Category → Analysis
Despite the fact that there’s rarely consensus on this site, I don’t think I’d get much argument if I called this Pistons season the most frustrating of any in their five-year stretch of missing the playoffs. They entered the season with some a vague expectation of “make the playoffs,” and even with the imbalanced roster, that shouldn’t have been out of the question considering the fact that the season was over before it started for several East teams, who were clearly playing for next season.
If you stayed engaged with the team throughout the entire season, it was a chore. When the season ended, I can obviously relate to the need to get away from basketball. The Red Wings are in the NHL Playoffs and the Tigers should be good this season, if you’re into that sort of thing. But I also hope the lack of success of the Pistons doesn’t sour you on this year’s NBA Playoffs. They should be amazingly competitive and, after years of watching a wretched product locally, we could all use a reminder of what good basketball looks like. Our ongoing series looking back at the 2004 title team should partially provide that, but for a more modern palate cleanser, here are a few reasons you should care about each series as the playoffs start today.
Raptors vs. Nets
Game 1: 12:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPN
Why you should care about the Nets: Because the only person who dislikes Lawrence Frank more than Pistons fans is Jason Kidd. It has been since January since the fake Lawrence Frank has filed any of his reports. I wonder if that is still going on? Also, from a basketball standpoint, Paul Pierce has sneakily played his way into another three or four year deal if he wants it. He’s been really good this season as the Nets have figured things out since a bad start.
Why you should care about the Raptors: You can watch and imagine what an Andre Drummond-Jonas Valanciunas frontcourt would’ve looked like if the Raptors had made the logical pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. But hey, Terrence Ross has worked out pretty well for a fun, up-and-coming team. Also, pay attention to Amir Johnson. Whenever I write about giving Johnson away as a major Dumars mistake, I get all kinds of, “pssshhh he’s just a role player/backup/shutup your stupid face about Joe Dumars” comments. Seriously, if you haven’t seen Johnson in a while, watch him in this season. He’s a lockdown post defender, possibly the best screen setter in the NBA, a rim protector, an elite finisher and dude is even knocking down open threes now.
Pacers vs. Hawks
Game 1: 7 p.m. Saturday on ESPN
Why you should care about the Pacers: Although they’ve struggled down the stretch, the Pacers stylistically are similar to the tough, physical, defensive-minded Pistons teams that fans loved so much. More related to the Pistons, keep an eye on Lance Stephenson, a restricted free agent wing who could potentially be a Pistons target in the offseason.
Why you should care about the Hawks: Well, you can thank them for playing well enough to not be a threat to get worse than the Pistons. Also, you can watch Paul Millsap, a much more productive free agent forward who became an All-Star this season and was a fraction of what Josh Smith cost.
Bulls vs. Wizards
Game 1: 7 p.m. Sunday on TNT
Why you should care about the Bulls: They might be the toughest team in the league, and each year, despite catastrophic injuries, they keep plugging in random scrap heap bargains who produce. Last season, it was Nate Robinson. This season, it is D.J. Augustin who has become a competent starting point guard somehow. Also, last week when it snowed in the Midwest, we were ALL Joakim Noah.
Why you should care about the Wizards: If you like dynamic young guards, John Wall is as fun as it gets. He’s one of a handful of young potential stars in the playoffs this year who has a chance to plug his name into the conversation about elite NBA players if he has some strong performances for the Wizards. Also, expect the Wizards to possibly have interest in Greg Monroe, who played at Georgetown, in the offseason.
Heat vs. Bobcats
Game 1: 3:30 p.m. Sunday on ABC
Why you should care about the Heat: Well … not to be captain obvious, but they are going for a third straight championship this season. They should also make the Eastern Conference Finals for a fourth straight season, getting close to the Pistons’ streak of six straight. Also, it will be interesting to see if LeBron has mastered the Jordan art of resting just enough in the regular season to unveil something new for the playoffs.
Why you should care about the Bobcats: You shouldn’t, since they are still technically a threat to take the Pistons’ lottery pick this season. And next season, the Bobcats technically won’t even exist.
Spurs vs. Mavericks
Game 1: 1 p.m. Sunday on TNT
Why you should care about the Spurs: They’ve always been kind of kindred spirits with the Pistons, despite the obvious rivalry and heartbreaking loss in the 2005 NBA Finals. They’re still arguably the best team in the NBA, and this might be their last chance at a title with this Tim Duncan-led core.
