By Henry Abbott
The defending Eastern Conference champion Orlando Magic lost last night for the first time since the beginning of preseason, and it's not all that shocking.
Even though they were on the road, they outplayed the Pistons when their superstar, Dwight Howard, was in the game. But he was severely limited by foul trouble and then a shoulder injury.
But it's worth considering the Pistons' role. They have now officially started to make a little noise.
A team whose success has long hinged on Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace had none of those players last night. Billups is a Nugget, Wallace a Celtic, and Hamilton and Prince were both out injured. What's more, the replacements Pistons executive Joe Dumars has brought in have been are all players other NBA teams have passed over -- Ben Gordon couldn't get the money he wanted from Chicago, Ben Wallace is three years into being considered washed up, and the Bucks didn't make an offer to Charlie Villanueva when he was a free agent. Even their coach, John Kuester, only got the job after Avery Johnson reportedly turned down an offer.
Lacking household names, last night the Pistons became the first team in NBA history to start a Swede -- giving the starting nod to rookie Jonas Jerebko, who was once best known for getting stat sheets and popcorn for Joe Dumars.
But they didn't beat the Magic just by chance. A lineup of shooters and ball-handlers all over the floor created space in the lane -- and Piston guards got to the rim again and again, putting the pressure on Howard that resulted in fouls and a lot of contact. (After the game, Howard complained about how hard opponents have been colliding with him recently.)
If the Pistons prove to be good, then the NBA teams that passed over all of their personnel will have been proven at least a little bit wrong.
The player who epitomizes the new Pistons -- the one every team could have had and who Pistons fans cheered loudest for last night -- is point guard Will Bynum. Undrafted in 2006, Bynum played for the Roanoke Dazzle before having a cup of coffee with the Warriors. Eventually he found a home playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv.
He joined the Pistons' summer league team slightly more than a year ago, and has been a Piston ever since.
Now Bynum joins Rodney Stuckey and Ben Gordon in the kind of lineup (shooters, passers and drivers all over the place) that a stat expert says can do a lot of damage.
For Detroit's front office, it's a tale of a front office finding merit in players other teams reject. For players like Will Bynum, it's proof that useful NBA players don't just come from the draft and trades.