Pistons (4-2) at Kings (3-4)
Scoring: Kings seventh (100.4), Pistons 13th (98.3).
Shooting: Kings third (48.4 percent), Pistons tied for 15th (44.4).
Scoring defense: Kings 29th (107), Pistons 13th (95).
Shooting defense: Kings 27th (47.9 percent), Pistons 22nd (46.3).
Rebound differential: Kings 14th (minus-0.3), Pistons third (plus-5.2).
The links: Pistons coverage in the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press
The almanac: On this date in 1992, Shaquille O'Neal of the Magic made his NBA debut. On this date in 1993, the Nets retired jersey No. 3 in tribute to guard Drazen Petrovic, who had been killed five months earlier in a car accident in Germany.
With championship aspirations, with a veteran roster in no position to be patient -- and, boy, was that ever proven out -- Detroit committed minutes to develop prospects while playing to win in the moment was still a priority.
There was, ultimately, no title. The Pistons lost in the Eastern Conference finals in May, and Saunders was fired in June. But, per the mandate of president Joe Dumars, Saunders did win big and get young players into the rotation. Rodney Stuckey, Jason Maxiell, Arron Afflalo, Amir Johnson.
That was Reggie Theus' balancing act with the Kings last season, without a realistic shot at the playoffs, and it his balancing act this season, without a shot at the playoffs. Develop the kids even if you're starting Brad Miller and Mikki Moore. There was also Ron Artest in 2007-08 and the obvious direction that he was not part of the long-term solution even if he was young enough to be part of it.
Theus had it tough before because Spencer Hawes, one of the primary building blocks, wasn't really back from a knee injury until around the All-Star break, because Quincy Douby was a shooting guard that couldn't shoot, and because Shelden Williams didn't arrive until a February trade and was out of shape. Also, Douby and, depending on the lineup, Francisco Garcia played the same position as Kevin Martin. Kevin Martin was, and is, the priority.
Miller and Moore are still starting, so the Theus challenge is similar. Everyone is taking a turn missing large blocks of games -- Miller, Garcia, now Martin -- which helps disperse minutes even if it doesn't help with cohesion. But Jason Thompson has also been added to the equation and already proving worthy of real minutes, at the same spots as Miller, Moore and Hawes no less.
Sure it gets tricky for a coach, but that's one of the things Theus gets paid to do. Saunders too, and he did it while stacking victories.
Playing time on the 2007-08 Pistons while going 59-23:
- Stuckey, 21 years old most of the way: 57 games, average of 19 minutes.
- Maxiell, 24/25 years old: 82 games, 21.6 minutes.
- Afflalo, 22 years old: 75 games, 12.9 minutes.
- Johnson, 22 years old: 62 games, 12.3 minutes.
- Martin, 24/25 years old: 61 games, 36.3 minutes.
- Hawes, 19 years old: 71 games, 13.1 minutes.
- Douby, 23 years old: 74 games, 11.8 minutes.
- Williams, 24 years old: 28 games with Sac, 12.9 minutes.
The Pistons had one stretch in 2007-08 of 16 games, about 20 percent of the season, where Richard Hamilton was the only starter to break 40 minutes, and he did it all of twice. Meanwhile, rookie Stuckey was turning into everything Detroit hoped with the No. 15 pick out of Eastern Washington, from the same conference as Sacramento State, then played him 22.4 minutes in the playoffs. When it came time to weigh the deal that sent Chauncey Billups to the Nuggets for Allen Iverson, one of the selling points for the Pistons was that Stuckey had shown the promise to become Billups' eventual successor anyway. That's investing in the future.