March 20, 2013 at 1:03 pm

Vincent Goodwill

Woeful Pistons frustrate Lawrence Frank

Huge dropoff from first half of season raises questions

Pistons coach Lawrence Frank returned to the team Monday after a six-game absence. (Clarence Tabb Jr./Detroit News)

Auburn Hills -- Will Bynum understood the question, but since it involved self-evaluation he couldn't get the words out of his mouth.

When he was asked if this team has reached the point of uttering the "Q" word — "quit" — Bynum's pride prevented him from admitting it, but he believes the question is fair, given the Pistons' troubling trend of embarrassing losses since the All-Star break.

"I wouldn't say that. I'm in it," Bynum said. "Our effort could be a little better. No (positives) tonight."

The latest, a 37-point whipping at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets, simply adds to the ledger. It is a Nets team, by the way, to whom the Pistons lost their two earlier meetings by a total of five points. Since the break: back-to-back losses to the Pacers by a total of 50 points, a 39-point loss to the San Antonio Spurs and a 32-point loss to the L.A. Clippers.

'This is our fifth game like this since the break," said Pistons coach Lawrence Frank, who returned to the team after a six-game absence due to his wife's illness.

"As a group we stunk. This is disheartening to watch."

Second-half swoon

If they haven't quit, it looks like high-level coasting since the All-Star break at the very least. This is a total change from the way they performed in the first half of the season.

"We have to restore the pride of being a Piston," said Frank before Monday's game. "We're not gonna restore it in a day but, big picture, we have to get that pride back in wearing that jersey."

He hoped his return could signal a start, but being without crucial players Andre Drummond, Brandon Knight and Jose Calderon has left the Pistons with one starter who would likely start on every team in Greg Monroe.

Getting drilled regularly, though, is the signal of something much more alarming. Despite their 0-8 start and losing a lot of games they shouldn't have in the season's first two months, they were still competing, and it was evident by their frustrations after games.

But there's a difference when you let one get away and you gave it away, willingly.

"We'd better (have fight left). Our intent to start the game is right and then stuff happens," Frank said.

With 13 games left, it's fair to wonder how much worse it can get from this stage. Having lost nine straight and 12 of 13, they haven't shown they can at least be competitive.

It's fair to wonder if this team is broken and, if so, the question of what caused it must be evaluated. Is this a lack of leadership or accountability in the locker room or on the sidelines and, if so, does that change Joe Dumars' choice of what to put in his shopping cart this summer?

While Pistons owner Tom Gores publicly stated the expectation in October of making the playoffs, the team's subsequent struggles haven't come as a surprise.

It's the "how" that must raise a few eyebrows.

Questions about a team's mental toughness aren't exclusive to struggling teams.

The team that's won 23 straight and headed for the NBA record of 33 — the Miami Heat — had to endure doubts about their collective psyche for two whole years until June.

The Pistons aren't there, nor is anyone here suggesting they are. But do they at least have the professionalism and pride that's supposed to be synonymous with wearing the red, white and blue jersey?

vgoodwill@detroitnews.com

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