Pistons show promise in opener

Once the game concluded, Tom Gores excitedly exchanged high-fives with everybody seated near his courtside seat.

But the Pistons’ owner wasn’t done with the celebration. As Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” reverberated through the Palace, Gores walked onto the floor and delivered hugs to the Pistons’ dance team. Then he walked over to where his returning star, Chauncey Billups, sat with headphones on, preparing for a post-game radio interview.

Gores wrapped an arm around Billups’ shoulders.

“We got No. 1,” he told him.

That was a two-fold answer. The Pistons got their first victory of the season in the first game with a tremendous boost from Mr. Big Shot, returning to the Pistons after an almost five-year absence — wearing that familiar No. 1 jersey.

It was a good start for the Pistons, blending in the freshness of the new with the fondness of the old. They created a peculiar sensation at the Palace Wednesday night — anticipation.

What might happen next with the pieces Gores and Joe Dumars procured?

“It felt good,” said Billups. “The energy in this building was something familiar. It really felt good.”

This has been an organization that’s invested more effort in developing dazzling, dizzying, pyrotechnical pre-game introductions than actually putting together an entertaining product once the lights come back on.

The day the Pistons are taken seriously again in this town will be the day when the actual basketball game isn’t simply an afterthought, a necessary nuisance getting in the way of digging out MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice from the 90s musical scrapheap.

The best marketing strategy is victories.

They announced the opening night crowd as 19,258 — just 2,000 shy of a sellout.

Nice try, Pistons.

Unless those empty seats were a brilliant Halloween disguise, the Palace was far from a packed house. But those who attended looked and sounded interested in seeing how versatile free agent acquisition Josh Smith fits into a pretty good frontcourt alongside Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.

Gores is a showman. He was raised in Flint, but he’s Hollywood now. He’s seriously mistaken, however, if he thinks glitz and glitter will get the job done in a city with a basketball heritage built on guts and grit.

Gores told reporters before the game that he wants a more public role this season. Let the masses see him. That’s fine. But seeing his unbridled enthusiasm isn’t a substitute for seeing more wins.

He’s this team’s biggest fan. And he should be. When the Palace cameras captured one of the stadium security team busting some Jurassic moves out of a Soul Train anniversary special late in the fourth quarter, Gores jumped up from his courtside seat and danced along. He pumped his fist like most of the crowd following a Drummond thunder jam off an offensive rebound and following Billups’ back-to-back triples midway through the fourth quarter that stymied a potential Washington comeback.

Gores acknowledged that the public abandonment of his product was a kick to his stomach as well as to his checkbook. He reiterated what he declared following last April’s regular season finale — making the 2014 playoffs was an organizational mandate.

“It will be a huge disappointment if we’re not in the playoffs this season,” he said. “That’s the expectation.”

It will be a huge disappointment because the Eastern Conference is much weaker this season. There’s Miami clearly at the top, Chicago, Indiana and maybe New York occupying a diminished second tier, and then it’s a race for the fifth between a number of teams with varied flaws.

The Pistons are one of those teams — as are their opening night opponent, the Wizards.

They were more interested in finding pieces than actually worrying about how they’d fit. We didn’t even see Brandon Jennings, who’s still recovering from a hairline fracture in his jaw that the Pistons claim resulted from a funky wisdom tooth in the back of Jennings’ mouth.

Billups’ maturity will help. He served as another coach in the huddle late in the game, offering calming assurance. But how well Drummond, Monroe and Smith work together will determine how good the Pistons become.

Smith is better at power forward than at small forward. Although he finished with 19 points, I thought he looked best in first quarter when he only took a couple shots but was more interest in facilitating the offense in the role of point forward.

There are serious spacing issues when he’s on the floor with Monroe and Drummond. Both are far more comfortable closer to the basket, but both can’t be there at the same time. I still maintain that until Monroe develops a more consistent mid-range jumper it will be extremely difficult fully taking advantage of having both big men on the floor together.

It didn’t matter much Wednesday because Drummond’s foul trouble kept him on the bench for pretty much the entire fourth quarter.

In the end, it was a good night for the Pistons, a good start.

They’re a work in progress, but at least there appears a little more interest than previously in witnessing that progress.


Posted by Tribune News Services

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