Thursday , Oct , 15 , 2009 Oly Sandor

Can Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva help Detroit compete in the Eastern Conference?

Instead of delivering an elite talent, Detroit signed two good but not great free agents in Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. And Dumars, despite being in a buyer’s market, paid both very fair money -Gordon got five years at $55 million, while Villanueva also inked a five-year deal for $35 million. To be fair, the Pistons have an eclectic collection of players, but is it enough in the much improved Eastern Conference? …

Can Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva help Detroit compete in the Eastern Conference?Every day until the regular season begins, HoopsVibe the Blog will ask and answer an important question facing each of the NBA’s thirty teams. Weigh-in with thoughts on our Key Questions feature in the comment box below.

Today’s team: the Detroit Pistons.

Key Questions: Can the new-look Pistons compete in a much-improved Eastern Conference?

The Answer: Last November, Joe Dumars pulled the plug.

After years of finishing at or near the top of the Eastern Conference, the Hall of Fame guard and wily executive ended the Detroit Pistons’ run by trading franchise face Chauncey Billups to the Denver Nuggets for Allen Iverson.

The plan was to rebuild around Iverson. Well, sort of.

Dumars acquired ‘The Anti-Practice’ for his contract. Iverson’s $20 million per year deal was set to expire last July, giving the Pistons, in theory, enough cap space to trade for a superstar or land a top free agent in the summer of 2010.

Again, this was the plan.

Instead of delivering an elite talent, Detroit signed two good but not great free agents in Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. And Dumars, despite being in a buyer’s market, paid both very fair money -Gordon got five years at $55 million, while Villanueva also inked a five-year deal for $35 million.

To be fair, the Pistons have an interesting collection of players, but is it enough in the much improved Eastern Conference?

Currently, Detroit is trying to find the right mix of young and old. At times, guards Will Bynum and Rodney Stuckey have shown promise. However, Rip Hamilton is a backcourt fixture and Gordon, the big-ticket free agent, needs minutes, too.

There is also competition in the front-court. Jason Maxiell and Charlie Villanueva could form a nice duo at the forward positions, but Tayshaun Prince is the long-time starter at the three spot. Also, in the mix are Kwame Brown, Ben Wallace, and Chris Wilcox.       

John Kuester has the unenviable task of sorting-out playing time. In pre-season, the first-year coach has shown he’s not afraid to experiment, even starting Bynum, Gordon, and Stuckey at the perimeter positions, while using Wallace mostly at power-forward.

One thing is certain: Stuckey must get better. Part of the reason Detroit traded Billups was because they believed their young star could handle starting at point guard. However, Stuckey averaged just five assists per game and, if he plays the one-spot regularly, must become a more consistent distributor.

Prediction:
They’re in the hunt for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, the east is more competitive and it remains to be seen if the Pistons have kept pace.  

Sound off: where do you see Detroit finishing in 2010? Get at us with thoughts in the comment box and follow Oly’s work on HoopsVibe The Blog and Twitter. Image courtesy of Keith Allison.