Pistons hoping for fresh start with new coach
Jonas Jerebko was injured for the entire 2010-11 season, so all he could do was watch while the Detroit Pistons endured one embarrassment after another.
He was asked recently what he learned from observing all the turmoil.
''A lot of not-to-dos,'' Jerebko said.
Perhaps no team needs a fresh start more than the Pistons, who went 30-52 last season. Coach John Kuester was fired in June, and Detroit hired Lawrence Frank to replace him. Frank isn't interested in dwelling on the past. His challenge is to make the Pistons relevant again - with a roster that isn't all that different from the one that seemed so dysfunctional a year ago.
''We have to represent what this Piston organization has stood for, for the majority of the time since its existence,'' Frank said. ''We know we have to win our fans back.''
Detroit went to at least the conference finals every year from 2003-08, winning the NBA title in 2004. Since that stretch, the Pistons haven't won a single playoff game and last season was a low point. Empty seats were common at home games, and Kuester and Richard Hamilton had a falling out that sent the veteran to the bench for most of a seven-week stretch.
On Feb. 25 in Philadelphia, seven players missed at least part of a team shootaround, and Kuester played only the remaining six that night in a blowout loss to the 76ers.
Hamilton was waived earlier this month, though the Pistons stopped short of cleaning house. Rodney Stuckey, the team's leading scorer, is back after signing as a restricted free agent. Ben Gordon could have a bigger role at shooting guard now that Hamilton is gone.
Gordon briefly addressed the fans Friday night before Detroit's preseason opener, telling the sparse crowd the Pistons would put a better product on the floor in 2011-12. If nothing else, this team seems motivated to show that it wasn't as bad as it seemed last season.
''Nobody, if you ask me, last year was utilized the correct way, to basically maximize their abilities,'' Gordon said. ''I think with Coach Frank and what he's teaching, and the way he wants us to play, I think guys will have more of an opportunity to play to their strengths.''
Although the team parted ways with Hamilton, two other links to the 2004 title - Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace - are still around. Prince was an unrestricted free agent but decided to stay, and the team hopes he can mentor some of the younger players.
Center Greg Monroe showed promise last season as a rookie and Detroit picked Brandon Knight in the first round this year. It's not clear how much he'll play at first, but if Knight can provide effective minutes at point guard, it could free up the 6-foot-5 Stuckey to play shooting guard.
The power forward spot is a question mark. Charlie Villanueva started there in the preseason opener and seemed to be making a concerted effort to get to the basket instead of relying on outside shots. Austin Daye can create matchup problems, but he too looks more effective on the perimeter.
Jerebko's return could provide a boost. The Swedish forward missed all of last season after tearing his right Achilles tendon during the preseason. As a rookie in 2009-10, Jerebko averaged 9.3 points and 6.0 rebounds a game.
''The playoffs is definitely our goal, and we're going to make it,'' Jerebko said. ''We're definitely a better team than last year.''
Another subplot to this coming season is how active new owner Tom Gores will be. After a drawn-out sale, Gores officially became the team's owner during the offseason. Already there are signs of change, such as Detroit's remodeled locker room at The Palace.
''He talked about being impactful, and he's being impactful, and it's amazing how appreciative the players are,'' Frank said. ''I think Tom has in a very short time made his impact known as the owner.
''But as I said when he hired us, it's not enough. He wants to impact the lives of the people in Detroit, and the surrounding areas, and that's something he takes extremely seriously.''