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3-on-3: What if the Pistons really are tanking?

Modeled after ESPN’s 5-on-5, three of us will answer three questions about a Pistons-related topic. Please add your responses in the comments.

1.  We’ll never know the answer, but let’s speculate. The Pistons’ losses are adding up, and they’re in an awkward spot of being too good to tank and too bad to be a legitimate playoff team. Assume the the goal is to tank, what does that tell you about the state of the organization?

Dan Feldman: To answer, it would depend when the Pistons decided to tank. Was this a decision before the season? That would say a lot about Tom Gores‘ influence, considering Joe Dumars has previously seemed so anti-tanking. That would also likely mean Dumars would keep his job beyond this season. If tanking has always been the priority, that means there’s no way to judge Dumars on this season, so if Gores were going to fire him, it would have been last summer. Or was this a decision made in-season? That would mean the Pistons tried first to win and couldn’t. Considering making the playoffs was the plan and that plan failed, an in-season move to tank would likely mean Dumars is running out the clock on the final year of his contract.

Brady Fredericksen: That Dumars isn’t really that close to being fired. The assumption has always been that missing the playoffs means the end of the Dumars’ era in Detroit. This summer, it seemed reasonable considering the Pistons had increased their talent. Now, I don’t know. Sadly, I don’t think they’re tanking, but I think they’re just trying to decide whether they should just let their current dumpster fire flame out or if they should try to contain it by making a mediocre trade. I’m sure Dumars knows this team is like mixing cherry vodka and chocolate milk, but as far as Gores goes, does he really know that much about what’s going on? If the Pistons stand pat at the deadline, it’s either the cruelest way to send Dumars out or a sign that Gores still trusts him to build this team if/when the team gets a lottery selection.

Patrick Hayes: It doesn’t tell me anything — it raises more questions. If they’re tanking, does that mean Gores approves and the ‘playoffs or bust’ talk was all fan appeasing bluster? And if he approves, does that mean that Joe Dumars’ job is safe? I mean, how could Dumars agree to tank if his job was truly in trouble? Is there a big conspiracy at work? Was Maurice Cheeks hired because they needed the worst coach possible (and make no mistake … Cheeks is the worst coach in the league right now, by a landslide) to manage to pull off adding more overall talent to the roster while staying pretty bad? I dunno … if they are purposefully tanking, it makes a lot of conceptions fans had about what the results of this season meant for Dumars more complicated — ‘the playoffs or you’re fired’ assumption doesn’t seem as much of a foregone conclusion if the front office has endorsed tanking.

2. If tanking actually is a realistic option for this team, what are the most logical steps to assure that they avoid The Danger Zone, as Dan’s coined it?

Dan Feldman: Make Cheeks the head coach. Design an offense that features Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings over Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. Start Smith, Monroe and Drummond together. Start Kyle Singler at shooting guard. Don’t call timeout to advance the ball to midcourt down one with seconds remaining. Bench the team’s best player 11 seconds into a second half. Seriously, what else can they do? This team has too much talent to make tanking easy.

Brady Fredericksen: Do what you’re doing, and trade Rodney Stuckey. I’m not sure that trading Smith or Monroe would make the Pistons worse. I think that could end up being addition by subtraction like what happened in Toronto with Rudy Gay. If they find a way to get a late-first rounder for Stuckey (wishful thinking, I know) or a young, inexperienced shooter, that’s going to really hurt the Pistons. They’re 2-6 without him this season, and his production off the bench has been the only efficient perimeter scoring. An already bad offense would look supremely worse without him.

Patrick Hayes: Well, they wouldn’t have to change much from what they’re currently doing. Continue to play their unworkable big lineup (which became even bigger and more unworkable with Singler added as starting shooting guard). Flip a couple of their useful bench contributors — Stuckey, Will Bynum, maybe Jonas Jerebko (not that he qualifies as useful anymore) — for future picks or something and give minutes Peyton Siva and Tony Mitchell to see if either shows any potential to be rotation players next season. Maybe ship Stuckey to the Knicks in the hope that they get better than the Pistons. Root hard for Trey Burke to make a late push for Rookie of the Year and get Utah’s record better than Detroit’s. Maybe toy with bringing in a few D-League prospects for looks on 10-day contracts after you’ve traded a couple of players for picks. Continue to let Cheeks find innovative new ways to handle late-game situations. With so many teams seemingly trying to lose, it won’t be easy to out-do those efforts, but the Pistons certainly have options.

