To Ish or not to Ish? That is the question.
It’s been the lingering question for much of the season, as the Pistons wallow in mediocrity — well, make that five games below .500 — through the first 51 games of the season.
The great debate has been whether Ish Smith or Reggie Jackson is the better point guard for the Pistons moving forward. It’s a critical question, because in the remaining 31 games, the Pistons will have some work to do just to get back to the playoffs and be the No. 8 seed again.
That’s where they sit today, with a 23-28 record, wondering where it all went wrong and how they seem to have taken a few steps back from last April when they ended their six-year playoff drought. They opened the season with an optimist’s glass half-full approach but after Jackson had a platelet-rich plasma injection that kept him out for the first 21 games of the regular season, things have gone south quickly.
And it’s not like the Pistons had set the NBA on its ear with their 11-10 start with Smith as the starting point guard, either. They had a three-game road win streak and were showing signs of making a run.
When Jackson returned, Van Gundy knew it was going to upset the applecart. In Jackson’s first game back, he was a step slower and showed the rust in a loss to the Magic and three days later, couldn’t kick-start the offense, which managed just 77 points at Charlotte. To finish the week, the Pistons had an embarrassing 18-point loss to the 76ers, who without their best player, Joel Embiid.
So Jackson’s the problem, right?
Wrong. And right. He’s not the problem, but clearly he’s not the Reggie Jackson from last season.
The Pistons have many more issues than just Jackson.
Many Pistons fans are fractured into factions of Reggie vs. Ish, Boban Marjanovic vs. Aron Baynes, or even Stanley Johnson vs. Stan Van Gundy.
It’s not that any one of those is more of an impediment than the others, but the fact there are so many question marks is a glimpse into the Pistons’ disappointing position. And it’s why the Pistons won’t make a foolhardy move ahead of the Feb. 23 deadline.
Van Gundy believes the issues are fixable and that with some luck in the second half of the season, they can turn things around and make a run past the eighth seed and what would likely be a rematch with the defending-champion Cavaliers. H said he won’t make a trade that doesn’t make them appreciably better.
And given that Pistons wouldn’t get close to value in a trade for Jackson, it’s not a likely scenario. So Smith likely won’t take over that starting role either. Van Gundy wouldn’t do that for an extension of the 11-10 start.
They’ll have to do something, but those fans won’t get their Ish.
The Monday Drive provides five thoughts and observations from the past week.
■Changing times: Remember all the hand-wringing about Johnson earlier this season? Johnson has become an integral part of the reserve group, providing good defense, rebounding and ball movement to balance with his scoring. He has credited losing about 16 pounds and his practice work with assistant coach Bob Beyer for turning his game around.
■Dropping 36: For Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to go from a career-high 38 points to just two the next game isn’t a huge surprise. He has the offensive game but he’s more defined by the defense he plays than by his scoring. If he gives up 38 in a game, that’s something to be more worried about. Even those two points he scored came at a critical juncture to help get the win.
■Needed break: Maybe having no Pistons in the All-Star Game nor any of the skills competitions isn’t such a bad thing. The Pistons have had a condensed schedule in the first half of the season — and many players have said they’ll welcome the couple of days off to get a mental breather before returning for the final 25 games.
■The man, the mic: The Pistons will honor play-by-play man George Blaha this week for his 40-plus years of service. He and John Salley will share memories at halftime of Friday’s game against the Spurs. Through the years, he’s been the voice of the Pistons, from the Bad Boys to “Goin’ to Work” crew and beyond. Should he have some recognition in the rafters as well?
■Palace goodbye: There are 17 more games left at The Palace. Is it weird that it still hasn’t sunk in that they’ll be moving downtown to Little Caesars Arena for next season? Unlike Joe Louis Arena, The Palace doesn’t feel like it’s old and eroding. In fact, it’s still probably in the top half of the best arenas in the league.