Now is the time to tank, build in earnest

Andy Lyons

Raise your hand if you think the Pistons’ current core is enough to win a title. Because that's what this roster is banking on, as currently constructed.

Since the team's 0-8 start, they have been an up-and-down 7-9. That's probably about what could be expected for the remainder of the season, which would put the final win total at around 31-33 wins. Or a fourth consecutive season under the 40% win percentage and a fourth consecutive late lottery pick.

After that, the cabinet is bare of assets to build to the core. Giving up a first round pick to unload Ben Gordon leaves the team reliant on some marginal cap space in a weak free agent class and one more late lottery pick.

There are some nice pieces and perhaps they'll eventually be able to turn the corner to a playoff team. But the point of building a core is to compete for the title, and it's clear that there's not enough talent to honestly consider the upside able to go against the likes of the Thunder or Heat.

Right now is the ideal time to change that. They currently sit one game ahead of the worst record in the league, veterans with multiple years on their contracts have amazingly played well enough to be tradable, and expiring deals have proved themselves expendable.

Take a look back at MP's column from March about how to tank properly. The elements are still the same. It's not trotting out the crummiest players on the market. The goal is to get younger, balance the roster, and build assets while also providing the possibility of strong lottery positioning. Only this time, tanking needs to come through aggressive trading and a roster makeover.

It's not trying to lose. In fact, getting players into their natural positions and adding a legitimate point guard could actually lead the team to improve over their current pace. Getting better while also getting younger and cheaper? That'd be a great thing. But even if not, the worst case scenario would be that we have more assets to enhance the current core, perhaps even a top pick. Or in other words, landing the top pick isn't the ultimate goal - getting younger and building assets is. But it is a potential supplementary benefit.

The key elements at work are assets and timing. The Pistons have available assets in $17 million worth of expiring contracts from players that they don't need in Maggette, Daye, and Bynum. They have players whose strong starts make them assets as players and their salaries palatable to the right team in Maxiell, Prince, and Villanueva. That's six players who have little value in Detroit, but elsewhere. But these assets have an expiration date and they'll turn sour pretty soon.

Timing's also key for how effective the tank job can be. The longer the squad keeps winning at a 40% clip, the more they solidify themselves in the back of the lottery. It's up in the air which direction an overhaul will send the record. But we can have a pretty good idea of the trajectory as is.

Changes are going to have to come sooner or later. Eventually Moose will be in his prime, and Knight and Drummond will be the players that they're going to be. At that point it'll be too late. Getting over the hump from there requires the type of swing-for-the-fences move that more often results in a miss - a franchise crippling miss.

The better option is to sacrifice 10 or 15 wins (at worst) this year in order to set the Pistons up for a legitimate chance at contention.

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