Why you should care about the Mavs: Speaking of nearing the end, we likely won’t have many more opportunities to see Dirk Nowitzki in a playoff series. I don’t think the Mavs are good enough to beat San Antonio, but I’m hoping for a few iconic Dirk performances.
Rockets vs. Blazers
Game 1: 9:30 p.m. Sunday on TNT
Why you should care about the Rockets: Well, if you weren’t a fan of the Dwyane Wade-Shaquille O’Neal team that beat the Pistons in 2006 en route to a championship, you probably won’t enjoy this Rockets team. James Harden is essentially their version of Wade, barreling into traffic in search of contact and getting to the line. If you’re rooting for the opposing team, that style is frustrating, but the Rockets have some key elements that can lead to playoff success — Harden’s ability to get his own shot/draw contact, Dwight Howard’s rim protecting presence and a lot of shooters who create space for everyone.
Why you should care about the Blazers: Portland is young, fun and offense-happy. Those attributes probably won’t lead to a long playoff run, but this series should be high-scoring and fun to watch. Also, what I mentioned about John Wall above goes for Damian Lillard here too — he’s another young point guard who could put his name in the convo of up-and-coming stars in the league with some strong playoff performances.
Clippers vs. Warriors
Game 1: 3:30 p.m. Saturday on ABC
Why you should care about the Clippers: Because Blake Griffin has gotten really, really good. The knock on Griffin for much of his career was that his game was predicated solely on his athleticism, and that assessment has stuck from critics who haven’t watched him enough the last two seasons. He’s developed an all-around game, and a playoff run by the Clippers could cement him in his rightful place among the absolute best players in the league. Oh, and that Chris Paul-Steph Curry point guard matchup shouldn’t be too bad either.
Why you should care about the Warriors: Michigan State fans, remember prior to Draymond Green’s breakout as a do-it-all force for Michigan State how he was a super-competent, selfless role player who didn’t have great numbers all the time but was a key rotation player? And non-Michigan State fans, remember how Green was a super irritating nuisance who wouldn’t stop running his mouth throughout the game? Well, he’s become all of those things for the Warriors, and with their frontcourt banged up, Green could be in line for a lot of playing time.
Thunder vs. Grizzlies
Game 1: 9:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPN
Why you should care about the Thunder: Remember when Rasheed Wallace used to goaltend/block shots whenever an opponent would shoot during a deadball or after a whistle? It was awesome, right? Well, Russell Westbrook has taken that art to new, incredible levels.
Why you should care about the Grizzlies: The GRINDHOUSE is my favorite NBA arena — it’s loud, wrestling-friendly and teams hate playing there. I love the toughness the Grizzlies play with. I don’t think they can beat the Thunder in a series, but their last several playoff runs have proven one thing — they are absolutely going to beat up their opponent, win or lose. I guarantee Oklahoma City wasn’t happy about this draw in round one. Even if they win, it’s going to make their title quest tougher.
They haven’t changed one bit. Stubborn. Cocky. Proud. Entertaining. The Bad Boys in their modern form are still all those things, and that will become apparent to everyone tonight when the 30-for-30 “Bad Boys” airs at 8 p.m. on ESPN.
The documentary, which I saw a not fully edited version of, is directed like an oral history as none of the members of the team appear together on camera during their respective interviews and reflections. The forum is a haven for honesty but also ambiguity. Answers to “Did Isiah Thomas demand that Adrian Dantley be traded for Mark Aguirre”? and “Who led the walkout off the court versus the Chicago Bulls?” receive perspective and reflection but never a straight answer. The interviews probe for answers, at times being so direct that it appears they are attempting to drive a wedge between former teammates who emphatically described themselves as a family and nothing less. If the producers were looking for an informer to give them the absolute truth, they didn’t find one.
Dantley expresses his perspective on the trade with a feverish accusation that borders violence, but his perspective can’t be affirmed by others re-telling their version of the events. Fingers are pointed for the walkout versus the Bulls, but singular responsibility is never relegated and only the collective act is remembered. It’s a post-modern narrative that is sorely lacking in today’s NBA, as agent and “source” leaks, despite strict media availability, have made the league more transparent and divisive at the same time. The documentary provides few answers, like the ones we are accustomed to today, but plenty of commentary, perspective and, for just a brief moment, remorse.
