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Did the Pistons tank last night?

In my review of the Pistons’ 3932-point loss to the Hawks last night, I accused Detroit of tanking.

There’s dissent to that opinion. Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News:

Three games in three nights? Giving some guys the night off? No, that’s not tanking #Pistons

Even without playing tonight, guys are playing three games in 5 nights, especially the older players…not tanking #Pistons

@Stareagle disagree because you wouldn’t win in Atl anyways. Trying it against Cleveland would’ve been more apt, esp since closer records

Defining tanking

I define tanking as: a team intentionally attempting to lower its chances of on-court success during the current season in order to achieve other gains.

Gregg Popovich resting his stars? Not tanking. He thinks that will make his team more effective, overall, throughout the season.

A playoff team purposefully losing to set up a favorable first-round playoff matchup? Not tanking. The team is trying to increase its on-court success in the more-significant playoffs.

A playoff team with its seed already determined resting its starters? Not tanking. The team is trying to increase its on-court success in the more-significant playoffs.

Applying to the Pistons against the Hawks

As defined above, motive is a big part of tanking, so I can’t prove that the Pistons tanked last night.

Lawrence Frank knows his goals for the game, and perhaps a few others do, too. I have no firsthand knowledge.

But sitting a couple of the team’s better players – Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace – during a back-to-back-to-back in order to maximize total wins does not seem like a move Frank would make. He sat Wallace in the middle game of a back-to-back-to-back earlier in the season, but Frank hasn’t made similar moves often this year. If Frank were really concerned about resting Prince, maybe Frank could have sat Prince sooner during a 39-point win over Cleveland.

And even if Prince needed rest last night and not Tuesday, why start Austin Daye – who’s played terribly this season – rather than Damien Wilkins or Jonas Jerebko.

As far as it being an unwinnable game? No way. In three matchups entering Wednesday, the Pistons had played the Hawks to overtime at home, won at home and lost by five in Atlanta. Just a few days ago, Goodwill wrote that the Pistons were on their way to challenging Chicago (47-15). But they can’t beat Atlanta (37-25)?

Here’s my guess – and it’s nothing more than that: Frank thought he could implement the coaching part of tanking (using suboptimal lineups) without the players exercising their part of tanking (not playing hard).

It didn’t work.

The players quit, and that’s why Frank was so terse after the game. Frank stuck his toes in the tanking pool against a playoff opponent rather than jumping in against another tanking team, Cleveland, the previous night. I don’t think he has the stomach for it, and I think the Pistons’ regular rotation players – plus Vernon Macklin – will play bigger minutes against the Timberwolves tonight.

The Pistons didn’t tank before last night, and I don’t expect them to tank (beyond some very minor steps, like playing Macklin) the rest of the season. But, barring any new evidence, I’m convinced they tanked last night.

Update: In response who still don’t think the Pistons tanked , here’s the one question to ask: If the Pistons were in a playoff race, would Frank have coached the same way last night? If the answer is no, they tanked.

12 Comments

  • Apr 19, 201211:43 am
    by Tiko

    Reply

    I don’t think he tanked I think he finally did something he should have been doing more this season (experiment with different lineups, something a lot of us have been wanting him to do) in order to evaluate the player’s roles in the future on the team whether or not they have one.
    Last night proved why he hasnt done that more often. They were absolutely atrocious.

  • Apr 19, 201211:54 am
    by gordbrown

    Reply

    The Pistons have had two sets of back-to-back-to back this season. Frank held Wallace out of the middle set both times. Therefore consistency here. Daye has played well when called upon against Miami of all teams. I think Frank set this plan in place to rest Prince and Wallace well before Tuesday, mainly in the hopes that showing some faith in Daye might result in a better performance. The best laid plans of mice and men etc. The real issue is Stuckey. He clearly was playing tentatively against Cleveland, the only difference was that Atlanta picked up on it and took advantage, daring him to drive inside and giving him lots of space outside to shoot.  The issue is not so much giving up as the problem the Pistons have had all season long. Unforced errors (especially poor shot selection) leading to easy baskets on the other end. Gave Atlanta a lot of confidence and they were loose and loving it. Frank was looking for things to think about in the off season. Found lots of them I think.

