Gores optimistic about Pistons taking next step

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — Last season, they got a taste.

Now they want more.

The Pistons, who made the playoffs last season after a six-year hiatus, are looking to build off their modest success, but they’re not satisfied with just getting back to the postseason.

Though they were swept by the Cavaliers in the first round, the Pistons have learned from that experience. And after some revamping of the reserves, they’re primed to take a step up in the Eastern Conference.

“We made a lot of progress last year; we made the playoffs and that’s something we needed to do to bridge the gap,” Pistons owner Tom Gores said Monday at media day. “Our expectations for this year are very, very high.

“As much as I’m proud of the step we took last year, that was a step. Nobody is going to give us anything this year. We have high expectations. We broke some ground last year and now we’re on the radar.”

With 44 victories, the Pistons were one of the surprise teams in the NBA last season. But with all five starters returning, plus the addition of three key bench pieces (Ish Smith, Jon Leuer and Boban Marjanovic), it’s not business as usual.

The Pistons don’t have a player over 30 on the roster — and the starters aren’t older than 28 — so there are questions about leadership. But with coach Stan Van Gundy’s expected internal player improvements, they could reach higher.

“What you don’t want to do is have a ceiling on this group,” Van Gundy said. “I look at it and I have great respect for the other teams and know how difficult it’s going to be in the East. Cleveland won a championship, Toronto was really good and competitive and Boston has come up.

“At the same time, I look at it and say, ‘Why not us?’ If we’re willing to do what it takes and people will take a step forward and we commit more defensively, why not us?”

While several teams in the East have added significant pieces, others could take a step back. With their depth, if they can avoid injuries and the expected skill development, the Pistons could be one of those teams to make a jump.

That thought resonates with second-year wing Stanley Johnson.

“We want to win a championship,” Johnson said. “We want to be the last team standing, holding the trophy up and winning the championship. That’s what would make us happy. We’re not going to stop until we get that.”

Gores, who bought the team during its lean times, is happy to see the turnaround.

“More than any other year since I’ve been the owner, I’m not sure we’ve had this kind of core,” Gores said. “Stan has established a great culture; in the offseason, we added great bench players.”

Downtown talk

Although Gores has maintained the Pistons are happy playing at The Palace and have no immediate plans to move to downtown Detroit, he didn’t dismiss the idea entirely.

One notion was they might work with the Ilitch family, which is building the new downtown arena expected to be completed next year.

“We’re always looking at it,” Gores said. “We’ve gotten a chance to really get to know the Illitches. I know Chris now well. They’re a great family and I respect a lot of what they’ve done for Detroit.

“We’re always assessing (moving downtown) — and we have to, for the city.”

Soccer update

Gores also said there are no new developments on the joint venture with Dan Gilbert on bringing a Major League Soccer franchise to Detroit.

They announced plans to purchase land near the failed Wayne County Jail site this year, but not much has transpired since.

“We don’t have a timeline right now,” Gores said. “We’re just pulling it together and we have to get (the land). This is not for sure. We’ve got some selling to do. Detroit is doing its part; I have to do my part; Dan has to do his part.”