The Detroit Pistons have largely toiled in obscurity during one of their worst seasons in franchise history, but when you lose by 40 on a night when there are only four games on the schedule people are bound to take notice.
And boy did the crew at Inside the NBA on TNT take notice of the absolute thumping Detroit received at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies (118-88) one night after losing by 29 points to the Charlotte Hornets (140-111).
Ernie Johnson set the stage in acknowledging both lopsided defeats, and it gave Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal free license to tee off and discuss just what’s wrong in Detroit.
“Memphis ha won seven games in a row. Detroit has won seven games all year,” Johnson said, which elicited chuckles from the crew. Ernie followed, “Their 18th double-digit loss.”
Charles Barkley was all too eager to pile on, unfurling some quips right out of the gate:
“Isiah Thomas is rolling over in his grave ... “
“This team don’t compete at all ... ”
“It’s an embarrassment ... ”
It’s a joke, man. They need to [relegate] that team. Put them in the G League. ... ”
This was all in an effort to, rightly or wrongly, absolve head coach Dwane Casey of the blame and seemingly will him into a better situation the future. Barkley’s biggest issue was the team’s seeming disinterest in competing during games.
As someone who has watched just about every minute of Pistons basketball this year and in year’s past, I’d posit that this year’s struggles have much more to do with team disfunction than disinterest.
Casey, to his unending credit, has always kept a positive atmosphere even in the worst of times, and the young players have always said the right thing. But when the construction of the roster is so bereft of top-end talent, and the few veterans you have are out — Jerami Grant, Kelly Olynyk and Cory Joseph all missed the past two games — you are going to have nights where things short-circuit so completely that you can’t really seem to do anything right. And that can sometimes look like you’re not trying to do much of anything at all.
Kenny Smith, largely agreeing with Barkley’s take, took Detroit to task for not hustling or even contesting the Grizzlies as they flew up and down the court.
“When two guys beat one guy from free-throw line to layup that means you’re not sprinting. That means you’re not playing hard,” Smith said. “There are four players who are not in the play on consecutive possessions.”
Later in the discussion, Barkley implied that through sheer effort and force of will any team in the NBA could win 24 games, and if you’re not hitting that mark it’s because you’re not trying. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that Barkley doesn’t understand what an uphill battle it is when you are playing almost exclusively young players in major roles on one of those talent-deficient teams in the league. Barkley won 40% or more of his games in every season of his Hall of Fame career. After a rough start as a Sacramento King, Smith found success in Atlanta and Houston during his long career.
They never really faced a situation like the young players in Detroit find themselves in. They are often overmatched, and sometimes they hit a groove and their talent shines through as in Monday’s improbable win against the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks. And sometimes it looks hideously ugly as it did against Memphis.
One name that curiously never came up in this long discussion was Troy Weaver, and Weaver is most responsible for Detroit’s 7-30 record and last (tied for fewest wins in the league) and last year’s 20-win effort (second worst record in the league). And that’s not even a criticism. Weaver knew the team needed to rebuild after years of previous executives were too scared to pull the trigger.
He jettisoned every player on the team within a calendar year. It was all designed to restock young talent and put themselves in a position to draft difference-makers. It has led to Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart, Saben Lee and really paid off with No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham. And the potential of another top-3 pick in the upcoming draft.
As Shaquille O’Neal said “they’re not structured to be a good team.” They are structured to learn. They are structured to lose. And, yes, they are structured to compete. But on some nights that is harder to come by than others.
Do I wish this essential part of the rebuild, or restoration in Troy Weaver’s parlance, wasn’t quite so painful and embarrassing? Sure. Do I understand that it is necessary and sometimes, too many times, these lopsided losses will happen? Of course I do.
It’s all part of the ... ahem ... process.
The full conversation was captured by Twitter user @Gchapa75.