The Pistons’ loss in San Antonio last night was the kind of unmitigated disaster that makes teams reevaluate their priorities. Detroit only managed 75 points and allowed 114 to a Spurs team that was missing arguably its best player (and a potential MVP candidate) in Tony Parker. This was rock bottom, the lowest point we’ve seen since the eight game losing streak to open the season.
So where does Detroit go from here? They currently stand eight and a half games out of the playoff race — essentially an insurmountable gap — and barring any unforeseen lottery magic, would hold the ninth pick in the draft if the season ended today. The Pistons have gotten solid value in the 7-10 range the past few seasons, particularly in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, but the late lottery is generally a bit of a no-man’s-land. If they have nothing left to play for, what exactly is the point of trying to win?
The Pistons don’t have to hold out their best players or blatantly try to lose in order to increase their lottery ball count. Detroit is currently only a game and a half ahead of Cleveland in the standings, and only two games ahead of Washington — the owners of the 3rd and 4th worst records in the NBA. The Cavaliers went 11-8 in Feburary, largely because of key bench additions in Wayne Ellington, Marreese Speights, and Shaun Livingston, in addition to less abjectly terrible improved play from Dion Waiters, and Kyrie Irving’s progression towards star-caliber production. The Wizards have also stepped up their play of late, playing .500 ball since the start of the new year thanks to the return of John Wall, a healthy Nene, and a smothering defense.
With that slim a margin between a top three pick and late lottery limbo, Detroit needs to make a few changes. For one, the “veteran mentality” bullcrap needs to stop. Lawrence Frank needs to realize that he can’t save his job by winning a few more games. This isn’t a playoff team, it’s a work in progress, and Joe Dumars finally appears to understand that. Tayshaun Prince is gone. Jason Maxiell (hopefully) won’t be around next year. Frank needs to continue playing the young guys significant minutes, especially when Andre Drummond returns. See what you have going forward. Give Kim English, or Slava Kravtsov, or Khris Middleton a chance to prove that they’re a rotation player. Get the growing pains of a Monroe/Drummond front court out of the way now, so they’re not there when you actually need to win games. And FOR GOD’S SAKE, PLAY JONAS JEREBKO INSTEAD OF MAXIELL.
A draft class that initially looked top heavy with bigs — particularly centers — has gradually seen a crop of guards outperform expectations. Ben McElmore, Shabazz Muhammad, Victor Oladipo (my personal favorite), Marcus Smart, and even Trey Burke are proving to be viable options, and a top 5 pick would give the Pistons their pick of the litter. Nobody likes to watch losing basketball, but ripping off the band-aid in the home stretch will ultimately help build Detroit’s youth movement. It’s time to move on. Just tank.