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Pistons face second-most important lottery in franchise history

Ever since Kevin Pritchard put “mediocrity treadmill” into our vernacular, the term has become wildly overused. To many, any team that doesn’t win the championship or the lottery is stuck on the mediocrity treadmill.

That concern has drawn discussion Detroit, where the Pistons haven’t strongly contented for a title or the No. 1 pick in a few years. Until now, that fear was misguided.

The Pistons aren’t on the mediocrity treadmill. They’re not good enough.

The mediocrity treadmill applies to teams good enough to make the playoffs, and that’s certainly not the Pistons right now. It’s not that a literal interpretation is necessary – some non-playoff teams were good enough to make the postseason if they caught different breaks. Detroit was more than a few breaks from the playoffs in each of the past three seasons.

But the playoffs are becoming an achievable short-term goal. Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Jonas Jerebko are getting better. Rodney Stuckey and Austin Daye might be, too. The Pistons are on the rise.

And that’s what makes tomorrow’s lottery so important for the franchise.

Most important lottery in Pistons history

Since the NBA instituted the lottery in 1985, the Pistons haven’t participated often. In fact, no Detroit representative was even on stage when the Pistons pulled their highest lottery pick. In 2003, Jerry West watched as his Memphis Grizzlies landed the No. 2 pick, knowing he’d have to send it to Detroit. The Pistons – who had traded Otis Thorpe to the Grizzlies years before in exchange for a pick that had become top-one protected in 2003 – used the pick, of course, to draft Darko Milicic.

But that wasn’t the most-important lottery in Pistons history.

That came in 1995.

Detroit drafted Allan Houston in 1993 and chose Grant Hill in 1994. Together – along with Lindsey Hunter, who was also drafted in 1993 and appeared promising but would never become a star – Hill and Houston gave the Pistons a bright future. Hill won Rookie of the Year, but neither he nor Houston was ready to carry a team, and Detroit went 28-54, the NBA’s sixth-worst record.

Some – though, certainly not all – of Detroit’s problems in the Hill era can be traced back to the 1995 lottery. The Pistons fell to the eighth pick and then traded it to the Trail Blazers for the No. 18 pick (Theo Ratliff), No. 19 pick (Randolph Childress) and No. 58 pick (Don Reid). Ratliff and Reid were excellent value picks, and Detroit traded Childress before the season to Portland for Otis Thorpe, who spent a couple alright years with the Pistons.

The Pistons nearly maximized their value with those picks, but by the time they were stuck with the No. 8 pick, their options were severely limited. If the Pistons had moved up in the 1995 lottery, they could have added Joe Smith,* Antonio McDyess,* Jerry Stackhouse,* Rasheed Wallace* or Kevin Garnett – the draft’s first five picks – to  their Hill-Houston core.

*Interestingly, the Pistons eventually acquired four of these players – though, Smith, McDyess and Wallace played for Detroit after Hill had left town. Stackhouse and Hill formed an ill-fitting partnership that might have gone better if the Pistons could have drafted Stackhouse and kept Theo Ratliff and Aaron McKie, rather than trading those two for Stackhouse.

In the 1995-96 season, Hill and Houston improved and led the Pistons to a 46-36 record. Although Houston left for the Knicks following that season, Hill carried the Pistons to the playoffs four of his last five seasons with Detroit. But because they didn’t surround Hill with more talent, the Pistons didn’t win a single playoff series in that span.

Like the current Pistons, the 1994-95 Pistons weren’t good enough for the mediocrity treadmill. Within a year, they had elevated to mediocre, but their moment to draft highly had passed.

Available options

This lottery’s importance to the Pistons is based on more than just their roster makeup. The top of the draft features a few excellent prospects.

Anthony Davis does a lot of things well, and they’re all things the Pistons need badly. Size, defense, athleticism, rebounding and passing – Davis’ specialties – are each areas where Detroit has plenty of room for improvement. There would be no diminishing returns if Davis went to the Pistons.

Even other top prospects – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Thomas Robinson and Andre Drummond (if he convinces teams he’s committed) – are tremendously more valuable than the scraps likely to be available at No. 9, Detroit’s slotted position. Any of those four could become the game-changer that puts the Pistons on an onward-and-upward track, rather than leave stuck running place.

