Auburn Hills — To tank or not to tank?
That is the quandary the Pistons seem saddled with as the season is nearly one month away from completion. While the players often talk a good game, they rarely back it up with the appropriate effort and sustained concentration on a nightly basis.
Tuesday’s win over the talented but equally underwhelming Sacramento Kings snapped a three-game losing streak, but there isn’t much clarity about their playoff standing.
News: Before Wednesday night’s game against the Toronto Raptors, the Pistons stood where they’ve seemed to be for the past two weeks — three games behind the tumbling Atlanta Hawks and jumbled with the New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers in trying to catch them.
Views: Although there’s 18 games left on the schedule, the next six could very well determine their playoff fate — one that’s hanging thinly as is. They’ll have a few days off, then welcome an Indiana Pacers team that was just called out by team president Larry Bird for lackluster play over the past few weeks — meaning whatever chances the Pistons had Saturday of trying to pull an upset on the Eastern Conference’s best team just dropped considerably.
Then they embark on a four-game Western swing, which ties for the longest trip of the season. They did defeat Denver (next Wednesday’s opponent) at home, which happened to be the final game for Maurice Cheeks as head coach. They also slid by Phoenix (March 21 opponent) at The Palace as well, but having lost eight straight on the road surely isn’t going to inspire much confidence, especially since this team seems to fold at the slightest of runs.
The L.A. Clippers are serious about being a contender, and the Utah Jazz have the personnel to negate the Pistons’ size advantage — similar to the Minnesota Timberwolves, a barely above .500 team that has waxed the Pistons in two meetings this season.
Even though they finish out the month playing three of four games against teams many feel they should beat (Cleveland, Milwaukee, Philadelphia), they also welcome the two-time champion Miami Heat on March 28, another stroll in the park.
News: Many observers appear to be on the “tank train,” in the hopes they don’t turn over their pick to the Charlotte Bobcats if it’s not in the top eight.
Views: The fans attending Tuesday’s game who thought to themselves, ‘Hey, that guy looks like Ben Gordon,’ were exactly right, as the former Piston — whose subsequent trade of his contract put the Pistons in said position of their pick possibly being taken away (the Bobcats released Gordon after the March 1 deadline, thereby preventing him from latching onto a playoff team).
The savings of Gordon’s contract (around $14 million, factoring in Corey Maggette’s salary last season) will probably serve as an expensive lesson that won’t show up on the balance sheet for Pistons owner Tom Gores, should this come back to bite them.
Gores should’ve allowed or demanded team management to use the amnesty clause on Gordon. They would’ve been responsible for the monetary portion of Gordon’s contract but had the freedom to not have to worry about this — no matter the cost.
As for tanking, only the San Antonio Spurs have built a championship team by tanking, in the Tim Duncan draft of 1997. And it took a catastrophic injury to franchise center David Robinson to create such a circumstance.
Tanking does a disservice to the game and the fans. As a fan who pays a pretty penny for multiple halfcourt seats every game said to me one day, “If they’re making a decision not to compete, they should refund my season tickets.”
It’s a fine line between playing for the future and literally insulting the game. Tanking is not a plan to build. It’s hoping and praying something randomly goes your way in the lottery, and considering it’s been nearly 20 years since its worked out successfully by a Spurs organization that has proven itself competent, it certainly shouldn’t be a strategy for a team with multiple championship banners hanging in their building.
News: Brandon Jennings said after their Sunday night loss to Boston that there’s no accountability in the locker room.
Views: In a word…duh.
No matter who’s coaching or who’s running the show next year, you’d have to think there’s going to be some sizeable personnel movement this offseason — and a draft pick isn’t the top thing that ails this roster.
Finding a culture changer, a grinder, someone who’s more likely to go after a teammate behind closed doors than give a lackluster effort in front of fans or media, is what this team needs.
There’s fewer of those guys in the league, and it’s impossible to put Andre Drummond in that position, although he’s the franchise player. The player doesn’t have to be a superstar, but has to be able to play and must be respected.
They’re hard to find but their effect is easy to notice.
That’s this team’s offseason mission.