Detroit Lions — surprise, surprise — offer hope for Pistons, Tigers and Red Wings

Detroit Free Press

One year later, everything has changed.

For all of them.

Detroit Tigers shortstop Javier Báez has gone from “Yes! Finally, the Tigers are spending some money” to “Ugh, I’m so sick of this, stop swinging at stuff in the dirt.”

Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell has gone from “OK, he’s fun and a good quote but can this guy coach?” to “I wonder how far he can lead them in the playoffs in 2023?”

Detroit Pistons GM Troy Weaver has gone from “This man can do no wrong,” to “Man, he’s gotta nail this summer.”

The Detroit Red Wings have gone from “Finally, The Captain has pieces coming together” to “Oh man, how long is this gonna take?”

And Tigers president Al Avila has gone from … whoopsie … well, he’s just gone.

The Motor City sports roller coaster keeps chugging along, giving surprising highs and lows — not just for the fans but the team executives, too.

MORE FROM SEIDEL: A.J. Hinch’s tough-love move has sparked the Tigers to a little win streak

“Honestly, it’s an emotional roller coaster,” Steve Yzerman said Friday afternoon in a season-end news conference. “There’s days you walk out of out of the rink and you’re like, ‘You know what? I’m real happy with the way things are going.’ … And then two weeks later, you walk out of the rink and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, there’s no end in sight.’”

Oh, Stevie, we know how you feel.

That sums it up: Not just for the Wings, but for all the teams in Detroit.

Some days, you feel encouraged — you see the young kids getting better, you see what’s possible and you can feel the optimism growing.

But far too often, there is this horrible, sinking feeling: “There’s no end in sight.”

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One painful year

Try to think back to mid-April 2022.

Think about the questions that swirled around the Lions at this time about a week before the NFL draft: Would they take Aidan Hutchinson or Travon Walker? Why didn’t they bring in more new players in free agency? Could they count on Jared Goff? And besides, could Campbell even coach?

Now, in hindsight, it’s clear: Ah, heck yes this dude can coach; Hutchinson worked out wonderfully; and yes, Goff, too, had a fantastic season.

Or think about the situation Tigers were in a year ago: After signing Báez and trading for Austin Meadows, not to mention adding Spencer Torkelson, the optimism was soaring. How much better would the Tigers be in 2022? Could they play meaningful games in the fall?

Now, the answers are clear: Ugh. No.

Everything that could go wrong in 2022, did go wrong. And it’s not like it has gotten much better. One year later, Avila might be gone, but this team is still painful to watch.

Or what about the Wings: What magic could Steve Yzerman pull off? How fast could he build this team? Could the Wings get to the playoffs in the spring of 2023?

Now, the answers are clear: The Wings made a tremendous push for the playoffs, which even surprised coach Derek Lalonde. But then, everything got ugly in Ottawa, prompting the Wings to sell.

Or what about Pistons: A year ago in the Troy Weaver regime, the optimism was sky high.

Flash forward to reality: Ugh. Cade Cunningham went down. So did the season. Cue a coaching search and — oh man, if only they can win the lottery.

One year later, the soaring optimism for the Wings, Pistons and Tigers has turned into cautious optimism at best, complete frustration at worst.

Meanwhile, the Lions have made one smart move after another. After crushing it in free agency and the draft and getting several young players to develop, the Lions have filled just about all their holes; and they are in a tremendous position to put a winner on the field this fall. Suddenly — if not stunningly — out of all the teams in Detroit, the Lions are poised to have the best season over the next year.

Let me pause here to blink my eyes and shake my head in disbelief, because I’ve never typed that sentence before.

The Lions are entering this 2023 NFL draft with some intriguing questions: Will they stay put at No.6 and take the best available player? Will they move up in Round 1 to draft a QB or Will Anderson?

Or will they move down? I have no idea.  But I have so much faith in Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes to make a smart move.

Yes, one year later, it’s stunning how perceptions can change.

Learning from the Lions

To be fair, these teams are in different stages of rebuilding, and different sports have different timetables for the speed of turning things around.

So what can the Pistons, Tigers and Wings learn from the Lions?

  1. Have a plan;
  2. Stick to the plan;
  3. Bring in the right guys;
  4. Don’t make moves out of desperation;
  5. But be ruthless.

Ruthless, you say? See Jeff Okudah.

The greatest reason to hope for the Wings is Yzerman; he has a track record in front offices.

“I wish we were farther ahead,” Yzerman said. “Everybody wishes we were farther ahead. Every other organization kind of in our spot feels the same way. So there are a lot of positive things and our younger guys are growing and playing well.”

The Pistons are entering a complicated, important stage. Weaver is about to hire a new coach, pick a player in the top five and adjust the roster through free agency. If he nails the next few months, this franchise will be in a fantastic position — almost Lions-esque.

If he fails? Ugh. See the Tigers — still years away.

I realize Tigers president of baseball operations Scott Harris hasn’t even been here for a year yet. He is still dealing with Avila’s decisions. But the next year will be crucial for his team. Miguel Cabrera’s massive contract will be gone, and Harris should be able to build something. If he makes the right decisions over the next year, this entire franchise could see some promise.

If he repeats the mistakes that have plagued this franchise for years?

Ugh. More misery.

In the short term, the Tigers can do what Yzerman did and bring up the youngsters.

Perhaps bring up Parker Meadows, Justin-Henry Malloy and Andre Lipcius — ah, no, let me rephrase that. Good gosh, they better bring them up at some point.

Here’s some hope

The Wings have missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons. The Pistons had the worst record in the NBA this season, and the second-worst in franchise history. The Tigers are coming off a miserable 66-96 season and haven’t had a winning record since 2016, which is the last season the Lions made the playoffs.

All this losing sucks. High draft picks might be interesting but even that is starting to get old. Because it’s emblematic of the losing.

I’m so sick of hearing about rebuilding and being patient.

I’m sick about hearing about “lottery luck.”

I’m so sick of focusing on draft picks instead of the playoffs.

But to be fair, all these teams do have a core of young players with all kinds of potential.

The last year has taught us one major lesson. Nothing messes up a rebuild more than a few key injuries, whether it was Cunningham, any number of Wings, or any of the Tigers.

But the Lions are proving that, with smart decisions, sticking to a plan and not making desperate moves, it can be turned around.

So there’s your dash of hope.

And it’s coming from the Lions, of all teams.

Just stunning.

I mean, who saw that coming a year ago?

MORE FROM SEIDEL: Tattoos seen throughout Tigers clubhouse reveal interesting stories

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.

To read Seidel’s recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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