Pistons forward Austin Daye (Robin Buckson/The Detroit News)
Auburn Hills -- Austin Daye sounds ready — eager, even — to take the abuse, which is probably a good thing.
Because the question isn't whether this rebuilding Pistons team — the one with the "For Sale" sign out front and the "Help Wanted" sign in the window — is going to take its lumps. It's whether they'll be able to handle the beatings — like it or not, they're coming — and keep fighting.
So as Detroit prepares to tip off the season tonight at New Jersey, here's a more hopeful sign: The lanky, 6-foot-11 Daye, who'll start at power forward in the opener, isn't just expecting the aches and pains. He's welcoming them.
"I mean, he kind of honors his war wounds," laughed Arnie Kander, the longtime Pistons strength and conditioning coach. "He'll come in and say, 'Man, my shoulder' or 'my back' or 'my hip' — almost like it's a badge or something — and I'm like, 'Good for you!'
"If a guy's got 50-60 pounds on you, it's going to happen. And that's a big part — a huge part — of the preparation, if you go out there with the mentality that that's going to happen every single night and take that on as a challenge."
For Daye, a 2009 first-round pick who played sparingly as a rookie, the challenge in his first offseason was unambiguous, delivered by team president Joe Dumars after the Pistons wrapped up a disappointing 27-55 season.
"He told me to come back more aggressive and stronger — in every way," the 22-year-old Daye said. "And that's what I did. … I knew if I was going to come in here and have a good season, my summer was going to have to change. It was going to have to be a lot harder."
So he went to work with his personal trainer, Joe Abussanar, in Los Angeles, and hired teammate Rodney Stuckey's personal chef to improve his diet. And while Daye worked on his game, turning some heads during the summer league in July, he also added 10-15 pounds to his frame. He's up to 208 after struggling to play at 195 a year ago.
Still, the scale doesn't hold much weight with Kander.
"What does it mean unless you can see it on the court?" Kander said.
So, we'll see tonight against the Nets, and in the 81 games that follow.
But after leading the Pistons in minutes during the exhibition season, a seemingly more assertive Daye says his legs feel stronger and he's more comfortable shooting from deep range. (He made half his 34 3-point attempts in eight exhibitions, averaging 15.9 points and 5.6 rebounds in 28 minutes.)Defensively, he's looking a bit more comfortable, too. Or at least less uncomfortable. In a 22-point, six-rebound outing last week against Memphis, Daye held his own against Zach Randolph, limiting the 260-pound All-Star to five points and three rebounds in 21 minutes.
Daye credits the coaching staff and veteran teammates, specifically Ben Wallace and Tayshaun Prince, the player to whom he's often compared.
But Kander also credits Daye, who's starting to learn how to use his strengths to help his strength, if you will.
"He has learned how to widen his base," Kander said of Daye, whose massive wingspan — along with his smooth jump shot — made him one of the more intriguing draft prospects coming out of Gonzaga a year ago. "You can amazingly get strong if you have technique, and now he's getting into his legs and using his strength in a real way.
"He's an amazing talent, he really is. But he's also a bright kid and he picks things up very fast and he's willing to do whatever it takes to get better."
Bringing the energy
For now, given the Pistons' injury-shuffled lineup, that'll mean playing at the power forward position, which is, as Prince explained Monday, "a whole different ballgame" than the small forward spot, where Daye may be a better fit.
But Daye likely will play a variety of roles this season for coach John Kuester, who raves about Daye's potential and versatility, even as he acknowledges mismatches work both ways.
"We understand what Austin is," Kuester said. "But I'll tell you this: I know his energy and effort will be there."
Daye, for his part, says he plans on living up to his potential, a knock against him throughout college and into his rookie season.
"I just didn't really have as much freedom," Daye said of his rookie season. "I feel like this year I have a lot more freedom to do what I want to do."
And that goes for his team, as well, freed from expectations after last season's tumble. (An ESPN.com power poll this week had the Pistons ranked 30th of 30 teams.)"We're determined to make a change, and we're determined to change our frame of mind," Daye said. "Last year, we were kind of expected to make the playoffs and it didn't happen.
"But I think we can make the playoffs this year, I really do. If we get healthy, I definitely think we're strong enough."
Starting tonight, the Pistons will find out if he's right.
Pistons at Nets
Tipoff: 7 tonight, Prudential Center, Newark, N.J.
Last season: The Pistons won the series 2-1, winning 97-93 and 99-92 before losing 118-110.
Coming up: The Pistons open their home schedule against the Thunder at 8 p.m. Friday before a road game against the Bulls at 8 p.m. Saturday.
More John Niyo
- Red Wings get under the Blackhawks' skin -- and right back in the series
- Blackhawks taking aim at greatness
- Red Wings' Mule is in need of a kick-start
- Michigan's Trey Burke ready for NBA with help from trusted allies
- Jimmy Howard can't bail out Red Wings in opener
- Red Wings revel in underdog role against favored Blackhawks
- Red Wings still trying to figure future of Valtteri Filppula