28 Games and 28 losses – but why are the Detroit Pistons so bad?

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Across Detroit on 30th December, employees of the fast-food chain ‘Wingstop’ were overwhelmed with the busiest shift of the year. Why was the city so desperate for Wingstop? Surprisingly, the answer is the Detroit Pistons.

Wingstop marketing decided to run a promotional offer in tandem with the NBA team. For every win, Pistons fans could claim five free boneless chicken wings. The problem was the 118-102 win against the Chicago Bulls on 29th October was the last win for two months. 28 straight losses tied an NBA record, joint with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2016.

Pistons fans must have been starving, no wonder they quickly flocked to Wingstop after their 129-127 win against the Toronto Raptors. Jokes aside, fans were more relieved than euphoric. The players had been giving everything for that week to stop the slide, that win was deserved. The question remained; how could a team be so bad?

The worrying thing about the Pistons is that they were trying to win. For people new to the NBA and American sports, there is no relegation, meaning teams suffer little consequence to finishing last. Therefore, there is often an incentive to lose. ‘Tanking’ is when a team deliberately trades their best players and looks to lose games for better draft picks. The Pistons are not trying to tank.

The worrying thing about the Pistons is that they were trying to win

Owner, Tom Gores, laid out his expectations pre-season. They were aiming for the play-in tournament and the 7/8th seed in the playoffs. Looking to develop their young roster, marquee coach Monty Williams was appointed. This $80 million contract was the largest in history for a coach. So, who is at fault for this colossal underachievement?

I watched the whole game in the Pistons’ final loss, 128-122 in overtime to my Boston Celtics. They were impressive; the effort was immense, and they even held a 19-point lead against the league’s number one seed at half-time. Cade Cunningham is their star player. The former number one pick is averaging 23.0 points per game, with 7.3 assists too. Bojan Bogdanovic is a quality role player who should develop the young prospects Ausar Thompson, Jaden Ivey, and Jalen Duren. That is about as good as it gets, and the flaws were clear.

Never has a roster been constructed this awfully. There is little experience, so rookie and sophomore players are drowning on the court. Shooting is non-existent, which means opposition players don’t have to guard the three-point line and the paint becomes crowded. This means high turnovers given the lack of spacing, which leads to easy points for the other team. Players are either learning NBA defence or are simply defensive liabilities.

The bench is full of NBA journeymen and draft busts. If the Pistons want to win, they must play their starters ridiculous minutes and hope the fatigue doesn’t impact their play. Spoiler, it always does. It must be so demoralising for Cade Cunningham to drag your team to a close game, before watching your bench turn a two-point lead to a double-digit deficit.

However, the finger must be pointed mainly at the front office

The players aren’t underperforming. They are developing/playing as expected, it is simply a young untalented roster. Monty Williams has rightly taken a lot of the blame in front of the media. Whilst this is important to take the spotlight off his players, I hope he realises the poor job he has done so far. An NBA coach makes his money with game management, effective bench rotations, and tactical adjustments. Williams has failed in all these departments. His rookies are criminally mismanaged, playing inconsistent minutes and asked to do things that have never been in their locker. He hands trust to players who consistently perform poorly, such as Alec Burks and Killian Hayes. He does the same things expecting different results.

Killian Hayes has become a meme online for his performances and he represents the problem with the Pistons. Hayes was taken in the draft before Tyrese Haliburton, MVP candidate this season. Hayes is an inefficient shot-chucker, turnover machine, and defensive liability. The Pistons are persevering with the Frenchman, but they need to cut their losses.

A couple of smaller reasons include Detroit’s label as a small-market team. Simply, big players don’t want to play for the Pistons. The history of failure, Detroit as an undesirable place to live, and less wealthy owners all do not help. My personal favourite is the intensity of the opposing team, purely because they do not want to be the team that lost to the Pistons.

However, the finger must be pointed mainly at the front office. The draft system is designed so teams who lose are given a helping hand to succeed in the future. Detroit hasn’t won a playoff game in 15 years. Year after year, the people in charge make poor draft decisions, terrible trades and choose the wrong players in free agency. They don’t know how to commit to losing and when to go all in to win.

A quick outlook on the season to come brings no real hope either. They have already been blown out 136-113 by the Houston Rockets, killing the momentum of a win they worked so hard for. They need ten wins to avoid the worst ever record in an 82-game season. Trade assets like Bogdanovic represent a way to increase draft capital, but the consensus is that the upcoming draft is not full of generational talent. The Pistons must avoid more embarrassment, salvage the development of their future pieces, and hope they get a high draft pick. Until the front office bucks up their ideas, I think Piston fans will unfortunately continue to go hungry.

Image: All-Pro Reels via Wikimedia Commons

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