Auburn Hills — If Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks had an invisible checklist for his early training camp goals, it could possibly read like this:
■ Establish competition.
■ Get players in good enough shape to be a running team.
■ Let his team know his voice is going to be the dominant one early on.
■ Check, check and check — to a degree.
Well, The Palace crowd at the open practice saw Cheeks unleash a quiet wrath early on Saturday, when the players didn’t seem to take a drill too seriously and he made them run wind sprints to get them refocused.
But running as a whole is something Pistons players have privately bemoaned and sometimes publicly hinted at in recent seasons — which Cheeks agrees with in theory, not necessarily in application when having a bigger frontline.
“All players say they want to play fast and want to run, but it’s not that easy to do,” Cheeks said. “Particularly when you have a couple big guys. If you play fast, you have to wait for them.”
Andre Drummond and Josh Smith can fly up and down a floor on a quick turnaround or turnover, and while Greg Monroe isn’t the fastest big man, he’s still mobile enough to beat opposing bigs down the floor for positioning.
Which is why Cheeks’ early emphasis on playing fast has more to do with forcing turnovers with steals and blocked shots than flat-out running and gunning. Fans expecting to see the Phoenix Suns style of the last decade will be disappointed, but the Pistons will play faster than previous years.
“Defensively if you get out and create turnovers, those guys won’t be the first guys down the floor,” Cheeks said. “As it unfolds, the (bigs) will come back into play.”
If Will Bynum had a vote, they’d go up and down a lot more often, and force opposing teams to make faster decisions.
“We definitely will. It’s totally different,” Bynum said. “I can pick up (defensively) full court and force turnovers. We have a lot of talent, we just have to put it all together and make it make sense as one unit.”
Now with the exhibition season beginning this week, where the Pistons likely will see a scaled-down version of the champion Miami Heat on Thursday and Haifa (Israel) on Tuesday, they have a chance to gauge where their progress truly lies.
And it’ll be somewhat of a test of their unity, since Cheeks knows he’ll have decisions to make on the playing rotations.
“We have guys who are committed to getting better, trying to work as a team,” Cheeks said. “It’s easy when no one knows who’s playing, who’s not. As the games start coming up, it becomes a little clearer and hopefully everyone is (still) committed to being a team.”