NBA PM: Are The Pistons A Lost Cause?
It’s amazing what a difference a few years can make. Nine years ago, the Detroit Pistons were one of the NBA’s elite teams. They won the championship in 2004, but even when they weren’t champs they were in the Eastern Conference Finals six years in a row under three different head coaches.
Five years and three head coaches later, the Pistons are about as far from being a championship team as it’s possible to be without leaving the NBA to join the D-League. That being said, there are some important pieces in place as the team looks to rebuild, and one of them is at arguably the most important position in the modern NBA: point guard.
Brandon Knight has shown marked improvement across the board in his second NBA season, and the budding floor general looks like he might be the one who can lead Detroit back to respectability. He credits his early successes to his one season under coach John Calipari at the University of Kentucky.
“Just in that one year I was able to grow as point guard and also as an individual, as a young man,” Knight tells HOOPSWORLD. “He put a lot of things on my shoulders as far as running the team, becoming a better player. He put as much pressure on me as I did on myself, and I think that’s what really helped me. Throughout my career I’ve had coaches, great coaches who have pushed me, but he’s a different type of coach as far as wanting success out of his players and also individually.”
Knight admits coming in as a rookie point guard in the NBA can be a daunting challenge, especially during a lockout-shortened season.
“At first it definitely can be, because you’re trying to take in so much information and trying to process so many things as a young point guard,” says Knight. “Over time, things start to slow down as you play more and more.”
Knight’s game is slowly improving across the board, with his scoring, assists and rebounding all up from last year, but even more importantly his efficiency rating is steadily climbing. It helped that he had a full training camp and preseason to prepare for the challenges ahead.
“I think training camp tones your game, it lets you know what you can and cannot do, what you need to work on,” says Knight. “Just get chemistry with your teammates and try to build an identity about the team you’re going to be. Training camp is very important and just having that this year has helped our team and we just want to continue to improve.”
“I think he has definitely gotten better, but it’s never going to be like you have arrived,” says Pistons head coach Lawrence Frank. “It will be a couple of steps forward and one step back. There is a lot to learn about this position. You are not going to get it all your second year; it takes a long time. I think he has great ‘want to.’ He wants to get better and there’s a lot to the position, so I think the more experience he has, good or bad, he will grow from it.”
There has been good and bad, of course, this season. In the Pistons’ first 12 games Knight failed to score in double-figures six times, but he also had two double-double games with points and assists. Over his last six games Knight has been much more consistent, and even when he struggled against Mike Conley and the Memphis Grizzlies, he bounced back with a 20-point game in Dallas.
“This is a long season, you just address for what it is,” Frank said of Knight’s ups and downs. “It’s part of a point guard’s responsibility; you’ve got to be able to defend the ball and take care of it. He has a rough night, it happens to everyone and you bounce back and try to redeem yourself and play for your teammates the next night.”
It helps that Knight has some solid veterans to lean on and learn from as he finds his way in the NBA game.
“It’s a mix of guys, it could be a different guy every game talking to me,” says Knight. “Sometimes it might be Corey [Maggette], it might be Austin [Daye], it might be Tayshaun [Prince]. It depends on the game or the time, but it could be any one of them. That’s what I think is great about our team, you can have a guy come and talk to you at anytime. Corey has definitely been great so far just talking to me about things he’s seen when he’s on the court, flow of the game, stuff like that.”
Make no mistake about it, the Detroit Pistons are a long way from being good. In situations like theirs, however, you look for the silver lining as an indication of what’s to come. In Brandon Knight the Pistons have a promising young point guard who just might be the next floor leader to take them to the postseason and beyond.
Why Pau Gasol Makes Sense For Houston
Every time the Los Angeles Lakers lose a game, the collective voices of their enormous fan base gets just a little more shrill. Instead of watching their beloved All-Star-laden team roll through team after team on their way to yet another NBA championship, they’ve seen the team lose more than half of their games over the first month of the season, including a double-digit loss at the hands of the Orlando Magic last time out.
This is not what Laker-Land was expecting, and it’s completely unacceptable to a fan base that has been spoiled by so many elite teams over the years.
The first person to pay when a team falls well short of expectations is almost always the head coach, but since the Lakers have already thrown Mike Brown to the wolves, they are now looking for another scapegoat. Fans across the country have already zeroed in on their next sacrifice, which is All-Star power forward Pau Gasol. Never mind that Gasol has helped take the team to three NBA Finals, winning two of them, he is now the one Lakers fans want to see sent out in what would hopefully be a team-saving move.
It’s true that Gasol’s numbers are down this season, but it’s also important to note his touches and shots tend to be down in losses, as well. We have also seen plenty of the old Gasol this season, the one who can drop 20 points and grab 10 rebounds consistently and is a great facilitator, as well. There is a very real sense that if Steve Nash can get healthy and return to the lineup, everything that ails the Lakers could be healed, and Gasol could get back to putting up the kinds of numbers that Lakers fans have come to expect.
