February 9, 2014 at 1:00 am

Terry Foster

Pistons face annual problem: Win now or tank for the future?

Auburn Hills — The Pistons find themselves in no man’s land.

They are too bad to be in the playoffs and they are too good to be in the draft lottery.

We have an annual debate around town that has grown old and tired. Should the Pistons pick up the pace and try to make the playoffs? Or is it better for the franchise to sink among the bottom feeders to keep their pick in one of the deepest drafts in a decade?

The Pistons beat the Denver Nuggets 126-109 Saturday night at the Palace. That left Pistons fans who like to see their team win cheering. The ones that want another talented rookie to come in were jeering after the Pistons won their fourth straight at home.

Sadly, for the long-term health of the franchise the Pistons really need that draft pick. This team is good enough to hang around the playoffs long enough to get a first-round playoff spanking. If the Pistons squeeze in as a seventh or eighth seed they will likely play the two-time defending champion Miami Heat or the Indiana Pacers.

The Pistons would likely get swept by either team. Yes, I know the Pistons won games in Miami and Indianapolis. Flukes happen during a long, mindless 82-game whirlwind. Both teams would be focused and their mind-set would be to eliminate the Pistons quickly so they can be rested for a tougher foe.

The Pistons are also 3-15 against teams with winning records.

Quick exit

It is tough for athletes and coaches to tank games. Their mentality is to win every time they hit the floor. Even NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy alluded to that when he said some teams were tanking to get a better pick in the draft.

He did not identify any of the teams but he said players were not deliberately losing. He simply said franchises put out bad rosters so they would not win.

The Pistons players are not tanking. They are trying to win games. They simply are a bad mix that does not mesh enough to win consistently. Head coach Maurice Cheeks is fighting for his job. He certainly wants to win to prove he can figure out this complex jigsaw puzzle.

“It’s not a debate for me,” Cheeks said. “We need to play as well as we can to get a seventh, eighth or six seed, whatever that may be because once you get in you never know what can happen. So making the playoffs, you just never know.”

The 1999 New York Knicks upset the top-seeded Miami Heat in five games on an Allan Houston shot that hit both rims and the backboard before going in. The Knicks advanced to the NBA Finals. There was a huge disclaimer to that series.

The Knicks and Heat were bitter rivals. The Pistons lack a rivalry with either the Heat or Pacers. Sorry folks, the Pacers do not count. Just about all the bad eggs are gone from The Brawl.

Can't win for losing

Here is where the Pistons find themselves after Saturday’s victory.

They moved to within a half-game of the final playoff spot behind Charlotte. The Bobcats lost to San Antonio 104-100 Saturday night.

Under the conditions of a previous trade with Charlotte, the Pistons would need to be among the bottom eight teams at season’s end to keep their first-round pick, which would otherwise go to the Bobcats/Hornets.

They currently have the 10th-worst record in the NBA, 3 games ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers, who own the eighth-worst record.

Now fans are debating which way they want the Pistons to go. Pistons owner Tom Gores threw down a playoffs-or-else edict this season. It might not be in his best interest to get his wish. Adding another young player might not be the best thing for the Pistons because they are young in just about every spot.

However, they need more talent. The pound-the-rock threesome of Andre Drummond, Josh Smith and Greg Monroe is not working. Drummond appears confused at times and Smith shoots too many outside jumpers. That is why you see Cheeks play two of the three players during much of the game.

The Pistons are trying to win. It just might not be in their best interest.

Cheeks wants to sneak into the playoffs and take his chances.

“If you don’t get in you have no chance of (an upset) happening,” Cheeks said. “So for me it is you play as well as you can to see if you can make the playoffs and you go from there.”


Despite Saturday's victory over the Denver Nuggets, Andre Drummond looks confused much of the time, symbolizing the Pistons' dysfunction. / Clarence Tabb Jr. / Detroit News
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