The early weeks of the Pistons’ offseason were remarkably similar to the way they conducted business during the regular season. Those days were filled with silent waiting, uneasiness and inaction.
With the transfer of ownership still pending, none of the anticipated and desperately needed changes have happened. John Kuester is still the head coach, the roster remains intact and president of basketball operations Joe Dumars continues to keep a low profile. Dumars, who hasn’t made a trade since outgoing owner Karen Davidson put the team up for sale during the 2009-10 season, hasn’t even conducted his annual postseason press conference.
Things should finally start to move forward in the coming weeks. Billionaire financier Tom Gores, who was spotted a few seats down from Jack Nicholson at Los Angeles Lakers playoff games, impressed the NBA brass with his enthusiasm and charisma during a meeting shortly after the season. His purchase agreement for the franchise is expected to be approved by the end of the month.
“We received assurances from Tom and Karen Davidson that it would be closed by the end of May because a lot of decisions have to be made,” NBA commissioner David Stern said. “There has to be a formal vote, of course, but everything from the advisory finance committee was in a positive view.”
Gores is expected to retain Dumars in his current position and give the go-ahead to fire Kuester, who has one year remaining on his contract. Kuester lost control of the team early in the season, leading to a chaotic atmosphere and a second consecutive trip to the lottery.
The delay, though, could damage Dumars’ ability to find a seasoned head coach to replace Kuester. A good example is ex-Atlanta head coach Mike Woodson, a former Pistons assistant under Larry Brown during the 2003-04 championship season. Woodson would be a prime candidate, but he has already interviewed for Houston’s vacancy.
A course of action for improving the roster would also have to be met with the new owner’s blessing. The Pistons have six free agents, including starters Tayshaun Prince and Rodney Stuckey.
Until the sale goes through, the only thing the front office can do is prepare for the June draft and the May 17 lottery. With several projected lottery picks surprisingly staying in the school, the draft appears to be extraordinarily weak. The Pistons are slotted No. 7 entering the lottery and are hoping to move into one of the top two spots, where Duke point guard Kyrie Irving and Arizona forward Derrick Williams could give them a franchise player to build around.
For a reeling franchise still stuck in limbo, the Pistons will take any lucky breaks that come their way.
For a team that lost its first five games and never had a winning streak longer than three games, there were no special moments on the court. The best thing that happened came less than a week before the season ended, when Tom Gores and his company, Platinum Equity, reached a definitive agreement to purchase the team and its assets from Karen Davidson, widow of long-time owner Bill Davidson. There was a palpable sense of relief and excitement at The Palace when the announcement was made, with the expectation that the sale will be approved by the league’s Board of Governors and the front office can finally take bold action to improve the roster.
Public embarrassments were commonplace but nothing made the franchise look worse than the infamous shoot-around boycott in Philadelphia on Feb. 25, though no player would ever admit publicly there was one. Only six players showed up for the shoot-around and that’s all Kuester and assistant coach Brian Hill — who took over after Kuester was ejected late in the first half — used in the game. McGrady and Stuckey, among others, were seen laughing on the bench after Kuester’s ejection, making the players look even more unprofessional. Any pretense that they were still aiming for a playoff spot was vanquished that night.
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