  • Apr 19, 201211:58 am
    by Al

    Reply

    Its hard to say somewhat because everyone knows the season is over so why not give a struggling guy a chance to gain confidence and PT especially if he is supposed to be apart of the future with the organization going forward. Now Stuckey doing what he did out there was another story. Had he finished the game with say 7-10 assist then it might not have been so obvious. He has been so injury prone of late why even risk the chance of a serious one if he wasnt gonna even attempt to be a factor on the floor. The lineups were horrific, particularly the combinations, so im not sure what Frank was looking for, maybe weeding out the players who just dont fit certain schemes??? Overall, another painful Pistons game to watch last night. The effort and players must have still been on the plane in Detroit…

  • Apr 19, 201212:08 pm
    by Al

    Reply

    Agreed on Daye and the heat, there is something about high caliber teams that allow players to give a better performance. If he could just channel that type of focus and demeanor for all games would be great. We’ve seen what he can bring to the table so its worth to give him a shot. I would hate to see another Amir or affalo situation go down smh

  • Apr 19, 201212:22 pm
    by G

    Reply

    There’s a difference between taking a schedule loss and tanking. The Pistons are playing 3 games in 3 days, 1 against a playoff team and 2 games against lottery teams. If Frank puts out a sub-optimal lineup against the playoff team to keep his better players rested so they’ll have a better chance against teams they’re more likely to beat. How is that tanking?
    Tanking is a concerted effort to improve draft position by losing as much as possible, usually by shutting down one or more of your best players due to dubious injuries. Cleveland and Minnesota are 2 teams the Pistons would be “competing” with for a higher pick and you’re suggesting that increasing the odds of beating them by resting players against a superior team is tanking?

  • Apr 19, 201212:39 pm
    by Dandresden

    Reply

    Also not to be discounted: goodwill is a buffoon.

  • Apr 19, 201212:52 pm
    by vic

    Reply

    i dont think they were tanking, I think they just went too far with their experimentation. It didn’t look like the coach was happy about it.

    Tayshaun and Ben Wallace are still the best defensive players on the team. The least you could do is replace Tay with jerebko, not Daye. Experiments are best done one variable at a time, right?

  • Apr 19, 201212:56 pm
    by rick77

    Reply

    Stuck just needs to get his confidence back after scoring 32 against Chicago and missing 5 out of 18 free throws, tow out of four in the last minute or so that would have sealed the game obviously has had a lasting mental affect on him. I don’t know why people forget these things and only harp on the negative as if that game didnt take place. The guy also got knocked in the throat and had a brief scare with his ankle. What are the expectations of the man? He had a bad game just like the rest of the team. The issue everyone should have is whats up with Daye and his child like reactions after not making plays,missing assignments, and missed free throws. His body language shows me that he is not hungry as the other players and that he probably wont get it unless his opportunity is truly in danger. The problem is this is a mans game and they dont have time to wait for a boy to turn into a man.

    • Apr 19, 20125:34 pm
      by tarsier

      Reply

      “obviously has had a lasting mental affect on him”

      How exactly is that obvious? I would not typically expect that to be the case for most people. Nobody associated with the Pistons has said anything along those lines. There are all sorts of reasons for a bad game. Missing a couple crunch time free throws a few games back seems like one of the worst possible explanations.

  • Apr 19, 20122:17 pm
    by gordbrown

    Reply

    Should clarify. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with Stuckey’s head or his confidence or whatever. Appears to me the problem is in his legs/feet/below the waste. His problem is physical and I can appreciate he doesn’t want to aggravate whatever the problem is. He did seem to push the ball when he had to and pulled in at least one nice rebound, so it wasn’t effort.

  • [...] around. The team gave up, in Lawrence Frank’s public estimation. The team purposely tanked, to hear Dan Feldman of Piston Powered recall it. Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace sat, to rest veteran legs in a grueling season. Also, the Hawks [...]

  • Apr 9, 201311:41 pm
    by hair chalk

    Reply

    I do enjoy the way you have presented this specific situation plus it really does supply me personally some fodder for consideration. Yet, thank you for this excellent piece.

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