5 reasons the Detroit Pistons will (or won't) be a true contender in the East

Pistons open season Wednesday against Brooklyn Nets

Detroit Pistons stars Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

DETROIT - Psst. Hey! Football fans! Yeah, you! Did you hear the news? Probably not. Well, the Detroit Pistons start this week!

That's right: Little Caesars Arena will host a basketball game that matters Wednesday when the Brooklyn Nets come to town. It's another quiet opener for a Pistons team that's getting mixed reactions from fans.

Do the Pistons deserve more attention heading into the season? Maybe, and maybe not. It's been about a decade of, "Are the Pistons good enough to make the playoffs this season?" The team has made it just twice in that span, losing all eight games to the Cavaliers.

The problem with the Pistons is that many of the reasons to be excited about the team are the same reasons people are skeptical.

Here are five reasons to believe or not to believe the Pistons can be true contenders in the Eastern Conference. (Ken Haddad is arguing to believe, while Derick Hutchinson is arguing not to believe.)

New head coach Dwane Casey

Why to believe

It was time for a change. Most fans called for it, and it happened. That being said, it didn't happen like most would have wanted. Stan Van Gundy hanging around for weeks after the season ended wasn't exactly textbook management by the Pistons.

But here we are. Dwane Casey is at the helm. We have a new set of eyeballs on a lineup that clearly has talent, but do they have enough to make a run? Casey has coached in big games and has helped mold young talent in Toronto.

The NBA's "Coach of the Year" was available to the Pistons, despite the botched removal of Van Gundy. They got lucky.

Casey will make a difference. Let's see if the players buy in.

Why not to believe

Yes, Casey did a nice job in Toronto, and there's no reason to believe he can't get the Pistons into the playoffs like he did the Raptors. But that doesn't mean it's going to be this year.

In his first season in Minnesota, Casey went 33-49 and missed the playoffs. It took three years for Casey to make the playoffs in Toronto, as he went 23-43 in 2011-12 and 34-48 in 2012-13.

Casey took the Raptors to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016 and the conference semifinals each of the last two seasons, but that was after rebuilding the Raptors for four seasons. If he takes the Pistons deep into the postseason, it likely won't be this year.

Health of Blake Griffin and Reggie Jackson

Why to believe

It's always hard to argue health, a hypothetical, but with these two, there's a solid documented history behind injury fears.

Griffin has been banged up year after year, but has still played in a majority of games. Yes, he's missed games, but let's assume he'll begin to adjust his game a bit as he gets older, hopefully not taking as many risks, like dunking from the free throw line or jumping over a car.

As for Reggie Jackson, that ankle is a beast of a problem. Throw some tape on that sucker and let's see what happens. No, but really, the key is not rushing him back too quickly. That's what happened last year, and it really backfired.

Patience, my friends.

Why not to believe

They might be healthy now, but every time Griffin or Jackson drive hard to the basket, Pistons fans will have to hold their breath.

Since breaking out as the Pistons' full-time starting point guard in 2015-16, Jackson has missed at least 30 games in consecutive seasons. What's worse is that when he's played, he hasn't been 100 percent, and that's greatly hurt his effectiveness.

Griffin is a superstar in the league. There's no debating that. But he hasn't played even 70 games since 2013-14. Knee problems have haunted Griffin the last four years, and while he's healthy to start the season, injuries are often beyond a player's control.

If Jackson and Griffin can stay healthy, the Pistons can be a good team. But who's expecting that?

Andre Drummond shooting 3s

Why to believe

Andre Drummond adding a three-point shot was inevitable because Drummond works his tail off every off-season to get better.

Last off-season, he corrected (well, relatively speaking) his horrendous free throw shooting. The year before, he developed an improved post game.

This year, he worked on adding a three-point shot. I don't understand how this could be a bad thing. The most dangerous big men in the league are threats from beyond the arc. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. But if it does? Watch out.

It's worth the risk. The reward is too big for a team that has struggled to score at times in recent years. (They were No. 21 last year in points per game)

Why not to believe

How did this conversation go in the Pistons' front office?

