May 5, 2010 at 1:00 am

Vincent Goodwill

Pistons still need frontcourt help

Brendan Haywood, who played for the Mavericks this season, might the best fit for the Pistons' frontcourt needs. (Tim Sharp / Associated Press)

When the free-agent bonanza begins July 1, the Pistons won't be among major players but they can still make a splash.

The 2010-11 salary cap was recently projected at $56.1 million, and the luxury tax should be around $67 million. While the cap is lower than this year's number ($57.7 million), it's much higher than the $50-53 million doomsday projection made last summer.

While the higher-than-expected cap seems to help teams vying for the services of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Amare Stoudemire, it also indirectly benefits the Pistons. Other teams will be less weary about taking on the contracts of Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, provided they're available. Since there will be more than a few teams coming away empty-handed this summer, regardless of where the top guys go, Prince and Hamilton could be productive consolation prizes.

As things stand, the Pistons will have the mid-level exception at their disposal, which is determined by the average league salary ($5.85 million in 2009-10). Pistons president Joe Dumars has done his best work with the mid-level, signing Chauncey Billups in the summer of 2002, and Antonio McDyess two years later.

The Pistons are well-stocked at the shooting guard and small forward spots. Did incumbent Rodney Stuckey do enough this past season to warrant management's confidence to be the point guard of the future? Or will he be shifted to shooting guard? Nothing has been said to the contrary, and with plans to keep Will Bynum, point guard might not be a target.

Size and athleticism are needed in the frontcourt, and Bobcats forward Tyrus Thomas (9.4 points, 6.3 rebounds) fits the bill. His immaturity and inconsistency have been well-noted, but having been mentored by Ben Wallace's in Chicago for nearly two years, Wallace could have unique insight into Thomas' psyche, if the Pistons pursue him. Dumars has a habit of picking up players branded as "temperamental" and turning them into reclamation projects (Rasheed Wallace, Billups,). However, Thomas is not a scorer and is similar to Jason Maxiell in scoring off putbacks and alley-oops.

Miami forward Udonis Haslem also could be a viable option. With the Heat looking to give Michael Beasley every chance at success, the 29-year old Haslem went to the bench, but still produced at his usual clip (10 points, eight rebounds). Miami is expected to make a big push for Stoudemire, Chris Bosh and Carlos Boozer, so Haslem could be had for the right price -- if the Pistons want him. Haslem isn't a low-post scorer, but can hit a 15-foot jumper and is a good pick-and-roll player, who can help the guards. He's not overly athletic, but provides professionalism, savvy and competitive orneriness that could be helpful for a team finding its way.

Dallas had another disappointing playoff run, and trade-deadline acquisition Brendan Haywood is an unrestricted free agent. Haywood was a 10-10 performer the past two seasons, and ranked fourth in blocks this year (2.1). Haywood, 30, is an exceptional offensive rebounder and can score with his back to the basket. With the Pistons often overwhelmed in the paint, Haywood could ease Ben Wallace's load, while shifting Jonas Jerebko to small forward.

Second-round memories

The Pistons aren't in the second round of the playoffs, but the past 25 years have provided plenty of memorable postseason moments.

  • 1985: Birth of the "microwave." Vinnie Johnson scored 22 fourth-quarter points in Game 4 of the Eastern semifinals against the Celtics to lead the Pistons to a 102-99 comeback victory at Joe Louis Arena, tying the series at 2.

    "If that guy in Chicago (William Perry) is 'the refrigerator,' then Vinnie Johnson is 'the microwave,' " Celtics guard Danny Ainge said at the time. "He sure heated up in a hurry."

  • 1987: Isiah Thomas ' scooping layup on Mother's Day gave the Pistons a 3-1 lead over the Hawks, and the Pistons advanced to their first conference final in team history.

  • 1988: The first playoff meeting between the Bad Boys and Michael Jordan 's Bulls. After the Bulls stole Game 2 in Pontiac, the Pistons won both games in Chicago by an average of 20 points and won the series in five.

  • 1991: Last time the Thomas-led Pistons went against Larry Bird 's Celtics. The two-time champs beat the Celtics in six games, finishing the rivalry winning three of their last five series.

    Prince added to U.S. team

    Prince could get a chance for a second gold medal as he was added to the U.S. basketball team's 2010-12 roster Tuesday.

    Prince was a reserve on the 2008 gold medalists.

    By the numbers

    1: Shots missed (out of 11 attempts) by Vinnie Johnson in the fourth quarter of Game 4 of the 1985 Eastern semifinals against Boston

    22: Years since a Pistons frontcourt player averaged at least 10 points and 10 rebounds (Bill Laimbeer)

    30: Years since a frontcourt player led the team in scoring (Bob Lanier)

    Front of the line

    Three possible frontcourt players who the Pistons could sign next season, and how much they could cost the team.

    Player '09-10 salary career total
    Tyrus Thomas, Charlotte $4.7M $15.2M
    Brendan Haywood, Dallas $6M $29.8M
    Udonis Haslem, Miami $7M $31.2M

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