Caldwell-Pope apparently has starting spot with Pistons

Vincent Goodwill Jr.
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — For all of the noise about the Pistons' roster upgrades, the starting five on opening night will be familiar faces, guys who've been in Detroit for at least a year.

After Kentavious Caldwell-Pope practiced for the first time since his knee injury two weeks ago, it appears it'll take something unlikely to keep him from the first five, along with Andre Drummond, Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings and Kyle Singler.

That unit never started a game together for the 29-win Pistons in 2013-14, and won't be coached by Maurice Cheeks, who was surprisingly fired after 50 games last season.

"We'll go Tuesday, we'll see. Right now it looks like (Caldwell-Pope will) play," Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. "Will we start him? I don't know. He practiced today, he went up and down. That was a positive."

After Saturday's practice, which Caldwell-Pope missed, there was considerable doubt about whether he would be back in time for Wednesday's opener in Denver, but he showed enough Sunday, looking close to his training camp form where he's impressed everyone with his improvement.

"He looked good," Singler said. "He didn't look like he was favoring his injury. I'm sure he could've came back sooner but it's better safe than sorry. He was quick as ever. Seemed fine to me."

Van Gundy seemingly let it slip about the starting unit when talking about Caldwell-Pope's status, considering he hasn't notified the team. And it didn't seem like Singler put on his poker face when talking to the media.

"That's news to me. He hasn't told me I'm starting yet," Singler said. "So I'm sure if that's the case, he'll tell me. I've started before and felt comfortable doing it.

"I feel comfort with the guys who are starting. It basically comes down to bringing what I can, playing hard, playing smart. Being as solid as I can."

It certainly prompts a few questions, which can be examined in due time, highlighted by Greg Monroe's status once he returns from his two-game league-mandated suspension.

Monroe, to the surprise of no one, has been the team's most consistent performer in the preseason, averaging 15 points and nearly nine rebounds on 60 percent shooting in under 28 minutes in his last five games.

Any selection was going to be a controversial one, as Van Gundy has said he'll use Monroe, Smith and Drummond together — partially for matchup advantages, but he hasn't said what he'll do when Monroe comes back, leaving the door cracked for the unlikely scenario for starting all three.

The fact Van Gundy feels the incumbents were the best options likely says something about the existing talent on the roster, despite the many criticisms of it last season when the Pistons fell short of expectations.

"The guys that have been here we've seen struggle and (see) what it's like not to win," Singler said. "We want to get to a place where we can call ourselves a winning basketball team. I think that's motivation."

Caldwell-Pope and Jodie Meeks were in competition for the starting shooting guard spot, but Meeks' back injury made Caldwell-Pope the easy selection. Deciding between Singler and veteran forward Caron Butler for small forward was the last choice, but he said the coaching staff hadn't discussed it in depth.

"That's really the only decision left," Van Gundy said, referring to Caldwell-Pope's health. "I can change my mind still, but yeah."

It appears Singler's youth won out over Butler's experience, with Van Gundy wanting to use Singler more so as to not tire him by playing him long stretches.

If Singler came off the bench, he would have to play 15 to 18 straight minutes, in theory limiting his potential effectiveness.

"The main reason is that Kyle can handle more minutes on a nightly basis than Caron," Van Gundy said. "If you're gonna have a guy playing the most minutes off the bench, he'll have to play long stretches."

Either way, internal improvement appears to be just as crucial as the external additions over the summer.