The Pistons are 11 games into the 2012-13 season with game number 12 coming up tonight at Orlando. The Pistons currently have a 2-9 record, the same record at this same point last year, and could conceivably be 3-9 after tonight's game. At the same time, they could conceivably be 2-10 after tonight. Regardless of if the Pistons win tonight or not, I think there is a rather specific route the Pistons should take for the rest of the season.
The two wins the Pistons have come at the expense of Philadelphia and Boston. These two teams were pegged by most people at the beginning of the year to be in the playoffs this year. Philadelphia currently has a 7-4 record after three straight wins after their loss to us. In their loss to us, Philly didn't have Bynum. But at the same time, they haven't had him in their three recent wins against Toronto, Cleveland and Utah. Boston currently has a 6-5 record, but when we played them, it was the fourth game in 5 nights, 5th game in 7 nights, for them. They are one of the older teams in the league (well top 10 at least). In our two wins, we've averaged 98.5 and won by an average of 19 points. So while I admit this sample may be tainted, I think the Pistons do show that if they played how they're capable of playing they could possibly make it to the playoffs.
Another thing to keep in mind is the change in the starting lineup. Is Singler the answer to all of our issues? No, but he provides a few things that have helped our starting unit out. Singler's ability to shoot from the outside has opened up the lane for Monroe. His ability to make great cuts to the basket has helped Monroe get more assists and keep his defenders off guard. His consistent movement and running of the floor has seemed to energized the starting lineup. So what Singler has provided is great, but I still think there is more that can be done to make the Pistons a playoff team, such as putting Drummond in the starting lineup or giving him more minutes (especially more alongside Monroe). However, I do not want the Pistons to make the playoffs.
1. Charlotte and the Draft Pick
I'm probably one of few that didn't mind giving up the draft pick to rid ourselves of Gordon. But when I originally thought like that it was because I saw potential in the team in making the playoffs and I knew this year's draft is pretty weak, so I figured "Why not give it up this year and get the team SOME playoff experience even if we're swept in the first round." Well, I have kind of changed my tune on this one.
I still think this draft isn't going to be very good, but I don't think it's necessarily going to be a horrible one. Even if just for backup purposes, the Pistons need to draft a PG. There may be no difference in quality of PG between pick 14 and pick 16, but then again there may be. Look at how Drummond is performing. You never know what could happen.
To probably everyone's surprise, Charlotte is currently 5-4 with wins over Dallas (.500), Indiana (0.417), Washington (.000), Minnesota (.556) and Milwaukee (.667). Kemba is playing like he did at UCONN, Sessions is being Ramony, Mullens is doing pretty decent, and they have six players averaging 11.7 PPG or more, including rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. So, if they were to continue this path and SOMEHOW make it to the playoffs, a lottery pick would only help them. I really don't want to help anyone in our conference.
2. Stay under the radar.
When a team stays under the radar and has cap room like we will this offseason, other teams are likely to bring you in on multiple team trades to facilitate bigger trades. Look at how Cleveland was trying to be used for the Dwight Howard trade and such. Now, I know this would require action from the Pistons front office, but this would be the BEST way to trade any vets that we need to to get rid of their contracts, veteran leadership, or other undesirable qualities they possess. If we're in a playoff hunt, even for the 8th seed, teams will know that we're looking for that piece, like we did with Rasheed, to push us harder. They won't want to help a team who could threaten their playoff hopes. No, teams won't come to us asking for Charlie because they want him, but they may be willing to take him to even out a three or more team trade.
3. Burn the rookies.
I've seen multiple people say that they'd rather see the rookies play more and lose than the veterans play more and lose. I think the main reason most people say this is because the rookies are more entertaining and because it will allow us to see who can do what and who we need to keep or drop. I agree with both of those reasons, but would like to add one more. According to HoopsHype, Drummond could be ours through the 2016-17 season on his rookie contract. Singler is only set up to be here through 2014-15. Singler is currently getting his burn and needs to keep doing so, even if we start losing again. All of us have said we want Drummond to have more minutes and be paired up with Monroe more since that is the supposed future of the team. Again, I agree with this assessment. But I think we should push it more than what will be the regular.