"We really need an offensive boost this season. Got any ideas?"

"Hmm. You know our 6-11 center, Andre Drummond?"

"Yeah, the guy who shot 60 percent from the free-throw line last year?"

"That's him! I think he should shoot three-pointers."

Drummond deserves a lot of credit for improving from the free-throw line, as he shot well below 40 percent for three consecutive years before last season.

But is this the answer? Should your 42.1 percent career free throw be adding an even longer, contested jump shot to his game at 25 years old? Don't the Pistons have Reggie Bullock for that?

Yes, I understand how a center who's a threat from beyond the arc can open up an offense. Trust me, I watched Moe Wagner do just that at Michigan for the last three seasons. But I'll need to see this before I believe it.

Several high first-round draft picks

Why to believe

First off, let's just pull the plug on Henry Ellenson. That was a huge miss. The team could really use a Caris LeVert right now.

Stanley Johnson is running out of time to prove he's the real deal. Here's what we do know about Johnson:

  • He can play defense.
  • He hustles harder than most players.
  • He's got enormous swag.

If Johnson can find his shot, which he's really struggled with, especially three-point shooting, he can become a legit starter. Until then, he's really just an energy guy off the bench. It'll be interesting to see if Dwane Casey can pull it out of him.

Luke Kennard had some bright spots last year. He looked calm and collected on the court, and wasn't afraid to take his shot. He'll only improve this year.

Kennard shot over 40 percent from the three-point line last year. This team will be gunning from beyond the arc and he's a huge part of that plan.

Why not to believe

Johnson and Ellenson are two of the reasons Van Gundy was run out of town.

A team that's trying to rebuild can't miss on its first-round draft picks multiple years in a row -- especially when they're lottery picks, and especially when stars are being drafted behind them.

Johnson has started 57 games in three seasons for the Pistons after being selected No. 8 overall in 2015. He's a career 37 percent shooter who averages about as many turnovers (1.2) as assists (1.5) and pulls down 3.4 rebounds per game.

Ellenson has appeared in just 57 games since being selected 18th overall in 2016, averaging 8.3 minutes per game. He's been a non-factor.

Kennard was solid in his rookie season, but he needs to take another step to be a major contributor for the Pistons this season. That's something the team's draft picks haven't been able to do.

The rest of the Eastern Conference

Why to believe

The Eastern Conference is like a moldy cupcake. It used to be a great cupcake. It had delicious icing and sprinkles! But the sprinkles went to Los Angeles and nobody put the cupcake in the fridge.

OK, that didn't make much sense. But the point is -- nobody likes moldy cupcakes.

I know Derick is going to break down the East down below, so I'll save you some time and say this: If the Pistons can't make the playoffs in THIS EASTERN CONFERENCE -- they'll never make it with this team. 

A healthy Pistons team should be a No. 6 seed -- at least. They're at least better than the Knicks.

Why not to believe

LeBron James might be gone, but there are plenty of other teams on the rise, specifically in the Central Division.

Even if the Cavaliers completely fall off a cliff, the Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks finished well ahead of the Pistons last season. Giannis Antetokounmpo is an MVP candidate for the Bucks, and Victor Oladipo has turned into one of the better all-around players in the conference.

Both of those teams have surrounded their stars with effective complementary pieces -- something the Pistons haven't been able to do through the draft or free agency.

The Celtics, 76ers and Raptors were the three best teams in the conference last season and all figure to be factors again as they duke it out in the Atlantic Division.

Could the Pistons sneak into the playoffs? Yes. Could they actually win a seven-game series against one of those teams? I wouldn't bet on it.

Final thoughts

Whether or not you think the Pistons will be a contender this season, they're certainly compelling, with a new coach, three star-ish players and Drummond apparently ready to jack up some threes.

The Pistons might have the widest range of possible outcomes of any team in the East, so they're at least worth watching as long as they're in contention.

Sure, the Lions, Michigan and Michigan State are all in season, but give the Pistons a chance -- well, unless they lose to the Nets.

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