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Pistons don’t tank

I wrote about the Pistons and tanking for TrueHoop:

The 2004 Pistons are the only modern-era team to have won a title without a significant contribution from a player it picked in the lottery (or a lottery pick it traded for on draft night).
From Joe Dumars down, the Pistons evidently can’t stomach the thought of losing, and certainly not for a draft pick. In 2010, Dumars told Dave Pemberton of the Oakland Press:

“It is impossible to feel good about losing,” Dumars said. “I understand that maybe from a fan and media perspective, ‘Oh, just lose games.’ Your mind can’t even get around that. Even down the stretch when we were way out of it, you feel better leaving the arena after you won a game as opposed to losing a game because at that point you’re not looking at standings and trying to figure out where you are because you know what you have to go through a lottery anyway."

Dumars has brought in like-minded individuals: a coach and players who apparently hate losing just as much.

There’s certainly a reasonably case that he has made mistakes in assembling this the current roster. Refusing to tank might be another one of his strategic mistakes.

But it should be noted that the Pistons have denounced tanking — and backed it up with their actions. In playoff-less seasons, the Pistons finished with a 4-1 run last year and a 4-2 run the year before.

That takes us back to Wednesday. If the Pistons tanked in Atlantathey deny it — it was an aberration that was quickly rectified.

37 Comments

  • Apr 25, 20122:22 pm
    by Carl

    Reply

    Great.
    Step 1: Keep not tanking and getting the 10th pick in every draft.
    Step 2: Keep picking up players good enough to win occasional games but never make the playoffs.
    Step 3: Repeat.

  • Apr 25, 20122:24 pm
    by Jodi Jezz

    Reply

    Only a lame fan or losers in the media thinks that tanking is acceptable…If you’ve ever played collegiate sports or sports period, you understand that losing is out of the question…You never want to have a losing culture on your team…

    • Apr 25, 20122:29 pm
      by Tiko

      Reply

      that’s very cute

      • Apr 25, 20126:51 pm
        by gmehl

        Reply

        Cute (meaning: attractive in a pretty or endearing way)
        Endearing (meaning: caused to be loved or liked)
        So pretty much what Tiko is saying is that we are forced to love that the pistons don’t tank cause we have no choice in the matter.

    • Apr 25, 20122:39 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Noted lame fan and loser in the media Michael Jordan has seemed OK with his team’s tanking this season.

      • Apr 25, 20122:52 pm
        by Jodi Jezz

        Reply

        @Patrick, I don’t know if they were tanking every night on purpose…I think the Bobcats were just a horrible team this year, I mean they really sucked…The 2011-2012 Bobcats might be the worst team in NBA history…
        @Tiko, Thanks bro…

        • Apr 25, 20124:48 pm
          by Eric

          Reply

          Uh… Who traded away Gerald Wallace and dumped every player for scratch?

      • Apr 25, 20124:46 pm
        by Eric

        Reply

        Please add the warriors gm and coach to the list. Marc Jackson, who denied knowing how the lottery works, benched both klay thomspon and Brando rush last night against the hornets.

      • Apr 25, 20125:08 pm
        by Max

        Reply

        @Patrick…………are you really citing Michael Jordan in terms of having a clue how to rebuild?

        • Apr 25, 20129:29 pm
          by Patrick Hayes

          Reply

          Has nothing to do with his competence or lack thereof. The commenter I was responding to said only “lame fan or losers in the media thinks that tanking is acceptable.” Jordan clearly finds it acceptable enough for his team to do it. They’ve made trades/personnel decisions the last season and a half with clear knowledge that those moves would make them worse.

          I don’t think any team loves the idea of tanking, and there is plenty of room for debate about how often it actually works, but to act like teams don’t willingly do it? I think that was a pretty naive comment from Mr. JJ.

    • Apr 25, 20128:41 pm
      by tarsier

      Reply

      “a losing culture”

      This is perhaps the most common claim with regard to tanking. But nobody ever, ever backs it up. Yes, the year after most tanks, teams perform poorly. Because they usually don’t yet have that much talent. But once they have a good bit of talent, somehow this “losing culture” always evaporates. Yes, sometimes a 9th man sort of veteran from a contender is brought in and is credited with removing the losing culture. But even if that is accurate, if removing a losing culture is that easy, why is anyone worried about it?
      I challenge people every time a “losing culture” is mentioned, but nobody ever responds. Could somebody please tell me why they believe in this? Is it a gut feeling? Is it based on a few cases of anecdotal evidence? Is ti because karma makes for a good narrative? Is it based on a real study with factual findings that I just haven’t seen?

