Mexico City — With the Pistons’ loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night, their record fell to 10-15, just two games out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: it’s the race for the No. 8 seed.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
For the past few years, the Pistons have had the lower end of the playoff bracket as their ceiling. With a payroll that’s perilously close to the luxury tax — a no-no for a team without higher aspirations — both the short-term and long-term futures are uncertain.
I’m still not on “Team Tank” to blow up the roster and start accumulating losses at a historic rate. Even if that were the team’s path forward — and there’s no indication that it is right now — doing a complete roster reconstruction will be more difficult than it looks on the surface.
This week’s Mail Satchel looks at what the long-term future could be and what rays of hope there have been in the season so far.
► Question: Is there any hope of them committing to an actual rebuild or are we stuck in this sub mediocrity forever? — @amg788
► Answer: The Pistons won’t be stuck in mediocrity forever, but how soon they choose to get out of it is up to team owner Tom Gores — and to some degree, the front office led by Ed Stefanski, Pat Garrity and Malik Rose. Gores has maintained he wants to keep the team in contention for the playoffs, but injuries have hit them hard each of the past four seasons, limiting their ceiling.
The trade market opens in earnest this weekend but there’s no buzz that the Pistons will be able to move some of their expiring contracts or their more-difficult, bigger deals for their star players.
Trading Blake Griffin seems like the easy answer but finding a team that will take on his contract, given his injury history and current physical condition, isn’t going to be easy at all. With Andre Drummond seemingly leaning toward opting out of his deal, at least exploring moving him before the Feb. 7 trade deadline seems to be a wise move.
To whom? For what?
Moving Drummond or Griffin seems tough to do; moving both before the end of the season seems like something fans are clamoring for, without understanding the complexity.
► Q: The OBVIOUS and EXISTENTIAL Question: Is the team going to offer Dre a max, or not? — @RoachOppressor
► A: All signs point to the Pistons not offering Drummond a max contract. It seems to me that if they were going to do it, they would have done it already. My read of the situation is that they wanted to see how this season goes. If they make the playoffs with a higher seed and Drummond impacts that winning significantly, he might warrant a max deal. If not, they could be ready to move on.
Drummond has had the best season, posting career highs of 17.7 points and 16.6 rebounds, he’s helped hold things together while Griffin and Derrick Rose got healthy, but they don’t have the supporting cast to justify paying both Drummond and Griffin max salaries. It’s going to have to break up at some point, but unless there’s a dramatic turnaround and getting to maybe the fifth or sixth seed, it’s just going to be time.
► Q: What’s been the biggest bright spot for this team? — @ACBellino
► A: Rose coming off the bench and injecting some excitement in the final few minutes of games has been fun to watch. His speed and maneuvering on his drives are apparent as he’s gotten over the hamstring issues. There just haven’t been enough late-game situations to see that more.
► Q: At this early point in the season, who is most worthy of the award of "Most improved Piston?" — @SteveM_OD
► A: Seeing Luke Kennard ascend into a bigger role, averaging 16 points in a starting role, has been entertaining. He’s shooting the ball with more confidence, at a nice clip of 39 percent, but he’ll have to play that way more consistently. He sometimes gets lost in the shuffle with the starting group and he looked to be at his best when coming off the bench and running with Rose, but the Reggie Jackson injury and having Bruce Brown pressed into duty at point guard has lifted Kennard to his current role.
► Q: Blake has not been putting up huge numbers but the Pistons have been playing much better since his return. What has his presence meant to the team? — @JamesVos
► A: In short, Griffin being healthy means the reserves shift back into place, with Markieff Morris and Christian Wood getting the big minutes and Thon Maker as the third option. Maker has struggled on both ends of the court but he’s been okay in shorter stints.
Griffin still doesn’t look like he has his same lift or his strength and he looks to be relying on the 3-point shot more than normal, to compensate. If nothing else, that impacts his potential trade value.
Pistons at Rockets
Tipoff: 9 Saturday, Toyota Center, Houston
TV/radio: FSD+/950 or 104.3
Outlook: The Pistons (10-15) finish a three-game, week-long road trip after having split the first two games. The Rockets (16-8) have surged of late, with five wins in their last seven, with the two losses by a total of three points. James Harden is averaging 38.7 points and 7.5 assists.