Can Jared Sullinger, Tyler Zeller or even, my personal favorite of this tier, John Henson do that? I doubt the Pistons can find a true difference maker at No. 9, and a complementary piece just slides them comfortably onto the mediocrity treadmill.

Last chance?

The fundamental question: Can a team comprised primarily of the Pistons’ current players contend for a title? That matters, because the contracts of Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva and Tayshaun Prince will limit the Pistons’ ability to improve via free agency and trade in the near future, and the internal improvement of Monroe, Knight, Jerebko, Stuckey and Daye will limit the Pistons’ ability to improve via draft in the intermediate future.

Detroit’s best bet of getting on the track to contention is to move up in the lottery tomorrow. The Pistons have a 6.1 percent chance of landing in the top three – hardly great odds, but more than twice that of the Bucks, a team that played within the range of what Detroit could be next season.

Hopefully, the Pistons will avoid the lottery next year. They don’t need a victory tomorrow for that to happen.

But for the Pistons to surge into true contender status, they’ll need to add another star who’s not on the roster. If he doesn’t come in this draft, he’ll be extremely difficult to find.

It’s not a now-or-never situation. But it’s close.


  • May 29, 20121:31 pm
    by Eric


    Brandon Knight will get us the number one pick

    • May 29, 20123:22 pm
      by tarsier


      Wanna bet? I’ll give you 50-to-1 odds. And I’ll still make money on it.

      • May 29, 20123:33 pm
        by Reaction


        Brooklyn will get #1 or at least top 3 for sure

      • May 30, 20122:31 am
        by Eric


        How would you give me “50 to 1 odds.” Lol you’re so funny. My original post was a display of optimistically hope. K got that?

  • May 29, 20124:42 pm
    by Max


    I’m starting to feel like Gordon and Charlie V will be off the books relatively soon.   Even if they are traded before the deadline this season, a team knows they will be expiring contracts the following season.     Also, I don’t think the team will be facing a truly momentous moment until they have to resign Monroe and that will be after Gordon and Charlie V are off the books so I don’t really see why their cap situation is so bad at all.  They should have a ton of flexibility a full season before they have to convince Monroe to stay.
    If the Pistons get one of top three picks this year, I can see calling it one of their two most important lotteries ever—if not, I just don’t see it.  Getting Monroe was their most important lottery ever in my view.

    • May 29, 20125:10 pm
      by TheDude


      you misunderstood the point about it being the second most important. If they stay at 9, they CAN make the playoffs but will be a mediocre first round exit team (since they are already on the rise). Adding a star – Anthony Davis will jump start both the offense and defense and the ceiling will be removed from the Palace.

      • May 29, 20125:14 pm
        by Patrick Hayes


        “you misunderstood the point about it being the second most important.”

        Misunderstanding the point is kind of what Max is known for around these parts.

      • May 29, 20125:33 pm
        by Max


        I understood the point completely–I just said that I would only agree with it if they actually landed a top three pick and what do your other points have to do with anything I said.   Obviously, it would be a great boon and would speed up the rebuilding process if they get a top three pick, but if not, they might get a decent player and if not, it’s just another lottery year and I don’t know why it would be important than the previous two.   That is not misunderstanding but rather disagreeing.
        Also, the last time this team was on the rise, they added Rasheed afterwards so there is no reason why this lottery is some kind of final chance for them.   I know the article didn’t exactly say it was but it did say the cap was a big problem and that’s why I principally disagree.  Gordon, RIP and Charlie V are almost off the books and will all be before the Pistons have big decisions to make with Monroe and Knight so I think they have a lot of flexibility before then to radically change the roster around them and Stuckey.  Going into 14/15, the Pistons have almost nothing on the books.

        • May 29, 20125:51 pm
          by TheDude


          I apologize then. The only reason this would be more important than the previous 2 lotteries is because chances are, this team with the addition of a good piece can make the playoffs and won’t have an opportunity like this for a while. (besides trades)

          • May 30, 201212:58 am
            by Max

            I’d agree that the Pistons haven’t had a chance to get a player of Davis’ potential since at least 2003 and maybe longer.   I also think it’s possible to draft an all star at 9 and I’m pretty happy with how the last two drafts went.

    • May 29, 20126:54 pm
      by Dan Feldman


      “Getting Monroe was their most important lottery ever in my view.”

      You’re confusing the draft with the lottery. The fact that the Pistons could get Greg Monroe without moving up in the draft shows how unimportant the 2010 lottery was.