3. As a fan, how the heck do you come to terms with the idea that your team is positioning itself for failure now with an eye on success in the future?

Dan Feldman: Four years ago, the Pistons’ best player was a 35-year-old Ben Wallace. Even though I love watching Wallace play, the team’s results weren’t pretty. That was rock bottom, but the Pistons — until this season — had been working with a talent deficit since. Imagine a team with Drummond, Monroe, Smith, Jennings, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Singler and a top-eight pick in the best draft in a decade. That’s a massive talent upgrade. Say what you will about how the pieces fit and how that talent translates to production, but talent is a starting point. Through coaching and trades, teams can make any talent work. They can’t, as the 2009-10 Pistons showed, make a team full of bad players into anything. That hypothetical team is worth one more season of misery. Suddenly, the Pistons would have one of the NBA’s stronger talent bases.

Brady Fredericksen: I really don’t know. I think it’d be hard watching a team aim to lose games, even if the eventual goal is success next season. But, as we all know, it’s hard watching a team try to win and still lose a lot. That’s been the Pistons over the past five years — consistently trying, rarely succeeding. Outside of John Wall and Kyrie Irving, tanking never would have gained the Pistons a better prospect in past years. This year, though? The difference is get a very, very, very good prospect or getting no prospect whatsoever. Just give me a catchy hashtag like #SorryForJabari, #RigginForWiggins, #ShartingForSmart or #DumpingForDante and I guess we’ll hope Adam Silver and his ping-pong balls take pity on the Pistons once the NBA Draft Lottery rolls around.

Patrick Hayes:  I understand why teams tank — the league has incentivized it (get on that, Mr. Silver). I still hate it, and wouldn’t necessarily want to follow a tanking team. But if the Pistons actually do have some elaborate tanking plan in place and are carrying it out, I would respect the artistry they are doing it with. It’s truly breathtaking. And at least that’s a plan. The alternative is that what we’ve seen — adding ill-fitting players in the offseason, possibly reaching in the draft for need over talent and hiring a woefully unqualified coach — is an actual strategy that the front office thought would work to make the team to get better. Woof. I’d take a year of tanking over that.

39 Comments

  • Feb 7, 20141:24 pm
    by Smitty

    Reply

    I don’t think they have a clue what they are doing right now. We will find out in a couple of weeks I suppose.

    • Feb 7, 20144:18 pm
      by Steve K

      Reply

      These days, I check this site to see if someone has been fired or traded.
       
      There’s really not much else to talk about.
       
      For what it’s worth, I’d bet my house that Joe D is trying (and failing) to win. It’s just a massive failure on his end. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but he’s approaching Millen-level failures since the Darko pick.

      • Feb 7, 20145:02 pm
        by Merwin

        Reply

        I think you’re right about Joe D trying to win, but “Millen-level failures” is a bit over-stated.  The Drummond pick alone makes that wrong.  Monroe, KCP, Middleton, Singler, Knight, Afflalo, Stuckey, Johnson, Maxiell, and Delfino are all picks that yielded NBA quality players.  That might not be saying much, but it’s quite a bit more than Millen produced.  That said, I’m a bit sick to my stomach to need to point out that Joe D is better than Millen.  Blech.

        • Feb 7, 20145:18 pm
          by Parsons

          Reply

          Yeah he has drafted talented players but he keeps giving them away for nothing or Jennings which is less than nothing so a case might be made that Dumars is worse. I think though once you hit a certain level of pitiful it doesn’t really matter who’s worse. I wish Illitch bought this team. He would have fired Dumars day 1 and brought in a top GM. Just like he did with the Tigers and Red Wings.

