When Troy Weaver arrived in 2020, the Detroit Pistons general manager said with pride, “this isn’t a rebuild — it’s a restoring.”
“There’s been greatness here,” Weaver told media in his virtual introductory press conference. “The Motor City deserves a consistent winner back on the floor.”
He was right. There has been greatness here, and, yes, this tortured fanbase does deserve a consistent winner back on the floor.
Nearly four years later, we’re still waiting.
Eighteen disastrous games into Weaver’s fourth season and this franchise is nowhere near consistent winning. The greatness? Hell, at this point mediocrity starts to feel like a miracle.
Detroit is riding a 15-game losing streak — the team record in a single season.
The Pistons have the worst record in the NBA and are arguably the worst team in the NBA — again. Their most recent losses — a 26-point blowout against the Los Angeles Lakers and an old fashioned ass whoopin’ at the hands of the lowly-but-definitely-not-this-bad Washington Wizards — has laid bare just where things stand.
Holding Everyone Accountable
Really, it comes down to accountability.
You can blame to pretty much everyone. The blood is on everyone’s hands.
Monty Williams hasn’t lived up to his status as the highest-paid coach in basketball. His offensive system has been, well, offensive, and outside of a three-game stretch to open the season, the defensive identity he’s trying to instill is non-existent.
These players are at fault. They’re the ones who can’t hold onto the ball. They’re the ones who can neither make open shots nor keep the other team from making theirs. That includes Cade Cunningham, the team’s No. 1 overall pick and the brightest glimmer of hope for this moribund organization. He’s struggled to lift this team because he’s not good enough to bare the massive weight. Maybe nobody would be good enough fewer than 100 games into their careers.
That’s not to say he can’t get to that level — I’m confident this is not a Cade Cunningham problem — but right now, the ask is too much. He’s being pushed to do too much, is trying to do even more, and he can’t save this team by himself.
That leaves us with the guys who’ve been here from the start: Weaver and owner Tom Gores.
Accountability starts at the top.
The Restoration has been a MasterClass in losing. It’s stealth tanking, Weaver’s creative way to circumvent the negative press that Sam Hinkie received during his unorthodox and shameless teardown of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Losing Infecting the Pistons Like a Cancer
This loser culture that has creeped into the Pistons’ facility is a cancer.
Weaver’s “restoring” has poisoned the well in ways that Williams — a coach renowned for his ability to resuscitate struggling franchises — has quickly learned he cannot fix with a snap of the fingers.
The Pistons play the stupidest brand of basketball. They make the same mistakes on a nightly basis. They don’t know how to play together despite the core of this group being together for the better part of three years.
They’ve been enabled in the worst ways.
Without question, the team would effectively punt on their season sometime in February after the NBA Trade Deadline. They said they were shifting into “development” mode as vets like Jerami Grant and Bojan Bogdanovic coincidentally found themselves injured at a point in the season where lottery balls and losses were at a premium.
It made sense in the moment: tank to get the best possible draft pick. But there had to be some semblance of progress. Some growth and maturation. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
That’s the Pistons under Weaver. There was a lot of losing, but not much else.
Winning is Not a Choice, It is a Habit
Talk about accountability: I’m not sure the Pistons’ core was ever held accountable until this season. The overarching idea from the start was never about winning basketball games until this season.
The Pistons are the terrible team they are today, in part, because the players have been enabled and allowed to play this mindless, losing brand of basketball for their entire careers. All they know is losing. There have been no stakes aside from player development.
“I think this group struggles with adversity,” Williams said after the loss to the Lakers.
The young guys struggle with it because they’ve never had to face it at this level. All they know is a world where wins aren’t a priority.
You’re naive if you think we, as the fans, were the only ones who knew the Pistons were trying to lose as much as possible over the past three seasons. The players weren’t trying to lose themselves, of course, but they’re professionals — they get it.
The Pistons today are, essentially, the 76ers of yesteryear.
The Restoring = The Process.
I don’t think Philly’s loser culture compromised Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the prizes of their tanking efforts. Maybe because they were hardly on the floor healthy for it.
