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Has Pistons' window of opportunity already closed?

Talented young teams like the 76ers and T-Wolves put Pistons’ dreams of contending into perspective.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

I’m all out of Kool-Aid.

At the risk of overreacting a bit, I think something needs to be said following the Pistons’ loss to the Philadelphia 76ers and before their upcoming game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

They really pooped the bed and came out flat against the Sixers, playing rested on their home court, against an 0-3 team (that had lost to three very good teams, mind you).

Shooting 6-30 from 3PT land explains a lot. Even if they shot a mere 33%, they’d have won the game by a point. Several key guys all having a poor shooting night at once explains a lot. And "it’s just one game."

But I saw a comment in the game thread that has really stuck with me.

"We have to take the opportunity to beat this team now. In 2-3 years it could be next to impossible.” -Christopher Daniels

Chills ran down my spine.

After the game ended, I switched to AMC to watch John Carpenter's Halloween (always good fun to revisit at this time of year). And although my wife screamed (at some silly jump scare) loud enough to wake our sleeping daughter, I realized that Christopher’s comment was scarier than any slasher movie ever made.

At least for Pistons fans.

I recall a time not long ago when we bandied about the idea of the Pistons having a “window” of contention around the peak of Andre Drummond’s career with an up-and-coming cast of young and talented players around him.

And then I watched Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons playing like future Hall of Famers (if they can stay on the court) in their first real season of action, with Simmons putting up an effortless triple-double a mere four games into his NBA career. The thought of that team in three years, having signed a top-tier free agent or two to go along with their ridiculously-talented core of young players?


And just the night before, I watched Andrew Wiggins bury OKC with a buzzer-beater from just inside half court. And he’s playing alongside Jimmy Butler, Karl Anthony-Towns and a pretty nice supporting cast. The Pistons will get their first look at this group of promising young talent tonight.

After looking at the Sixers and T-Wolves, it’s occurred to me that if the Pistons are ever going to compete for a title, they better get moving ASAP.

Because even if Andre Drummond becomes an 18/16 guy every night... even if Reggie becomes 19/6 Reggie again… even if Tobias becomes a consistent 20+ ppg guy… this team still wouldn’t have what it takes to compete for an NBA title.

The list of big men who are better (and younger) than Andre Drummond is growing longer by the day. Joel Embiid and KAT are just two players with superior talent and potential.

With some hard work and luck, the Pistons could still very well grab a top 4-5 seed in this year’s playoffs and win a series. Hell, they could even sniff the ECF within the next few years. I still believe they have a lot of depth and value from 1-12 on the roster that could be used upgrade a starter or two via trade.

But the NBA arms race is coming from all sides. You have the current Superteams that feature 2-3 players who are all more talented than anyone on the Pistons’ roster. That could be said for Golden State, Houston, OKC, Cleveland and maybe a few other teams.

Then you have the beneficiaries of recent NBA drafts including Minnesota and Philly, as well as whoever the hell Milwaukee surrounds Giannis with for the next decade or so. And god forbid New Orleans is dumb enough to trade The Brow to a contender anytime soon.

While things are always changing in the NBA and you can’t see the future, it’s looking more and more difficult for a Voltron team (you know, where the five parts merge into an entity more powerful than any of them could be individually… like the cartoon from 30 years ago!) like the 2004 Pistons to actually knock off a modern-day Superteam in a 7-game series.

In fact, it’s starting to look like the only way to actually compete for an NBA title during the next decade is to assemble multiple bona fide superstars, whether via FA, the draft or trades. Because by the time the Warriors are ready to relinquish their stranglehold on NBA supremacy, the Sixers and T-Wolves may be ready to assume the throne.

Even Boston, with all their assets and masterful trades, and with a healthy Gordon Hayward, has at best a second-rate superteam at the moment (although Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum look pretty good). They still have a lot of work to do to get to championship level.

As the only team without a superstar to win an NBA championship during the past few decades - the Goin’ To Work Pistons - displayed two extremely special and unique qualities - they played defense with unparalleled intensity, and they played together as a well-oiled and selfless machine, just as well as the Warriors in recent years.

It would seem then that the only way to win big without a superstar is to play with unrelenting intensity and togetherness. And even then, the Pistons were only able to do it once, in spite of playing at a high level for the better part of a decade and making six straight Eastern Conference Finals. Even that crew, in their prime years, with all of their intensity and selflessness, fell to the Shaq/Wade Heat, LeBron's Cavs, the Duncan/Parker/Ginobili Spurs and the KG/Pierce/Allen Celtics.

I don’t think the main problem with this current Pistons team is that it lacks a Giannis or a trio of superstars. I think the problem is that its core players, who cumulatively possess quite a bit of talent, aren’t likely to play with the level of intensity and togetherness necessary to overcome the overall talent deficiency.

Don’t get me wrong. I do still think this could very well be a fun and exciting season. I still think they’re headed north of 44 wins.

But in spite of my penchant for writing articles that make DBB’ers feel excited and optimistic, I’m going to call it like I see it. If there’s a Pistons team that’s actually going to contend for an NBA title in the next decade, it probably won’t look much like it does today.

Players will have to increase their individual value on the court, SVG will have to be both shrewd and lucky with trades, he’ll have to get his guys to play harder and smarter than everyone else, and based on what we’re seeing in Minnesota and Philly, they’d better get moving.

Like right now.