      • Feb 7, 20149:49 pm
        by Brady Fredericksen

        Reply

        He won a championship after the Darko pick, and reached four more ECFs. Matt Millen dreamt of making it to .500 in his Lions tenure.

  • Feb 7, 20141:45 pm
    by seenable

    Reply

    Could you imagine Joe Dumars reading this? Steam would be coming out of his ears while he feigns laughing it off. Great stuff.

  • Feb 7, 20141:47 pm
    by Vic

    Reply

    I don’t think the Pistons are tanking, they are just built to tank. If they do nothing they are tanking by default and I really don’t think they are good enough to lose the pick. Schedule is getting harder, Smennings is not getting any smarter, Cheeks is actually getting dumber.
    The only way to make Josh Smith an asset without a trade is to bring him off the bench as backup 4. Hopefully they get a coach that can do that next year.
    Other than that do any trade to get a teen first rounder. Go for Kyle Anderson or McDermott… Desperately need bball IQ.
     
     

    • Feb 7, 20141:51 pm
      by Vic

      Reply

      Dumars will have to give Monroe a salary higher than Smith to justify Smith coming off the bench. Because obviously it’s the money that talks when it comes to rotations, because why else would the worst shooter in the league be a starting 3.
       

      • Feb 7, 20146:02 pm
        by Tim

        Reply

        actually, the worst shooter in the league (among qualified players) is our pg.  Our sf is 16 spots above the worst.  

        • Feb 7, 201410:58 pm
          by Vic

          Reply

          Sorry I meant 3 pt shooter

        • Feb 8, 201412:21 pm
          by oats

          Reply

          Actually, Smith is the worst shooter in the league in terms of overall shooting efficiency and shooting volume. Jennings is a bad shooter with a .492 true shooting percentage on the season, but Josh Smith is at a horrendous .464 true shooting percentage.

  • Feb 7, 20141:51 pm
    by I HATE LOSING (Predicting A Strong Finish)

    Reply

    Just want something to root for

  • Feb 7, 20141:59 pm
    by joeycrisco

    Reply

    just keep letting Cheeks coach and the tanking should handle itself

  • Feb 7, 20143:06 pm
    by freeparty

    Reply

    SOLUTION: trade Drummond, Stuckey, CV to Knicks for Carmelo, Pablo Prigioni, and Cole Alsrich.  What the Pistons are missing is a true ball hog that CAN score on anybody.  True leader and champion.  Keep drafting young 2 guards with upside.  Let Drummond show the NBA what he can really do on a real stage not on a JV team.

    • Feb 7, 20143:55 pm
      by joeycrisco

      Reply

      this idea made me throw up in my mouth. Carmelo will never lead a team to a title. He is a ball hog that makes nobody better around him, and he almost assuredly wouldnt resign here.

      • Feb 7, 20145:30 pm
        by Parsons

        Reply

        Neither will Smith or Jennings. Might be interesting to see them all on the same team. Smith and Jennings already take 30-40 shots a night. Add Melo’s 22 and we could potentially have 3 players shoot between 50-60 shots a night. Oh man that would be terrible. The thought should get Dumars fired but I guess so should the signing of Smith and Jennings and Cheeks and everything else this moron has done since 07.

        • Feb 8, 20144:18 am
          by freeparty

          Reply

          I dont think or speak for other people but whoever would take Drummond over Melo is crazy.  I mean Andre is no Darko but he is definitely not a top three scorer in the game.  Dont forget Melo took Syracuse to a championship as a freshman.  I am speaking to the fact that Drummond is a negative in the closing parts of a game because he cant hit free throws and he is lost in team defense half the game.  Also the dude had a stress facture in his back last season and his game is not finnese like Monroe – his ass is on the ground a lot from hard fouls and awkward landings.  But to think Smith and Jennings would not defer to an alpha dog like Carmelo is silly.  If the Pistons could swing Monroe for Melo everyone on this board would be sucking Dumars toes but that wont happen so why not make it happen with a young star who may be playing at the hieght of his athletic 7 footer game – crashinging boards and slam dunks and clogging the lane.  Unforetunately, Drummond has the community college look in game.

