#7 Detroit Pistons If its new forwards get back on track, Detroit could be in the driver's seat for a playoff spot

February 08, 1999

In Detroit it's known as a refreshening. An automaker takes last
year's model, modifies the headlights, makes the wheel covers
bigger, adds a little chrome to the rear bumper
and--voila!--rolls out the same gas guzzler but calls it new and
improved. Only time will tell if the Pistons' off-season
acquisitions, free-agent power forwards Christian Laettner and
Loy Vaught, turn out to be more than cosmetic improvements.
Grant Hill, for one, can't wait to find out. "I like what the
front office has done," Hill says. "Loy's a great rebounder, and
Christian's a great competitor. They're going to make us a
better team."

Although Vaught missed all but 10 games last season with a back
injury, and Laettner won't be able to play until March 1 at the
earliest because of surgery he had in September to repair a
ruptured right Achilles tendon, Detroit should indeed be better
than last year. With stalwarts like Hill, guard Joe Dumars and
Bison Dele (the center formerly known as Brian Williams), the
Pistons were more in need of a tune-up than an overhaul. "Last
year we underachieved," says Detroit coach Alvin Gentry, who
replaced the fired Doug Collins last February. "I know we're
better shooters than we showed."

Hill will once again be the star, but Laettner and Vaught will
be the keys to the Pistons' success. Last year Detroit gave up
too many second shots, and Hill wound up having to do too much
work on the boards. Gentry hopes that Hill can concentrate less
on going to the glass and more on getting out on the break.
"Grant's the best open-court player in the league," Gentry says.
"Hopefully we can get more rebounds, so we can play more of a
transition game."

The ability of Laettner and Vaught to score inside will also
open things up for Detroit's backcourt. Without a scoring threat
at power forward last season, Pistons opponents were able to
stay in the faces of guards Lindsey Hunter and Jerry Stackhouse,
neither of whom is deadly from the outside to begin with. This
year, they should at least get more open looks.

Of course, Gentry's plan assumes that the 30-year-old Vaught,
who signed a five-year, $22.8 million contract, is fully
recovered. In eight seasons with the Clippers he averaged 11.9
points and 8.0 rebounds and had earned a reputation as one of
the best players nobody ever saw. But Vaught underwent a rare
form of spinal fusion surgery in December 1997 and hasn't played
in an NBA game since. "My back is better than before the
surgery," says Vaught, who scored 12 points in the preseason
opener.

The Pistons lack the backcourt depth and outside shooting needed
to be an elite team, but if Laettner and Vaught can regain form,
Detroit should return to the playoffs. If they turn out to be
damaged goods, however, the Pistons will be left with a bad case
of buyer regret.

--M.B.

COLOR PHOTO: GREG SHAMUS/NBA PHOTOS Hill's a-poppin' Detroit hopes to find ways to spring Hill loose in the open court.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Starters PVR* 1997-98 Key Stats

SF Grant Hill 8 21.1 ppg 7.7 rpg 6.8 apg 1.77 spg
PF Loy Vaught[+] 130 7.5 ppg 6.5 rpg 0.7 apg 42.9 FG%
C Bison Dele 66 16.2 ppg 8.9 rpg 0.71 bpg 51.1 FG%
SG Joe Dumars 141 13.1 ppg 3.5 apg 41.6 FG% 37.1 3FG%

Top Reserves Bench Ranking (out of 29 teams): 14

PG Lindsey Hunter 129 12.1 ppg 3.2 apg 3.5 rpg 1.73 spg
G Jerry Stackhouse 91 15.8 ppg 3.4 rpg 3.8 apg 1.13 spg
C-F Christian 150 13.8 ppg 6.6 rpg 0.99 bpg 48.5 FG%
Laettner[+][++]
F Jerome Williams 201 5.3 ppg 4.9 rpg 0.66 spg 52.4 FG%

1997-98 Record: 37-45 (sixth in Central)
Coach: Alvin Gentry (second season with Pistons)

[+]New acquisition
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 68)
[++]Will begin season on injured list

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)