Detroit — In trying to engineer a franchise rebuild — or what general manager Troy Weaver would call a “restoring” — it’s not going to be a straight-line improvement.
There are going to be ugly losses and growing pains in the process of turning things around with the Pistons.
The Pistons’ 1-8 start this season hasn’t had many positive things so far, but the good times still look to be in front of them. Just how far away is the question.
Early in the season, the Pistons have used their core pieces in the starting lineup, with No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham getting a slower start because of an ankle injury. It’s been a slog as he’s tried to get up to speed and to learn the NBA game, while trying to get back to 100%. Coach Dwane Casey isn’t worried about the path forward with his young players; it’s just part of the process.
“It’s called restore or rebuild. It wouldn’t be a rebuild if we had veteran guards and veteran wings. Those are the guys we’re building with, and they’re kind of the cornerstones right now, so that’s what you go through,” Casey said Monday. “We didn’t go out and bring a 10-year vet in to star in that position. So, that’s part of the growth, and with that growth comes trials and tribulations, and it’s not always going to be pretty.”
The stats have brought some disappointing results, with the shooting being near the worst in the league. They’ve had some inopportune turnovers and the defense has been up and down.
There are some small wins in flashes of strong play by some of the young players, and a glint that shows what things could be like as they improve.
The challenge is trying to do the little things well and string together some stretches of consistent play. Those have been few and far between in the early part of the season. The key is maintaining a positive outlook even when the victories aren’t there.
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“Your wins may not be winning the game; you may win by getting better defensively or getting better offensively, getting better connected as a group,” Casey said. “We do all those things; if we grow in those areas, winning will take care of itself. Those guys are our cornerstones and that’s the thought process about keeping those guys together — let them grow.
“If there comes a point where we see they’re not growing, then we have to make adjustments there, but going into these nine games that’s the plan of building with that group.”
With a young backcourt of two 20-year-olds, there are going to be more growing pains, and it’s been just that with Cunningham and Killian Hayes. The losses are piling up, but the lessons are coming each night with what to do and what not to do.
It’s about getting the learning in now rather that worrying about the record — at least for now.
“That’s the plan. You always learn more learn through adversity. No one loves winning more than I do, but I also understand that a lot of that growth may not equal to wins, but there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” Casey said. “That’s what we’ve got to keep in mind of getting there, and in the meantime, we want to win. We want to play to win; we want to build winning habits.
“That’s our plan right now, and that’s where we are.”
‘This is our future’
The rebuild isn’t contingent on trying to win a certain number of games this season. It’s more geared toward the eye test of taking steps forward this season and getting more experience for the young backcourt, along with forward Saddiq Bey and center Isaiah Stewart.
They’ll have to live with the results of that young group — good and bad — and then assess as they go along. Casey has said he’d like to use 20-game increments to gauge their progress, and the Pistons are just getting to the midway point of that first period.
Staying the course is important, and they can’t overreact to either positive or negative results. The starters, and the veterans are mostly in the second group, which has evolved its own personality and playing style. The Pistons have wanted to keep that group together and not mix them with the young starters.
“You can’t have a rebuild and then sit your first group you’re building with down. It doesn’t make sense at all. Why rebuild?” Casey said. “You might as well just continue to build instead of rebuild, but you’ve got to put those young guys in a position to sink or swim, to learn through adversity, to get game experience and build something that’s sustainable.
“To piecemeal it, it would take a lot longer if you brought those guys off the bench. Put them in and give them minutes here, and minutes there, then (people would complain) about how come (this guy’s) not playing? This is our future.”
Casey credits the second unit with helping to lead and support the young core and to help them improve as they get more playing time. Even players like Josh Jackson, who is just 25, fits in with the development of the young group, and depending on how everything shakes out, Jackson can be a part of the core.
That’s the idea behind the slow rebuild.
“The guys we’re going with are the young guys. I mean those guys are getting major minutes and they’re going to get major minutes because there’s no use of going through what we’re going through if you’re going to play the veterans the bulk of the minutes,” Casey said. “Then two or three years down the road, you look around and these guys haven’t gotten experience. We’re in it for the long haul, and that’s the plan.”