  • Feb 7, 20143:23 pm
    by lisa

    Reply

    What a fricking mess!!!! How many years has this been going on? I want my team back! Joe has got to go!   Jennings and Smith playing on our team is like Dumars being the GM. They keep chunking, all three of them. It’s like Groundhog’s Day, year after year! Coach after coach! Ball don’t lie!!!

  • Feb 7, 20143:31 pm
    by pablum

    Reply

    “As a fan, how the heck do you come to terms with the idea that your team is positioning itself for failure now with an eye on success in the future?”
    I would only add to this, as a professional hoops sports writer, how the hell do you come to terms with the idea that yours (or any other NBA) team is tanking? “Cause I sure as hell don’t get it on any level.
    When you tank, you’re cheating, period. You’re directly affecting other teams playoff chances in some way. You’re obviously debasing the integrity of the game. Yet apparently the mainstream hoops media, notwithstanding some exceptional efforts that Dan provided us links to, is fine and dandy going along with tanking because that’s the real world baby, deal with it like a man, or sulk off like a child chasing some silly lost innocence.
    Fuck that. I’m genuinely appreciative of all your impressive hoops knowledge, writing talent, and time you guys take to respond to people’s comments here — but you guys should be OUTRAGED about tanking. And any team that clearly starts to tank should get daily front-page ESPN coverage that they’re tanking. That they’re cheating. That they’re fucking other teams over and destroying the integrity of the game. Imagine that. Every day, front page coverage calling their lying, cheating, asses out.
    That might actually matter.
     

    • Feb 7, 20143:59 pm
      by Desolation Row

      Reply

      What are you going to do? Force teams to want to be perpetually bad? It’s not the teams’ fault; the incentives are aligned to promote tanking. The Pistons should be trying to tank, in my opinion. Better that than lose a draft pick. They’re best and worst case scenarios, it’s worth noting, are vastly more disparate than other teams’. Another team’s worst case scenario is drafting 9th or 10th instead of 3rd or 4th. The Pistons’ worst case scenario is not getting anything in one of the most loaded drafts ever instead of getting a top-8 pick. Every reason to tank, in my opinion.
      And it doesn’t take an economist to recognize tanking as rational behavior — even if the team was called out by ESPN’s front page. I’d rather get bashed by Marc Stein every day for 20 weeks and have a better team next year than miss the playoffs for the next 10 seasons…

      • Feb 7, 20146:35 pm
        by pablum

        Reply

        “It’s not the team’s fault [they tank]…Tanking [is] a rational behavior.” 
        Oh, this is good. Genuinely. Think I’ll savor its existential implications while savoring my Stuckey steak….

    • Feb 7, 20144:09 pm
      by Tim Thielke

      Reply

      Cheating is violating the rules, not gaming the system. Hack-a-Shaq isn’t cheating, jumping into an airborne defender (or flopping, which is almost as bad) isn’t cheating, Ricky Davising (intentionally missing a shot to get a rebound to complete a triple-double) isn’t cheating, Caron Butlering (pretending to offer a handshake and stealing the ball instead) isn’t cheating.

      Those are all examples of poor sportsmanship; but if the NBA is incentivizing people to do it, the problem isn’t that players are following those incentives, it’s that the incentives exist.

      Similarly, tanking is something teams should continue to do to force the NBA to change their rules and remove it as an effective strategy.

      • Feb 7, 20145:15 pm
        by pablum

        Reply

        So, Tim, are you going on record and saying tanking isn’t cheating? Yes, or no, please. And I’d love to see the “tanking isn’t cheating” position explained in terms of that shattering Royce Webb article Dan gave us, especially with the 2005Timberwolves and 84 Rockets.
        But you know, all this tanking is bringing out the Jonathan Swift in me. So maybe we should follow thie greatest satirist of all time and solve tanking the same way he suggested the English solve the Irish problem back in the 18th century. Let’s just eat our NBA players, or just those we know whose demise from our roster will cause us to tank. No one will know that we’re doing it. Just on that day, that player won’t be there. for a while. And there’ll be a lot of GM’ and executives calling in sick with heartburn. So what’d ya say guys? We could even pitch a show to Food Network. We’ll call it, what else? TANKED. And it’ll feature the best recipes the league has developed through all its years of tanking.

