Sacramento, Calif. — The Pistons are playing poorly. There’s no better way to put it. Wednesday’s loss to the Lakers — without LeBron James — raises more questions about their level of effort and whether, with its ups and down, this is a playoff team.
There have been small, faint flashes and some causes for concern.
News & Views takes a look at the big concerns amid their four-game western trip this week:
►News: Pistons owner Tom Gores said Wednesday that he thinks the team “can work through the adversity” they’re facing.
►Views: It was a somewhat predictable response, given the skid the Pistons (17-22) are in, having lost eight of their last 10 games. They haven’t been playing well as a group for weeks and the current western trip hasn’t brought a lot of optimism that they can turn things around.
Given that philosophy from Gores, the plan appears to be to be patient and wait out their current situation — unless a game-changing trade comes along — and take the residual medicine stemming from the contracts from the Stan Van Gundy era.
It’s not going to be a popular path ahead for fans, who are frustrated by the struggles of the past decade, which has featured just one playoff appearance — and no wins in that one series in 2016.
But barring a deal that moves the needle and brings some All-Star talent or a young, budding star, why risk it? By most accounts, moving the bigger contracts like Reggie Jackson or Jon Leuer would require attaching an asset such as a first-round pick, which only makes the long-term future more bleak.
As I’ve written previously, a little patience will see the following contracts potentially off the books this summer: Reggie Bullock, Ish Smith, Stanley Johnson (restricted free agent), Glenn Robinson III (team option), Jose Calderon, Zaza Pachulia and Henry Ellenson.
And these are done next summer: Jackson, Leuer, Langston Galloway and Josh Smith.
That leaves Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, Luke Kennard and rookies Bruce Brown and Khyri Thomas potentially as the only holdovers from the current roster. With eight spots possibly open, there’s an opportunity to change things quickly, if Gores and senior adviser Ed Stefanski choose this summer to begin to revamp.
►News: With Wednesday’s loss to the Lakers, the Pistons fell to 2-8 in their last 10 games.
►Views: Looking at the schedule, there aren’t any evident wins coming up, either. They’re in their worst stretch of the season and more than shots simply not falling, they’re not playing good team defense or making smart plays.
The bench misses Smith and Pachulia, and although coach Dwane Casey has worked to mix the lineups between the starters and reserves to try to cover, the minutes are beginning to get more difficult to manage for Griffin and Drummond, and the cohesiveness among those groups isn’t there because they haven’t played significant chunks of minutes together.
While the Pistons did well against teams with worse records early in the season, there’s no game on the schedule where one could look and say they’d be favored to win. They simply aren’t playing well enough. With Smith and Pachulia set to return during this trip, that could provide a boost because of their experience and expertise.
►News: The Pistons are in line to get a top-10 pick in the NBA draft.
►Views: I’m not a proponent of tanking, but I’ve gotten plenty of emails and misguided tweets suggesting that the Pistons should lose as many games as possible during the rest of their season and try to get Duke’s Zion Williamson.
First, Williamson isn’t a no-doubt, game-changing pick for the Pistons. I’d be more interested in Cam Reddish or R.J. Barrett as better fits. Plus, the Pistons aren’t going to catch up with the Cavaliers (eight wins), Suns, Knicks and Bulls (10 wins each) and Hawks (12 wins) entering Thursday. That would put them around the No. 6 pick, at best.
Is that worth tanking the season? Gores would say no — and I agree. They’re two games from the No. 8 spot in the East and although most would say that guarantees nothing but a four-game sweep at the hands of the Bucks, that would be progress.
That, along with a mid-round draft pick, would be something to build on, with some potential roster flexibility.