The Detroit Pistons are a bad basketball team. I think we can all agree on that. Even the team itself has been extremely open about how it is not meetings its own expectations, and voiced issues with an inability to handle adversity, to lock in on both ends, and to put players in optimal situations to succeed.
The disdain laser-focused on this franchise is understandable. It comes with the territory when your team is currently in the midst of a franchise-record 17-game losing streak.
I was down on the Pistons from the jump, but I must admit I can’t really join into the explicit doomerism currently infecting the Pistons fan base, which is calling for an owner to sell the team, a GM to be fired for cause, a vice chairman that is the problem hiding in plain site, a head coach to walk away from his record contract, and for full-scale changes, including trading away members of the young core, to add some actual NBA skill to the lineup.
I’m not sure whether this take makes me an optimist amid all the chaos, or is actually the most pessimistic take of all — I’m afraid the Pistons are simply your typical, run-of-the-mill bad NBA basketball team.
The kind that finishes bottom-five in the standings (again), but not the kind that is so epically bad that it forces the kinds of wholesale changes people seem to be thirsty for.
If this team had somehow stumbled into two narrow wins within these 17 losses, it feels like the narrative would be quite different. The folks who were always skeptical of Troy Weaver’s tenure as GM would remain so (and they might be right). Those who feel like these pieces can’t really fit long-term would not change their stance. Fans might be out of patience, but they wouldn’t be out for blood.
This doesn’t feel like the team that will fire its GM for bungling its rebuild. Instead, it feels like a team that is going to end up with a win total in the low 20s, and that same GM is going to have an opportunity to maneuver through the NBA Trade Deadline, free agency, and the draft.
Monty Williams isn’t going anywhere either, no matter how much he frustrates with his use of Jaden Ivey. Williams was given a losing hand even before the team was beset by injuries up and down its lineup. We’re a quarter of the way through the season, and as more bodies return to the lineup, things are starting to come into focus. … Ivey not completely withstanding.
It feels like by the time January is over, the rotations will look a lot like what fans had been hoping and expecting since day one (again, and I can’t stress this enough, Ivey not withstanding).
We might be looking at a team that has relegated non-shooters like Ausar Thompson to bench roles, and one who might be playing Isaiah Stewart as a big off the bench who is closing lineups but not starting ones.
If Jaden Ivey can continue to improve as a defender and as a primary ball handler, it will be impossible to keep him out of the starting lineup (he says, knowing full well it is possible), and if he doesn’t then Killian Hayes will have an extended period to show he’s gone from league-worst shooter to good enough to allow a team to utilize his passing and defensive skills. If Hayes fails too, then perhaps Monte Morris will get a chance once he returns from injury.
I still think this team is bad, don’t get it twisted. But I am also seeing the slivers of progress from the individual contributors that makes me think this is going to be a team that wins 20-plus games and not the less than 10 it is currently on track for.
Thompson is making his mark as a potentially elite defender, Jalen Duren is a double-double machine, Jaden Ivey is learning to get to the rim at an elite level, Cade Cunningham is being utilized in smarter ways, and Beef Stew is at the very least a very good bench big who can defend and stretch the floor a bit. In other words, all of this feels incredibly useful to a young team.
The ingredients haven’t mixed well together, and I’m not necessarily saying a bottom-five finish should be considered an acceptable outcome. But I don’t think the Pistons are going to finish the season as one of the league’s three worst teams.
A pessimist would surely say that means this team is delaying the kinds of changes it has been clear they should have made already in the executive suite and on the floor.
To that pessimistic I would say, well, you’re probably right.