        • Feb 7, 20147:10 pm
          by gmehl

          Reply

          Pablum we seem to have one of these silly debates here every season as to whether tanking is or isn’t cheating. The fact remains that the system that’s in place rewards mediocrity and until changed will always have teams try and work it in there favour. 

        • Feb 7, 201410:08 pm
          by Huddy

          Reply

          Pablum your response didn’t respond to any of the valid examples provided for the difference between cheating and utilizing the system to ones advantage.  Winning teams that rest their stars are cheaters by your definition.

      • Feb 7, 20146:38 pm
        by pablum

        Reply

        I’d politely ask Dan, Brady, and Patrick to similarly go on the record. Is tanking cheating or not?

        • Feb 7, 20149:52 pm
          by Brady Fredericksen

          Reply

          Depends on your idea of “tanking.”

          Teams that intentionally lose games are cheating, per se.

          BUT, do I fault Utah or Philly for tanking by throwing just a bunch of unready-to-play 22 year olds on the floor and forcing them to learn on the fly for 82 games; along with having a bad coach in Utah’s case? No, that’s not cheating, that’s clever team building.

          I don’t think there’s ever been a team to truly throw games repeatedly in their attempts to tank.

          • Feb 8, 201411:36 pm
            by pablum

            “Teams that intentionally lose games are cheating…”
            Thank you, Brady. Whether you know it or not, these seven words stopped me from giving vent to grand disquisition on how the rationale for tanking might be absurdly reduced to a moral defense for cannibalism, but I won’t go there now…

  • Feb 7, 20144:01 pm
    by JR

    Reply

    Could one of the site’s administrators please change the poll to something more current?  Some suggestions:
     
    1) Should the pistons tank?
    2) Should Dumars be fired before he gets a chance to screw us on one last trade?
    3) Who should be the next Pistons’ coach?

    • Feb 7, 20147:59 pm
      by JR

      Reply

      I’m concerned this was taken as a sarcastic email  I’m completely serious, we need a new poll.

  • Feb 7, 201410:38 pm
    by JYD for Life

    Reply

    @pablum – when they use the term “tanking,” it doesn’t apply to the players on the court.  It more serves as a buzz word for strategically rebuilding.  There is nothing unethical about it.  Nobody is cheating  or throwing games.  This is classic sensationalism by media outlets because it sparks interest.  
     
    Back in your day :), it would have been used to sell newspapers.  Now, it’s drawing ire from some fans and excitement from others online.  It’s igniting the flame of a spirited debate (aligning with what is apparently within ESPN’s mission statenent – to give know-it-alls like ourselves the encouragement to speak up like we know what’s best).  That’s what is generating web traffic to message boards, links to articles about tanking and certainly video clips about it.  
     
    Writing about how bad the Pistons, Bucks or Sixers are would have been old news after the first week of the season.  But a season-long storyline about how to rebuild those franchises keeps folks interested.  
     
    We play right into it.   A majority of the posts here are about how each of us would run the team (trade smith for a future second rounder, fire cheeks, fire Joe, clean house, tank!).  Again, like we sure know how to spend someone else’s money.  I’m guilty of it.  
    While this probably isn’t different from bar chat or barbershop banter back in the day about “Christian Laetner is a bum,” “G Hill is a sellout,” “Three Mills for president,” etc.  We just have a platform to say and document whatever we feel at the moment.  Could you imagine the Grant Hill to Orlando scenario playing out in 2014 instead of over a decade ago?  Think about the posts that would generate right now.  
     
    This tanking craze is exactly that…a fad that will not be popular amongst fan bases after the “greatest draft in the history of drafts” is over in June.  For now, we and the rest of the masses will continue to play the game until the next cool thing or storyline comes out.  
    It’s hip to be really bad and less than trendy to be the 6 seed in a playoff bracket.  See how these supporters of tanking feel after they end up with the next Hasheem Thabeet (Embiid, anyone?) or the next Johnny Flynn (Marcus Smart?).  

