D.C. Council Opening Statements: Wizards at Pistons, Game 1
Opening night is finally here. The predictions can be cast aside, preseason basketball, featuring intermittent stretches of intense play followed by longer stretches of sloppy play, is finally gone. The time for unbridled optimism is now upon us. The Detroit Pistons begin the season with a new coach (Maurice Cheeks), a new point guard (Brandon Jennings), the return of an old(er) point (Chauncey Billups), a mercurial star (Josh Smith), and rising two youngsters (Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond). The Wizards boast the return of John Wall and Bradley Beal, a healthy Nene and a new big man in Marcin Gortat. But sadly, no Otto Porter. The third overall pick is battling a hip flexor injury and, according to this Washington Post article, he’s also struggling to shoot standing still. The Wizards haven’t been to the playoffs since 2008 and the Pistons have been absent from the postseason since 2009. Both Joe Dumars and Ernie Grunfeld are hoping their offseason moves return their respective teams to the postseason, and more importantly, they want to retain their job.
Teams: Wizards at Pistons
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Venue: The Palace of Auburn Hills, Detroit, MI
Television: — CSN Washington
Radio: WFED-AM 1500
Q #1: Which GM is in the hotter seat this season: Ernie Grunfeld or Joe Dumars? And who had the better off season?
@Patrick_Hayes: Oof… tough call there. Both probably need to make the playoffs to save their jobs, both are working for newish owners eager for some success… I’ll go with Grunfeld being on the hotter seat, ever so slightly. Dumars had a great offseason, landing a marquee free agent and upgrading the point guard position by acquiring Brandon Jennings. That, along with the fact that Dumars can still point to that championship team he put together, as well as his history as a beloved former Pistons player, are advantages that Grunfeld doesn’t have in any evaluation of his performance. But I think it’s entirely conceivable that if both teams underperform, both will have new GMs next season.
[Ed. note of interest: Both Grunfeld and Dumars played ball, but 14 of the past 15 GM hires have been non-players. (h/t Rick Maese) -J.C. Townsend.]
Q #2: We have metrics that can measure almost everything a player can and cannot do on the court—except leadership. Chauncey Billups has been praised throughout his career for being a leader of men on the floor, but have there been any tangible examples of this in the preseason? And will this translate to more victories in the regular season?
@Patrick_Hayes: I don’t know what type of impact Billups’ leadership will have in Detroit, to be honest. There are some documented instances of his impact as a leader in Denver (love his insistence on George Karl drawing him up an out-of-bounds play in this story), but he was also still playing at an All-Star level in those days. It’s easier to be a leader when you’re also a key player on a good team. I actually think Billups’ greatest contributions will still be on the court for the Pistons. He’s still their most effective point guard at running an offense and taking care of the ball, plus his perimeter shooting is vital on a team that has precious few guys with floor-spacing ability to give their bigs more room to operate inside. The young players on the Pistons seem to be a fairly mature and self-motivated group, so I’m not sure Billups’ leadership was a vital necessity, but getting a beloved player who never should’ve been traded in the first place back to Detroit is certainly important symbolically for the franchise. If Billups can hit some 3s, give some error-free minutes as a backup point guard and help bring some fans longing for the glory days back on the bandwagon, he’ll prove to be a great investment.
Q #3: Who is most likely to be traded between now and the All-Star break? And if the Pistons do pull the trigger on a trade, what need should they fill?
@Patrick_Hayes: There are intriguing questions about whether the Pistons will trade Greg Monroe rather than invest in a max contract for him when Josh Smith just signed a huge deal and Andre Drummond will most certainly command max money in a couple of years. In short, that’s a lot of money to invest in a frontcourt on a team with serious holes elsewhere. I’d be surprised if Monroe is traded, but if the Pistons can get an intriguing young shooting guard or small forward in return for him (like … uh … Bradley Beal, maybe?), they’d consider it. That type of deal is probably a longshot, though. More likely, if they make any trade, they’ll shed one or more of their superfluous veterans on expiring contracts—Rodney Stuckey, Charlie Villanueva or Jonas Jerebko—for a team looking to fill a specific need without a long-term investment.
Q #4: Is it possible for there to be a sense of urgency for the Wizards already?
@rashad20: To be perfectly blunt, the answer is hell yes. Any positive momentum the Wizards may have had after the Gortat trade was immediately nullified by stories involving their draft picks from two out of the last three years. First, the Wizards declined to pick up Jan Vesely’s fourth-year option; second, Otto Porter is still out indefinitely. While it is entirely possible that the Wizards established core of Wall, Beal and Nene will successfully join forces with Gortat, Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza to make that push for the sixth, seventh or eighth seed in the playoffs, it also possible (given their uneven preseason play) that the Wizards may start slowly … again.
Ted Leonsis has mentioned several times during this offseason that he expected a playoff berth last season, but he understood that injuries to Wall, Beal and Nene lowered expectations a bit. This year, if the Wizards start slowly, it could cost Randy Wittman his job (NBA TV’s Steve Smith has already predicted this will happen), and eventually Ernie Grunfeld’s as well. Conversely, a fast start to begin the season (like the Kansas City Chiefs have done in the NFL) would instantly (and perhaps falsely) bring the enthusiasm back to Washington. A victory in the season opener, as well as in the home opener against the Philadelphia 76ers, would certainly be a start.
Other points of note:
- Maurice Cheeks’ last head coaching job was with the Philadelphia 76ers, where he was fired in December 2008. Also fired that season? Randy Wittman (Minnesota Timberwolves) and Eddie Jordan (Washington Wizards). There’s a Kevin Bacon game to be played in there somewhere. Jonathan Abrams (now of Grantland, then with the New York Times) wrote an article about it.
- Speaking of Abrams, he also wrote an extensive feature piece on Pistons center Andre Drummond.
- NBA Data Visualizations? Best Tickets Blog has a bunch of them in their Unofficial 2013 NBA Player Census. Of note: the Wizards have the fifth tallest team, the 15th heaviest team, and are tied with the Pistons for the seventh youngest team (average: 25.3 years).
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