      • Apr 25, 20129:39 pm
        by Patrick Hayes

        Reply

        I’ve probably used the term a time or two. To me, it just means that you lack a direction or plan.

        The Spurs and Celtics the year of the Duncan draft are a pretty good example. Both clearly tanked (though the Spurs’ decision to do it was made easier by Robinson’s injury). But had San Antonio not won the lottery, they were still going to be a good team with Robinson returning to health, a high draft pick even if it wasn’t the guy they wanted and, if I remember correctly, a pretty good salary picture/flexibility.

        Boston, on the other hand, was a lousy team with no real established players who banked on getting Duncan with one of their two lottery picks. When it didn’t happen for them, they were screwed. Although they didn’t directly try to sell their fans that all the losing was OK b/c it would result in Duncan, it was clearly implied. Then, they took a player in Billups they didn’t love, weren’t going to be patient enough for him to develop and gave up on him like halfway through his rookie year. That, to me, is ‘losing culture.’ Where, for example, you tank for the sake of tanking, but don’t have other strategies in place to recover if your tank doesn’t work out as you predicted. You see a handful of teams like that every decade, ones that constantly end up in the lottery because their strategy starts and ends at get lucky in the lottery.

        Sure, the Spurs were lucky to land Duncan, but they were going to be OK even if they didn’t because they already had an established player and they had smart personnel people in place who would’ve found talent elsewhere. Maybe they wouldn’t have become one of the league’s flagship franchises, but they would’ve still had some sustained success over the next four or five seasons or so.

        • Apr 26, 20126:37 pm
          by tarsier

          Reply

          Fair enough. If that’s what people mean then I am clearly misinterpreting. Or of course, your use of the term may be different from most people’s. But usually it seems to me that people refer to a losing culture as meaning that the players get used to losing and not setting winning as a priority and then they just can’t snap out of it. Like they have forgotten how to win or something. It is no longer a matter of talent, they will just be losers until someone comes along and magically shows them how to playing winning ball again.

  • Apr 25, 20122:38 pm
    by RalphHau

    Reply

    I might agree that not all of the team has Tanked, but has anyone talked with Stucky about his last 4 or 5 games, hummmmm!!!!

    • Apr 25, 20123:00 pm
      by gordbrown

      Reply

      I admit that I’m a charter member of the Stuckey Slappies (and proudly so). And I’ve said this before. But Stuckey is playing hurt. He does seem to be coming around, his defense on Monday was quite good. But he doesn’t have either his good first step or his explosiveness at the hoop, which are the two biggest tools in his arsenal. Having said that I trust the training staff knows how to protect him so he’s not aggravating anything and the games don’t mean anything anyway. He should be commended for giving his best under the circumstances.

  • Apr 25, 20122:54 pm
    by Mark

    Reply

    Dumars’ pride is preventing him from thinking wisely. That’s not good a trait for a GM. In the past his loyalty has prevented from not thinking wisely as well. He needs to learn to do his job without letting his emotions take over. Its strange because as a player he was the prototype for the even-keeled, mentally tough player, who neer let his emotions cloud his judgement. We need that Joe D back.

    • Apr 25, 20129:49 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      I’ve heard this theory from commenters before. I’m not saying pride is or isn’t a factor with him, but how do we know this?

      I mean, it’s a given that a lot of his moves have failed and that he’s a major reason the Pistons are where they are. But realistically, what can he do publicly? He can’t trash underperforming players whose value is already limited or non-existent as it is. It probably wouldn’t be wise for him, working for a new boss and probably wanting to retain his job, to publicly say, “Yeah, sorry everyone, I mistakenly handed out about $100 million in contracts to players who severely underperformed, I hired unqualified coaches and I gave away a couple cheap young players who turned out to be pretty good for little return.” When he has a prospect he probably reached for in the draft like Daye still on his roster, who incidentally has major confidence issues, should he really say, “You know, on second thought I should have taken Ty Lawson?”