My biggest fear now is that the tanking and losing in Detroit has compromised the core of the Pistons, contrary to what guys like Cade, Isaiah Stewart and Isaiah Livers say after each loss about belief in one another.
Unlike the Sixers, the guys who were in Detroit at the beginning of this “restoring” are still the core pieces today. The Philly teams that were finally good had, for the most part, moved away from the plumbers and mail men on those tanking teams.
Philadelphia was eventually bailed out by the NBA as commissioner Adam Silver essentially facilitated the deal that led Hall of Fame executive Jerry Colangelo to the 76ers and, eventually, led to the resignation of Hinkie in 2016.
A Puzzle Without a Final Picture
The difference is that Hinkie shot and missed on a lot of high draft picks but had two slam dunks. We can’t call Cade a slam dunk yet, and the rest is all a big ole shrug emoji. The pieces don’t fit. It’s a puzzle without a final picture.
I think Weaver has drafted talented players — Cade, Jaden Ivey, Ausar Thompson and Jalen Duren are a fine core — but he’s proven to be overmatched as a GM. He’s a good scout who doesn’t have the slightest idea of how to build a cohesive team.
Silver isn’t going to come rescue the Pistons, though. Lightning doesn’t strike twice and as bad as Detroit has been, they still weren’t The Process bad... unless, ya know, they go 8-57 the rest of the way to match the 10-62 team Philly had in 2015-16.
You need to embarrass the NBA on a national level for them to come in and save the day.
Putting the Future into Focus
This alllllllll brings us back to the accountability thing.
Weaver created this mess, and it was Gores who enabled it to continue on.
Frankly, I’m not sure Gores pays all that much attention to the Pistons. I’ve always felt like he checked up on them like someone passively checks up on their fantasy basketball team — just to see what’s going on.
Detroit’s season is, effectively, over which puts the ball squarely in the court of Gores. It’s time to wake up and pay attention. There are a few paths he can take:
- Accept that the season is lost and resist the urge to compromise the future in an attempt to quickly fix this. This is to say, don’t let Troy Weaver make the same mistake Stan Van Gundy did by mortgaging everything in a Blake Griffin-type deal.
- If he wants action, he can force Weaver to identify his core 2-3 players and trade the rest to acquire a difference-making veteran to steady the ship and provide some semblance of direction for this franchise.
- He can part ways with his basketball consigliere, Arn Tellem. The former powerbroker agent’s impact on the basketball ops been tangible since he joined the franchise as chairman in 2015. They’ve acquired seven of his former (and mostly washed-up) clients over that time and he got his son, Eric, hired as Weaver’s Senior Director of Player Personnel.
- Obviously, he can fire Weaver. The man has done nothing but lose games and make draft picks. For every savvy trade he’s made, he’s made a bad one. He’s yet to spend money in a way that shows a commitment to winning and, frankly, I’m not sure he knows how.
- He can sell the team.
Aside from a few mediocre seasons, the Pistons have done nothing but lose since Gores purchased them in 2011, compiling at 388-654 (.372 winning percentage) record as owner. He’s willing to spend, but he doesn’t spend right. He’s never put the right kind of people in charge and he chases star coaches because, for all the billions of dollars he has, his team is repulsive to any star player.
Gores is never going to get what he wants out of the Pistons. He’s a Michigan-born guy who lives a Hollywood life in Los Angeles. He knows what the Buss’ family has with the Lakers and what Steve Ballmer has with the Clippers.
And after 12 years, he has these Pistons, a terrible team that is starting to feel like it’s two years away from being two years away from the playoffs. Even if he cares just a little, this experience cannot be at all fulfilling.
He should sell the team... I just don’t see that happening — the money is simply too good.
Legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski once said that, in order to accomplish great things, you need to take risks. Not gambles, but risks.
If Gores is going to dig his heels in and figure this out, he needs to take a risk. He cannot gamble, and lose, again. He needs to decide if Weaver is the right man for the job — like, now — and if he isn’t, he needs to fire him make the right hire.
The locker room has talked about accountability after each embarrassing loss in this historic losing streak. It’s time for ownership to take a look in the mirror and be accountable themselves.
The ball’s in your court, Tom.