Detroit — Rebuilds aren’t easy. They’re certainly not pretty, either. As the losses continue to pile up for the Pistons, one of the hardest things to grasp is the notion that it’s going to get better.
At some point, it has to, doesn’t it?
The Pistons entered Sunday’s matchup against the Miami Heat with a 14-game losing streak, tying the franchise single-season record.
Every time there looked to be a good chance for a victory, the Pistons haven’t been able to get it done. In the past two weeks, losses to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Washington Wizards, New Orleans Pelicans and Saturday against the Houston Rockets have been gut punches.
This is what a rebuild looks like. This is the blood and guts of starting four players drafted in the last two years. This is still mostly last season’s roster, with one notable addition in No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham — but not much more.
Last year’s roster, at least, had a healthy Mason Plumlee. Kelly Olynyk, their major addition in free agency, has missed the last month and is out for at least two more weeks.
Even though Cunningham is blossoming into a multi-faceted talent, he’s not going to account for as many wins as some fans chose to believe when the Pistons drafted him. Especially when he missed most of training camp, and more especially when he took some expected time to get adjusted to the speed and length in the NBA.
Coach Dwane Casey, who was brought in to take the reins because of his player-development background, now is in charge of rebuilding the young roster, and the philosophy remains the same, even in the face of a long losing streak.
“You keep a teaching mentality or teaching environment, a culture of teaching. I never talk about winning — and I probably should, because we’ve lost 14 in a row — but I never say, ‘We’ve got to win tonight,’ because I know it’s not all about that right now,” Casey said before Sunday’s game. “It’s about teaching, learning and growing, and in our situation (without Jerami Grant), we don’t have that older guy to throw in there and get you 25 or 30 points when things get bad or when things are struggling.
“So, we’re doing it with all of our young players, and we’re doing it in a different way, in which the results are kind of what they are now.”
The players themselves seem to understand that the rebuild is what it is, as well. There hasn’t been any sulking or frustration from Cunningham or Saddiq Bey or Isaiah Stewart, as they’ve gone through their struggles. It’s been a second season of struggle for Bey, Stewart and Killian Hayes.
Still, there’s an optimistic tone.
“I firmly believe that we’re going to break out of this losing streak,” Stewart said Saturday. “Just keeping your spirit and just going out and playing hard, so I feel like it’s going to turn around — it is.”
Bey has been going through a season-long shooting slump but looks to be breaking out of it. In his previous two games, he was averaging 25.5 points and shooting 55% from the field and 40% on 3-pointers, which is a marked improvement. It’s a small sample size, but it’s something to build on.
Because of Grant’s absence, Bey is having to take on a role as a primary scoring option alongside Cunningham, and Bey is rising to the occasion.
“(The adversity) is good for me. I try to work hard every day, as much as I can, on every part of my game. When adversity hits, it brings out the character in people,” Bey said this week. “For me, I even work harder and enjoy this so when I look back at my career down the line, I’m going to look back at this year and these moments where I haven’t shot the ball well and what I did to get myself out of it. That a part of the journey and I have to embrace it.”
That’s not a sign of malaise from a young team that is crumbling amidst a horrid losing streak. It seems to be more of a mark of a team that will take a big leap when things turn around. The big question is when that will be.
Casey is still focused on improvement, and the losses are disappointing, but there’s a bigger picture in place.
“I’m not down,” Casey said. “I’m frustrated, as far as some of the mistakes we’re making, but wins and losses are going to come. That’s the deal you sign up for when you start a rebuild.”
It’s not pretty, at least right now, but it’s going to get better.