January 28, 2014 at 1:00 am

Vincent Goodwill

After 44 games, Pistons are still seeking an identity

Mavericks shooting guard Monta Ellis got the best of Andre Drummond here, and Cheeks let Drummond sit most of the second half Sunday. (G.J. McCarthy / McClatchy)

Auburn Hills — It sounds like a slogan: “The Detroit Pistons: You got questions? So do we!”

Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks has hinted at possible lineup changes but won’t say what they are or when he’ll implement them. Either way, with two weeks before the All-Star break, the Pistons have more questions now than they did before training camp convened in September.

News: The Pistons are in a full-out tailspin, having lost four in a row, including Friday’s puzzling loss against New Orleans and perhaps the weirdest game of the season Sunday in Dallas. Up next is Orlando tonight at The Palace.

Views: Since back-to-back road wins in Indiana and Boston, bringing the Pistons’ record to 13-14 in mid-December, they’ve lost 13 of the last 17 games.

What hasn’t been established through 44 games is a true pecking order. Not in the traditional form of “who’s the No. 1 guy,” but the Pistons don’t know who they are, or who they’re supposed to be.

Aside from rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who’s doing the grunt work? Who’s accepted their role of being a grinder, a defender, a role player? Has that been determined internally? A certain amount of sacrifice has to be made, particularly on a team that is more talented than cohesive.

Confusion, illustrated by the team’s failure to call a timeout with 1.9 seconds left after New Orleans scored to break a tie, seems to reign supreme.

And after all that, they’re still one full game from the eighth and final playoff spot.

News: Maurice Cheeks pulled Andre Drummond 11 seconds into the third quarter Sunday, after the first offensive possession. Drummond didn’t have the same burst of energy he did Friday night, when he scored 20 points and grabbed 20 rebounds. He did not speak to the media after the game.

Views: Cheeks said it was because Drummond didn’t follow a play correctly, but with all the confusion that’s gone on this season, is that the first time someone blew an assignment? Probably not.

Drummond has been one of the few Pistons willing to be accountable after games this season, particularly the dreadful home losses where the locker room becomes a ghost town once the media is let in — something most 20-year-olds with last names not being “James” or “Durant” have to deal with at this level.

Nothing big should be taken from Drummond respectfully declining to speak after the game because he doesn’t scurry out afterward and he’s never been one to criticize teammates or coaches.

News: Cheeks has criticized the lack of perimeter defense in recent games.

Views: Brian Roberts. Austin Rivers. Devin Harris. Jose Calderon. Not exactly a murderer’s row of aggressive point guards, but they’ve routinely attacked the Pistons defense from the top. Brandon Jennings has had good “numbers” games offensively (28.0 points per game the last three), but part of a point guard’s responsibilities is to prevent opposing point guards from penetrating.

When Jennings played a pick-and-roll situation poorly during a crucial part of the fourth quarter Sunday, Drummond yelled at Jennings after it led to an alley-oop dunk for Brendan Wright — a rarity for Drummond to express frustration at a teammate.

It’s fair to question if Cheeks has handled Jennings with the same firm hand he has handled others.

News: The trade deadline is Feb. 20 and it’s clear that despite the upgrade in talent the mix hasn’t worked.

Views: Stuckey, Charlie Villanueva, Jonas Jerebko and to a lesser extent, Greg Monroe, will all be in play for Pistons president Joe Dumars. Monroe’s numbers are down, but he’ll still likely draw plenty of suitors with plenty of money to spend this summer when he hits restricted free agency — and the Pistons aren’t likely to max him out, especially when he doesn’t fit as much in this current alignment.

He and Stuckey will bring the most phone calls, while Villanueva’s expiring contract will be attractive to teams seeking cap relief. The Pistons’ trade of Tayshaun Prince happened last Jan. 30, so just because they’ve been quiet so far doesn’t mean it’ll remain that way.

I’d put their chances at making a trade at better than 75 percent.

News: The Pistons own the 10th-worst record in the NBA — bearing in mind they’ll surrender their first-round pick to Charlotte if it’s not in the top eight, by virtue of trading Ben Gordon before the 2012 draft.

Views: There’s been plenty of howling about the potential of losing the draft pick after the season. But this team is already full of young players, having the youngest starting lineup in the league and fourth-youngest overall, which includes 37-year-old Chauncey Billups.

They need contributors for the present, not necessarily assets they’ll have to wait on.

vgoodwill@detroitnews.com
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