Salt Lake City — The Pistons’ season seems to be hanging on by the thinnest of threads. After Tuesday’s embarrassing 31-point loss at Utah, they look to be sleepwalking through the final stretch of the season, playing defense with their eyes closed.
At 30-37, they’re not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, sitting 5½ games behind the Miami Heat for the last playoff spot. But math doesn’t botch defensive assignments, doesn’t miss open shots and doesn’t give up easy baskets in transition.
And the players have had Jekyll-and-Hyde performances since the trade for Blake Griffin at the end of January. The swap breathed new life for a few games, but adding the five-time All-Star seems to have solved a couple issues and created a few new ones.
With 15 games left, the Pistons aren’t dead yet, but if something doesn’t change — and quickly — there will be a kid poking a stick at their dead carcass within the next week.
News & Views takes a look at the current and future state of the Pistons:
News: Last week, Pistons owner Tom Gores gave his support for coach Stan Van Gundy and said they’d discuss Van Gundy’s future after the season.
Views: While Gores’ comments weren’t a long-term vote of confidence for Van Gundy, they didn’t exactly sound like the fuse is at its end either. Van Gundy still has one more year left on his five-year contract but there hasn’t been much progress on the court since they reached their peak two years ago as the No. 8 seed that was swept by the Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs.
Some fans already have called for Van Gundy to be fired from either role as team president or head coach — or both. It would seem that Van Gundy’s job as president provides the protection of only having one boss: Gores. If Van Gundy relinquishes that role, there’s far less job security as coach.
“We have not discussed (Van Gundy having both roles); we’re all just worried about winning,” Gores said Friday. “After the season, Stan and I will sit down — it’s really that simple.”
With the Pistons’ recent skid of 3-11 in their last 14 games, it seems that only an unexpected turnaround can save the season — and possibly Van Gundy’s job.
News: Reggie Jackson continued his non-contact practice work and could return to full-contact practice and game condition next week.
Views: The thought that Jackson could be shut down for the season seemed impractical and pointless — that is, until Van Gundy’s comments during Tuesday’s shootaround, when asked about how Jackson will be used when he returns, compared to last season’s early-season injury.
“It’ll be a different situation. It’s a lot later in the year and it’ll all depend on how we’re playing at the time and where we are standings-wise and how he looks,” Van Gundy said. “We’re certainly getting him in more practice-type stuff and advancing him that way than we did a year ago.
“When it’s time to play, I really don’t know (how we’ll use him). It all depends on where we think he is and where we are.”
There’s a lot that can be gleaned from even having Jackson play the final 10 games (after the western road trip). Playing Jackson with Drummond opens many more pick-and-roll opportunities and provides a better shooting option when Griffin is facilitating.
Shutting Jackson down would seem to be a signal that they’ve thrown in the towel on the season.
News: Rookie Luke Kennard had 18 points in the matchup against the Jazz, who had many Pistons’ fans favorite rookie, Donovan Mitchell.
Views: Mitchell scored three of his 13 points in the first half, when he had Stanley Johnson draped all over him defensively. Johnson did a good job of limiting Mitchell’s drives to the basket and looks at the basket. Kennard had a good game, but played off the bench and when the game got out of hand, he was still on the court, while Mitchell rested.
Mitchell and Kennard will be inextricably linked — much like Johnson and the Phoenix Suns’ Devin Booker and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Trey Burke. Drafting is an inexact science and both Kennard and Mitchell, whom the Pistons passed on with the No. 12 pick, look like they’ll both have fine NBA careers.
Pistons at Nuggets
Tip-off: 9 Thursday, Pepsi Center, Denver
TV/radio: FSD/104.3 FM
Outlook: The Pistons (30-37) have lost 11 of their last 14 games overall and are 1-15 in their last 16 road games. Center Nikola Jokic is averaging 17.1 points, 10.4 rebounds and 6 assists for the Nuggets (37-31).