After two consecutive disappointing preseasons and regular seasons, the Pistons will look to reverse that trend in the upcoming exhibition schedule, starting Wednesday, October 10.
Like last season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit will play a home-and-away set of games to open the preseason, this time against the Toronto Raptors. Much like the Pistons, the Raptors feature a relatively young roster (four rookies and no one with more than seven years of NBA experience).Toronto’s 2011 top five pick Jonas Valanciunas will finally join the team after a drawn-out contract dispute with his former team, Lietuvos Rytas. Considered one of the top prospects in that draft, adding the Lithuanian should move former #1 pick Andrea Bargnani over to his more natural position of power forward.
Next up for the Pistons is the Milwaukee Bucks. Through a handful of trades and draft picks, the Bucks drastically reshaped their roster this past season. With Andrew Bogut sidelined with a broken arm, the team shipped the former #1 pick to the Golden State Warriors along with Stephen Jackson (who had fallen out of favor with head coach Scott Skiles) for Monta Ellis, Ekpe Udoh and Kwame Brown. Combining Ellis and scoring guard Brandon Jennings had mixed results, as both need the basketball to be effective. To balance the roster with some defense, the Bucks added defensive-minded centers Samuel Dalembert and Joel Pryzbilla, while drafting lanky John Henson from North Carolina.
Orlando comes to the Palace for the Pistons’ fourth preseason matchup, playing without Dwight Howard for the first time in eight seasons. The Magic traded away their former franchise center for six players – including former Piston Arron Afflalo – and five total future draft picks. Through that trade and the draft, the Magic redid essentially their entire roster, leaving them with just six players from last season’s team. Afflalo, J.J. Redick, Jameer Nelson and Glen Davis are now the team’s leaders, but rookies Moe Harkless, Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O’Quinn will get plenty of playing time to prove their future worth.
Detroit heads to Miami next to face off against the LeBron James and Dwyane Wade-led Heat, who added sharpshooters Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis in the offseason. Other than Chris Bosh, the team still lacks a reliable inside presence, but they did bolster their frontcourt by adding five first- or second-year big men that are all taller than 6’9”. The team’s ‘Big Three’ will continue to get their points, rebounds and assists, but it’s the team’s complementary pieces, including Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole and Shane Battier, that will help the team repeat as champions.
After finishing last year with the worst winning percentage in NBA history, the Bobcats will look to rebound this season despite a lackluster roster. Former Piston Ben Gordon will play his first game back in Detroit after being traded to Charlotte in the offseason and his backcourt mate Kemba Walker will have another season under his belt and plenty of expectations after a pedestrian rookie campaign. 2012 draftee Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will help the team’s defense immensely, but his offense is a work in progress; he’ll still get minutes because of the lack of talent on this team.
Kevin Love and the Timberwolves host the Pistons next, and much like the Bobcats, they’ll look to improve on a disappointing 26-40 record in 2011-12. Unlike Charlotte, though, this team has legitimate players and should prove more competitive. Barring injury, Love will be his usual consistent self, averaging double digits in both point and rebounds while also providing three-point shooting. Ricky Rubio is recovering from a torn ACL that ended his rookie season early, but all signs pointed to him being an exciting point guard pre-injury. General manager David Kahn also took chances on two former All-Stars – Andrei Kirilenko and previously-retired Brandon Roy – signing both to two-year deals; if either moves work and the team improves, the perpetually-criticized GM can prove doubters wrong.
Just five days before the regular season begins, the Pistons end the preseason against the now-Joe Johnson-less Atlanta Hawks. Al Horford and Josh Smith are now the team’s leaders, and with mostly bench players forming the rest of the roster, they’ll be needed. Third-year guard Jeff Teague emerged as the team’s future point guard as he averaged career highs in nearly every single statistical category; in fact, he started more than six times more games last seeason (66) than he had in his first two seasons (10). Newly-hired GM Danny Ferry also added two more scoring options – Louis Williams and Kyle Korver – to help spread the floor.
Preseason records are irrelevant once the regular season starts, but building chemistry, especially with a young roster, is extremely crucial. If the Pistons can do that in the eight games leading up to their home opener against Houston, Detroit fans should be even more optimistic.