Fresh off of the Stan Van Gundy era, the Detroit Pistons are looking to remain a strong playoff contender instead of bottoming out and earning a high draft pick in 2019. Why, you ask? Well, they almost have to after Tom Gores vouched for a trade for Blake Griffin last winter. The controversial trade resulted in the Pistons forfeiting their 2018 first round pick and forward Tobias Harris, as well as expiring contract Avery Bradley and center Boban Marjanovic to the Los Angeles Clippers, for Griffin. Blake will make a whopping $141,000,000 over the next four seasons. Given his salary alone, it’s hard to swallow this trade as a Pistons fan. Then consider Harris’ ability to space the floor- 41% on three-pointers last season on 5.6 attempts per game- and that he just turned 26. On top of losing a first round pick. Hold on, I need to bash my head against a wall a few times.
It remains to be seen if the Blake Griffin-Andre Drummond front court pairing makes sense in 2018. It worked pretty well for Griffin in Los Angeles, paired with DeAndre Jordan, a player with a similar skill set to Drummond. However, Drummond showed promise with a play-maker role in a revamped offense last season, something Jordan has never displayed. Drummond averaged a career best 3 assists per game while primarily operating from the elbows extended, hitting cutters and running hand offs on the perimeter. Griffin himself is best used as a play-maker. If only Drummond, the team’s best player at this point, had a shooter at the power forward position to stretch the floor for him instead of spending half the game watching his power forward stumble into the paint and force shots while chewing out the referees. Yikes.
The Pistons brought in several pieces to overhaul their front office and coaching staff. Gores first hired Ed Stefanski to oversee the hiring process for head coach and front office (wait, what?) This move is perplexing given Stefanski’s track record. After stops in New Jersey, Philadelphia and Toronto, Stefanski worked in Memphis from 2014-2018. He was an influential part in signing Chandler Parsons to a max contract two seasons ago, also known as one the worst contacts in the NBA. In spite of his questionable recent history, Stefanski is seemingly running the Pistons at this point despite only carrying the title of senior adviser. Because when you get the chance to hire a guy who served under the tutelage of Bryan Colangelo and Chris Wallace as the de facto president of basketball operations, you just have to do it.
The Pistons also hired Sachin Gupta as an assistant general manager earlier this month. Gupta was a special adviser for the Houston Rockets last season, and previously worked for Sam Hinkie in Philadelphia. Gupta is a modern, analytics guru. Now this is a move I can get behind. I hope his influence is larger than Ed’s on player transactions, but that is highly unlikely at this point.
Stefanski hired Dwane Casey to a five year contract to be the Pistons next head coach in June. Casey won coach of the year last season with the Toronto Raptors, where he was head coach for 7 seasons. With several underwhelming playoff appearances in Toronto, Casey had been in the hot seat for years. The Raptors were again disappointing last season, being swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Casey was finally let go. Casey is one of the most likable guys in the NBA, and is a known commodity, but I would have much rather seen a new face as head coach, such as San Antonio Spurs assistant Ime Udoka or former Piston Jerry Stackhouse, now an assistant with Memphis. University of Michigan head coach Jim Beilein would have been interesting, but I don’t think it was ever a realistic option.
The Pistons had a relatively quiet off-season as far as player movement. They signed veterans Jose Calderon and Zaza Pachulia, who should both be good locker room presences but ultimately not impactful players on the court. Two second round picks join the Pistons, Bruce Brown and Khyri Thomas, who slid to pick 38 after being projected as a late first rounder. It is uncertain if either will see any playing time to begin the season, given that wings Luke Kennard, Reggie Bullock, Stanley Johnson, and Glenn Robinson III are all ahead of them on the wing depth chart. 3 and D small forward James Ennis signed with the Rockets for the minimum, which makes me wonder why the Pistons didn’t try to retain him. Nonetheless, he will be replaced by aforementioned Glenn Robinson III, who signed with the Pistons this summer. Robinson will compete for major minutes at the small forward position and hopefully take the starting role from Johnson, who has been disappointing for three straight seasons, and seems to play better coming off the bench anyways.
The Pistons success for the 2018 season weighs heavily on their ability to remain healthy. Point guard Reggie Jackson and Griffin have both been hampered by injuries in the past. The Pistons were 27-18 when Jackson played last season, and 12-25 without him. Barring injury, and despite their crappy moves made in the last seven months, the Pistons are still talented enough to win 45 games in a top heavy Eastern Conference.
But that’s pretty optimistic. It’s hard to count on a healthy season for Griffin or Jackson. Casey may misuse Drummond. This team could easily win less than 40 games instead. Regardless, winning somewhere between 35-45 games is the worst place to be in the NBA. You’re not good enough to contend for a championship, nor bad enough to receive a high draft pick. Since trading Chauncey Billups in 2008, Detroit has been banished to this basketball purgatory. Unfortunately, this season looks no different than the last ten.