The Detroit Pistons are currently in a bad position. Not in a totally bad position, but also not in a very good position either.
The franchise seems to be stuck in somewhat of a “basketball purgatory.” That should be a familiar term as we have written about it before.
Detroit has been confined and cemented in that spot for literally a decade. Since 2009, the Pistons have only made the playoffs twice (2015, 2019), but not since 2008 has the team advanced past the 1st round or even won a single playoff game.
Not since the tenure of former Detroit Pistons GM Joe Dumars running the day-to-day actions of the basketball operations has the team been in a constant flux of hanging on the verge of mediocrity, but never completely falling off that preverbal cliff and entering the phase of a complete rebuild to lay the foundation for a new chapter in the franchise’s history.
In 2011, current Pistons Owner Tom Gores purchased the team from the Davidson Family. As owner of the team, he has constantly preached that he wants to build a winning program with this team and to someday win an NBA Championship.
He wants to build a team that will compete night-in and night-out and give fans something they can be proud of and willing to support. But what Tom Gores also wanted to make clear is that he would love for Pistons games to be a hot ticket in the city of Detroit. He wants a team with marquee players who can put butts in the seats of Little Caesars Arena in Downtown Detroit. He wants to provide people with a reason to come down, spend money at many of the establishments located downtown and cheer for their local professional team.
From an owner’s perspective, this is all fair and dandy to have an owner who aspires to have his team ideally win multiple championships.
Gores’ adamant pursuit of wanting to have “big-name talent” is what drove the Pistons to trade for Blake Griffin back in 2017. It’s Gores’ level of respect and fondness for his players that has him saying he will do what he can to keep Andre Drummond in a Detroit Pistons uniform once his contract is up after this season.
These ambitious and yet genuine feelings are appealing to fans towards an owner, but it has been something keeping the Pistons from succeeding in the NBA as well.
Tom Gores has been vocal and firm when speaking to the media about his disbelief and unwillingness to have his team “tank” in games, to help better their draft lottery odds to land a top-tier draft prospect.
“A lot of people talk about this idea of, ‘do you want to win?, Gores said when speaking to the Detroit Free Press. Do you want to lose? We want to win. The idea … that losing is going to be good for you? That’s just not good for any of us. We just want to go and win.“
He would much rather add top tier talent via trades or free agency in order to present a competitive team on the court, win games, and therefore become contenders for an NBA championship. As we know, that is considerably easier said than done.
Detroit is not a city that is considered a desired destination for most players to want to play in. The market is smaller compared to a Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York. The night life isn’t as attractive comparatively to Miami, Atlanta or Houston.
In regards to trading, that can be just as complex and problematic. A lot of factors come into play such as matching salaries, fit on the team, and in the community as a whole. Pulling the trigger on a bad trade, depending on how much you give up in the deal, can be treacherous and can potentially set your franchise back several years in being relatively competitive.
A team like the Philadelphia 76ers with GM Sam Hinkie at the helm provided the blueprint of how to tank in order to analytically reap the benefits in the NBA Draft Lottery. From 2013-2016, Philadelphia did not win more than 30 games in a season sometimes even purposely losing games to better their draft odds and accumulating numerous amounts of draft picks in trade deals.
Between 2013-2017, the 76ers were always in the NBA Draft Lottery, landing within the top three picks four times, and securing the first overall pick twice in 2016 and 2017. Even with the draft picks they missed on, like Markelle Fultz, Philly is now a perennial playoff team and one of the top contenders in the Eastern Conference and a threat to win an NBA Championship.
Now the Pistons might not accumulate the exact fortunes the Sixers did, but they cannot act as if the team is not struggling and starting to enter a rebuild period already.
Detroit’s best players can’t seem to stay healthy. Blake Griffin is aging faster than anyone, including the Pistons organization, expected. Andre Drummond potentially leaving in free agency this summer and the decision to extend him later this year is hanging over the franchise. Reggie Jackson is unsure when his return to the court will be from a back injury. It is just hard to envision a future with this current roster with so many uncertainties looming.
So maybe either a blockbuster trade is required to buoy their win percentage or they may need to trade away some valuable assets in hopes of getting something substantial in return.
Now I am not saying that the Pistons need to start losing every game they play the rest of the season right now. But if the number of games won/to games lost starts to show a big disparity and their draft odds steadily become higher and higher, than maybe it’s time for them to call it quits on this current roster and start to rebuild for the future.
Even if this is presented as a superior option, rather than trying to mask this team’s problems with bandaids, Gores still needs to give the “ok” to his front office staff and allow them to carry out their business from that point on. Detroit Pistons GM Ed Stefanski seems to have a good eye for talent and is a virtuoso when it comes to trades. In his hands, I’m hopeful that Detroit can undo the mess left by the previous front office regime and get this team back on track to being winners and a team worthy to compete not only in their conference, but in the league as well.
Again, this thought is coming from a singular viewpoint. But, maybe, just maybe, someone in the organization will be able to grab the ear of Gores and convince him to make the change of direction. The type of change that pushes him to bring this team out of purgatory and with a more clear path to salvation and prosperity.
(Featured image from Janfu Han/Detroit Free Press)