Pretty Much Screwed: The Detroit Pistons

  • Eric Goldschein

Welcome to “Pretty Much Screwed,” our 2012-13 guide to the upcoming NBA season, in which we identify the reasons why your favorite team might have to start looking forward to 2013-2014 — and highlight at least one reason for you to be hopeful. Today: the Detroit Pistons, who are constantly stalling.

What’s new with the Detroit Pistons? Not much. But if you were expecting a team that went 25-41 last year, good for 10th in the East, to make some changes this offseason – well, you just don’t know the Pistons.

This once mighty team, a staple of the playoff picture during the 2000s, is in an estimated Year Five of their rebuilding process. And somehow, in all that time, president of basketball operations Joe Dumars has yet to bring the team past the first stage – the most critical stage of them all.

Instead of blowing the team up and starting from scratch, as teams serious about improvement must do, the Pistons brass has seemingly tried to let the team and fans down slowly, drawing out the painful reality of sucking by giving enormous contracts to average players, allowing overpaid veterans hog minutes on the court, and letting young, unproven commodities that could be worth building around – or, at the very least, trading – languish.

The Pistons are pretty much screwed because the franchise is taking forever to throw out the garbage.

By most accounts, the Pistons as we knew them were finished in 2008. They traded Chauncey “Big Shot” Billups for the expiring contract/life force of Allen Iverson, an injured warrior who clashed horrendously with everybody and left town in shame. Rather than building on that expired contract, the team bit hard on Ben Gordon’s nice 2008 playoff run and was hypnotized by Charlie Villanueva’s passion for Twitter, and suddenly the two had been signed for a combined 10 years, $90 million.

After finally shedding the ghost of Richard Hamilton, the Pistons were able to ship out Gordon to the desperate Bobcats this offseason in exchange for Corey Maggette and his one year remaining. These rank as the only two transactions of note for the team over the past two seasons. In the meantime, they’ve been dutifully trotting out a lineup of underachieving role players, none of whom seem particularly suited for one another or have developed any sort of chemistry.

The result: The Pistons are, at this point, middling-to-dreadful on defense and nothing special on offense.

Their record last year was bad (they started off 4-20 before somehow going nearly .500 the rest of the way), but worse is the fact that they’re plain boring to watch. Everyone knows that some bad teams can be fun; without an established identity, leader or long-term plan, the team gives us nothing to look forward to each night.

It’s a shame, because the Pistons have drafted some nice players over the last few years. Greg Monroe’s work in the paint has put him on so many “Underrated” lists for this season that he has possibly reached the level of regular old “rated.” Rodney Stuckey can score. Andre Drummond is tall. Brandon Knight was one-and-done at Kentucky, so he must be good. But there is just too much undeserving refuse floating around on the hardwood at The Palace each night, clogging up the NBA burn that the young core needs in order to gel. As of right now, 10 players on the active roster are 25 years old or younger (though some of those ten include names like Viacheslav Kravtsov and grizzled “vet” Jonny Flynn).

Like a Jabba the Hutt minion tossed into the maw of a Sarlacc, the Pistons are taking forever to digest. The young guys are looking on, waiting for the excruciatingly slow demise of the team’s old guard, and until then there isn’t much hope for a team that can muster some wins on Monroe/Stuckey alone. As is the dilemma with mediocre teams, the Pistons will probably finish middle of the pack, with little chance for a high draft pick.

One reason you might not be screwed: This guy.

Greg Monroe is the team’s best chance for future success. If he can make the leap from “surprisingly decent” to “legitimately good” this year, it will open things for the team’s tiny, shifty scorers, like Stuckey, Knight and Will Bynum. And hey, Lawrence Frank is a pretty good coach. He had that 13-0 start to his career as coach of the Nets. That should be good for something, right?  And maybe there will be some devastating injuries to the Heat, Celtics, Knicks, Nets, Bulls, Pacers, Sixers, Hawks, Bucks…

Actual prediction: 11th in the East. There’s too much experience and talent in the East this year for the Pistons to make any sort of headway in the conference, and some of the bottom-feeders from last year are seeing the kind of improvement that comes from a commitment to rebuilding. Until the Pistons show that they’re serious about this whole NBA thing again, they’ll be nothing more, nothing less than a double-digit finish.

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