There’s a certain honeymoon stage when fresh faces permeate a team. In baseball, most fans are enamored with fringe prospects over old veterans because there’s potential to be had, even in the slightest non-impactful sense. Sometimes, the people even chant for David Carr, to come into a real life NFL game as an NFL quarterback. Seriously. Or in the case of the Detroit Pistons, all it takes is the absence of a familiar face, and the permeation of, well, nothing at all.
Nothingness is a shrewd measure to conceptualize the floor-spreading ability of Jodie Meeks, the revival of Greg Monroe without traffic, the abrupt re-emergence of Andre Drummond’s growth, and the genius we all kept worshipping at the hoarse voice of Stan Van Gundy. But really, all that meant smoke and mirrors without the relative ideal of development in the Eastern Conference. The Pistons could have sustained the sinking ship for the rest of the season, in a seemingly lost season, because Smith honeymooned them this far. And yet.
On Monday night, the Detroit Pistons “formed a f**** wall” and stole a win on the San Antonio Spurs’ home court. On the grand scheme of legitimate-ness for the analysts that soak up the fun for the rest of us (heh), the Pistons aren’t really going anywhere. Brandon Jennings is stuck needing to shoot at Stephen Curry levels to produce as a slightly above-average guard. Greg Monroe is going to become a free agent. The rest of the roster is hard to gauge in terms of a future core beyond Drummond. The future is soaked in mystery, and manned by a GM that’s doubling as a head coach.
The improbable turnover-buzzer-beating finish and ensuing celebration encapsulated a season, this year, where the Eastern Conference stinks and the Pistons can sneak into the dance. Is it the right plan? Probably not. Keep Josh Smith and they sink into lower depths, poaching a Karl Okafor or Thon Maker or something from the lower ranks and building for the future. Eight seasons ago, the Pistons were fun. They played a style that wasn’t necessarily fun to watch, but entertaining in nature. Six games in a row in early January might not seem like much from a seasonal perspective. And it likely won’t matter much if and when they exit in the first round against a team like the Toronto Raptors.
But right now, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a shooter that demands attention. Anthony Tolliver and Jonas Jerebko are sneaky forwards that are punishing unaware and slower defenders. D.J. Augustin kept some of the magic dust Tom Thibodeau sprinkled onto him last season. Caron Butler and Jodie Meeks are veteran players doing veteran-y things, forming a type of structure of offense that was unseen and unheard of a couple weeks ago. Right now, Greg Monroe is asserting his strength as a combo passer-post up barrage artist. Andre Drummond is rebounding like his hair on fire. Instead of slamming a lego piece into a stuffed animal like a second grader, Stan Van Gundy is playing backwards Jenga. There is something here, perhaps not much, but a hyperbolic lifting of a black cloud has whisked the Pistons to this stage.
Sometimes that’s how simple a move is. Waiving Smoove was not meant to propel this team into the postseason. They are paying the man to pay for another professional basketball team. That’s insane considering the amount of check-cashing Smoove is doing at this exact moment. But the Pistons are happy. They’re not stuck on a massive basketball court running into each other on offense, flipping to and fro against laughably quicker offensive forwards. If sports is about fun at its most rudimentary level, Stan Van Gundy exercised an adage that’s as frowned upon as a contested mid-range jump shot. He didn’t have to do this, and he really had no idea what would happen if it did. With the way Drummond flew down the court after the Jennings floater, and the magnificent, Anthony Davis-esque way he’s galloping into the conversation as a top young player again, the answer is self-evident. Is it sustainable? What does the future hold for the core? None of it matters right now, because the players are having fun, and that’s really all that should matter.