Thursday , Oct , 20 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

Detroit Pistons 2005-06 Season Preview

=== Detroit Pistons 2005-06 Season Preview ===

By Warren Blatt, NBA Editor

2004-05 FINISH: 54-28

OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Dale Davis (C) – Free Agent; Maurice Evans (G) – Free
Agent.

OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: NONE

2005 DRAFT PICKS: 1. (26) Jason Maxiell (F, Cincinnati) 2. (56) Amir Johnson
(F, Westchester HS); 2. (60) Alex Acker (G, Pepperdine).

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP: PG Chauncey Billups, SG Richard Hamilton, SF
Tayshaun Prince, PF Rasheed Wallace, C Ben Wallace

COACH: Flip Saunders

(Sports Network) – Can the Detroit Pistons represent the Eastern Conference in
the NBA Finals for a third straight year?

The same core of players which won the NBA championship in 2004 are back, but
there will be a new general calling the shots from the bench. Flip Saunders,
was fired by the Minnesota Timberwolves in February after 9 1/2 years of
service, has replaced Hall-of-Famer Larry Brown, who once again made a
controversial exit from a franchise and has landed in New York as the new head
coach of the Knicks.

Brown did do the job he was hired to do, as he led the Pistons to two straight
appearances in the NBA Finals and one championship. He was the right coach to
get Detroit over the hump.

Saunders went 411-326 during his tenure with Minnesota, as he guided the
Timberwolves to a franchise-best and league-best 58-24 mark in 2003-04.
Minnesota advanced all the way to the conference finals before losing to the
Los Angeles Lakers in six games in the 2004 playoffs.

The 50-year-old Saunders should have no problem adjusting to his new players.
He will stress defense and team play on offense, and he is taking over a squad
that wins with those two ingredients. In Saunders, team president Joe Dumars
has found the right captain to steer the ship.

Last season, the Pistons won 54 games in the regular season, captured the
Central Division, and were the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. They defeated
Philadelphia in five games in the first round and eliminated Indiana in six in
the conference semis.

Detroit got a scare in the East finals, as it trailed Shaquille O’Neal, Dwyane
Wade and the top-seeded Heat 3-2 in the best-of-seven series. However, the
experience of the Pistons showed as they won Game 6 at home and dismissed
Miami on its homecourt in Game 7 to advance to the NBA Finals.

San Antonio and the Pistons were evenly matched in the finals, but it was not
to be for Detroit. The Spurs knocked out the defending champions in seven game
and captured their third title in seven years.

An excellent season did have a cloud over it, as on November 19, 2004 the
Pistons and Pacers were scheduled to play a competitive game at The Palace of
Auburn Hills. However the contest turned into an out of control melee. Indiana
won 97-82, but the game had to be stopped in the final minute because of the
fracas, which started on the court and eventually found its way into the seats
and included the fans at The Palace. NBA Commissioner David Stern showed no
mercy as he suspended Indiana’s Ron Artest, who was the 2004 NBA Defensive
Player of the Year, for the remainder of the season and swingman Stephen
Jackson for 30 contests for their parts in the brawl.

The nucleus of All-Star Ben Wallace, who was suspended for six games for his
role in November 19th’s contest, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince, Chauncey
Billups and Richard Hamilton endured some tough times, but in the end
they did their usual stellar job in the 2004-05 campaign.

Ben Wallace, who won his third NBA Defensive Player of the Year, averaged 9.7
points and a team-best 12.2 rebounds in 74 contests during the regular season.
He was a dominant force in the middle and is still the catalyst of Detroit’s
dominant defense.

Hamilton led the club in scoring (18.9 ppg) and continued to drain clutch
shots, while Billups, who was the MVP of the 2004 NBA Finals, netted 16.4
points and handed out a team-high 5.8 assists per game during the regular
season and had another strong performance in the playoffs.

Prince and Rasheed Wallace also had solid seasons. Prince played tough defense
and netted 14.7 per game, while Rasheed Wallace averaged 14.5 points and 8.2
boards and was a solid citizen once again for the Pistons. These two players
know their roles and are key figures in Detroit’s success.

