The State of the Pistons: A Discussion

I’m not a Detroit Pistons fan. I admit that. But, I am a fan of good ol’ fashioned basketball tradition.

And if we’re gonna talk about basketball tradition, we have to talk about the Pistons. Detroit has won three NBA titles in the past 22 years, and while that’s not a ton, it sure as heck is more than most teams can say they’ve won.

We remember the era in the late 80s. It was hard-nosed, aggressive defense that won the Pistons back-to-back championships in ’89 and ’90. Oddly enough, the same formula that allowed the Pistons to win in those two years (great point guard play and a defensive focus) also helped them win the title in 2004.

It was exciting to watch Isaiah Thomas run the show on both ends of the floor, while Dennis Rodman and Bill Laimbeer were dominating the paint. And it was pretty exciting to watch Chauncey Billups lead the attack while Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace were playing the Rodman/Laimbeer roles themselves. That’s the Piston basketball that everyone knows.

But now? Well, the Pistons are flat out boring, and seem to be doing the complete opposite of what has made them so successful in the past.

Don’t believe me? Watch them play against the Utah Jazz tomorrow night (yes, I’m anticipating that the Pistons put up 135, Tayshaun Prince and head coach John Kuester give each other a huge man hug, and Richard Hamilton politely thanks the referees for the terrible blocking foul they just called on him…..which would essentially debunk this entire post).

Seriously, it’s just hard to watch this team play. And the stats seem to support this theory. According to Hollinger’s stats, the Pistons are 20th in the league in offensive efficiency. The Pistons are 25th in the league in defensive efficiency. And in the ever so important “Pace” statistic, the Portland Trail Blazers are the only team in the league that averages fewer offensive possessions per game.

So, in analyzing those particular stats, here’s what I came up with: there isn’t a whole lot that the Pistons do well.

In fact, if you really think about it, that’s a bad combination for an NBA franchise. I mean, let’s think about the fans for a second. Here’s what they are being treated to:

  • A team that goes at a slow pace
  • A team that, despite that slow pace, still isn’t very efficient offensively
  • A team that allows other teams to score a lot (opponents shooting 48% from the field)
  • A team that is 12th in the Eastern Conference, which is A. considered inferior to the West in terms of overall depth and B. has a team currently in 8th that is six games under .500

That’s not exciting basketball to say the least. You aren’t gonna gain new fans that way, and you are going to struggle to keep current fans happy. Now don’t get me wrong. The Pistons aren’t the worst team in the league. There are a lot more teams that are farther away from contending once again than them.

And that’s where the frustration comes in. The Pistons aren’t that far away. But, if they don’t do something quick in terms of reshuffling their roster, they may find themselves in the discussion with teams like Sacramento and Cleveland, who have a ways to go before they become a credible playoff contender once again.

Simply put, the time is now for Joe Dumars to do something. Anything. And it has to start with the roster.

The makeup of this roster puzzles a lot of people, and for good reason. You have a defensive-minded player in Prince who has always been known for his stopper role. Well, problem is, Prince is now 30. He can still guard good players, but he’s not the lockdown defender he use to be. At 30, this is the most value you will get out of him. Next year, the value simply won’t be the same.

Obviously, you know where I’m going next.

As for Hamilton, this one baffles me more than any of the other trade possibilities. Why is he still playing for this team? There have been talks of him being a distraction for a while now, and when it gets to the point where a player is unhappy…..and you pretty much know his run with the team is over, you have to make some changes. And the value is only going to drop as the weeks progress.

Hamilton is 32, and he’s making $12.5 million this season. He can still score (averaging about 14 PPG), and could be a solid scoring option off the bench for a contender.

But is the problem that no one wants Hamilton? Maybe. That’s a lot of dough for a 32-year-old who is clearly on the decline. His attitude hasn’t been the greatest either, which is another red flag. However, given the right circumstances, there are teams that could use a scorer like Hamilton (Utah or New Orleans?). I have no doubt about that.

A Hamilton trade seems inevitable (right?). But that won’t change the dynamic of this team. There are too many problems with this team, and too many things that need to be improved on. Getting rid of a veteran player like Hamilton doesn’t fix your entire organization.

What about the team chemistry? Look no further than one position: shooting guard. The current trio at shooting guard for Detroit is Hamilton, Ben Gordon, and Tracy McGrady. They got McGrady for cheap, which is fine. He’s not gonna be a long term solution anyways, so getting him for a year or two is justifiable. Gordon’s contract is not so cheap, but they aren’t gonna trade him anytime soon. Essentially, Gordon and McGrady are similar players, in that they both want to shoot. A lot. So hey, at least they are getting shots out of their shooting guards.

But are these three good together from a chemistry standpoint? Not at all.

And what about the coaching? John Kuester seems like a nice guy, but is he the guy to lead the Pistons into a new era? That’s debatable. I’m usually not for the “make a splash” hire, but perhaps that wouldn’t hurt at this point. Find a coach with proven success to come in and help the young talent grow. Or maybe Kuester isn’t that bad of a coach at all. Perhaps the combination that he’s working with is making it impossible to find out just how good this guy can be.

The Pistons aren’t going to return to the “bad boys” era anytime soon. I’m not sure anyone is expecting that. But I do think Pistons’ fans expect to at least contend. Is it really sensible for them to battle for a 7th or 8th seed in the East (in which they will undoubtedly have a losing record) this year, and waste valuable time that they could be using to groom new talent and/or bring in new players to start building chemistry together?

It doesn’t have to be a total rebuild. Some very good young talent is already in place.

It just has to be putting the right pieces together, and focusing on the things that made the Pistons champions as recent as 2004. Aggressive defense, great rebounding, and smart shots on the offensive end.

Easier said than done, but hey, as we’ve seen in the past, it only takes one player to change the landscape of a franchise. The Pistons need to find that player…..and soon.

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Hardwood Paroxysm