February 21, 2014 at 10:14 am

Bob Wojnowski

Players should share blame in Pistons debacle

Josh Smith is 5-for-41 on 3-pointers in the past 16 games. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

We can blame Joe Dumars, and we do. We can blame Tom Gores, and we do. Heck, we can blame Maurice Cheeks, Lawrence Frank and John Kuester in absentia, just for fun.

But the more you watch the Pistons, the more disgusted you should get with the players — with the lack of effort and lack of pride reflected in their laughable defense. Charles Barkley recently praised Andre Drummond, then lamented he’s “playing with those other idiots up in Detroit.” That seemed harsh, in the intellectual sense, but not harsh enough in the basketball sense, starting with the manically maddening Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings.

It’s no surprise the Pistons didn’t make a trade at the deadline Thursday because their mentality these days is just shy of abject surrender. With a playoff berth in the balance, the Pistons (22-32) unleashed back-to-back embarrassments against the Bobcats, the team they’re supposedly chasing.

Charlotte won 108-96 and 116-98 and encountered less-than-passive resistance, and I solemnly vow not to mention playoff possibilities anymore. Al Jefferson enjoyed himself so much, he should have stuffed flowers in the Pistons’ mouths as he left the court. It’s ridiculous, miserable and sad. Dumars foolishly gambled on another batch of misfits and now is a lame-duck GM who likely has no interest in making deals.

Not just front office

But this isn’t just about Dumars, who at least tried all sorts of moves the past decade. It’s not just about Gores, an absentee novice who has tossed money around, even if he’s tossed a lot away.

Scorn should be focused on the players too, as they expend more energy chewing through coaches than they do playing defense. The Pistons always have taken care of players, to a painful fault. Something goes wrong? Blame the coach! A player is disgruntled? Blame the coach!

In a player’s league like the NBA, that’s not unique. And how have these players repaid their employer? With such feeble, disjointed effort, they’re not even inclined to battle for a meager eighth seed in the playoffs.

Smith accepted $54 million over four years, and it was Dumars’ mistake for trying to wedge him into a small-forward position he doesn’t fit. The notion that Smith, Drummond and Greg Monroe could become a cohesive frontline has gone poof.

So does that mean we’re supposed to excuse Smith for birthing one of the truly awful shooting seasons in NBA history? In the past 16 games, he’s 5-for-41 on 3-pointers. At what point does he look at those numbers and think, hmm, maybe I’m no good at that? At what point does he alter his game just to halt the humiliation? He’s down to 22.5 percent for the season on 3-pointers, and his overall field-goal (41.7) and free-throw percentages (55.5) are abysmal too.

Let's make a (bad) deal

Blame Dumars for bringing aboard another shot-happy enigma in Jennings, although it seemed reasonable to think Jennings might shoot better than 38 percent. Blame Gores too for giving Dumars the freedom, although I didn’t think his playoff mandate was outlandish. Let’s see, an owner tells his front office to spend dough, sign free agents, do whatever it takes, and that’s completely foolhardy?

I’m fairly certain, despite his demands, Gores didn’t personally scout Smith and Jennings or first-round pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. I doubt he was even familiar enough with Trey Burke to advocate drafting the point guard instead of trying to turn Jennings into one.

The Pistons haven’t made the playoffs in five years, always staring into the draft-lottery wishing well. They might not even keep their No. 1 pick because it goes to — ha ha — Charlotte if it falls outside the top eight, a bizarre remnant of the Ben Gordon trade.

Fans clamored for something, anything, and trading Monroe or Rodney Stuckey would have been prudent for a GM who planned to be around after this season. It also would’ve been another case of chasing bad deals with bad deals. Dumars did it before with free-agent disasters Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, and created an atmosphere of entitlement that’s difficult to change. I don’t know if Dumars trusted players too much, lost his acumen for evaluating talent, or simply got caught in the chaos of ownership change. But I do know this: Some of the players sold him out, even going back to the boycott three years ago of a Kuester practice.

If these guys have some pride in their reputations, let’s see if they can play with intensity for longer than, say, four or five minutes. The Pistons are last in the league in opponents’ field-goal percentage (46.8) and interim coach John Loyer already wears the dazed look, as if he can’t believe commitment is an issue. The players claim to like him, then play as if they’re mocking all of us.

“We have to give better effort, more focus on the details,” guard Will Bynum said after the latest loss to the Bobcats. “At some point, it has to be the people on the court.”

It used to be all about the people on the court, when the Pistons were a tough-minded contender. That seems so long ago, it qualifies as nostalgia. If the current players have any fight, or any anger at being called idiots, they have 28 games left to show it. If they’re as embarrassed as they should be, it’d be nice for a change if they did something about it.


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