It's a new era for the Detroit Pistons.
Detroit enters the 2011-12 campaign with a new head coach, as Lawrence Frank takes the helm from John Kuester, who was fired after going 57-107 over two contentious seasons, including a 30-52 mark last season.
"I know he was here at 5:30 a.m., I wasn't, he was," team president and general manager Joe Dumars said. "The guy was ready to work. He doesn't like to talk about this, but this guy comes in at 5:30 every morning. You want that in your organization as soon as possible. You want that kind of energy, you want that kind of passion, you want that kind of direction. You want that as soon as possible."
Kuester's reign was punctuated by disagreements with veterans like Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince and his inability to integrate some of his younger players into the lineup. Frank will be a welcome addition in that regard and has already won over some of his players just with the way he runs practices.
Frank, a native of northern New Jersey, began his coaching career on January 26, 2004 when he succeeded Byron Scott as head coach of the Nets. He immediately guided them to 13 straight victories, setting a new NBA record for the most consecutive wins by a head coach to begin a career.
The Nets enjoyed moderate success under Frank over the next several seasons, making the playoffs four straight times and winning the Atlantic Division twice.
Frank has had success with younger teams in the past, but he may have his work cut out for him this year.
2010-11 Results: 30-52, fourth in Central; Missed playoffs.
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FRONTCOURT: There are not many legitimate centers in the NBA these days, but one of them calls the Palace in Auburn Hills home. Greg Monroe made his presence felt in the second half of last season and started attacking the offensive glass and became a double-double machine. He ended the year ranked among the NBA's top 10 in field goal percentage, offensive efficiency, total offensive rebounds and offensive rebound percentage.
Watching Monroe progress is one of the few reasons to watch this team this season. He still must prove he has the toughness to excel on the boards and at the defensive end, however.
Another reason to watch will be the return of Swede Jonas Jerebko, who missed all of last season recovering from a partially ruptured right Achilles' tendon. Jerebko, though, showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie season the previous year, averaging 9.3 points and 6.0 rebounds.
At small forward will be old reliable in Tayshaun Prince, the only contributing holdover from the Pistons' championship team from 2003-04. Despite being mentioned in numerous trade rumors over the past few years Prince remains one of the NBA's most unheralded players. The defensive-minded Prince is a very stealthy kind of player and opposing teams must know where he is on the court at all times. Perhaps the best defender on the team, the slashing Prince is also a duel threat, with his ability to drive the basket and knock down jumpers from 15 feet out.
His biggest job this year, though, may be to serve as a mentor and help the young players on this team.
BACKCOURT: Point guard Rodney Stuckey is an emerging player with the skill to take over a game when he's hitting on all cylinders and led the team in scoring (15.5 points per game) and assists (career-high 5.2 per game) last season. Frank also likes Stuckey's upside as a defender but consistency is a problem and he must become a steadier ball-handler.
Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars said Stuckey is "part of the young core group of players that we are building around."
Ben Gordon will be his running mate and the Pistons hope he can revert back to the player who once was dropping 24 a night on the Boston Celtics defense in the playoffs. Frank has said he would like to get Gordon more involved than the 27 minutes he has averaged the past two seasons with the Pistons.
BENCH: The Pistons chose Kentucky guard Brandon Knight with the eighth overall pick in this past June's draft and the hope is that he will be the star they are lacking. The 6-foot-3 guard set Kentucky freshman records in points scored (657), three-pointers made (87) and most 20-point games in a season (14).
Charlie Villanueva can be brilliant at times but is also inconsistent and has struggled mightily during his first two seasons with Detroit. One day he can be a productive, hard-working player and the next he may not show up
Statistically, guard Wil Bynum is one of the top clutch performers in the league. He finished top ten in production per 48 minutes of clutch time last year, ahead of players like Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony.
Austin Daye figures to spell both Prince and Jerebko from time-to-time. Entering his third season in the league, Daye will continue improving as a player with Frank at the helm.
Then, of course, there is Ben Wallace, who is back for yet another season with the Pistons. Nowhere near the defensive presence he was in his heyday, Wallace can still give you some minutes on a nightly basis.
COACHING: One of Kuester's problems was his inability to work with young talent. When Dumars hired Frank the two forged a plan that would allow Detroit to once again become a contender. And that plan had to have them integrate the young players on this roster. Frank is a perfect fit for a team that last season allowed the highest opponent field-goal percentage of any team in the league.
OUTLOOK: The reality of the NBA today is that championship teams do need at least one superstar and the Pistons lack one as of now. The hope is that Knight one day becomes that guy, but it likely won't be this year. Rather than worry about wins and losses this season in Detroit, fans should settle for some progress. Sorry Detroit, but a third straight lottery pick is almost a foregone conclusion.