Overhauled roster gives Pistons reason for optimism

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy answers questions from reporters during media day Monday at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

Auburn Hills — For Pistons president Stan Van Gundy, the offseason was about more than just getting a piece to replace big man Greg Monroe, who departed for the Milwaukee Bucks as a free agent.

Getting Stanley Johnson and Darrun Hilliard in the draft were complementary pieces to Reggie Jackson, who signed a long-term deal as the team's point guard of the future. Van Gundy brought in big men Aron Baynes and Ersan Ilyasova and veteran guard Steve Blake, along with Marcus Morris and Reggie Bullock in a trade with the Phoenix Suns.

It's a redacted roster overhaul, but they are all small pieces that Van Gundy envisions as having a role in a turnaround that could lead the Pistons back to the playoffs.

"I like our roster. Some things that were major needs got taken care of," Van Gundy said Monday at Pistons media day at The Palace. "The thing I like the most is our group matured last year over the course of the year and became a tougher, more competitive team."

Ilyasova is expected to be an outside-shooting option at power forward, while Baynes will back up center Andre Drummond and Blake will be in the mix to back up Jackson.

Through all the transactions, Van Gundy managed to get the team younger, which will put more of a premium on the stars to take on an increased leadership role.

"We added some guys this year who really raised the competitiveness and toughness of this team. (They're) guys that are really hard-playing, tough guys. You put them with Reggie, Andre, KCP (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope), (Anthony) Tolliver, Brandon Jennings … This is a team that will really compete hard.

"When you have that, you're off to a great start and everything else will take care of itself. I expect us to be a more competitive team."

That means Drummond, Jackson and Caldwell-Pope won't be able to step forward from the background, though they're among the youngest players on the roster.

Drummond said that he and Jackson have spent a significant amount of time off the court together, building their bond, which will make them centerpieces of the leadership core.

That included mixed-martial arts training as a team bonding activity, plus some voluntary workouts during the summer.

Van Gundy has seen how effective that chemistry and bonding can be, but knows that if it doesn't translate to the floor, it's not palpable.

"What matters is what happens on the court. It's not an absolute necessity — we've all seen teams that weren't particularly close off the floor that had great chemistry on the floor," Van Gundy said. "When they do develop those bonds off the court, it certainly helps. It's like any of us — if I've got somebody I'm really close with, I really don't want to let that guy down.

"Because of that, it is really important that they forge stronger relationships. Because of that, they will work a little harder for each other, be a little tougher for each other. It's important and those guys have worked hard at spending time together, getting to know each other and doing those things."