Pistons' Kuester puts on happy face
Pistons coach John Kuester has struggled to win with team's numerous injuries
Only six players from Pistons' 2008-09 roster returned to team this season
More topics: Bobcats' winning ways, Biedrins FT woes, Ray Allen's honesty
For a man whose team had dropped 13 games straight, Pistons coach John Kuester was surprisingly upbeat. "This is my dream job," Kuester said two days after Detroit ended its longest losing streak since 1993-94. "I didn't approach this as a transitional season at all; I think we have a chance to win and that's why I took the job."
After 14 years as an assistant, helping Larry Brown win an NBA title in 2004 and Mike Brown install his pass-it-to-LeBron-and-watch offense in Cleveland, Kuester's enthusiasm in his first year as head coach is understandable. Even if it is rose-colored.
Like most new coaches, Kuester took over a team primed for change. After six-straight East Conference finals appearances from 2002-2008, the Pistons (14-26) have endured two seasons of woes, winning only 53 of their combined 164 games.
Only two players (Tayshaun Prince and Rip Hamilton) have been with the Pistons since their conference finals run, while Ben Wallace re-signed as a free agent this past offseason. Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva were purchased over the summer for a grand total of $90 million in contracts, and Kuester was brought in to sweep away the bad feelings from Michael Curry's lone year on the job.
But Kuester's head-coaching debut has been anything but smooth. Injuries have wreaked havoc on Detroit, forcing 11 different players to shuffle into the starting lineup this season. Through 40 games, Hamilton had played in only 13, while Prince had seen minutes in only nine. The absences have put an unexpected amount of pressure on a roster with three rookies and a total of eight new faces.
"Ideally, we want to play with a tremendous amount of intensity and have a free-flowing offense with a lot of guys touching the basketball, because we have a lot of firepower from our perimeter in," said Kuester. "Unfortunately, we've had to adjust to some holes throughout the season."
More like craters. So far, the Pistons have struggled on both sides of the court ranking 24th in offensive efficiency and 21st in defensive efficiency. Their 92.2 points per game rank only above the disgraced 3-37 Nets in scoring this season, while Detroit opponents have poured in an average of 100 points per game.
Considering the Pistons -- barring a strong sales pitch to sell Hamilton and Prince -- won't have the means to bet big in this summer's free-agent bonanza, honing the play of younger players may be Detroit's best option. Rodney Stuckey, Hamilton, Gordon and Villanueva are all capable scorers averaging in the mid-teens or better this season, and 6-10 rookie Jonas Jerebko has shown promise, averaging 8.5 points and 5.4 boards in 27.8 minutes per game. And given the unlikelihood that 35-year-old Wallace will continue to man the paint as if he were 30, Detroit will need all the offense it can muster to reverse its sagging fortunes.
'This process is taking a little bit longer than I expected," said Kuester. "But we still have a lot of young guys and teaching a new system takes time because you have to continually repeat to become better."
The Bobcats. Like many Larry Brown teams, the Bobcats are finally starting to get it. They've won seven of their eight games since the start of the new year, knocking off the Cavs and Heat on the road, as well as wins over Houston, San Antonio and Phoenix. Getting 24.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.8 steals and 39.1 percent shooting from Stephen Jackson in January has helped, but so, too, has a defense that has limited opponents to 94.1 points per game this season. Good defense? A limited offense? A team beginning to thrive by following Brown's lessons? Where have we seen than before?
Toronto's point guard duo. Credit Jay Triano from not acceding to tradition and handing Jose Calderon his starting job back after returning from a hip injury. Sticking with Jarrett Jack as the starter while handing an equal amount of minutes to Calderon off the bench, Triano has generated a composite lead guard averaging 22.1 points, 10 assists and hitting 43 percent from three since Calderon's return. More important, the move has helped the Raptors win four of those seven games.
Kendrick Perkins. The Celtics have lost four of eight games to start the New Year, but don't blame their 25-year-old center, who quietly is posting the best numbers of his career. Through the first eight games in 2010, Perkins averaged 14.5 points, 9.9 rebounds and blocked 2.6 shots per game. He's also showed a reliable touch around the hoop in hitting 62.5 percent of his shots inm January. he may not be Dwight Howard, but Perkins is quickly developing into the East's best big man counter.
Mike D'Antoni's people skills. After his extended benching of Nate Robinson earlier this season prompted the guard's agent to publicly request a trade, D'Antoni's unwillingness to play Darko Milicic convinced the former No. 2 pick to make plans for Europe after the season. Now, the Knicks coach has benched Larry Hughes. As much as the three disliked the decisions, each has seemed even more irked that the moves have been made with little or no consultation. Considering the Knicks are a mere two games out of a playoff spot, D'Antoni's moves have worked for the most part, but the reports of communication breakdowns reveal an arrogance no coach without a ring can afford for long.
Manu Ginobili. The fearless Argentinean veteran has been a portrait of inconsistency, hitting a career-low 39.8 percent from the floor while seeing his scoring average drop to its lowest mark since his NBA rookie season. Like a car slowly running out of gas, Ginobili has seen his numbers drop each month this season. This isn't to say Ginobili has outlived his usefulness -- he has the third-best plus-minus on the Spurs; only that his decline has become too stark and steady to chalk up to a slump.
Andris Biedrins' free-throw stroke. The Warriors big man has never been reliable from the stripe, converting 53.2 percent of his attempts from the line before this season. Only once in 14 attempts this season has Biedrins connected successfully from the charity stripe -- 1-for-14! That's downright odd for a guy who has long been one of the NBA's most accurate scorers (60.5 percent for his career) from the floor
They said it
"He possibly could be our second-best post-up player, it not our best post-up player."
"When I got the phone call telling me I was being traded from the Charlotte Hornets to the Lakers."
"They got to get rid of the whole last-year thing. It's been a negative."
"Our defense was atrocious. I'm embarrassed about how our guys played. There was no energy or focus at the defensive end."
"You know, they don't like no tough defense on him, so, of course, I get a whole lot of bull---- calls but that's how the story goes."
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1. Kudos to Ray Allen for doing what so few in the NBA are afraid to: calling out the fans for their illogical voting in the All-Star returns. The league has been silent on voting tallies that appear poised to send Tracy McGrady and Allen Iverson to start in Dallas on Feb. 14 despite the minimal impact each has made this season. Allen's proposal to make to give fans 50 percent of the vote while media and players split the other 50 percent is a reasonable compromise. Fans still get a voice while those with a degree of insider knowledge can balance the popularity contest with deserving selections.
2. It's been hard to make a connection between the sports world and the tragic circumstances in Haiti, but the NBA has done a fabulous job of making the incident resonate in the States. Philadelphia's Samuel Dalembert has made the rounds on TV talking about his family's plight in the country while requesting people donate anything they can to aid rescue efforts. Further, Alonzo Mourning brought first-hand descriptions of the devastation to those same airwaves while establishing a players fund that has generated more than $800,000. The efforts won't fix all that's wrong in Haiti, but it has put a familiar face on a dire situation whose distance makes it easy to forget.
3. Slick idea by Shaq to breathe some life into the dunk contest: Invite LeBron James to compete against the likes of Kobe Bryant and Vince Carter and donate half of the prize money to Haitian earthquake victims. No, it isn't likely to happen, but he's onto something here. LeBron, alone, isn't enough to revive interest in the competition, at least, not if he loses. But get him in with multiple established stars and you've got a must-see event.
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