The remorse stems from Isiah Thomas, who reiterated that in hindsight, they shouldn’t have walked off the court versus the Bulls. This isn’t a revelation from a man who has had two decades to reflect on an act that he has been ridiculed for countless times, but is contradictory to the feelings he expressed earlier when discussing the “reverse racism” incident with Larry Bird. Thomas appears genuine, open and honest through the documentary, which offers little reason to question his story, but you still feel as if there’s a veil either covering something or sharing too much in each of those incidents. This feeling is our own because other than Dantley, Thomas is universally adored by his former teammates who independently protect him throughout the documentary as if they were still on the court battling the bruising Boston Celtics team of the 1980s.
If Thomas is the intellectual challenge of the documentary, then Bill Laimbeer is the heart and Rick Mahorn the soul. Laimbeer admits to little wrong-doing, and his smugness suggests he wouldn’t change anything about how that era in Pistons history played out both on and off the court. It’s apparent throughout the documentary that Laimbeer was integral to the team’s identity and that remains his persona to this day.
Mahorn was not on the second Pistons championship team and his feelings about his absence are devastating as for the first time in the film, a member of that Pistons era let’s their guard down in a moment of vulnerability and emotion. Mahorn’s reaction to leaving the team was my greatest takeaway from the film as it ensures that hardness isn’t immune to love.
The documentary depicts the rise and fall of the Detroit Pistons in the 1980s and how the myth of the “Bad Boys” became an attitude and on-court persona. It became a metaphor they could rely on like a vilified and despised Ubuntu. At one point, Thomas is asked to reflect on the Bad Boys mentality and with a picture-perfect Isiah smile, he explains:
"We wanted to crush you mentally. We wanted your whole city to shake when we walked through the door. We wanted the fans to feel fear."
Nearly 25 years later, chances are you will still feel all those things tonight. They haven’t changed so there’s no reason to believe that our thoughts and feelings about them will. Even in old age, the Bad Boys are still the Bad Boys and our position on them is exclusively dependent only our respective geographies.
|Greg Monroe, PF 38 MIN | 9-19 FG | 4-9 FT | 8 REB | 9 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 4 TO | 22 PTS | -7The shooting percentage wasn’t pretty, but the rest of Monroe’s game screamed PAY ME tonight. He’s at his best when the offense is run through him, and from the third quarter on he controlled the game. The Pistons really had no point guard tonight, and Monroe showed how capable a playmaker he can be when he’s not suffocated in the paint by opposing defenses. It’s weird to think that this could be his last game in a Pistons uniform.|
|Kyle Singler, SF 38 MIN | 6-9 FG | 6-6 FT | 0 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 20 PTS | -7The good? Singler scored 20 points on just nine attempts.
The bad? Kevin Durant treated him like a folding chair in the fourth quarter.Singler has solidified the fact that he can be a very valuable role player off the bench with his play this season. He’s just so overwhelmed defensively as a big-minute starter.