People have stated how the NBA season is the longest season of them all in terms of number of games. Drummond has one year of college, so what, 33 games? In High School he maybe played 20 games a year. So are we about to see him get tired from a much faster NBA in terms of schedule, pace of game, etc.? If so, I say so what. Allow him to play 35 minutes a game. Not for stats, not for wins, but for conditioning. There is no better conditioning for a rookie than an actual NBA game. Practice, scrimmage, run, be in the gym all you want. There is no conditioning better than the game. This will allow us, with Drummond and Singler, to know how well conditioned they are and what to expect from them next year, when I do want us to make the playoffs.
4. Roster Setup
As Joe D has stated, Frank has stated, and the fans have definitely stated, we believe Drummond and Monroe will be the future of this team. Joe D, and some of the players, have hopes that Brandon Knight is going to be the Pistons PG of the future, and maybe he can. He's had days that encourage us and days where we want to beat him with a sock full of butter. Everyone has said nothing but great things about Singler. They've even said during Summer League how they just didn't want to take him out of the game, he's that much of a multifaceted player. That's four of our five starting spots, and depending on where Singler finds his niche, at SG or SF, determines how we go into free agency and/or trade talks.
As I stated above, I think being the facilitator in trades is our best option in terms of shaping the team how we want it. I'll take first or second round draft picks for ANY year to get rid of Tayshaun (preferably to a contender), Charlie, Corey, Austin, Jason and Will. We can then use free agency to pick the veteran leadership that we want. And, depending on how well the young ones do together as a starting lineup, we could go after backups for cheap and/or one star. I envision a starting lineup of Knight, English, Singler, Monroe and Drummond. Not just because it'd be fun to watch, but it really fits. Knight has his shooters so he can get his assists. English and Singler can shoot from the outside which opens the lane for Knight if he drives or for Monroe and Drummond if we pass it down low. And it's a high energy lineup, so we could definitely speed up the pace of the game if we want. Then we'd have Middleton, Kravtsov, Jerebko and Stuckey as backups. Everyone's young, everyone's pretty fast, and the lineups fit. We'd only have to get backups.
Why it's not likely to happen.
The main reason probably, because people want to keep their jobs, is because of Gores saying he expects us to push for the playoffs. This is one thing that has kind of bothered me. Not the statement by itself, but how it makes our front office seem. You have Gores wanting to win now, and I don't necessarily blame him. But then you have Joe D and Frank talking about development within and building a team for a long run. Seems like two different methodologies and from experience, they can't live in the same household nicely.
Another reason why I don't see it working so much is because of the people I named that we could use to facilitate trades, their trade value is pretty low or non existent. Tayshaun and Maxiell have been playing pretty well and may have some trade value. But Austin, Will, Charlie and Corey don't have much trade value (other than expiring contracts). Because of that, I think Frank is being lead to play some of these players in hopes of upping their trade value. If that's the case, I'm kind of ok with it as long as after the trade deadline, we play the young players more.
Now, I don't know everyone's definition of tanking, but I don't consider this to be tanking. For instance, if we play the young kids and give them a lot of minutes and we actually make the playoffs, I can't see that as a negative, even losing the draft pick. If we're in line to make the playoffs and then we start losing intentionally, THAT's what I have a problem with. But without tanking, I want the Pistons to miss the playoffs while at the same time using the young players as much as possible. But at what expense could that come as? If Frank plays the young players and we lose, do we start another coaching carousel? If we don't make the playoffs because we played the young players, does Joe get canned? If we don't make the playoffs, does the free agency money get use unwisely going after a star that may disrupt whatever chemistry the team has and is building? What will the morale be of the team if the young ones can't take us to the playoffs? I don't know what the cost will be, and that kind of concerns me. But I fully believe, if we played the younger players more now, without regard of trying to build trade value for those who need to/will leave, it will put us in better position to almost guarantee a playoff spot next year.
P.S. I don't think Frank is an amazing coach, there are better out there, but I think he's a good stepping stone coach. Use him to build a semi-respectable team, then go after a coach that can push us over the edge, like what Larry Brown did. Carlisle was a stepping stone coach, now look at him. Also, I know many would like to see Joe D get canned, but I am not one that likes change in the front office because the change isn't "fast enough". Take these past elections. Someone promised "faster" recovery while the incumbent had a "steady" record of recovery. These past few years have shown that the team is slowly but assuredly getting better. A new GM may make that happen more quickly, or it may disrupt everything completely. I honestly don't know.