The Pistons are Here to Stay
As the Detroit Pistons transition into the offseason after being eliminated from the playoffs last night, many people around the NBA can’t help but wonder about the future of this young Pistons team.
Although they were swept in four games by the top-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers, the Pistons didn’t roll over against LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and the rest of the Cavs. Outside of Game 2 in Cleveland, the Pistons were within striking distance in every game in the series.
Considering that the Pistons were playing against a Cavaliers team that is projected by many to advance to the NBA Finals for a second straight season, their fight throughout the first round of the playoffs was encouraging. They were practically written off before the series even began, given virtually no chance of upsetting the Cavaliers.
The Pistons made headlines earlier in the series when rookie Stanley Johnson told reporters after Game 2 that he was “definitely” in James’ head. He added that he felt like he was holding his own against James in the series. Johnson’s comments surfaced after James scored 27 points on 12-18 shooting from the field during that game.
Johnson’s comments prompted a sit-down meeting between Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy and Johnson. Van Gundy voiced his concerns with Johnson and called it a learning experience for the rookie. But as untimely as Johnson’s comments might have been, it showed that the rookie and the rest of the Pistons weren’t scared of James and the rest of the Cavaliers.
The reality in the NBA is most teams go through these steps as a team. There is the progression from being a lottery team to a squad that eventually makes the playoffs. Young players learn how to play in big moments. Even some of the NBA’s most elite teams have had similar beginnings as the Pistons.
The Oklahoma City were eliminated in six games during the 2009-10 playoffs to the eventual champions, the Los Angeles Lakers. Kevin Durant was in just his third season in the NBA, while Russell Westbrook was only in his second year. While it remains to be seen just how good the Pistons can be, the league’s elite teams have all had to learn to how win big games and close out contests.
Although every player inside of the Pistons’ locker room obviously wished to remain alive in the playoffs, this series will be the stepping point for this team moving forward. They can look back and see if a play was handled differently here or there, and how things could have ended differently. It also gives them motivation for next year, since they got a small taste of postseason basketball, but are surely hungry for more.
“We just know we can compete in [any] playoff series, especially starting off with the No. 1 seed in the East,” shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said. “We gave them a run for it. They really felt us the whole series. There really wasn’t no blowouts or no let-ups. We know we can come back next year even better.”
Their performance against the Cavaliers in this year’s playoffs will surely vault the team onto the national radar next season. Last year, the team finished in 12th place in the Eastern Conference at 32-50. Many didn’t expect the team to have the season they did, as they improved by 12 games to finish this season eighth at 44-38.
The Pistons rarely receive love for their core of players. Many teams like the Minnesota Timberwolves, Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz (among others) are often mentioned well ahead of the Pistons when talking about up-and-coming teams.
They proved this season that they should be taken seriously in the coming years. Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson, Tobias Harris, Caldwell-Pope, Johnson and Marcus Morris make up a team that will be able to compete for a long time.
The Pistons are tied for 10th in the NBA for the youngest average team age at 26 years old. Perhaps the most encouraging sign for Detroit moving forward is that they have nearly every member of that promising core locked up for the foreseeable future.
The biggest priority this offseason for the Pistons will be re-signing restricted free agent Drummond. It seems like a forgone conclusion at this point that Drummond will be back next season, as the Pistons will be able to match any offer for him once they issue him a $4,433,683 qualifying offer.
They can avoid the restricted free agency process if the two sides agree to deal. It would likely take a maximum contract to reach a deal, and that would be worth around $120 million over five years. Pistons owner Tom Gores said last night after the team was eliminated that there would be no hesitation in re-signing Drummond.
Keeping Drummond around would solidify the team’s core for the next several years. The Pistons can also add to that core this summer through the draft and free agency. The team still holds both of their draft picks this year and will be looking at a first-round pick around the 18th selection. In addition, they’ll be looking at around $21 million in cap space this summer.
The Pistons will almost certainly be looking at adding another point guard to back up Jackson. The three point guards the team has behind Jackson – Steve Blake, Spencer Dinwiddie and Lorenzo Brown – are not guaranteed on the roster for next season. This summer’s free agency class could be loaded with potential options for the Pistons as veterans like Ramon Sessions, Jeremy Lin, Toney Douglas and Beno Udrih (among others) could be available.
It seems as though this Pistons team could continue to rise up the ranks of the Eastern Conference over the next several years. With their core players continuing to develop each year, and with the right additions, they could become a serious threat down the line. Despite being swept by the Cavaliers, this postseason has become a valuable learning experience for the team.
“We have to go ahead and learn from this,” Jackson said. “Move on, use it for hunger, use it for fuel, and everybody has to take this into the back of their mind, getting ready for workouts in the summer, then getting ready to come back next season.”
Curry to be Re-Evaluated in Two Weeks
The basketball world has been on edge over the past 24 hours or so since Stephen Curry left Sunday night’s game between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets in the first half after suffering a sprained right knee.
Replay showed that Curry appeared to slip on the court and then he landed awkwardly on his right knee. The play happened just before halftime and he would not return to the game.
Today, Curry underwent an MRI that revealed a Grade 1 MCL sprain in his right knee. According to a team press release, Curry will be re-evaluated in two weeks.
After defeating the Rockets 121-94 last night in Game 4, the Warriors hold a 3-1 series lead and look to be on the verge of advancing to the second-round with the series shifting back to Oakland on Wednesday.
Should the Warriors win the series against the Rockets, they’ll face either the Los Angeles Clippers or the Portland Trail Blazers next. The Warriors will be looking to wrap up the Rockets as quickly as possible in order to rest up ahead of that series.
The Blazers defeated the Clippers in Game 3 on Saturday and will look to even up that series tonight in Game 4. The Warriors will be hoping that series will run as long as possible in order to potentially have Curry back for the last few games in the next round.
The Warriors swept the regular season series against the Clippers 4-0, while they went 3-1 against the Trail Blazers.
Make sure to follow Basketball Insiders on Twitter at @BBallInsiders.