    • Feb 8, 201412:30 pm
      by oats

      Reply

      Hasheem Thabeet can’t run the court or score in the post, so he has very little in common with Embiid. Johnny Flynn is an undersized PG that can’t pass or guard anyone while Marcus Smart is one of the best defensive prospects in awhile and is either a very large PG or a normal sized SG. Those also aren’t the guys expected to be in the 7-8 range that is where Detroit would likely be picking. As of now the guess projections would be Gary Harris or Tyler Ennis.
       
      I’d also say that if I thought there was a chance in hell of the Pistons getting the 6 seed I’d take that over tanking. They could compete against Toronto or Atlanta in a playoff series. I think they are going to struggle to get the 8th seed, and I think they likely miss it altogether and will send the 10th pick in a good draft to Charlotte.

      • Feb 8, 20142:39 pm
        by JYD for Life

        Reply

        Oats – Knew I should have pointed out that I was just using those as possible examples and that I wasn’t talking specifically about Pistons fans wanting to tank.  There are people across the board rooting for their teams to lose games.
         
        That’s not what I actually think about Smart or Embiid.  However, there will be some busts in the lottery though.   I get that it’s a good draft and would love our pick to take Ennis or Harris (and even as much as I bleed green, I’m questioning his transition to the NBA – starting to think Payne might look really good as a stretch 4 next to Drummond – if we end up with our pick, that’s way too high to take him though).  
         
        Just throwing out examples of high draft picks that didn’t pan out.  We as Pistons fans know that a top 10 pick is no guarantee to yield a quality player.  This year has all been about the draft class and there is nothing that guarantees these guys will actually be one of the best classes ever.  Separate debate though.   
         

    • Feb 8, 201410:23 pm
      by pablum

      Reply

      @JYD — Fine words, but you did read that Royce Webb piece? “Tankers Tell the Truth.” That’s cheating. And now we all know why Joe doesn’t tank.
      Grant’s move in the day. We we’re going to burn him in effigy, in front of the Joe Louis fist. But he took out full page ads in all the press; put billboards up on the streets, doing interviews all over spreading love and thanks about the D — and you had to give it to him. The man defined and defines CLASS. And WTF, Jerry Stackhouse took over the team — justly. Stack was a worthy Piston! — and called Grant “Soft” in public, so we got to vent too.
      Brandon Jennings. Sky’s the Limit…

  • Feb 7, 201410:47 pm
    by JYD for Life

    Reply

    On a side note, your boy Jekyll, er…Jennings, was solid tonight…

  • Feb 7, 201410:49 pm
    by OOtis

    Reply

    Pablum, your last 84 posts have all established that you don’t like tanking.  Okay, move on.

  • Feb 8, 20148:48 am
    by Robb

    Reply

    I absolutely believe in the tanking route as well as the reaching playoff route.
    Last year we had no shot at playoffs and should have tanked the last 10+ games and we lost 3 draft positions from it as well as the pick I wanted, Micheal Carter Williams.
    This year is a bit different as to tanking with 2 months left.
    We are only 2 games out of 7th n 8th place and 4-5 games out of 5th place. I do believe we can achieve those spots if this team learns to finish a game the way they start it. (fast paced and a little more defense)
    Will they win a championship? Hell no, but our goal is to get better and make the playoffs and reach for something other than losing.
    One last thing, I don’t like the trading Stuckey idea, I think he is a great 6th man.

    • Feb 8, 201412:33 pm
      by oats

      Reply

      You are far more optimistic than I am. I have Detroit as the 9 seed, and the playoffs end at 8.

      • Feb 8, 20142:45 pm
        by JYD for Life

        Reply

        It’s frustrating because as you pointed out, we could make it to the second round if we’re matched up against Toronto or Atlanta in the first.  
        Seeing Chauncey have an impact last night is painful because a healthy him (or any semblance of a backup PG) is exactly what this team has lacked all season.  
        Do you think they have a 21-12 run in them to close out the season to get that 6 seed?  Me either, but we can all dream.   

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