First the Pistons nailed down a championship by stealing Rasheed Wallace in a trade last February. Then in another Auerbachian move this summer, they improved their chances to repeat by signing free- agent forward Antonio McDyess for $22.6 million over four years. "There is a distinct possibility we could be better," says G.M. Joe Dumars--news that should cause outbreaks of acid reflux in Indiana, San Antonio and Minnesota.
Three years ago the 6'9", 245-pound McDyess was one of the NBA's most explosive players, an Olympic gold medalist whose career-high averages were 21.2 points, 12.1 rebounds and 1.72 blocks. But he suffered a partially torn patella tendon in his left knee in 2001--02, then made a bad habit of rushing his rehab after three knee surgeries. After being traded by New York to Phoenix--his third team in three seasons--last January, McDyess sat out 24 games to concentrate on working his left leg into shape. Over the final month he averaged 8.7 points and 8.3 rebounds in 29.7 minutes to draw free-agent interest from a batch of playoff-caliber teams.
Now 30 and seeking to play his first full season in four years, McDyess chose Detroit because he believes he can win a title there without overtaxing his troublesome knee. While most teams are starving for height, the Pistons entered training camp with a half-dozen skilled hulks who are 6'10" or taller. "They say things happen for a reason, but I wasn't thinking of that at the time I was hurt," says McDyess, who has been pain-free since May. "I was at the lowest point of my life. Basketball is what I live for, and when I kept getting injured, I felt like it was over. But now I'm here, I'm happy and I don't feel like I have a limit to what I can do." --Ian Thomsen
ENEMY LINES an opposing team's scout sizes up the Pistons
Everybody on this team has to come back in the same frame of mind they had last year. If some of the players start saying, 'I'm the reason we won,' or if Larry Brown starts getting cute in his coaching because he has a championship ring on his finger, things could go wrong. But I bet the Pistons will stay hungry, because hunger is what marks the top players.... They don't have a superstar, but they do have go-to scorers in Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton. Most scoring guards can't put their needs second to the team's, but Billups is so confident that he can focus on running the offense first, without fretting about creating a shot for himself.... Carlos Delfino will struggle bringing up the ball against pressure, but he's a decent shooter with NBA strength and athleticism. He also has big-game experience.... Ben Wallace may not be considered one of the 10 best players in the league, but he is surely one of the 10 most valuable players. He won't make much of a difference on a bad team, but on a good team he does all the little things to complement the talent around him.... You couldn't pick an area to attack the Pistons defensively because Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince were too long--and now they've added Antonio McDyess. That's another great move because when healthy, he's a top talent. McDyess also isn't the type to create a distraction if things aren't working out.... I don't see Darko Milicic playing much, but they've got to get him some minutes. You can't let a young talent like that sit on the bench for two years--and don't tell me that he'll improve in practice. Once the season starts, teams are too tired to create much live competition during practice.
The Pistons held opponents to less than 70 points in 11 games last season, shattering the record of six games that had been shared by three teams.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2003--04 statistics
Record: 54--28 (2nd in the East)
Points scored: 90.1 (24th in NBA)
Points allowed: 84.3 (T-1st)
Coach: Larry Brown
(second season with Pistons)
NEW ACQUISITION (R) Rookie (Italian league statistics) *PVR Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 86)
DAN LIPPETT/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
MANNY MILLAN (WALLACE)
Ben Wallace might get overlooked on a losing team, but his defensive contributions are front and center with the Pistons.