Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pistons 2009-2010 Construction Began

Being out of the playoffs early this season, it's nice to know that Joe Dumars and his staff began building the road to compete in the 2009-2010 NBA season.

Quiet on the surface, noisy behind the scenes
First you see the sign go up on your morning commute to work. “Future site of …” a new hotel, or a fast-food restaurant, or another drug store or bank. And then not much happens for a month or two. Permits are being pulled and inspections scheduled and studies commissioned, but nothing but that sign offers visual evidence that anything is about to change.
That’s the stage of construction the 2009-10 Pistons are in as of today.
All the behind-the-scenes leg work is being done now. Over at the practice facility, Joe Dumars and his staff – Scott Perry, George David, Doug Ash, Durand Walker – are busy scheduling individual workouts, watching film, writing and reading reports and communicating with college, AAU and high school coaches for dozens of prospects they’ll consider with their four picks in the June 26 draft.
Tony Ronzone, international scouting guru, is getting ready to head to Europe and the big Reebok Eurocamp in Treviso, Italy, where most of the draft-worthy international players will showcase their skills.
Dumars and Perry will be working the phones, gauging interest from other teams in working out trades and from agents on the inclinations of the marquee pending free agents.
All of a sudden, one day you drive past that construction site, and the earth movers have pushed dirt, the foundation has been poured, the walls are up and they’re working on the trim. And the sign has been changed. It reads: Now Hiring.
Before you know it, the Pistons will be at that stage. Here’s a rough outline of how the process will unfold.

The Draft – The draft comes first and – because of the sheer volume of work involved in evaluating dozens of prospects for the Pistons’ four draft picks, pick No. 15 in the first round and picks 36, 39 and 44 in the second – will demand the lion’s share of the man-hours spent over the next six weeks.
David is in charge of scheduling individual workouts at The Palace, a process just getting under way all around the league. Most years, a team sitting at 15 could probably draw up a list of a dozen players it had no chance or little chance of getting. But this year? The variance is much wider, with perhaps only six or eight players that have almost no chance of still being available to the Pistons at 15. While that ultimately could work to the Pistons’ benefit – heightening the chances that the player they like best could still be there for them – it complicates the evaluation process by widening the pool.
It helps, conversely, that their three second-rounders are crammed within a span of nine picks. The Pistons will attempt to bring in as many players at one position at the same time so they can match like second-round candidates together. Let’s say the Pistons were looking at small forwards who might be picked in a range from the late first to the mid-second round. If possible, just to throw out three names, they’d try to get players like North Carolina’s Danny Green, Villanova’s Dante Cunningham and Georgetown’s DeJuan Summers in on the same day to see how they stack up against each other.
While scouts have been saying since last summer that it would be a weak draft, it isn’t out of the question that the Pistons could find at 15 someone who could crack the rotation as soon as next season. Among the possibilities would be Pitt’s undersized but productive power forward DeJuan Blair, Louisville’s gifted all-around wing Terence Williams, or any one of a number of well-known point guards projected to go anywhere from the late lottery to the 20s – North Carolina’s Ty Lawson, Syracuse’s Jonny Flynn, St. Mary’s Patty Mills, UCLA’s Jrue Holliday or VCU’s Eric Maynor among them.

Free Agency – Because of the cap space Dumars created with the Chauncey Billups-Allen Iverson trade, free agency is the surest path back to title contention for the Pistons this summer.
And because of collective-bargaining rules, free agency is also likely to be utilized before trades are executed so Joe D can get maximum use out of that cap space.
That’s because if free agents are signed first, the Pistons can spend up to the new salary cap limit – which will be unveiled in early July, after all the financial reports from the 2008-09 season are finalized – and then go over the cap, while still falling within CBA stipulations, to accommodate trades. Trades involving two teams over the cap must have their salaries come within 125 percent of each other. If the Pistons are taking back the 125 and giving the 100, then they would be best served by signing their free agents first.
Put another way, if the Pistons sign Free Agent A and Free Agent B and that takes them right to the new salary cap limit, then they can turn around and trade Player C, making $10 million next season, for Player D, making $12.5 million. But if they made the trade first, then they would have $2.5 million less to offer free agents.
Perhaps the premier unrestricted free agent as of today is Chicago shooting guard Ben Gordon, who had a phenomenal first-round series against the Celtics. Utah’s Carlos Boozer would go to the top of the list if he chooses to opt out of his contract. Orlando’s Hedo Turkoglu and Cleveland’s Anderson Varejao are others that figure to attract wide interest if they exercise opt-out clauses.
Restricted free agents – a list headed by the likes of New York’s David Lee, Utah’s Paul Millsap, Atlanta’s Marvin Williams and Milwaukee’s Charlie Villanueva and Ramon Sessions – are another possibility. But teams generally shy away from RFAs – only two signed offer sheets last summer and only one, Ronny Turiaf, switched teams – because while the seven-day window for the original team to decide to match the offer or not passes, valuable money is tied up as other free agents make their moves.
Benefiting the Pistons is that very few other NBA teams will have significant cap space this summer. Though the final list depends on decisions yet to be made – for instance, if Portland renounces its rights to Channing Frye – the Pistons probably will be one of five or six teams with the potential to be free-agent spenders, and some of them are unlikely to spend big.

Trades – It will take Dumars’ deft touch to coordinate a strategy that will allow everything to fall in place sequentially. That’s another way of saying he’s going to do everything in his power to have trades in place based on his ability to sign free agents, even though the free-agent signings probably will come first – unless his trades do not result in taking on additional money.
So if he targets Gordon, for instance, and gets a good vibe on his ability to sign him, then it makes sense that he’ll look at the rest of his roster and figure out how he can get the maximum value out of Gordon for the money. That means swinging trades to bring in compatible talent – and to part with players who might be made extraneous. That doesn’t necessarily mean Rip Hamilton would be peddled, but it does make it more likely that either Hamilton or Tayshaun Prince would be used as the major bait in landing the frontcourt piece the Pistons clearly need.
If Boozer chooses not to opt out, it’s likely Utah will look to trade him. The Jazz can’t afford to bring back both Boozer and Millsap, who averaged a double-double in Boozer’s extended injury absence last season – not if they’re intent on retaining Mehmet Okur and Kyle Korver, at least.
Chris Bosh of Toronto and Amare Stoudemire of Phoenix are other prominent young big men who could be in play this summer, though the Suns at least publicly are now saying they’re committed to rebuilding around Stoudemire. Both players could be free agents next summer.
We’re still six to eight weeks away from the date when dramatic evidence of the remaking of the Pistons should begin to be seen. In the meantime, know that as you drive by The Palace on your way somewhere else, the groundwork for change is being laid.

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