AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — This year’s Detroit Pistons have a distinct advantage over last year’s team: This group has already benefited from an offseason of summer league games and workouts together.
Because of last year’s lockout, then-rookie point guard Brandon Knight was forced to sink or swim after the lockout ended.
Things are back to normal this season. Coaches are able to work with players. Players are able to work out together. And everyone is working to create a team.
“I definitely think it’ll help,” Knight said. “You can work with your own staff for a couple months and work on things that you know you need to work on — just spend more time with your players, with your coaching staff, with Arnie (Kander, athletic trainer).
“I think that helps with chemistry, helps a lot of things, versus being thrown right into the fire and not really knowing anybody.”
Andre Drummond, Khris Middleton and Kim English were all Pistons draft picks this summer and are hoping to make an impact. Joining them are Viacheslav Kravtsov from Ukraine and Kyle Singler, who was chosen in the 2011 draft but played in Spain last season.
Veteran Corey Maggette is another new addition to the Pistons, acquired in a June trade with Charlotte for Ben Gordon.
Coach Lawrence Frank, who was in his first year with the Pistons last season, will have more time to incorporate all the new guys and to teach the rookies.
“We have a definite head start as opposed to last year, where everyone was thrown together very quickly,” Frank said. “… But this year, with more of a natural flow, you see more bonding. The bonding again, it’s not so much where, ‘Hey, let’s go to dinner,’ as opposed to, ‘No, let’s work on our game.’
“Because that’s the end game. We have to get better.”
When Frank says he expects the Pistons to be better, he’s not demanding that they make the playoffs.
His players, on the other hand, are demanding it of themselves.
“I think we’re just all excited to get started,” said Rodney Stuckey, who spent the summer in Detroit, working. “Expectations for us, obviously, it’s making it back to the playoffs. I think anything short of that, it’s a failure.”
For veteran Tayshaun Prince, it’s not an unrealistic goal. He said it will depend on how they begin the season, which includes a six-game road trip right after the home opener Oct. 31.
“We are capable,” Prince said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of teams in the league that are capable. The question is going and doing it.
“We got a nice road trip coming up at the start of the season. We’re going to have to steal some games there. It’s all how you start.
“You get off to a bad start, you put yourself in a hole and then, all of a sudden, the playoffs could get out of reach.”
Greg Monroe, entering his third NBA season, believes the youth movement could be a boon in terms of energy level.
“We just have to come out and play with a lot of energy,” Monroe said. “That’s one thing that we’re going to have to do is play hard every night.
“We’re getting better, but we’re not one of those teams that can come out and win games playing lackadaisical.”
Some people are optimistic because, after a 4-20 start last year, the Pistons finished 21-21 in their last 42 games.
Frank said the trajectory of improvement might not always be headed up, though. The Pistons are trying to create a foundation, not win just one year and then drop back the following year.
“This, at times, is going to be a tugboat,” Frank said. “It may not be a speedboat in terms of progress.
“It’s going to be something that is sustainable, something that we know can last. It’s not going to be a quick fix approach.
“I think people in Detroit, they appreciate an honest day’s hard work. That’s what we have to do. And that’s what I’m seeing from our guys, and that’s why there’s so much optimism in terms of the direction we’re going.”
The Pistons begin two-a-day practices Tuesday and will face the Toronto Raptors in their first preseason game Oct. 10.