      I mean, I guess it’s possible that Dumars thinks all of those moves were rock solid behind the scenes and he blames other factors for why they all went so wrong. I just really doubt it, and I don’t quite get why some people seem to think the public statements he (or any GM, really) makes are an accurate reflection or evaluation of what he truly feels about his body of work.

      Sure, as a fan, it would be great to see Dumars re-enact this Larry David scene and admit that he veered pretty far off the tracks. But appeasing the fans with an honest apology is not a good enough reason to trash guys who are still on your roster and who, theoretically, you’d probably like to entice another team into trading for.

  • Apr 25, 20123:06 pm
    by John

    Reply

    Any ideas on the draft, FA? I’m thinking we trade up. Yeah ik, Joe making a trade but, MKG would be a good asset

  • Apr 25, 20123:11 pm
    by AtotheK

    Reply

    I see a few late lottery teams over the last couple years succeeding with those picks playing big roles (Jazz w/ Hayward, Rockets w/ Patterson, Sun’s w/ Morris, Pacer’s w/ Hansbourgh and George) Don’t think it makes much sense to lose on purpose to draft Drummond, rather than finish strong and grab Henson, Zeller, Leonard or a top 5 talent that falls to late lottery. I know there’s a lot of pessimists here, but the Pistons may just be a decent pick and a couple subtle player moves from making the playoffs in the weak ass east. (i.e. we don’t need Anthony Davis to become relavent again)

  • Apr 25, 20123:13 pm
    by Josh

    Reply

    @patrick Hayes, I’m curious to know your own personal opinion on tanking. Are you for it or against it?

    • Apr 25, 20123:35 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      In general? If it works (i.e. your best player gets injured and misses the season and so you play a bunch of fringe roster guys big minutes most of the year, then end up getting Tim Duncan), I’m 100 percent in favor of it. If there’s a major impact player in available in a draft, if your team isn’t going to be good anyway, I have no problems with playing raw or untested or D-League caliber players in big roles hoping one of them develops into a useful player down the road, all while improving their odds of getting said impact player in the lottery. I would’ve absolutely OK with the Pistons, for example, not re-signing Tayshaun Prince, giving his SF minutes to Daye/Jerebko/Wilkins and giving Jerebko’s backup PF minutes to Macklin all season. Now, I certainly would expect that the coach demand maximum effort, etc. out of those guys in order to hold their rotation spots, but I also wouldn’t be that upset when or if their limitations get exposed in big minutes and the team loses.

      With Greg Monroe, Rodney Stuckey, etc., Detroit wouldn’t have been bad enough to get Charlotte bad, but I think there would’ve been some value in being a little worse than they will end up finishing. They would have more full evaluations on whether Daye or Macklin offers anything long-term, they would have a better feel for whether or not Jerebko is simply a combo forward energy bench guy or a potential starter at SF some day with better talent around him and they would have a better chance at Anthony Davis. I don’t see a downside to any of the above scenario. I’m also not bent out of shape that they won a few extra games though, either.

      Tanking can and has worked for teams. I think it gets a bad rap because the term elicits some sort of purposeful effort by players or coaches not to win. That’s not what it is at all. Charlotte, for example, had some guys who played very hard this season. They just weren’t even close to good enough. As long as you bottom out with a goal in mind and make an effort not to be that terrible for more than one season, tank away. I certainly wouldn’t advocate for a team that, in order to improve draft position, creates an environment where it’s OK for players not to care or play hard, but I think you can accomplish tanking without taking it to that extreme.

      For the Pistons, coming off a couple seasons where players clearly didn’t play all that hard or care all that much, I get why they treat tanking like a dirty word. They’re trying to move away from that image they created those last two seasons, so any time the word is spoken, Lawrence Frank looks like he sucked a lemon because he thinks tanking literally means not playing hard or caring.

      So I guess that’s a long way of saying I don’t care much either way. I think it can work if it is done in a way that doesn’t create a culture of laziness or not caring. But I also think that, if you don’t end up winning the lottery (and a lot of the tankiest teams in history haven’t), it’s a whole lot of heartache for a payoff that never comes.