|Andre Drummond, C 28 MIN | 9-16 FG | 4-8 FT | 13 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 22 PTS | +9Detroit’s lead really didn’t start to dwindle until Drummond fouled out midway through the fourth quarter. Drummond was active all night with his usual array of put-backs and hustle plays. He opened the game with a few nice hook shots, too. If he can come back next season with one — that’s it — post move, watch out.|
|Brandon Jennings, PG 34 MIN | 2-9 FG | 2-3 FT | 4 REB | 7 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 8 TO | 6 PTS | -1The best point guard on the roster tonight was Peyton Siva, and it wasn’t close. Jennings’ hailmary shot at the buzzer may have been thisclose to dropping, but he played a completely discombobulated game otherwise. The seven assists is nice, but the eight turnovers and 2-for-9 shooting were not.|
|Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG 44 MIN | 11-19 FG | 3-5 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 30 PTS | +6Meet Kentavious Confidence-Pope. Tonight’s effort was easily the best game of Caldwell-Pope’s rookie year. You know how he’s usually timid and indecisive? He knew exactly what he wanted tonight, and looked confident on offense and defense where he gave Russell Westbrook fits. I can’t give him an A+ because he kind of forced that late Monroe turnover by not committing to his cut, but this was absolutely the best way for the rookie to enter his first offseason as a pro.|
|Tony Mitchell, PF 6 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +4Mitchell and the other young players got a taste of first-half action tonight, but Mitchell looked a bit scrambled in his six minutes of work. He grabbed a board and moved his feet on defense, but offensively it seemed like he was just floating and setting random screens.|
|Jonas Jerebko, PF 25 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 5 PTS | -5I have no idea why Jerebko would be dribbling the ball in the final seconds of a one-point game, but alas, he was dribbling and losing the ball late tonight. Jerebko may have his limitations, but he usually provides energy when he’s on the floor — it’s just he also still tries to do too much at times.|
|Luigi Datome, SF 9 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | +3When Datome hits the floor, chances are he’s hoisting a shot soon after he touches it. He didn’t shoot well tonight, but his effort was admirable and he crashed the boards very well. I’m really rooting for him to find his jumper and be a factor next season.|
|Peyton Siva, PG 18 MIN | 2-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | -7Remember how I said Siva played a better game than Jennings tonight? He did, but it wasn’t by much. Siva is a caretaker when he’s on the floor. He’s not going to create a ton of easy looks, and he’ll occasionally make a shot, but he’s just kind of a guy who can bring the ball up court well. If he had a consistent 3-point shot… well, let’s talk when that’s a thing.|
This is how Loyer should have been coaching games all month long. Give the young guys a chance when the game is in the balance? Check. Try to get Caldwell-Pope engaged by running plays for him and seeing what he’s capable of? Check. Play Monroe and Drummond together? Check. I know Loyer has been coaching to win — which makes perfect sense for an interim coach aspiring to eventually become full time head coach — but even through all the tanking and all the losing, this was a loss that actually hurt. It would have been great to play spoilers and bump the Thunder down to the No. 3 seed out West. It’d be fun to do so despite a huge night from Durant. It’d be fun to beat a title contender to end the year. But, instead, the team choked away a fourth-quarter lead and ended the season in the most 2013-14 Pistons way possible.Good riddance.
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. It’s obviously been a rough season for both the Pistons and their fans, but what has been the biggest positive to come out of the 2013-14 season?
Dan Feldman: Andre Drummond producing near All-Star levels. Drummond appeared to be on this track as a rookie, but sometimes, players can’t maintain their production in larger minutes. Drummond did, and that gives the Pistons legitimate hope they have a superstar in the making.
Brady Fredericksen: Drummond doing Drummond things. It gives you hope, which fans haven’t had much of over the past five years. That’s something, right?
Tim Thielke: We can’t know yet because the most likely answer is whoever the Pistons take in the first round. However, that pick could yet be lost or a total bust.
2. Are there any hidden positives that may not make themselves known until later on?
Dan Feldman: Brandon Jennings‘ development as a passer. If you’ve been reading carefully lately, I often refers to Joe Dumars‘ major free agent busts as only Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva and Josh Smith. I’m not ready to lump in Jennings. A three-year, $24 million contract just isn’t that bad for a starting-caliber point guard, which Jennings is, even if he’s on the low end of the range. This season, Jennings averaged more assists than ever and did so with a career-best assist-to-turnover ratio. His shot selection and shooting were out of whack, but maybe, just maybe, he can put it all together a little better next season.
Brady Fredericksen: They didn’t play themselves out of the lottery’s top eight. There couldn’t have been a worse way for this dumpster-fire season to end than if the Pistons did enough to play themselves into that true danger zone. It’s well known that the Pistons tend to put together meaningless winning streaks to end the year, and luckily they bucked the trend this year. Now, they still aren’t guaranteed to keep the pick, but seriously, if they’d played themselves out of the top eight it’d rank near the top of Detroit’s most futile sports moments — somewhere behind the 2003 Tigers and the 2008 Lions.
Tim Thielke: Sure, Smith/Monroe/Drummond could develop a surprising amount of chemistry, become a devastating frontcourt, and attribute it to working through the kinks this year. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.