But what if it doesn’t play out that way? What if Nash, who is now said to be out at least another 10 days to two weeks, can’t miraculously heal the situation? What if the lack of depth that plagues the team continues to be an issue when Nash returns? How long will the Lakers be allowed to play mediocre basketball before a major roster move has to be deployed to distract the fan base?
Enter the Houston Rockets. Well, re-enter the Rockets, as it were. The Rockets traded for Pau Gasol once before because they were looking for an All-Star front court player to get them out of the middle of the Western Conference pack, and they are still looking for that player. Sure, they have shipped out just about everyone who was on the team that acquired Gasol in a deal that was nixed by the NBA last year, but their new mix of players are very much like their last mix. They have a couple of star-quality pieces surrounded by a bunch of young, up-and-coming talents. If the Lakers were to re-initiate talks with Houston surrounding Gasol they could very likely land three younger, cheaper pieces who could help them right away.
For all of their changes, the Rockets are still sitting in the middle of the Western Conference pack, on course to land the same #14 pick in the draft that they have had three years running. They need an impact front court player to break them out of that mold. Pau Gasol, meanwhile, is really at his best when he is the second option on a team. He wasn’t able to be the first option in Memphis, but as Kobe Bryant’s second he rose to champion status. There’s good reason to believe he could have similar success playing second to Houston’s James Harden.
It’s too early to blow up the Lakers, but then it was too early to fire a head coach, too. Everything is accelerated when it comes to the world’s favorite NBA team, and the scrutiny of so many might just inspire the Lakers to pull the trigger on another franchise-changing trade.
The Rockets would love nothing more than to be a part of that.
The Olympics Changed Carmelo Anthony?
Most NBA players need a wake-up call early in their careers, especially those who rise to the status of All-Stars long before they get close to winning an NBA championship. Stardom can go to the head, and sometimes players never get their heads out of the stardom cloud long enough to understand that they still have to keep growing and evolving to reach the championship echelon.
That was certainly the case with Carmelo Anthony, who was labeled a star at Syracuse, became one in the NBA fairly quickly, and yet never managed to lead the Denver Nuggets to the Promised Land. The fact that he couldn’t get over his personal successes long enough to help his team earn some collective ones led directly to him being traded to the New York Knicks. It wasn’t until Anthony started playing with NBA champions in international competition with Team USA, however, that he seemed to finally understand that he still had room to grow.
“I agree with you 100 percent,” Knicks center Tyson Chandler said in an interview with 660AM The Fan in New York. “I think it’s the best thing that could have happened to him, to be able to play this summer and be able to stay in shape and play at a high level and play against, obviously, incredible competition, as well as get his [mind] right. Carmelo is a huge competitor and he wants to be one of the best players in this league, and he is one of the best players in this league. Being around those guys this summer, I think, got his competitive juices going.”
One of the areas Anthony had to work on was his commitment to the defensive end of the floor, and Chandler says that’s been one of his biggest improvements this season.
“Absolutely. He’s definitely playing on both ends and you’re exactly right – being the star player and a key player is not just playing on one end, it’s playing on both ends,” says Chandler. “That’s really how you make a championship run and that’s what he’s done already now. He’s been an incredible leader and he’s leading by example. He’s getting out there, he’s hustling, not only with what you guys are seeing at games, but it’s the same thing at practice. He’s paying attention to film. It’s all the little things that make a huge difference.”
It’s not just Anthony’s improved play, however, that has the Knicks near the top of the Eastern Conference with a 12-4 record.
“Well I think it’s a combination,” says Chandler. “I think having the time to have a true training camp and also having time to practice and implement our defensive strategy, as well as offense, and also the acquisitions we made this summer — bringing in Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, Rasheed Wallace. They were huge pickups for us and really changed the outlook of our team — Marcus Camby, as well.”
Wallace might have seemed like the least likely addition to have a big impact, but it turns out he’s been a real rallying point for the team.
“Oh man, I am so proud with what Rasheed has been able to accomplish because it shows the type of talent he is,” says Chandler. “I was just talking about it the other night. I don’t know who else could take two years off and come back and play at the level that he is playing at right now. You’re exactly right. He’s out there playing defense and barking out calls. He’s learning our strategy as well as providing us a big punch off the bench.”
It takes a lot to win a championship, and while the Knicks have enough veteran leadership and depth to make things interesting, the question to this point has been whether or not they had the championship leadership from one of their stars to push them to that level. The way Carmelo Anthony has played early on would seem to be an indication that the Knicks are for real and might have what it takes to challenge Miami for Eastern Conference Supremacy.
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