Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks is emphasizing that his players live up to the team's expectations, not those of outsiders. (Clarence Tabb, Jr. / Detroit News)
Auburn Hills — The new-look Pistons aren’t exactly under the radar coming into the season, at least according to NBA league executives.
The league’s 30 general managers ranked the Pistons as the most improved team in NBA.com’s annual preseason survey, putting Detroit ahead of Brooklyn, Cleveland, Houston, Minnesota, New Orleans and Washington.
Brooklyn and Houston made arguably the biggest splashes of the offseason, with the Nets bringing in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and the Rockets landing the biggest free agent of the summer in Dwight Howard.
But both teams made the playoffs last year while the Pistons missed the postseason for the fourth straight year. This past offseason, Detroit added Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings, along with six other new faces.
New Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks isn’t buying into the hype —and it’s likely he’s passing that message along to the rest of his players.
“I can’t speak to it; we’re just going out and playing the way we can play,” Cheeks said. “Not about someone putting this or that on us. It’s good, but our expectations are for ourselves. It sounds good, but we can only do what we can do.”
The Pistons were also ranked ahead of Washington and Cleveland, two teams they’ll likely go heads-up against for playoff spots. The Pistons defeated the Wizards, 99-96, Tuesday night in an exhibition game and will begin their season a week from Wednesday against Washington at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
Whether it’s with a target on their backs or if they’re not getting much attention at all, Cheeks prefers to focus on the progress, which is tough to ascertain because of injuries to Jennings and Rodney Stuckey.
“We are who we are, whether we’re under the radar or not,” Cheeks said. “We have to go out and play, we have a schedule to play and everybody’s gonna try and beat us. I like where we are.”