Joe Dumars recently did a Q&A with Ian Thomsen of SI.com and was asked a question that's probably been posed to him hundreds of times, "why doesn't Darko play?"
Darko will determine his ability to get on the floor for us. We don't have the luxury of putting him out there and saying, 'Oh, we'll just let him play through his mistakes for 15-20 minutes.' We're too good a team, and his mistakes are too high right now. Obviously he needs to be able to play through mistakes, but that's unfair to the other guys right now. Until he can get out there and play to the level of the other guys, his minutes will be few and far between.
For those who have been following the Darko saga, Joe’s response was par for the course. In other words, look for Darko to continue to play only during garbage time, which, during the Pistons recent stretch of mediocrity, has been rare. More frustrating though is the prospect that Darko could go through another season with little or no development of his game.
Matt and I agree on this point: the only way that Darko is ever going to become a productive player is for him to see the floor for extended minutes during real-game situations—and that can’t happen in Detroit. No one can fault Joe or Flip for refusing to take minutes away from Ben, Sheed, or Dyess—the Pistons probably have the best frontcourt rotation in the league. But going on the somewhat safe assumption that Ben will be re-signed this offseason, those minutes aren’t going to suddenly be available to Darko in the foreseeable future either. This team’s frontcourt rotation, barring injury, is set. Even more disturbing is that Jason Maxiell in his limited minutes this season has shown more hustle—if not overall ability—than Darko has in over two years of garbage time.
That said, with Darko’s trade value diminishing with every DNP, a trade could be forthcoming. Read between the lines of John Hammond’s comments to A. Sherrod Blakely of MLive.com when asked about other teams coveting Darko via trade.
"It's been like that the last two-and-a-half years leading up to the trading deadline," Hammond said. "Teams see that he's not playing a lot here, but understand that he has tremendous upside for a young big man. We understand that with Darko, we have a valuable asset, so you want to be very careful in how you approach dealing with that asset."
So now Darko is a commodity, rather than the future of the Pistons’ frontcourt? It isn’t out of a question—with Alex Acker’s contract being guaranteed for the remainder of the season—that Joe could choose to deal one or both of Darko and Carlos Arroyo (as Matt speculated earlier today) for more bench help. Even with the return of Lindsey Hunter, one injury to a top six player in Detroit’s rotation could severely damage the Pistons’ chances of taking home a second title in three years.
One wonders whether the best situation for both Darko and the Pistons would be for Joe to cut ties, recouping as much value as he still can.