The Pistons’ success in the 2005-06 campaign will once again depend heavily on
their starting five. Saunders will have an easy transition in Detroit, and
will get the respect that he deserves from a team that simply knows how to
play the right way.

BACKCOURT

Billups and Hamilton are as good as it gets. They don’t get the votes from the
fans that will put them in the All-Star Game, but they know how to play
winning basketball and that is what they care about. Detroit’s backcourt
tandem doesn’t wow the world with their thunderous dunks or their behind the
back passes, what they do is play hard-nosed defense, work for their shots off
of screens and hit game-winning shots or make game-saving stops on defense.

Carlos Arroyo and Lindsey Hunter are expected to be Detorit’s top reserves off
the bench. The 26-year-old Arroyo, who was acquired from Utah during last
season, is a competent backup for Billups, while the veteran Hunter will spell
Hamilton.

Maurice Evans, who spent last season with Sacramento and was a restricted free
agent, was signed by the club in the offseason. He averaged 6.4 points in 64
contests for the Kings and will compete with Hunter for minutes.

The Pistons backcourt is all about Billups and Hamilton. Billups shot over 42
percent from beyond the arc and loves to have the ball in his hands at crunch
time. Hamilton is one of the hardest working players in the league and is also
one of the most fundamentally sound. These are true professionals on an off
the court.

Billups and Hamilton are what Pistons’ basketball is all about.

FRONTCOURT

The Wallaces, who both can play center of power forward, and Prince makeup on
of the best starting frontcourts in the NBA. Rasheed Wallace is a great
complement to the other Wallace, as he can score from the outside as well as
the inside. Since becoming a member of the Pistons late in the 2003-04
season, he has become a solid defender and has adapted to Detroit’s style of
play on both ends of the court. Prince, like Ben Wallace, excels
defensively, and like Rasheed Wallace, can drain the outside jumper and is
also able to drive to the hole effectively. Like their backcourt, the Pistons
have found a winning formula up front.

Veteran Antonio McDyess had a solid first season with Detroit in 2004-05. The
31-year-old power forward averaged 9.6 points and 6.3 boards in 77 contests.
Because of his gimpy knees McDyess is no longer able to log the minutes he
once played earlier in his career. However, the 6-9 McDyess can play alongside
either Wallace and is usually very productive during the 20-24 minutes that he
is on the court.

Detroit signed thirty-six-year-old Dale Davis, who was an unrestricted free
agent. The 14-year veteran averaged 4.7 points and 6.1 rebounds in 61 games
for Golden State and Indiana last season. Davis is a nice fit for the Pistons,
as he is not afraid to do the dirty work down low and play tough defense. He
will help the Wallaces and McDyess hold down the fort in the post.

The Pistons have some questions marks off the bench. Rookie power forward
Jason Maxiell, who was Detroit’s first-round pick (26th overall), should get a
chance to show what he can do in his first year in the league, while third-
year pro Darko Milicic, who should be ready to play now that he has a new head
coach who will want to give him a look on the court, will also try to prove
that he has a future.

Milicic, who was selected by the Pistons in the first round (second overall)
in the 2003 NBA Draft, has played in just 71 games during his two-year career
and has averaged 1.6 points and 1.2 rebounds in limited playing time. This
could be the make or break year for Milicic in Detroit, as he may finally get
the chance that was never given to him with Brown at the helm.

OUTLOOK

The competition will be tougher on the road to finals, as Miami has improved
its supporting cast for Shaq and Wade and Indiana will have Artest back in the
lineup. The Pistons should be able to make it back to the Eastern Conference
finals for a fourth straight season, but can they advance to the championship
round for the third straight year?

Count on a fifth straight 50-plus win regular season. The Cavaliers and Pacers
will give the defending Central Division champs a battle for the division
crown. Come playoff time, the Pistons’ veteran cast will be ready to shine,
and they will knock off the Heat in the conference finals to capture the East
for a third straight year.

DET