Tayshaun Prince has a ring, too, as well as a gold medal from the Beijing Olympics. Antonio McDyess is a proven NBA player. Rodney Stuckey and Jason Maxiell are emerging standouts. With that kind of talent, the Pistons are going to win a lot of games.
2. They know how to defend. The Pistons led the NBA in points allowed a year ago (90.1), joining San Antonio as the only teams to finish in the top three in that department each of the last five seasons. (Detroit also ranked third in field-goal-percentage defense last season.) Billups, Hamilton, Prince and Wallace are all exceptional defenders, and they have developed tremendous cohesion from playing together for so long. As long as Detroit continues to play D at the level of the Celtics and Cavaliers, they are going to contend with those teams for the Eastern crown.
3. Flip-flop on the bench. Seeking a fresh voice after three straight exits in the conference finals, Pistons president Joe Dumars fired veteran coach Flip Saunders and replaced him with assistant coach Curry. Saunders did a good job overall, but he never quite seemed to earn the full respect of his players, in particular Wallace. Fair or not, Dumars' decision to bring in a new voice was probably one that had to be made to rejuvenate the Pistons.
Reasons for worry
1. Curry is a novice. Curry was a heady, hard-working role player in 11 NBA seasons, and he apparently will take the same approach as a head coach. He already has left his mark on the Pistons with tough talk about defense and conditioning. But Curry has only one year of experience as an assistant and it remains to be seen how Detroit's veterans -- some of whom played with him -- will react to his coaching.
2. They can't get over the hump. Call them the Atlanta Braves of the NBA. The Pistons have only two Finals trips, and one NBA title, to show for nearly a decade of domination. With an aging core, their best days might be behind them. After last season's loss to the Celtics, even Dumars suggested that changes might be needed. Unable to find the right deal, he ultimately chose to stand pat -- at least for now. Detroit has the talent to win it all, but it seems fair to wonder if the repeated disappointments indicate a fatal flaw in their structure.
3. Will they keep holding up? One of the amazing aspects of the Pistons' extended run has been their good health. Billups, Hamilton, Prince, Wallace and McDyess all have played at least 70 each of the past four seasons. Prince, in fact, has played all 82 games each of the past five seasons -- the only player in the NBA to do so over that time frame. It is a testament to those players' preparation and work ethic, as well as the Pistons' training staff, but the law of averages says Detroit is due to have a key player go down for a long stretch at some point.
Keep an eye on ...
Rasheed Wallace. The 6-foot-11 forward-center has always been a barometer for the Pistons, and this season figures to be no exception. In the final year of his contract, Wallace should be focused and on his best behavior. But his contract status also makes him the most likely player to be dealt before the trade deadline. How will he respond if trade rumors start swirling?
Maxiell increased the Pistons' offensive rebounding by a league-high 7.5 percent when he was on the court last season. The backup big man averaged 2.2 offensive rebounds in 21.6 minutes.
The Pistons have a potent mix of All-Stars and rising young guns, but will the veterans stay healthy and hungry enough? In recent years, they have shown a disturbing tendency to play their best only when backed up against a wall. If Dumars doesn't like what he sees early in the season, he might decide to blow it up and trade a veteran or two for more young talent to surround Stuckey, Maxiell and new starter Amir Johnson.
Sports Illustrated's NBA preview issue will be on newsstands Wednesday, Oct. 22.