(This is another in a series of 30 guest columns that will run in October, when optimism reigns supreme across the NBA. The theme will be “Five Reasons to Feel Positive About … ” We encourage you to follow the authors on Twitter and visit their sites. – CS)
After seven straight years of 50-plus wins from 2001-2008 – including one championship - it has been a rough half decade for the Detroit Pistons.
The trade of fan favorite Chauncey Billups was supposed to jump start a new era of contention, but the move backfired in a big way when the $90 million investment in Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva went about as wrong as it possibly could have.
Instead of remaining perennial contenders in the Eastern Conference, the Pistons became a regular in the lottery. Worse yet, they weren’t bad enough to land a top-three pick, never selecting higher than seventh. They’ve been mired in mediocrity, the fans have become apathetic and contention still seems a long way off.
Still, it’s finally easy to see why fans should be excited about basketball in Detroit again. Here’s five reasons:
1. Greg Monroe
Although the Pistons haven’t picked high in the draft since their downward spiral began, they got arguably the best player in the 2010 draft with the selection of Greg Monroe of Georgetown. The multi-faceted big man has already shown 20-10 ability and is on the doorstep of being a top-five center in the NBA.
Monroe doesn’t have the flash of John Wall, the enticing potential of Derrick Favors or the raw talent of DeMarcus Cousins. But he produces at a consistently high level and has been a great teammate since stepping on the hardwood.
He is crafty around the basket, using smarts to compensate for a lack of athletic ability. Last season, he had one of the best true-shooting percentages in the league despite the fact that he largely had to create for himself, with less than half his field goals coming as the result of an assist.
If he takes a step forward in year 3 as he did in year 2, he will make his first All-Star team and will be in the national conversation as one of the NBA’s best big men.
2. Light at the end of the tunnel
The signings of Gordon and Villanueva have been an albatross on the franchise since before the ink dried on the contracts. They were overpaid and surrounded by little talent, meaning their deficiencies couldn’t be covered up by teammates.
But finally it looks like the franchise is poised to move on. Gordon is already gone, traded for Corey Maggette and his expiring contract. Villanueva is still on the team but looks to be a prime amnesty candidate following this season.
And with that money off the books, combined with the collection of young talent the team has amassed during its lean years, the franchise has a chance to reinvest that money to complement its young base.