Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores flew to Detroit to speak with the organization and with the Pistons players, and late Friday night he sat down with select members of the Detroit media to answer questions and to communicate with fans.
He did not walk in and announce any firings, any trades, or any drastic measures. What he did do was apologize to the Pistons fans. “The thing that’s been on my mind is really to talk to the fans, and what better place to do that than with this group. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time about how to communicate with fans. We owe them a conversation about the Pistons and where we’re at, and also just apologize for the disappointment to our fans. I’m as disappointed as anybody. Speaking to our fans and letting them know what’s happening, it’s critical at this time. It is a pivotal moment, I have a lot of thoughts about it,” Gores said, per Omari Sankofa at the Detroit Free Press.
Honestly, there was nothing outwardly relevatory about any of Gores’ comments, but if you parse the text carefully and read between the lines a bit, I think there was some valuable takeaways from his media session. Here are my five biggest takeaways from what Gores said.
1. Don’t expect Monty Williams or Troy Weaver to get fired during the season
Gores explicitly praised Monty Williams, the embattled and highly paid head coach that has led the team during its shocking 25-game losing streak. Fans have been extremely critical of Williams for a number of reason that I won’t litigate here. But he also seems like he’s not exactly won over the locker room. It was always unlikely that the Pistons would fire their heralded new head coach before even the halfway point of his first season, but Gores pretty well took it completely off the table.
Weaver, on the other hand, might have been damned with faint praise. Gores reiterated a number of times that Weaver is in charge, Weaver is evaluating the options, and Weaver is the one who is responsible for any future moves the Pistons make. On the one hand, that seems designed to put to rest any notion that there is a power struggle in the Pistons front office between Weaver and execs Arn Tellem and Ed Stefanski. On the other hand, I know a lot of people read these comments as the first step in scapegoating Weaver. I’m not sure I buy the second part, for reasons we will get into, but it does feel like no move will be made during the season.
2. Tom Gores believes there is a clear plan in place, and he is totally bought in
Gores reiterated a few things a number of times throughout his talk, but the biggest was the idea that the Pistons are well positioned to make big improvements in the offseason. Yes, the hallowed flexibility and a “nimble” cap situation was oft repeated by Gores. It’s as if Troy Weaver had Inceptioned the idea right into his head.
The plan, insomuch as there is one, seemed very clearly that the Pistons were willing to continue building up its youth, kick the can down the road until the right star trade or signing emerged, and then go all in on an extremely young, competitive roster that could contend. Of course, that star trade or signing never emerged. And the Pistons went from 17 wins last season to doing nothing significant in the offseason so as to preserve the “nimble” cap siutation. Gores bought into that original idea, and he isn’t ready to abandon it yet. That is why he isn’t firing Weaver. Because everything is going according to plan, and you can’t knock Weaver for a trade or signing he hasn’t made yet. It’s the ultimate dodge of responsibility, but that is where Gores finds himself.
3. Changes are coming, but they seem extremely ill-defined
Gores very much believes in team’s future, but he, like the rest of the sentient world, has no belief in the team’s present. Therefore, Gores says, changes are coming. But as many times as he mentioned the idea and necessity of making changes, he would also equivocate that it didn’t make sense to sacrifice either the team’s core players or eliminate it’s enviable cap situation. He would also sometimes reference the need for changes in the immediate future, as if to stop the bleeding, but would also talk about bigger changes beyond this season when they get to play with all the cap space.
This feels like the source of the most frustration for fans. Gores is talking about changes, but seems to eliminate any reasonable path to significant change. I don’t have any clue what options are actually on the table, and as much as I don’t begrudge a team owner from showing his cards as his team engages in the trade market, I do wish there was a better sense of what the path is here.
4. Everyone seems to be on team Jaden Ivey except for his head coach
As the dam begins to break on some of the tension in the locker room and the organization, it feels like people are getting closer to taking sides in the great Jaden Ivey vs. Monty Williams debate. Ivey had a solid rookie season, though he obviously also had a lot of areas to improve in. But his sophomore year has been a slow-motion disaster. Despite showing significant growth as a scorer and finisher, Ivey’s role in the offense is an afterthought, and his minutes and responsibilities are way down under Williams.
In James Edwards latest column in The Athletic, wrote, “The handling of certain players may have led to this group being spiritless.” I’m not sure the Pistons players would be upset about who is getting minutes, and that tells me they are more upset about who is not getting minutes. And that, to me, is the players being dejected about how Ivey has been handled.
Similarly, Gores spoke of his deep involvement with the execs and coaching staff as they try to turn this thing around. “But we have to assess what’s not working here. I’m down to Monty and I talking about rotations. I don’t normally do that,” Gores said. That strikes me as another subtle acknowledgement of support in Ivey’s direction. Will any of it amount to anything? Who knows.
5. Everyone in the organization is shocked at just how bad this team is
It’s clear that the Pistons front office and owner Tom Gores thought this team was much better than it actually is. They were caught flat-footed that these young players wouldn’t instantly, simultaneously take leaps and be responsible for the team being at or near contention. Honestly, that might be the most clearest indicator of a fireable offense that I can think of. The idea that the Pistons could largely run back a 17-win team and see a 15-win improvement was always way off base. It’s a shame nobody in charge realizes just how much of a self-inflicted wound this all is.
6. I don’t think defensive coach Dan Burke is ever coming back to Detroit
I don’t know what’s going on. The last time Burke was seen on the sidelines in Detroit, the Pistons were a .500 team, believe it or not. He has been out since Oct 30 dealing with what is being called a “personal matter.”
First, I hope everything is OK with Burke, and that there are no serious health issues keeping him off the sidelines. Second, I hope that he didn’t walk because of some sort of interpersonal issues with others in the organization (I’m looking in Monty Williams’ direction).
Gores didn’t address the situation directly, but when he did mention the inevitability of “change,” he surprisingly mentioned the staff. “There might be additions to staff, but what’s for sure is change is coming,” Gores said. That tells me the Pistons know they need to add a defensive coordinator-type coach to help fix what’s wrong, and that they don’t think they can rely on Burke to be that dude at all this season, and maybe never again.