Los Angeles — The Pistons are in their worst stretch of the season and Pistons owner Tom Gores got to see the team up close as they took on the Lakers on Wednesday night at Staples Center.
It wasn’t pretty, as the Pistons (17-22) lost for the sixth time in the last seventh games and fell to a season-worst five games below .500. Gores remained optimistic about the team turning things around and still salvaging the season behind Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond.
“I like this team. I think they can work through the adversity,” Gores said during a halftime interview. “Whether we want to say it or not, this team expects to be in the playoffs. This team does expect excellence. You have Andre and Blake — and these are major, major players.”
It was Griffin’s first game back in the Los Angeles area since Gores and the Pistons acquired him from the Clippers last January. Gores is happy with how Griffin has fit with the team, posting All-Star numbers and what he’s done both on and off the court.
After a 13-7 start, they’ve had their ups and downs, but the current skid shows there’s plenty of work to do toward the goal of getting back to the postseason.
“We couldn’t expect more from Blake than what he’s done. He has done incredible work and everybody didn’t know what he could do — but we couldn’t expect more,” Gores said. “Beyond his stats, he really has been a great leader. Do we want to build around him? Absolutely.”
Building around Griffin has proven difficult, given the Pistons’ financial inflexibility in relation to the salary cap. They’re less than $1 million from the luxury-tax threshold, which hinders their ability to make trades or sign other free agents without making dealing a rotation player.
Most of the roster is left over from the Van Gundy era and shifting their philosophy to building the roster more around Griffin’s talents and players to fit coach Dwane Casey’s system will take time. However, there doesn’t seem to be a kneejerk reaction to the results in the first half of the season to make trades or shake up the roster significantly.
“We have to have a culture of winning,” Gores said. “That is the culture and we just have to do the little things and see what happens.”
Given the recent struggles, Gores sees some of the issues but isn’t ready to make drastic changes to try to jump-start the Pistons toward turning things around. He compared their struggles on the court to some ups and downs he had with his business, Platinum Equity.
“We have to shoot better. We all need help, but we have to do simple things a little bit better. How close we’ve been in a lot of these games; we’re very, very close,” he said. “We just have to stay the course. I told them the other night that in my own business, around 2000, we could have busted as a business, but we stayed the course and stayed to plan.
“They have something very good going on.”
The Pistons revamped their front office after parting ways with Stan Van Gundy last summer but given their salary-cap situation and roster construction, there isn’t much wiggle room for senior advisor Ed Stefanski.
Stefanski hired Casey, the reigning coach of the year to help right the ship but it’s been a slow turn in doing skill development and installing his offensive and defensive schemes. Casey’s impact is being felt, but it’ll take more time to bear fruit.
“Dwane is he’s a great communicator and he’s building trust with the players. After you have trust, you have respect. Dwane knew coming in that this was going to be a process,” Gores said. “I don’t have any doubts about what he’s doing. He’s a great communicator and he’s developing everybody one minute, one second and one day at a time.”