Beard: Pistons in need of new route to get to playoffs
After Sunday’s loss to the Brooklyn Nets, the Pistons (22-23) are below .500 for the first time this season. They’ve lost five straight and eight of the last 10 and find themselves in ninth place — but just two games out of the No. 6 spot.
They’ve faced mounting injury issues, including losing Reggie Jackson until at least mid-February and Jon Leuer for the rest of the season. On the road to a potential playoff spot, the Pistons have hit a few potholes, but it’s not too late for them to turn things around.
There is a roadmap to get there, but it’s likely going to involve some rerouting from their current course — such as making a trade ahead of the Feb. 8 trade deadline or juggling the roster to try to maximize the production.
In recent weeks, there is growing discontent from fans worried about getting to the destination with Stan Van Gundy as both the driver and navigator. The last three months of the season look to be a bumpy ride, so a seat belt will be necessary.
This edition of News & Views examines the Pistons’ precarious position and looks at some options to turn things around:
■ News: Since their 14-6 start, the Pistons have nosedived, going 8-17 in their last 25 games.
■ Views: It’s a stark turnaround, with a 6-9 mark in December and 2-8 in January. They’ve beaten two of the Western Conference’s elite teams, the Spurs and Rockets, at home, but have lost to four teams in the bottom five in the East. It’s hard to tell what this team is anymore; but they’re certainly inconsistent.
Since Jackson’s injury, they’ve gone 3-9 and the offense has been running on fumes without the familiar pick-and-roll between Jackson and Drummond. They’ve had to lean heavily on Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley for scoring, and Ish Smith has struggled to find an offensive groove in a starting role.
Although the Pistons had a tough strength of schedule in the first half and one of the weakest schedule strengths remaining, they’ve had trouble finding a smooth stretch of road.
■ News: The trade deadline is approaching Feb. 8, and the Pistons reportedly have been aggressive in pursuing deals.
■ Views: The recent stretch has shown that they should be looking to add to the mix, but there are some roadblocks. If they’re looking to acquire a player like Kemba Walker, they may have to give up some of their keys assets to get him. It’s unclear which Pistons would be available in a trade or what Van Gundy would even seek in return. That drives all the trade discussion.
If the Pistons are looking to sell — an unlikely scenario — that likely would be a call coming from owner Tom Gores, which also could mean the end of the Van Gundy era, as he’s in the fourth year of his five-year contract. That would be a signal that Gores is ready to move in a different direction with everything.
Standing pat is wrought with its own issues. Jackson could be back around mid-February — and back in peak playing condition around early March — but will the Pistons even still be in playoff contention by then?
■ News: Stanley Johnson and Luke Kennard have played well off the bench in the last two games.
■ Views: Johnson had a season-high 18 points on Sunday and Kennard 16 points on Friday. They seem to be building a good chemistry when playing together, but Johnson could be finding his way back to starting lineup ahead of Reggie Bullock, with the spark and energy he’s bringing. Johnson (hip flexor) is healthier now than he’s been in weeks, and Van Gundy wasn’t ready to declare any rotation changes after Sunday’s loss.
If the Pistons are considering making a splash in the trade waters, these are two of the names that teams would be interested in. But, if the Pistons are thinking of making a run to the playoffs, these are two key components that would help them get there. It’s a quandary for Van Gundy and general manager Jeff Bower to consider, but how all that mixes together has to be weighed as well.