The Detroit Pistons are in no man's land. If the NBA Playoffs started tomorrow, the Pistons would find themselves in the worst-possible situation: outside of the Playoffs and also outside of the top eight in the NBA draft (barring a miraculous ping pong ball bounce), meaning their draft pick will all but certainly wind up in Charlotte.
However, there is still plenty of time for that to change in either direction. The Atlanta Hawks currently occupy the eight seed in the East and two games up in the win column over Detroit, but remain in a free fall losing eleven of their last twelve. The Charlotte Bobcats have three games on Detroit in the win column, but Charlotte is hardly a sure thing.
As poorly as the Pistons have played since John Loyer took the reigns, the Playoffs remain a very real possibility. The Pistons can play better than this, and Atlanta and Charlotte are huge question marks.
Keeping the draft pick, however, seems increasingly less likely. Basketball-reference.com projects the Pistons to finish with the tenth-worst record overall, and it would require blatantly obvious tanking to finish much worse (or much better, depending on perspective) than that. Yes, the Cleveland Cavaliers could catch and pass Detroit, Atlanta could right the ship and hang on, but can any two of the terrible teams below the Pistons make a late-season push? And would they if they could?
On the flip side, Chicago currently sits in fourth place in the East, and winning as many games as possible is imperative. A strong close to the season could propel them into the third seed, but limping to the finish could cost them home-court advantage in round one. The Bulls are two games up on the Washington Wizards, but Washington has beaten Chicago twice this season, with one more matchup to go. The Toronto Raptors are a half game up on Chicago and are very catchable.
Keys to the Game
Commit to the Future: I was all-in on making the Playoffs this season when Ben Gordon and a draft pick were sacrificed for cap space in the summer of 2013. I allowed myself to hope that Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith could turn over new leaves and figure out how to coexist with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. I hoped that Charlie Villanueva and Rodney Stuckey could be flipped into a useful asset that would help with the playoff push. I had high hopes that GiGi Datome, Jonas Jerebko, Josh Harrellson, and Chauncey Billups would all find productive roles in advantageous situations off the bench.
Alas, none of that has happened, and by my lights, it's time to cut ties with last year's aspirations. Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are the most promising young players Detroit has had at one time in a very long time, and it's time to go all-in with them and anyone else who has potential to mesh with them in the future. We know who Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, Rodney Stuckey, and Will Bynum are. We don't yet know who Gigi, Jonas, Jorts, Tony Mitchell and Peyton Siva could be or how they might fit with the aforementioned young players.
Want to make a name for yourself, Coach Loyer? You've got a real chance. If those young guys find a way to beat the odds and win their way into the Playoffs, you'll have one heck of a resume come season's end. But even if they don't, you will have demonstrated that you have the courage to make tough decisions if things don't go the way they should.
And for what it's worth, you'd have the admiration and respect of a huge number of Pistons' fans who are close to giving up on this disaster of a season.
Question of the Game
Mathematically, the Pistons can still win their way into the Playoffs. Looking at the remaining schedule, what are their chances?