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The Pistons Franchise is Doomed Forever

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It’s time to have a big fire sale and then maybe a bonfire. And fire SVG. Fire!

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Apologies for the headline. As the resident Chief Optimist at DBB, it’s been tough reading the comments for some time now. So forgive the sarcasm here.

But really, I mean every word.

Dear lord, Pistons fans. You guys need to take a deep breath.

”Fire SVG!”

Blake Griffin is DONE! Worst trade ever!”

“Trade Drummond for draft picks and burn it down!”

“This franchise is DOOMED for the next decade!”

“We suck and have no cap room!”

Oh, come on.

Really.

Step back from the ledge.

As tired as I know everyone is of hearing this, these numbers, as of the moment of this writing, are incontrovertible facts:

  • Pistons’ record since 2015-16 season without a healthy Reggie Jackson: 47-66 (.415)
  • Pistons’ record since 2015-16 season with a healthy Reggie Jackson: 63-52 (.547)
  • Games played from 2014-15 season to present: 310
  • Games played in that time span with a healthy first-string PG (apologies to Ish): 180 (58%)
  • Games missed by starters in 2014-15: 53 (Record: 32-50)
  • Games missed by starters in 2015-16: 11 (Record: 44-38)
  • Games missed by starters in 2016-17: 39 (Record: 37-45)
  • Games missed by starters in 2017-18: 52 (Record: 29-35)

Hmm… I’m seeing some sort of pattern here. Can’t quite figure out what it is.

The Pistons are currently playing without $31.5 million (32%) of their salary cap (Jackson, Leuer, Smoove), and important contributors like Avery Bradley and Stanley Johnson have also missed significant time this season.

The big question here is this: do you fire a coach/GM based purely on the team’s record, or do you make that decision based in part on the hand he’s been dealt?

I’m sure one could argue that another coach could have churned out a better record than SVG if given the same bad luck with injuries to PG’s. However, I’m not sure how much better that record would be. I’d imagine a more creative coach could have helped this team get into the 7th or 8th seed this season. However, you’d still be looking at a first round loss - most likely a 4-5 game series.

Just two years ago, the Pistons locked up a playoff berth with a win against the Washington Wizards. The Wizards missed the playoffs that year, finishing 41-41. Coincidentally, Bradley Beal missed 27 (and only started 35) games that year.

I’m seeing some sort of pattern here...

There are teams that handle the absence of key players better than the Pistons. The Celtics are doing fine without Gordon Hayward. The Spurs keep chugging along without Kawhi Leonard. These are model NBA franchises. They’re the exception to the rule.

Most franchises aren’t so lucky. The Pacers lost Paul George and dropped from 56-26 to 38-44. Then the following year, when George played 81 games, they finished 45-37.

I’m seeing some sort of pattern here...

Is Reggie anywhere near that level of player? No. But he’s clearly as important to his team.

So let’s just imagine the Pistons don’t blow everything up and roll the dice next season with roughly the same roster. Maybe they can upgrade a wing spot in the offseason to ensure there are always three shooters surrounding Blake & Dre. And let’s also imagine that the basketball gods allow the Pistons’ core players to remain reasonably healthy throughout the season. Given that 44-38 record from two seasons ago, what would you expect this current group to do?

2015-16

  • Reggie Jackson, KCP, Marcus Morris, Tobias Harris, Andre Drummond
  • Steve Blake, Stanley Johnson, Anthony Tolliver, Aron Baynes

2018-19

  • Reggie Jackson, Reggie Bullock, ????, Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond
  • Ish Smith, Luke Kennard, Stanley Johnson, Anthony Tolliver and/or Jon Leuer

It’s very hard to look at the current version of the Pistons and conclude they would be inferior to the previous group if given the chance to play together for a full season. It’s actually quite easy to imagine them being better than that team, given the superior play at SG/PF/C and from the reserves.

So why blow it up? That only makes sense if you A) think they won’t be able to stay healthy, or B) think they have a limited ceiling. But the oldest key player is Griffin, who’ll be 29 this month. So how could you determine this group’s ceiling before they ever have a chance to play together? Because they play horribly without Jackson?

Well, let’s travel back in time a decade or so. The Pistons are coming off a 59-23 season that ended, yet again, in the Eastern Conference Finals. They swing the infamous trade of Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson, and what happens? They go 39-43. One key player removed from an otherwise strong group caused a complete collapse.

Every player on the team played worse without Billups in the mix. Was Billups really worth 20 additional wins? Probably not in win shares, but it’s clear there are things advanced stats fail to measure accurately.

And please don’t comment below about how much better Chauncey was than Reggie will ever be. That’s true, and it’s not the point. The point is that removing a single key player, specifically a starting PG, can actually cause the entire house of cards to come crashing down. Especially when that key player can do things that no one else on the team can do.

The fact that SVG didn’t have a better Plan B in the event Reggie went down again is valid criticism, but it doesn’t mean they won’t be a very good team next season if he’s healthy.

The Pistons were on track to win 47 games before Reggie went down. Who knows how they’d have performed following the Griffin trade. Maybe we’ll get a little taste of that before season’s end. But they now look to be heading for about 35 wins.

So burn it all down. Make it a giant bonfire. Tar and feather SVG. Sell Blake Griffin for expiring contracts and a bag of Fritos. Just get rid of him. Get rid of everyone.

Because Devin Booker.

Because Donovan Mitchell.

Because Reggie can’t stay healthy.

Because fans are frustrated at losing two straight seasons to injury.

And of course, those who wish to burn it all down intuitively think that’s a smarter strategy that will lead to better results. They see the 76ers with two nice-looking franchise cornerstones and convince themselves the Pistons would be in a similar situation within 3-5 years of *tanking. Yet the hope of such a strategy, even if it were to work, would be to find players of Dre and Blake’s caliber and surround them with capable role players.

Ask Orlando how that’s working out. Or Sacramento. Or Phoenix. Or any of the other myriad teams who’ve been irrelevant in spite of consistent high lottery picks over a decade or two of ineptitude on the court.

Or maybe, after investing $35 million and four years in SVG, just maybe give him one more chance to show what he can do with a healthy roster for a full season.

If they do that and remain terrible, I’ll be the first to grab a pitchfork.

But I happen to think they’re due for a little luck.