AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — For much of last season, the most interesting reason to watch the Detroit Pistons may have been to see which musical act was playing at halftime.
Then, after a 4-20 start, coach Lawrence Frank's group began to click a bit. Detroit was a .500 team the rest of the way, beating teams such as Boston and the Los Angeles Lakers and offering a bit of hope for the future.
"I love the direction we're heading," Frank said. "This at times is going to be a tugboat. It may not be a speedboat in terms of progress. It's not going to be a quick-fix approach."
There's still work to be done in this rebuilding project, but new owner Tom Gores has overseen an effort to improve the entertainment experience at home games. Now, he's hoping the Pistons — behind young big man Greg Monroe and guard Brandon Knight — are ready to make a push for the playoffs.
The Pistons were probably hurt more than most teams by the lockout before last season. Frank had just been hired as coach, and there wasn't much time for him and the players to work together before Detroit was playing — and losing — quite a few games early on.
The organization was doing its best to reach out to fans, scheduling a number of halftime shows that would include performers such as Vanilla Ice, Gladys Knight, and Bell Biv DeVoe. By the end of the season, it became almost the norm for some familiar name to show up and entertain at Pistons games.
Meanwhile, Detroit won seven of nine games during one February stretch. The Pistons finished 25-41 — an indication that the worst may be behind them.
In the offseason, Detroit continued to build, drafting Andre Drummond in the first round to help the interior defense. The Pistons also traded Ben Gordon and a future first-round draft choice to the Charlotte Bobcats for swingman Corey Maggette, shedding about $15 million in salary.
Detroit has its share of new faces, but at least this season the Pistons have more time to adjust.
"With this team, [if we were] starting in December — you think 4-20 was bad last year, I think we would have been down that same path with the young guys that we have," forward Tayshaun Prince said. "We've got a lot to learn."
Monroe enters his third season looking like a potential star. He averaged 15.4 points per game in 2011-12 and is already a smart, polished offensive player. Knight settled into the point guard role last season.
"The position he plays, by far is the toughest position in basketball," Frank said. "As a point guard, there's so many things you have on your plate."
Rodney Stuckey can provide scoring from the backcourt, and Prince is the last remaining link to Detroit's championship team of 2004. It's not clear how much Maggette will play, but his ability to draw fouls could help give the Pistons another dimension offensively.
"We've got to make the playoffs," Gores told reporters at the end of last season.
To do that, Detroit will have to make up a significant amount of ground. Even with their improved play, the Pistons finished 10 games behind the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference last season.
"I've never, ever made a prediction, even with teams that went as far as the finals," Frank said. "To me, it's all about the process. It's about literally, every single day, making sure we're adding a brick to that foundation."