      • May 29, 20127:12 pm
        by gmehl


        ‘Owch’ slap him while he’s down why don’t you Dan :-)

      • May 29, 20128:35 pm
        by sop


        Dan your favorite at 9 is Henson? Really? Say it ain’t so. Beyond all the obvious down sides to him, Henson is so raw for a Junior. If the Pistons draft Henson over Sullinger or even Terrence Jones it would be a big disappointment. You have to draft BPA (Best player available) not need, which is shoot-blocking for us.

        • May 29, 201211:40 pm
          by Chris H


          I don’t know if it’s called best player available when you’re banking on potential to be achieved.  At least that is what I am advocating.  Draft the person with the most potential that is more difficult to find.  It’s why I lean toward Leonard at our spot, hell maybe if we could trade down and still grab him.  I figure it’s difficult to find a decent center that is legitimately 7 ft.  Finding decent wings seems easier to me than finding quality bigs, maybe I am off on that one.

      • May 30, 201212:07 am
        by Max


        Sure, but the Pistons actually did better than if they had moved up.   Your ideas about the 95 draft are more theoretical.

        • May 30, 20125:39 am
          by tarsier


          Hmmm, if they had stayed at 6, it is nearly a guarantee that they still would have gotten Monroe. If they had moved to the top 3, they probably would have gotten Wall, Favors, or Cousins. So you think the most important lottery in Pistons history is the difference between Monroe and one of those three while they were near the beginning of a couple years of .300-.400 ball?

      • May 30, 201212:49 am
        by Max


        And would the Pistons have drafted Monroe if the lottery had gone a little differently and they were one spot up?  We’ll never know.

    • May 29, 201211:27 pm
      by tarsier


      “If the Pistons get one of top three picks this year, I can see calling it one of their two most important lotteries ever—if not, I just don’t see it.”

      That’s like saying that such and such a game is really important, but only if you win. If you lose, it really wasn’t a big deal.

      • May 30, 201212:10 am
        by Max


        But it’s a lottery as in a game of chance and not skill.   You treat a victory or loss as important because you can actually effect things.   My logic goes like this…..if you played the lottery every day, the important lottery would be the one where you won a million bucks.   All of the times you lost were much less important.

        • May 30, 20122:19 am
          by oats


          In a normal lottery your past success has absolutely no bearing on future results. That is not the case with the NBA lottery. In theory the team should keep adding talent each year, which will net them more wins. This will reduce your odds of winning a lottery in the future, and eventually prevent you from playing the lottery altogether. That part would be more similar to poker, and your pot is dwindling. The hands when you are about to bust out are the most important hands because if you don’t win them you end up losing. Similarly, if the Pistons keep going without getting a lottery win, they are likely bound to lock themselves into the 7th/8th seed, only to get beat up on by Miami/Chicago and never getting good enough to win more than that. I know my analogy also breaks down when you consider the goal of winning hands in poker is to keep playing and I’m comparing poker to the NBA lottery where the goal is to get good enough to contend for a title and therefore not continuing playing the lottery game, but that is the problem with analogies. Still, the point stands that a lottery when the team is on the verge of ending up on the mediocrity treadmill is more important than previous ones when the team is still just putting together pieces and their time in the lottery is not running out.

          • May 30, 20124:21 pm
            by Max

            You could have made the same argument regarding the importance of the Darko pick but it was the surprise of the ‘Sheed trade that turned them into true contenders.

          • Jun 2, 20123:41 am
            by Max

            I started off the hypothetical I offered by saying LeBron was available so his current contract status wasn’t what I was postulating.

        • May 30, 20125:32 am
          by tarsier


          And this is why people say you really don’t understand the post. The level of importance of the lottery for the Pistons is all about how much difference it would make on the franchise if they win or not. Think of it like the importance of a single roulette bet. If the difference between winning or losing is getting a new Aveo or a new Boxter, that is less important than if the difference is between being able to keep your house or moving into a motel.

          • May 30, 20124:26 pm
            by Max

            I understand the post…..I disagree with its premise and a big reason is that while I hope the Pistons will move up, they have so miniscule a chance of doing so.   Therefore, the premise seems provocative and mean spirited to me because it placing such a large emphasis and a situation that is overwhelming likely to not work out for the team while suggesting it could possible be the team’s final chance to land a major star to go with the young nucleus.   I replied by basically saying the Pistons still have a 2-3 years to add the players and it doesn’t have to be through the lottery.