3. You’re drawing for straws here, I know, but what the best moment of the year?
Dan Feldman: Assuming we’re talking about moments during only the regular season and not the extended season, which would include the lottery: Pistons firing Maurice Cheeks. More than anything, that gave me faith the franchise would move quickly to fix its mistakes. The Pistons have been going nowhere slowly for years. Cheeks’ firing was a refreshing sign they’re going… well, maybe still nowhere, but at least they’re doing it more quickly.
Brady Fredericksen: December 7, 2013. That was the last time the Pistons were .500, and they actually were fun and exciting and everything looked so promising — even though they were a blah 10-10. They’d just pounded the Bulls and beaten the Heat on the road, and it really felt like the team was on the way up. Of course, everything came crashing down soon after, but we’ll always have December 7th.
Tim Thielke: Probably when the Pistons beat the Spurs in John Loyer’s debut. That game produced a brief moment of hope that this team might actually be good with the right coach. Granted, that’s still true, but ti didn’t take long to discover Loyer’s not the right coach.
The vision changed too many times, and now, the general manager had to also.
Joe Dumars has overseen several iterations of Pistons Basketball, the team changing identities too rapidly under his watch despite a reputation for measured stability. The latest change, made official today, removes Dumars from his role as general manager.
On days like this, it’s impossible not to reflect on Dumars’ reign – and how much he’s changed since it began in 2000.
Then, he said the league was going another direction.
He needed players who could break down opponents off the dribble. Rodney Stuckey became a sacred cow.
But the NBA hadn’t changed as sharply as Dumars believed. Defense remained a priority to successful teams, and as Dumars de-emphasized it in Detroit – through his actions, though not his words – the Pistons fell into the cellar.
Again, the plan changed.
The result of this latest, half-baked scheme? A mess on the court, yet another season that ends before the playoffs and Dumars effectively being fired from his position (even if it’s disguised as an accepted demotion).
And don’t get me started on coaches, who’ve changed more rapidly than Dumars’ philosophy. George Irvine, Rick Carlisle, Larry Brown, Flip Saunders, Michael Curry, John Kuester, Lawrence Frank and Maurice Cheeks were all scapegoated for Dumars’ failings.
Today, the tables have turned. Dumars is taking the fall for, at least in part, mistakes made by others after years of doing the same to his coaches. So, I have no sympathy – sadness yes, sympathy no – for Dumars. What goes around comes around, and Dumars put himself in this position
Nearly a decade-and-a-half of change came to this, but throughout the destructive transitions emerged three constants that led to Dumars’ downfall: failed pursuits of superstars, repeated unwillingness to challenge players and a lack of long-term planning.
Failed pursuits of superstars
Dumars began his tenure with a flop.
Tasked, above all else, with re-signing Grant Hill, Dumars helplessly watched the Pistons’ biggest star since Isiah Thomas leave for Orlando.
As the narrative went, Dumars realized right then and there he didn’t want superstars. Detroit was a blue-collar city, and the Pistons would win through effort and teamwork.
It’s a great story. It’s just not true.
Dumars always wanted a star, and he never hid that.
He tried to sign Chris Webber, and he tried to trade for Allen Iverson years before he actually did. In fact, Dumars put the writing on the wall while he was still playing. Jackie MacMullan of Sports Illustrated:
Retiring Detroit veteran Joe Dumars’s final gift to the game was the advice he gave Philly guard Allen Iverson during the season. Dumars says he reminded Iverson to keep doing the right things. "He was very receptive," Dumars says. "Allen is what I call an ‘environment guy’ Put him with the right people, and he’ll be fine."…
Dumars believed he had that environment when he actually traded for Iverson, convincing himelf the Pistons were somehow organizationally superior to the rest of the league.
And not only did it cost them Chauncey Billups, Dumars’ miscalculation further eroded the Pistons’ culture. But it didn’t stop him from seeking that superstar.
Repeated unwillingness to challenge players
What did Dumars do best? Trading and drafting – two areas where he was trying to outwit other general managers.
But when it came to free agency, Dumars, a former player, never had the stomach for using leverage on former players. He gave out big contracts, enabled bad behavior and then fired coaches to back his players.
Dumars has left his coaches on an island to fend for themselves and done so under the guise of providing freedom for the coaches to run their teams. This wasn’t a sinister decision by Dumars. He thinks it’s best course for the franchise.
But the side effects of the philosophy – four fired coaches in six years and near-consistent player bickering between – negate the positives of Dumars’ hands-off policy.
