Pistons embark on new season with higher expectations

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Stanley Johnson

Auburn Hills — The band’s back together again, with a few additions.

As the Pistons opened training camp with media day Monday at their practice facility, the expectations move immediate toward getting farther in the playoffs than their first-round exit last season.

They made a couple of moves in the offseason to strengthen their bench, and with another year of seasoning for their young starting quintet, they have designs on finishing higher in the Eastern Conference, potentially hosting a first-round playoff series.

Though they reached the postseason for the first time in seven years, they were swept out by the East’s top-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers — but in the process, gave the eventual champs one of their most competitive series.

That’s a small consolation for Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, who found a silver lining in the four-game sweep.

“What Cleveland did last year is a really good thing for our guys. The way I look at it is here’s the team that won the championship,” Van Gundy said Friday. “On one hand, we were able to play competitively with them. There’s hope there. We’re not light years away.

“On the other hand, we got swept, so we’re not anywhere near where we want to be — so it’s almost the perfect place for us.”

The Cavaliers shocked the heavily-favored Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.

The Pistons got a taste of the playoffs, but now have to muster up enough to make another run at LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, seeing where the weaknesses were and making changes accordingly in the offseason.

One of the biggest lessons was building playoff intensity and not being bothered by James and his game, which seemed to stoke Stanley Johnson. A year wiser, Johnson now is ready to deal with all the complexities of the game differently.

“At the end of the year, I finally got it but it was only for four games. I used that in the summer and that work ethic to hopefully make my year better than what we saw in four games last year,” he said. “I can be a better player than I was last year. That’s what it’s about — building on what I had a foundation on and sticking with the coaches.”

The hunger that the series loss built in the Pistons will make motivating them this season a little easier for Van Gundy.

It was the first playoff experience for many of the players on the roster, but now they can look toward a deeper run this year.

“We see the NBA champion and we know we can play with them — but we didn’t win a game, so we have a long way to go,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t think you can have a better perspective heading into training camp than that.”

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard