Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Lions Have Company

Even though the NBA season is nearly half over, I am still optimistic that the Pistons will have success before the end of the season. And by “success”, I mean securing a totally awesome pick in the NBA Draft. In case you haven’t noticed—and I wouldn’t blame you if you haven’t—the Pistons are riding a 13-game losing streak. They haven’t just been losing, they’ve been getting smoked by an average of 14 points per game. They are obviously terrible. Joe D is finding out what many already knew six months ago: spending a bunch of cap space on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva was dumb. The Pistons have no offensive post game. They can’t shoot. They have nobody who can take over a game. They are saddled with both multi-year contracts and players without true positions. There is little hope that this team can be salvaged without spending the next couple years in the cellar.

The good news is that losing 13 in a row is a great way of getting more balls with Pistons logos into the NBA Draft lottery. The Pistons are currently 11-25 which is tied for the 3rd worst in the NBA. However, they are only a ½ game ahead of Indiana and Philadelphia. When it comes to the NBA Draft, one or two draft positions can make the difference between bringing home a surefire superstar or walking the fine line of contributor and draft bust. Right now, John Wall appears to be the best bet to be the first overall pick. It’s unlikely that the Pistons will be porous enough to challenge the Nets or T-Wolves for the # 1 overall pick. Barring an unexpected run by either of those teams, it looks like the 3rd pick becomes the focus (at least for us fans). The good news is that the 3rd pick should provide a prolific frontcourt player. Derrick Favors (G. Tech) and Ed Davis (UNC) are both big, power forward types with long arms and athleticism. Favors started off his college career on fire posting five double-doubles in his first 12 games. The ACC slate has cooled him off a bit. Davis has been a beast this season averaging 15 points, 10 boards, and 3 blocks per game. Favors might get the edge come draft time, however, because he is two years younger. The Pistons could surely use the services of either player. A top three draft pick would virtually guarantee that at least one would be available. If the Pistons drop a few spots then they’d be looking at more flawed "bigs" like Donatas Motiejunas, Cole Aldrich, and Patrick Patterson. Motiejunas will inevitably spark comparison to Darko Milicic and I would not be surprised if Joe D hesitated himself out of making that pick regardless of how good Motiejunas looks in workouts. Patterson is undersized and Aldrich is no sure thing despite Brooke Lopez comparisons. The Pistons don’t need bigs, they need skilled bigs. Just how horrible they are the rest of the way out will determine which type will be available.

One draft pick isn’t going to change the fortunes of the franchise even if it is John Wall. The Pistons are dreadful because Joe D did a horrible job of transitioning his roster. He blew his cap space on players who pile up “empty” stats and now he is stuck with an inflexible roster. There isn’t a single player on the team who is untradeable and there isn’t anyone who appears to be good enough to build a team around. However, operating at the top of the lottery has been fortuitous for teams in the past few years. It is not out of the question for the Pistons to come away with an immediate contributor and/or a future all-star. The Pistons will simply need to keep losing at an astounding clip for that to happen. There are some bad teams in the NBA right now. In fact, I don’t think the Pistons even have one of the 10 worst rosters talent-wise in the NBA. That will make finishing in the top three of the lottery a difficult task. The next four games are going to be absolutely pivotal in that regard. The Pistons play Washington, New Orleans, and a home and home against the Knicks before embarking on a brutal stretch. If the Pistons lose the next four, then we’re in business. The Pistons will have stiff competition from Indiana, Golden State, Washington, and Philadelphia which shows just how slippery the slope is from the 3rd pick to the 7th.

It would be nice to see the Pistons pick up a superstar in the draft for the first time since they nabbed Grant Hill in 1994. However, this team is so bad and so unorthodox that one addition isn’t going to do anything but clutter things even more unless changes are made. Joe D needs to get this team headed in a direction—any direction. He waited way too long on trading Tayshaun and Rip. Their values are probably as low as they have ever been. With that in mind, he should look to dump their salaries and try to pick someone up in free agency next season. The Summer of LeBron options are dwindling with players re-signing and/or taking player options but there will still be players worth courting. The addition of a top three draft pick and a max type player could have the fortunes of this team turned around pretty quickly. The problem is that Joe D has proven time and time again that he is incapable or unwilling to trade Tayshaun or Rip. They are slated to make a combined 23.7 million next season. Joe D should ship them off to Houston for Tracy McGrady’s expiring contract (unless, of course, Houston doesn’t want any part of it). That’s the only way out of this hellhole. I’m not sure what the downside is with that move. Is he afraid of making a mistake? How much worse can things get? His team has lost 13 in a row and has no direction whatsoever. Dumping Rip and Tay would clear up enough cap space to make Squilliam Fancyson jealous and give Joe an opportunity to give extended minutes to Austin Daye and Jonas Jerekbo for the remainder of the season. He’ll surely want to know what he has there before making his next move.

It’s amazing how quickly Joe D has taken a roster fresh off of six consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearances and turned it into a hopeless collection of nothing. I’ve always thought that Joe must have had a master plan for the looming transition. That hope obviously melted away a violent death with the signings of Charlie V. and Ben Gordon. His inability to trade Rip and Tayshaun just reaffirms the bleakness and despair that is yet to come. If I hadn’t already spent 30 years as a depressed Lions fan, this would probably be the saddest and most depressing post I’ve ever written. Instead, all it does is confirm that I probably should’ve picked a different name for my blog.


Jim said...

While the losing streak was sort of shocking, considering the gutty performances they were capable of a couple months ago...it's still safe to say the team that fielded the most talent for those thirteen games won, right?
I only half-agree with you about the Charlie V/Gordon signings in that they are nothing but a patchwork solution to an endemic problem. But let's say that the Pistons didn't sign them and at this point in the season are even worse than they are now...I could easily see us with a mountain of cap space that no blue-chip free agent would take us up on (you said yourself free agents don't willingly come to Detroit) and the entire Pistons fan base pinning their hopes on nothing but the draft. If that's the Pistons team that we'd have otherwise been left with, then count me out.

Jake said...

Hey Jim,

I don't think the issue is Charlie V/Gordon or nobody. Joe had years to do something with an aging roster and waited too long. If you and I both know that free agents don't like to sign with Detroit, then Joe knows it too. There's no way he (or us for that matter) should ever think that spending a big portion of your payroll on two very flawed players will help this team rebuild. Tay and Rip should've been sent off a long time ago. He got nothing for Rasheed (not saying he could've gotten something major but more than nothing) and he simply got cap space for Chauncey. Knowing free agents don't sign here, trading those players were the only way he was going to get talent in return. Instead, he bled his assets until they turned into nothing. Now he's got nothing except for the promise of Rodney Stuckey (which really isn't a "promise" at all). I would love it if Charlie V and Ben Gordon were patchwork. However, a combined 10 years and nearly $100 million isn't patchwork. We have both Gordon and Charlie V. and we still only have the draft to look forward to. Even with all the imaginative might in my brain, I can't even fathom a scenario in which this can work out well in the next 2-3 years. This thing is dire.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely agree with your point about Joe getting nothing for something regarding Chauncey/Rasheed and failing to move critical pieces during the three or so seasons prior to this one. I'd like your thoughts on a couple scenarios regarding the Pistons season:

First, the annual trade rumors are heating up (somewhat); if the Pistons are able to land Al Jefferson or Boozer in exchange for Tay and some of our young guys before the deadline, should Joe pull the trigger? Also, what if the T-Wolves/Jazz want Tay AND our first-rounder this year?

Second scenario, the current team makes it through the season and now we're faced with the draft. Let's say we are a lottery team and by divine intervention end up with the #1 pick, do we draft Wall and pray Joe can trade Stuckey or Bynum for serviceable bigs, or package the pick in order to get someone like Bosh?

Jake said...

Yes! On Jefferson, I've seen enough over the first few months of the season to think that he is getting close to where he was prior to the injury. The thing to remember about Jefferson is that unlike C-Webb, Amare, and others who have had similar injuries, Jeff did not rely on superior athleticism. He is a big, powerful center in the Moses Malone mold who relies on positioning and footwork. So, it's not out of the question that he returns to his emerging superstar self and stays there for a long time. That's the long way of saying that I am convinced that barring another injury, he will be fine physically.

As for whether it makes sense to trade for him, considering how hopeless the future looks right now in just about every possible way, I wold trade for Al Jefferson in a second. I don't see any other way to get an all-star big man in a Detroit uniform. Jefferson's stock is at an all-time low right now (well maybe not after going for 26 and 26 last night) because teams are afraid of getting damaged goods. Minnesota seems desperate to move him. This is the perfect time for Joe D to make a low risk, high reward move. Honestly, I don't care what it takes to make it happen.

As for the John Wall scenario, if we have a chance to take Bosh, I say we have to take Bosh. It's nothing against Wall, rather it's something against the point guard position. Shooting guards and centers lead teams to NBA Championships. Point guards do not. If John Wall was 6'7 or 7'0, then I see we make the pick.

However, if Joe can work out a trade for a big in exchange for Stuckey and someone else (anyone else) before the draft, then, of course, we can take Wall and have it all!


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