          • Jun 1, 20124:16 am
            by Max

            A better analogy would be free agency.   LeBron is available and the Pistons have the money, but so does NY, LAL. BOS, ORL, MIA, SAC, GS and CHAR.   The Pistons squad at the time isn’t very good and doesn’t offer LeBron much incentive to sign and several of the others teams are contenders he can put over the top.
            A blogger for the Pistons writes a story entitled, “The Most Important Free Agency Summer in Pistons History” simply because LeBron is available and the team technically can sign him while knowing there is almost no chance or reason to think he will sign with the team.
            Isn’t that a deflating premise to a fan of the team and doesn’t it fail to capture the team’s true narrative since the management and fans of the team were never really in the position to be thinking of drafting so high anyway?

          • Jun 1, 20122:58 pm
            by Dan Feldman

            That’s a poor analogy.

            The Pistons had a 6.1 percent chance of moving into the top three of this draft. If the Pistons do as well next year as Milwaukee did this year, that falls by more than half. If the Pistons do a bit better than that and make the playoffs, it drops to 0. Although 6.1 percent isn’t great, it’s far better than it will likely be in the next few years.

            The Pistons have a 0 percent chance of signing LeBron in any year. It’s a constant. Their lottery odds are not.

          • Jun 2, 20123:57 am
            by Max

            Why zero percent?  I offered a hypothetical in which LeBron was available and the Pistons had the money to sign him.  There are no real numbers for these things since it would entirely depend of LeBron’s own whim.
            LeBron isn’t the point anyway……I could have said Kevin Love, Blake Griffen or Josh Smith.
            My point was about placing such emphasis and importance on something because it merely had the potential to turn out well even though the odds were overwhelmingly against it.   6 percent chance isn’t so great?  I’d give any of the worst teams of all time a better chance to win a game against one of the best teams of all time than that.   6 percent is terrible.
            6 percent is don’t bother showing up and I don’t know that the 2nd or 3rd pick is such a big deal or so much better than the 9th anyway.  In either of the past two drafts, the Pistons may well have done worse if they had gotten a 2nd or 3rd pick.  They had less than a 2 percent chance at the game changer in Anthony Davis and it wasn’t really worth thinking about.   If a team had a 1.7 percent chance or whatever to win the title according to Vegas before the season started would you give the team a second thought as title contenders?  Of course not.

  • May 29, 20125:21 pm
    by Drew


    in my opinion, the pistons should not play it safe and draft a regular guy like Henson.  I know Henson is probably the most safe pick.  But, look we are not going to improve our status in the league or reach the next level with a pick
    Look the pistons are not going to get what they NEED out of the draft.  Most of the guys in this draft are too risky or just not great.  Just risk it.  Fill in the gap we need with a free agent from amnesty.
    For a while I felt like we should get Henson.  But, I say we go and grab a guy like Royce White, or PJIII.  They have a huge upside despite their short comings.  There is a time when it is appropriate to go big or go home.   But, we have nothing to lose.  Think about it, as long as we clear off the current dead weight, we are better anyway.  What the Pistons need is another punch, not another cog. Nah mean?

    • May 29, 20126:00 pm
      by TheDude


      I like risks.
      We need an athletic big man, who plays above the rim, to compliment Greg and a shot blocker, preferably with an NBA body?
      Call me crazy but if we don’t win the lottery, I’d take the risk of trading our pick to Charlotte for Bismack Biyombo.

      • May 29, 201211:50 pm
        by Chris H


        I’d love to make a comment on that, but I don’t know enough about advanced stats.  His per 36 min stats look ok, aside from his ft% (which was a known “issue”) and his fouls, which will go down as he gets more calls going his way.  I don’t really know how things like win sharees play out on a team like charlotte which was pretty horrible.  Plus Biyombo has some pretty severe limitations.  I mean Monroe has some range to his shot, but with Knight, Stuckey, Prince, Monroe and Biyombo on the court I just don’t know if the spacing will be there.  Worse if Jerebko is in for Prince and who knows what a team will chance with Daye on the floor (I mean at this point don’t even bother guarding him until he actually hits a few shots right?).  I realize Biyombo’s offense isn’t the concern when he is playing, but I seem the team struggling because there could be a lack of driving/passing lanes available.

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