  • Apr 25, 20123:20 pm
    by John

    Reply

    if we trade up a pick or two, we could draft drummond…. or Thomas Robinson

  • Apr 25, 20123:35 pm
    by frankie d

    Reply

    joe d’s statements – and the team’s actions – are just another indication that he has lost it.
    while i would always expect any person associated with an nba team to deny tanking, the actions of the team the last few years has been amazingly shortsighted.  
    for instance, why is rodney stuckey playing now?  he is clearly injured and it makes no sense to send an injured player out onto the court when there is nothing to play for.
    and why was he even back on the court after he collapsed in ’10?  that should have been a great opportunity to shut him down for the rest of the year and secure better draft position.  that may have been the difference between picking 7th and picking 5th and getting cousins.
    another strategic mistake?  
    you bet.  just another in a long line of them over the last 5 years or so.

  • Apr 25, 20124:12 pm
    by Nick II

    Reply

    The Pistons will win the draft lottery this yr. Detroit never won the lottery before so we are long over due for some good luck.

  • Apr 25, 20125:18 pm
    by Max

    Reply

    No offense to the authors but I hate these threads about tanking as much as I hate the concept.  I even wish the NBA would develop anti-tanking sanctions to put a stop to it once and for all.  Come up with some rules and then slap a team like the Timberwolves over Joe Smith.  There would be no more tanking.    Minimum caps helps some but they should monitor these players and injuries at the end of the year on bad teams the way they do players who get voted into the all-star game to stop them from resting due to phantom injuries. For one thing, other teams deserve the games they are not involved in to be honest contests and for another, fans deserve to see the best players available when they buy their tickets.

    • Apr 25, 201210:01 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Well, it’s not about hating them or liking them. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who says, “Man, I love it when teams gut their rosters so that they can suck really bad just to slightly improve their chances at a top pick.”

      But as you say, there is currently nothing to prevent teams from doing it. And especially in a draft like this year’s, when there is a player that there is a near consensus from stat-heads and ‘my eyes are better than your lame stats’ purists alike that he’ll be a game-changing talent, the league’s dregs are going to use every competitive advantage they can to get a shot at that player. I don’t like it, but I don’t have to like it. It happens, it has helped a handful of teams over the years land franchise-altering talents and the rules don’t prohibit it.

      “For one thing, other teams deserve the games they are not involved in to be honest contests”

      Well, they are ‘honest’ contests. Most of the time, even bad teams play pretty hard. Hell, I could make a case that Charlotte, one of the worst assemblages of talent in league history, plays harder than quite a few teams in the league. In that sense, they are honest contests. It’s not as if teams direct their players to go out and not try hard. Front offices and coaches just stack the deck by assembling bad players on a roster. It’s still nothing I’d be proud of, but I think the distinction is important. People hear ‘tanking’ and they assume it means guys give up or don’t try hard. In fact, D-League talents, young players fighting for spots, guys on 10-day contracts, etc. probably play harder than a lot of veteran players on better teams who are locked into long-term deals.

      “fans deserve to see the best players available when they buy their tickets.”

      I don’t disagree. But, by and large, the one thing that gets fans to games is winning. The Pistons were a bad team that didn’t tank this season, and their attendance was terrible. Charlotte, meanwhile, was a bad team that did tank and their attendance is horrible.

      The point is, winning a little bit isn’t going to draw fans, so I honestly don’t think teams care one bit about that argument when they make a decision to bottom out and get worse. If they keep limited veteran guys and stay average or slightly below, they won’t have great attendance. If they bottom out, win the lottery and get an impact star like Davis, suddenly they’re competing for a playoff spot (and that’s not hyperbole … Larry Brown said today that he thinks any team that gets Davis will be a 50 win team, including Charlotte … not sure I agree, but they hype and the desire to get him is legit). I think that’s a risk that teams will almost always take.

  • Apr 25, 20125:47 pm
    by Nick II

    Reply

    I agree with you Max. I paid $169 for NBA League Pass I wanna see the Pistons win as many games as they can.

    • Apr 25, 20128:26 pm
      by Jodi Jezz

      Reply

      @Max and Nick: That what I like to hear, some real fans…I dislike hearing about tanking myself…

      • Apr 25, 20128:43 pm
        by tarsier

        Reply

        So if people disagree with you about tanking, they can’t be real fans?

