Thursday, September 25, 2008
TRAINING CAMP IS UPON US
The Tigers season is coming to a merciful end. The Lions' season is basically over.
Pro sports fans in the Detroit metro area can still cling to the Red Wings and Pistons for fair entertainment value. The Wings' exhibition season has already begun; Pistons training camp begins Tuesday, with expectations of another playoff run and an underlying disappointment that the roster was not shaken up.
Like many Pistons training camps, this one doesn't have a whole lot of suspense attached to it. Sure, it will be interesting to see how the players react to new head coach Michael Curry and how his practices differ from the ones Flip Saunders, Larry Brown, Rick Carlisle, etc. ran. But in terms of the players, there are precious few issues to be resolved during camp.
The biggest is who will take the place of Antonio McDyess in the starting lineup, if indeed Curry follows his plan of making McDyess the first big man off the bench. Amir Johnson appears to be the slight favorite to claim the spot. Curry would like to add some youth and athleticism to the lineup. Johnson, entering his fourth season, is ready for a larger role.
Kwame Brown is the other viable candidate. The coaching staff has been raving about Brown since the Pistons surprisingly signed him. They believe he's going to blossom here because of reduced expectations. Brown could be a defensive force in whatever role he plays. How he fits into the puzzle is something Curry will have to figure out over the next few weeks.
The backup small forward spot is a lesser issue but another that deserves watching. Most likely, the Pistons will use more 3-guard sets when Tayshaun Prince rests, allowing Arron Afflalo to receive more playing time. Walter Herrmann, who was re-signed, will also get a chance to prove he deserves more minutes. But there are only so many minutes to go around and adding Herrmann to the mix would give them a 10- or 11-man rotation. It's a lot easier for coaches, especially inexperienced ones, to juggle a nine-man rotation.
As always, it will be interesting to see what kind of shape Rasheed Wallace is in and how he interacts with Curry. His general lack of respect for Saunders undermined the team at times in the past three years. How will he respond to Curry's strategic manuevers and emphasis on conditioning throughout the season? That's something that won't be determined in camp.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
As a first-year head coach, Michael Curry will lean heavily on his assistants. Flip Saunders preferred to have more control over practices and game-planning. His assistants usually had specific assignments - Dave Cowens would work with the big men, Terry Porter worked with the guards, Curry ran the pregame practices, etc.
Curry will have his assistants run various segments in practices and move from station to station. That will get his assistants involved with each player, not just a handful.
"Each coach will have an opportunity to coach both offense and defense every day," Curry said. "Doing it that way, they won't get tired of hearing me so quickly."
Another interesting way in which Curry will utilize his assistants is that each will be assigned a certain number of opposing teams; they are expected to keep updated reports on each of those clubs. When the Pistons play a particular team, the assistant assigned to that opponent will be relied upon heavily for a scouting report and strategy. For example, two of the teams that Pat Sullivan will keep tabs on are Charlotte, where old boss Larry Brown now coaches, and New Jersey, where Sullivan was an assistant in recent years.
"What we hope is that you become an expert on your team," Curry said. "Hopefully, we can be ahead of everybody when it comes to game preparation."
If Curry were to get ejected, the assistant with the most knowledge of a certain opponent would run the bench. In other words, he won't have a de facto lead assistant.
By delegating more responsibility, Curry takes some of the pressure off of his shoulders. He can be more of an overseer, rather than shouldering most of the burden.
We'll see how it works out but it's clear that if anything goes wrong this season, it won't be for lack of planning.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
BACK ON THE BUS
The Pistons, at least a few of them, are taking a two-day bus tour on Wednesday and Thursday to drum up interest in the team and the upcoming season. They will make six stops, from as far north as Traverse City to as far south as Toledo.
I was on a couple of these caravans during my early days as a Pistons beat writer but they haven't done it for seven years.
Why are new coach Michael Curry and second-year guards Rodney Stuckey and Arron Afflalo going out on a media blitz? People have gotten spoiled by the Pistons' success and frustrated by their inability to get past the conference finals. Moreover, they're disappointed that Joe Dumars didn't make a big trade to shake things up. They're trying to energize season-ticket sales, something they haven't had to do in a long time.
The Pistons' long sellout streak - a wink-wink proposition anyway with rows of empty seats in the upper deck during numerous games last season - is certain to end this season. People just aren't excited about this club anymore, even though they should remain one of the league's elite clubs.
Back to the old days: The first bus tour I took was in 2000. I don't remember much about it, except walking in the rain in Traverse City that night to go to a restaurant. I also remember taking a picture of Joe Dumars and an excited fan in the hotel gift shop the next morning just as we were about to leave.
I have many more memories of their last media tour. Rodney White, Brian Cardinal and Rick Carlisle - in his first season as head coach - were on the bus. The date was Sept. 11, 2001.
We stopped at a middle school in Okemos that morning and the players showed off some of their skills at a pep rally in the school's gym. Shocking as it may seem, all of the terrorist attacks and the Trade Center collapses happened while we were in the gym and everyone there was apparently oblivious to what was going on along the East Coast. It's inconceivable that would happen now, with every kid having a cell phone, text messaging, etc.
Anyway, we learned what was going on when we got back to the bus, where the bus driver had a radio tuned to the news. We somberly headed to Grand Rapids for another media stop, saw the sickening replays of the Trade Center disaster for the first time, then turned around and went home instead of staying overnight in Traverse City as scheduled.
I'm hoping this tour will be a lot less memorable.