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Adrian Griffin (30-13) fired by Bucks; Monty Williams (4-39) still happily employed by Pistons; what gives?

The Bucks are judging themselves against the margins of title contention while the Pistons are stuck in a cycle of rebuilding, potential, and flexibility

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Pistons might have just gotten a first-year head coach fired. No, not Monty Williams, their own first-year head coach. I’m talking about Adrian Griffin. The Pistons sans Cade Cunningham were within one possession with four minutes or less remaining in back-to-back games against the Milwaukee Bucks, and now Bucks head coach Adrian Griffin is fired. Gone despite a 30-13 record.

The Pistons, it should be noted, lost both those games against the Bucks despite being competitive. They have done a lot of losing this year. They sport an NBA-worst 4-39 record and are trying to fight off the NBA’s worst record of all time.

One situation means a 30-13 record can get you fired while Detroit’s 4-39 record has not led to any indication that Monty Williams’ job is in jeopardy. How? Why? Will there ever be a point in the near future where Williams’ employment status could be in doubt?

The answer to the last one is, yes, of course. I don’t care what outsized or reasonable expectations owner Tom Gores had this summer when he gave Williams the plumpest contract in NBA coaching history. He certainly didn’t expect an eight-win pace.

How to Judge the Pistons

But the Pistons, simply put, are not where the Milwaukee Bucks are. They are not fighting the same battles. They are not graded on the same rubric.

The Bucks are working on the margins of what it means to go from a really good or even great team to a championship-level team. That is what Giannis demands, and that is what Giannis has earned with his generational talent. Nothing less would suffice.

The moment the Bucks decided Griffin wasn’t taking them to a title, it was time to make a move.

Detroit is so bad in so many facets of the organization, it’s hard to determine much of anything other than it’s not working.

Going into the season, even optimists calling for ... checks notes ... a win total in the mid-30s? Granted, they are nowhere near that. They are not on track to get to double digits, and even with some internal improvement expected, they will at this point be lucky to match last season’s 17 wins.

That is certainly the kind of year that can get a coach (and a GM) fired. But that is more likely to happen after the season and not at the midway point.

The Bucks fired Griffin to save their season. The Pistons’ season is already lost. The offseason is the chance for them to save their soul.

A Failure of Imagination and Execution

Let’s be blunt. The Pistons are a failure. GM Troy Weaver has failed and head coach Monty Williams has failed.

Whether that failure is here because of a lack of construction, imagination, implementation, execution, or inspiration is harder to gauge. It is completely fair to say that Williams’ repeated willingness to give extended minutes to non-performers like Isaiah Livers, James Wiseman and, more recently, to Killian Hayes, remains borderline baffling. It’s also fair that he was simply looking for anyone with some nascent skills to step up and help this team.

He is a coach that is churning through bodies and 10-man rotations, but he also constantly seems reluctant to pull a starter who is not performing on one or both ends of the floor in late-game situations while the margin is close. The veterans who won’t make mistakes late aren’t good enough to close, and the young guys with actual skills are prone to truly baffling self-sabotage.

His usage and lack of a role for Jaden Ivey, and his lack of creativity in finding lineups for Ausar Thompson to wreak his special brand of havoc is damning. It’s also true, it’d be easier to slot Thompson on the floor if anyone could make 3s at a league-average rate, and for most of this season no more than one Piston at a time fit that bill.

If the Pistons fired Monty Williams tomorrow, I would fully understand why it happened. He has, quite simply, not helped this team succeed. He has not made the whole better than the sum of its parts. He has not seemed to inspire his young players.

BUT. I also am not necessarily advocating for Williams’ firing today or tomorrow. Maybe I’m too soft.

It should be said that the toolbox is not robust. This is a thing roster with obvious deficiencies. The spacing is awful. The defenders are few and far between. The players who you want to have with the ball in their hands are also some of the players most prone to mistakes and not meeting the moment.

Monty Williams is still here. He is still the head coach of the Pistons. And maybe he should be. The cupboard is still close to bare, but even the trade of non-shooting Marvin Bagley for perimeter-oriented bigs in Danilo Gallinari and Mike Muscala is starting to bear fruit.

It’s allowing the Pistons to find more time for Thompson, and it’s allowing Isaiah Stewart to play a more traditional big-man role down low and not just be a miscast perimeter-oriented four.

Cade is coming back. Monte Morris is about to make his season debut. A regular meme on a bruised, battered, and sarcastic Pistons fanbase online is pronounce that you can’t judge the Pistons until Morris returns to the lineup.

First, yes, you can judge the Pistons. They are bad. One of the four worst teams in the NBA. That much is clear. Second, I think Pistons fans will be surprised how much of a missing and much-needed ingredient a veteran point guard will make on this team.

If the Pistons do manage to get near that 17-win mark from last season, it will be because of a player like Morris.

Everything on the Table

Everything should be on the table for the Pistons whether they win 19 games or nine. Monty Williams job, despite his contract status, should not be safe. Troy Weaver’s job should not be safe. Nobody on the roster besides Cade Cunningham should be safe.

I do believe that if the Pistons decided that ultimately, they can not get to where they want to go with Williams at the helm, they will fire him. Tom Gores is a billionaire. He sunk hundreds of millions of dollars into the Palace of Auburn Hills despite knowing he was going to move in two years. Do you really think he would think twice about eating $50 million on a coach’s contract? I don’t.

But being willing to fire a coach and deciding to fire him in year one because your team is terrible and not below average is not something I would expect to be on the table. Everyone in the coach’s room and the C-suite will get this season to show that they belong here next year.

They will get further development time for a young core, a trade deadline to reshape the roster. Then decisions will be made. Hopefully they are willing to make the right ones, no matter how difficult or costly.