Detroit — As the Pistons have passed the midway point of the season, being a fan and following the team’s trajectory is becoming a bit confusing.
Following the news a few weeks ago that Andre Drummond was available in trade talks, in addition to the Pistons' devastating injury situation, the writing appeared to be on the wall for a season of low expectations and a pending rebuild.
With three straight home losses last week to the struggling Cleveland Cavaliers, New Orleans Pelicans and Chicago Bulls, the ardent aficionado was looking toward three months of tanking and getting a premium draft pick.
Not so fast.
The Pistons (16-27) followed those dismal performances with their best win of the season, at the Boston Celtics, then their highest-scoring outing of the season, with 136 points against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night.
The tank talk is no more — and it really never was there in the first place.
Pistons team owner Tom Gores has said he’s committed to winning — and not to tanking — and to that they’ll take some time to figure out the direction for this season, but while they’re languishing outside the playoff picture, the outlook still isn’t clear.
“Well, we have to look at everything because we’re not winning, so when you’re not winning, to me, you have to assess everything. I think anybody would want to do that,” Gores said recently. “And probably in the next month or so, we’re going to get together as an organization and just discuss things.”
That’s more an indication of the direction ahead of the trade deadline on Feb. 6 and whether they’ll be buyers or sellers. With the payroll situation, including Drummond’s likelihood of opting out of the final year of his deal, worth $28.8 million, all signs point to them dismantling the roster and trying to rebuild on the fly.
To be clear, that’s not tanking.
One of the benefits of Blake Griffin’s knee injury — which possibly will end his season — and other lengthy absences of Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard is that coach Dwane Casey and the front office have gotten an opportunity to assess their young players, including rookie Sekou Doumbouya and second-year guards Bruce Brown and Svi Mykhailiuk, and there is a core to build around.
The Pistons’ path forward seems to be focused more on remaking the roster with an eye on straightening out the financial situation first. While they had hoped to be a contender during Griffin’s contract window, the more realistic scenario is that they will develop their younger players and see what develops.
They could have upwards of $60 million less in committed salary this summer with their expiring contracts, and if Drummond opts-out in the summer or is traded before the deadline. Provided they don’t have a reprise of the summer spending spree that brought Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon years ago, they should find themselves in a good spot to augment the roster with veteran pieces that could make them better — sooner than later.
Amid a streak of five wins in their last 17 games, the Pistons have found something in Doumbouya’s development and Mykhailiuk’s maturation and even Derrick Rose’s renaissance that will make the second half of the season worth watching, simply for a glimpse of what the future could look like.
For some fans, it's the near future; for others, it could be a bit of a wait.
Pistons at Wizards
Tip-off: 2 Monday, Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.
Outlook: The Pistons (16-27) have won two in a row, a pair of their most impressive wins of the season. The Wizards (13-28) have lost three straight but have won two of the three head-to-head meetings this season.