      • Apr 25, 201210:02 pm
        by Patrick Hayes

        Reply

        If people disagree with Jodi Jezz about anything, they are not real fans.

  • Apr 25, 20128:42 pm
    by vic

    Reply

    tanking doesn’t work. its dumb ever since 1985. Mathematically, it doesn’t work. 
    Its just like all the other lotteries and casinos – a tax for those that refuse to do the math. 
    the spurs are the only team that won a championship, and their tanking was not really tanking. It was a hall of fame center being injured.

    • Apr 25, 20128:46 pm
      by tarsier

      Reply

      I’d have to disagree and cite the Heat tanking in an effort to get Lebron.

    • Apr 25, 20128:51 pm
      by tarsier

      Reply

      Besides, even if it worked only for the Spurs and Heat since 1985, that is 5 championships in 27 years. Those are some fantastic odds.

      Seriously, I can just as easily say not tanking doesn’t work because the vast majority of teams that don’t tank don’t bring home the championship either. There are a lot of methods of building a team, and most won’t work most of the time if you narrow your definition of working to titles.

      And given that there is a default chance of winning it all of 1 in 30, before you can even start to talk about whether or not something works mathematically, you probably need about 100 years of evidence.

      • Apr 25, 201210:26 pm
        by Max

        Reply

        The Spurs example is silly though for dozens of reasons and personally.  Just to address the titles, they already had an MVP center on the roster and the rest of their titles depended on fortuitously drafting two hall of fame guards in the twenties just as Robinson was starting to fade.

        • Apr 25, 201210:39 pm
          by Patrick Hayes

          Reply

          Why do you say ‘fortuitously’ – The Spurs have a history of finding really good value late in drafts. They are better than any team in the league at it — Parker, Manu, Splitter, Scola, George Hill, Blair, Dragic, Barbosa, Udrih, Salmons, Mahinmi, Cory Joseph this year are all great value picks. I mean, sure, Parker/Manu are way better than any could’ve imagined for their draft slot, but if any team has the draft down to as close to a science as you can get it, it’s San Antonio.

          • Apr 27, 20123:29 am
            by Max

            Sure, sure………but Parker and Ginobili are worlds better than any of the other players you are naming.  Further, they were drafted the same year and and exactly when they needed them if they weren’t going to be mediocre for a little while.   It’s like, I give the Pistons organization tremendous credit for drafting Rodman but I also think in terms of him having a hall of game career, it was largely luck from the Pistons standpoint on draft day.   I don’t think the Pistons knew how good he was going to be and I don’t the Spurs knew how good Ginobili and Parker were going to be.  Nobody did because if someone had known, they would have drafted much higher.   If nothing else, the Spurs were extremely lucky that they were still available to be picked.  It was also due to the times in that the best foreign players weren’t as well scouted and weren’t being drafted as high.
            I think the Pistons have done very well late in drafts too but if they pick a player in the 2nd round this year that merits the hall of fame, luck will have played its hand in terms of the Pistons being fortunate enough to draft him.

    • Apr 25, 201210:15 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      @vic:

      So it only works if the team drafts a player who leads them to a championship? Come on. Cleveland and Denver were in a tank-off in 03 to get Lebron, and I would argue that tanking ‘worked’ for both teams since they both came out of the draft with marketable all-stars (though it certainly worked better for Cleveland). Hell, Miami even tanked that year, and their consolation prize was Wade.

      Spurs had it work twice — they were accused of tanking prior to the 87 draft when everyone knew Robinson would be legit. I would say it worked for them. Even the 94 Pistons made moves that certainly made them worse from a talent standpoint and helped them bottom out. They didn’t win the lottery, but got Grant Hill for their efforts.

      It doesn’t always work because not every draft has a player that is worth tanking for. If tanking gets you a better shot at Lebron James, it’s very enticing to try. If it gets you a better shot at drafting Kenyon Martin, it’s probably not worth it. This draft, though, with a potential once in a lifetime big man? Yeah, I don’t like tanking, but I can’t fault teams that are desperately trying to get Davis. He’s a franchise altering talent.

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