PROJECTEDSTARTING FIVE with 2006-07 statistics
KEY BENCHPLAYERS: F Jason Maxiell, G Flip Murray, F Jarvis Hayes*, G Rodney Stuckey (R),F Amir Johnson
*New acquisition (R) Rookie
Record: 53-29(1st in East) Points scored: 96.0 (21st in NBA) Points allowed: 91.8 (2nd)Coach: Flip Saunders (third season with Pistons)
His reputationfor fearlessness in crunch time has earned him one of the NBA's signaturenicknames, but Pistons guard Chauncey Billups (a.k.a. Mr.¬†Big Shot) farfrom lived up to it in the Eastern Conference finals against the Cavaliers lastseason. He finished the series with more turnovers (23) than assists (21) andwas flummoxed by defenders who trapped him on virtually every half-courtpossession. "I hated the way that series ended," says Billups, "butthey are the kings of the East now. For us to get to where we need to go, wehave to go through Cleveland."
This summerDetroit committed to having Billups lead the way, signing him to a five-year,$60.5¬†million contract, the richest in franchise history. "There's noadded pressure," he says. "I'll be going out and giving the sameeffort. Nothing's changed."
What has changedis the rotation, thanks to an infusion of youth. Billups raves aboutfirst-round pick Rodney Stuckey, a combo guard out of Eastern Washington whowas a summer-league star (19.0¬†points a game). Fellow rookie guard ArronAfflalo provides depth, and third-year forwards Jason Maxiell and Amir Johnsonwill see added time. "It's been awhile since I've felt fresh in the fourthquarter," says Billups, 31. "New juice and fresh legs is something weneed."
Of course thePistons still have to rely on the core of Billups, Rip Hamilton, TayshaunPrince and Rasheed Wallace to get them to their sixth straight conferencefinals. According to Billups, Wallace entered training camp 20¬†poundslighter and with a refreshed attitude. "It's a smooth-sailing ship,"says Wallace, "and no one is trying to jump overboard."
Certainly notBillups. "It was up and down trying to find myself as a player and findstability for my family," he says. "After finally getting that here, Iwas not going to turn my back on this situation. This is home."
ENEMY LINES Anopposing team's scout sizes up the Pistons
The Pistons arestill a team that will win 50 games and be a contender, but their championshipwindow is slowly closing. . . . In the changeover from Larry Brown to FlipSaunders, they don't look as committed to the defensive end. . . . They have anAll-Star backcourt and the best pair of defensive forwards in the league inTayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace (who has the highest basketball IQ in theNBA), but are they starting to get complacent from having been together solong? . . . As good as the Pistons are, with four All-Star-caliber players,they don't have that one dominant franchise guy, and the last two seasonsthey've lost to teams that do have that guy (Dwyane Wade in Miami and LeBronJames in Cleveland). . . . The wild card is Jason Maxiell, who made greatstrides in the second half of last season and appeared to raise his game duringthe playoffs. He's an athletic, intense player, and his role is only going togrow this year. He adds the kind of energy this team needs.
Last season,point guard Chauncey Billups led all NBA starters in assist-to-turnover ratio(3.59 to 1) for the second straight year. In 2005-06 he was also the mostefficient player, with 4.11 assists per turnover.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH
DAVID E. KLUTHO
BIG DEAL A new five-year, $60.5¬†million contract makes Billups feel at home.