All right, I’m going to try a little something this season to start posting more regularly – the Pistons Post-Game Take Out. The name is a tribute to our new arena, the Little Caesars Arena, which from above looks like a giant pizza box landed in the middle of downtown. From all I’ve seen, it’s a state-of-the-art arena, and if the Ilitch family wants to express their vanity through glorifying the cheap pizza that made them wealthy, hey – they’re billionaires, and they can afford to do what they want.
(But if they’re finding tax savings by counting the naming rights as an expense for their pizza empire paid to their sports/entertainment holdings, it would just be nice if they invested some of that damn money into the Tigers, instead of trying to go for a Marlins-style fire-sale.)
Anyway, the Pistons are just tenants in the new Pizza Pizza Palace, and at least they’re back downtown. It’s a good thing.
Whether the Pistons will be a good thing is likely to be a question it will take all season to answer. I didn’t do a team preview, because I had no idea how – who is this team? As I saw the moves this summer, all I could think was, “Gotta trust Stan” – but that trust was built on an unexpected post-season appearance in 2016, and after the team regressed last year, I have to wonder if that surprisingly strong series (albeit a sweep by the eventual champion Cavs) had more to do with Cleveland looking ahead than Detroit being better than advertised. The Langston Galloway signing? I’ve had him on fantasy teams, so I’m aware of his talent, but it felt like we avoided a bidding war by paying him 20-30% higher than the market would have. Avery Bradley is a good player – and an excellent defensive player – but feels more like a complementary player who holds a team together than the face of a franchise. Stanley Johnson and Henry Ellenson are both still brimming with potential – but at some point, that has to be realized. And is this the season that Andre Drummond himself takes that next step toward reaching his potential to be the best big man in the East – or is he a trade chip to bring in something good before the rest of the league decides he’s already peaked?
In year 4 of the Stan Van Gundy project, this is his team. It just may take the next seven months to figure out what that means.
First off – the arena is nice. The introductions were nice. Seeing Dave Bing and Bob Lanier take out the game ball gave me chills, thinking that our guys share that tradition, that heritage. Hearing the opening strains of “Lose Yourself” – then having Eminem kick off the welcome to Opening Night (after the anthem, with NO controversy, of course) was, dare I say, f-ing awesome. (Trying to keep this family friendly. But it was that awesome.) It would have been nice to see the arena full – but I wasn’t there myself, so I can’t really say anything. I’ll just hope that anyone watching on TV (myself included) can get excited about Detroit basketball being back, and will make their way downtown soon.
Tobias Harris is our best player. He’s basically the player we thought we were getting when we signed Josh Smith from Atlanta – the player Josh Smith WAS in Atlanta – but he shoots the ball, instead of chucking it, and does everything well. We acquired him in 2016, when we were making that playoff run, and he was the playmaker we needed, letting Andre and Reggie star while quietly doing everything else in the background. Harris was not in the background tonight, and if the Pistons struggle in the first half, he’s going to be a target for contenders at the trade deadline.
It was hard to say about the rest of the team. It was a nice win, but it didn’t feel dominating – Charlotte is a team a lot like Detroit, a team that will likely be playing for a 6-8 seed in the playoffs, and doesn’t have a solid identity. I was pleasantly surprised with Galloway’s Pistons debut, and very happy to see what Ellenson did with his extended playing time off the bench. I was also surprised that Stanley Johnson was in the starting lineup, and I have to give him credit for playing hard, even though his shot was not falling. At all. Avery Bradley had a nice point total, and probably was a little cautious filling up the rest of his stat line since he was in foul trouble early, but it was a little surprising to see our new defensive specialist limited to 2 rebounds and no steals, on a night the team had 14 steals. And Reggie Jackson’s stat line justified his starting spot over Ish Smith, but this looks like a PG platoon that’s going to last all season.
A win is a win, and it’s nice to see the Pistons open in the Little Caesars Arena better than they closed the Palace; you only get one chance to win your opener, and that first mission is accomplished. There may be a lot of questions to be answered, but there’s a lot to be excited about as well. If we can see how some of those questions will be resolved with a tougher test against Washington on Friday, we can expect that excitement to be sustained once that new arena smell starts to wear off.