Dumars gives his coaches enough rope to hang themselves, and when the noose is tightening, Dumars still won’t step in to help the man he hired. He’ll just provide the final yank.
How does a general get to the point where he can neither effectively keep or fire his coach?
A lack of long-term planning
Under Dumars, the Pistons never properly rebuilt.
His first direction as general manager was to make the team good. It sounds simple, but it’s a difficult plan to execute, and Dumars did it amazing well. He mined the league for undervalued players like Ben Wallace, Clifford Robinson, Chucky Atkins, Corliss Williamson, Jon Barry and Zeljko Rebraca – and everyone fit together seamlessly. He then flipped several of those players to upgrade Detroit’s talent, and the team won a championship.
The Pistons are revered for being the rare team to win a title without a star, but that’s an improper label. Ben Wallace, at that time, played like a star. He didn’t hold the stature, and his elite-level peak was short. But in that moment on the court, the only things that mattered toward Detroit’s championship hopes, he was a star behind only Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. (Shaquille O’Neal lacked conditioning and motivation, and Kobe Bryant hadn’t yet learned how to assert himself without harming his team.)
What really set the Pistons apart: They won a championship without significant contribution from a lottery pick they drafted or acquired on draft night. Dumars should be hailed for how meticulously he built that 2004 team without getting bad first.
Really, it was part of an incredible run of general-managing. As I wrote a few years ago:
In 2001-02, Detroit won 50 games with a starting lineup of Chucky Atkins, Jerry Stackhouse, Michael Curry, Ben Wallace and Clifford Robinson.
The Pistons won at least 50 games the next six years. Last year, the final season of the streak, Detroit started Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Antonio McDyess and Rasheed Wallace. And the entire bench was different, too.
No other team has ever completely turned over its roster during a streak of 50-win seasons.
Anyone complaining that it’s impossible to rebuild on the fly is wrong. Dumars already did it once.
But it’s such a difficult route to go, Dumars erred by trying to catch lightning again. The Pistons’ next general manager will be fortunate to have Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe’s bird/matching rights, but it very easily could have been John Henson and Ekpe Udoh’s.
Dumars left the Pistons in better shape than he found them, but they were a lost franchise in 2000. Now, well… I guess not all that much has changed.
With the Pistons’ loss to the Bulls on Friday, Detroit clinched at least an 82.4 percent chance of keeping its first-round pick.
Extremely likely, that’s where the Pistons will remain when the season ends. Only if they lose out and the Kings win out would Detroit change its odds – bumping it to 90.3 percent.
Here are the final scenarios:
Still, I’m pushing for 90.3 until the bell sounds.
When the Pistons’ season ends, they will have between a 30.8 percent and 99.0 percent chance of keeping their pick which goes to the Bobcats unless it falls in the top eight.
We’re close to narrowing that range, though. A single result by five teams – the Pistons, Cavaliers, Pelicans, Kings and Lakers – would swing the minimum or maximum.
Here are the current range of possible season-ending odds along with what happens if one of whatever is listed in each scenario occurs:
Note: Each scenario affects only the minimum or maximum. So, if multiple scenarios occur, you can apply both changes. E.g., if Detroit loses and Sacramento loses, the Pistons minimum increases to 82.4 and their maximum decreases to 90.3.
In what seems like an upset considering how little he’s factored into the team’s rotation over the last three seasons, and how much of a lightning rod he is for fan criticism, Charlie Villanueva is about to complete his entire five-year deal with the Pistons. In my column for the Detroit Free Press today, I look at why that may have happened. Namely, for all of his on-court faults, Villanueva has never seemed like a bad locker room guy or bad teammate:
If there’s one thing we should all know from watching the NBA, it’s that no contract, no matter how undesirable the player attached to it might seem, is untradeable. Villanueva has very clearly underperformed, but the Pistons also could’ve cut ties with him if it became imperative to do so. They could’ve sought a trade that sent him to another team for little in return (and since his contract wasn’t as big an albatross as Ben Gordon’s, they might not have even needed to include a future potential lottery pick as a sweetener). They could’ve used the amnesty clause in any of the last three offseasons to remove the remaining years and dollars on his deal from their salary cap and him from their roster. They could’ve even released him or worked out a buyout at any point this season since they obviously had no plans to use him in their rotation.
For whatever reason, none of that happened. That’s at least in part a testament to the fact that for all of the frustrations that Villanueva surely has about his tenure with the Pistons, and the team surely has with the fact that he didn’t perform as expected, he was never a malcontent. He was one of six players to not participate in the team’s boycott of a shootaround in Philadelphia over unhappiness with then-coach John Kuester in 2011, even though perhaps no player under Kuester had more grounds for complaint about his up and down role than Villanueva. He’s always appeared to be a positive teammate, cheering on others in spots that he surely wanted even though some of those players getting regular minutes (looking at you Jason Maxiell) were not exactly productive themselves. Despite that “soft” label, he’s shown moments of toughness in his Detroit tenure — in 2010, when he was a rotation player in a frontcourt lacking depth, he played through both plantar fasciitis and a broken nose. He never publicly vented frustrations (other than those aforementioned and relatively mild tweets) or made it clear he wanted to be elsewhere.
The Pistons obviously thought they were getting far more than those positives listed above. Admittedly, I’m grasping at straws a bit to describe them as ‘positives’ rather than ‘neutrals.’ But they still merit a mention when evaluating Villanueva’s five-year Pistons legacy.
I hope Villanueva gets another chance with a different team next season, and maybe without the pressure of trying to live up to a huge contract, the expectations for what he’s capable of producing will be more reasonable.
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. Is Joe Dumars’ departure best for the franchise?
Dan Feldman: Yes. The Pistons’ problems are not all Dumars’ doing, but too many of them are, and he has not shown an ability to overcome outside setbacks. Dumars has achieved no success with Tom Gores, and though that might the former’s fault, Gores isn’t going anywhere. The Pistons need a general manager who can work with Gores, and they need a general manager who is not overly attached to this flawed roster. It’s time for a fresh start.
Patrick Hayes: It’s best for business. It’s not fair to blame Dumars for all of the Pistons’ failings since he deconstructed a team that was still contending, but it’s fair to blame him for most. He’s overseen two major (and expensive) attempts to retool the franchise, and his wild spending on Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings this summer shows he learned nothing from his splurging on contracts to Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva in 2009. That’s … a problem. The organization needs a new direction and Dumars will get another opportunity to run a team somewhere else if he chooses. Hopefully, that fresh start will help Dumars rediscover the attributes that once made him arguably the league’s best GM.
Brady Fredericksen: At this point, yes. Dumars has been given chances to revive the franchise since its downfall began in 2009, but a string of failed coaching and personnel moves have put him in this position. If he was named Phil Smith and he was given the Pistons’ job in 2009, he would have already been fire — that’s how badly the past five years have gone. Sure, the freeze during the Davidson-to-Gores era didn’t help, but he really hasn’t done himself any favors since. The league has evolved and Dumars hasn’t been able to keep up; it’s time to find someone who can.
2. How do you grade Dumars’ tenure as general manager?
Dan Feldman: A-. Am I weighing Dumars’ successes more heavily than his failures? Absolutely. The first-round exits of the mid-90s were preferable to the dreck of the last few seasons as I’ve lived each era, but in the long run, I won’t remember either fondly. They’ll just blend together in the abyss of forgettable seasons. But the Goin’ to Work Pistons brought such joy, I won’t soon forget those. And Dumars single-handedly assembled those peak teams. I just don’t see much value in a general manager producing a mediocre, rather than bad, team. But forming a contending team? That’s a hugely important accomplishment.
Patrick Hayes: B+/A-. The championship and sustained success for much of the first half of his tenure were incredible, but let’s not forget, he had opportunities to keep that team competitive even longer. He never sufficiently implemented a talent development system for young players on the bench like Carlos Delfino and Amir Johnson (both of whom could’ve helped the veteran core immensely) and he held onto and over-valued limited veterans like Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince rather than flipping them for younger assets when they’re value was higher.
Brady Fredericksen: I’ll give him an A- too. Do you know how many active GMs have won an NBA title? Only six. How about reaching multiple NBA Finals? Just six, again. Dumars has not been a good GM in the past five seasons, but he was a truly great GM the previous nine seasons. Pistons fans are spoiled by the success the franchise saw under Dumars. He built a title team and sustained it by reaching six consecutive conference finals. He took a franchise losing its best player (Grant Hill) and had a 50-win team three years later. Fans are going to be happy he’s finally gone, but I just hope the general assumption isn’t that whoever the Pistons hire is automatically going to be way better; GMs capable of building title contenders are tough to come by.
3. What will be Dumars’ legacy with the Pistons?
Dan Feldman: Champion. Dumars has been instrumental two all three of the Pistons’ championships, two as a player and one as a general manager. Everything else will fade in time. Honestly, Darko might serve Dumars’ secondary legacy, and that was the most reasonable of all his mistakes.
Patrick Hayes: As a champion and one of the most beloved figures in franchise history. A poor track record over the course of the last five years is certainly enough justification for a change in direction. However, it doesn’t discount the immense contributions Dumars has made to the organization as a player and executive. Those things will be far more enduring than the forgettable last five years.
Brady Fredericksen: That he’s one of the greatest Pistons of all time. We live in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately society, and unfortunately for Dumars, lately things have been pretty terrible. My thing is that the good of Dumars far outweighs the bad. Proof is in the pudding, Dumars was really, really bad near the end, but he’s still damn near the top of the Pistons’ Mount Rushmore. There are no NBA titles in Detroit without him — no Bad Boys, no star-less champions.
It’s time for change, and I hope they find the next great GM. But while fans celebrate his departure, good luck finding another person in basketball who has provided as much collective joy and success to one franchise as Dumars has to Pistons fans over the past 29 years.
As the name suggests, real plus-minus shares a family resemblance with the +/- stat in the box score, which merely registers the net change in score (plus or minus) while each player is on the court.
RPM is inspired by the same underlying +/- logic: If a team outscores its opponents when a player is on the court, he’s probably doing something to help his team, whether or not he’s putting up big numbers.
But the familiar +/- stat has a serious flaw: Each player’s rating is heavily influenced by the play of his on-court teammates.
For example, in the basic +/- numbers, Thunder backup point guard Reggie Jackson is ranked 27th in the league. But he’s also spent the majority of his minutes playing alongside Kevin Durant, the league’s likely MVP. What we really want to know is how much of Jackson’s elite rating is attributable to his own play, and basic +/- simply can’t tell us.
You’ll have to check out the entire article to truly grasp the ins and outs of RPM. The numbers — offensive and defensive RPM along with the newly debuted wins above replacement stat — say what you’d expect about the Pistons.
They’re not very good. Before someone gets worked up about these, don’t worry, I’m with you: advanced statistics aren’t perfect. They aren’t perfect in baseball and they won’t be in basketball, but the eye test has its flaws, too.
It’s the usual suspects rounding out the top six in WAR with LeBron James (17.07 WAR), Kevin Durant (16.73), Stephen Curry (13.68), Chris Paul (13.10), Kevin Love (13.05) and Dirk Nowitzk (12.41), but it goes off the rails at No. 7 when DeAndre Jordan (11.58) makes an appearance.
Yeah, I’m a little perplexed, too. Perhaps the ratings favor defense and rebounding (and obviously overall team success) over lackluster offensive production? That logic would surely mean that Andre Drummond grades wonderfully with this new stat, right?
Not so much. Drummond (3.01) graded out as the No. 20 center according to WAR, trailing powerhouses like Boston’s Jared Sullinger (4.03) and San Antonio’s Tiago Splitter (4.36). The RPM stats grade Drummond as a minus player offensively (-0.09), defensively (-0.24) and overall (-0.33).
That’s not all Drummond’s fault — the Pistons’ roster and lack of wins doesn’t help him — but it is interesting to see that, despite having such a great season on the boards, that Drummond has been pedestrian in other areas.
I’ll let you guys skim through the stats and draw your own conclusions, but it is worth noting a few things:
- Josh Smith grades out as the No. 8 small forward via WAR (7.41) and No. 12 via RPM (2.22). Go ahead, be mad.
- Can’t find Brandon Jennings‘ WAR rating? That’s because he’s ranked last at No. 87 (-3.26).
- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, for all the ups and downs he’s had, graded out as the No. 8 shooting guard (0.83) in the defensive RPM rankings.
- Greg Monroe actually graded out better on defense (1.18 DRPM) than on offense (0.95 ORPM). Whoda thunk?