The Detroit Pistons have been a team seemingly lost in the wilderness for a number of years.
Since their run of six straight Eastern Conference Finals appearances, they have only tasted the playoffs once and were unceremoniously swept out of the postseason in four games.
And even that pathetic showing came several seasons ago. In the last few years, the Pistons haven't been even close to the playoffs, let alone a .500 record.
So just how far are the Detroit Pistons from being playoff regulars again?
Before the Pistons take a clear step forward, they are going to have to figure out what kind of team they are going to be.
Are they going to be a full-court, run-and-gun group? Or are they going to play like previous incarnations of this team played with a grind-it-out half-court offense and intense defense.
Whomever they choose as their next head coach will go a long way in determining this.
With the current roster personnel, this team really could go either way. The two best players on this roster are their big men, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. Monroe fits better in a half-court game, while Drummond has the makings of a fast-break demon.
Brandon Knight has the potential to play in either system, and young guys like Jonas Jerebko and Kyle Singler are smart players who could be developed either way as well.
Regardless of what direction the team takes, this will determine greatly the next few steps that must be taken.
Smart, not bold moves
The Pistons find themselves sitting on a pile of cash this summer. They likely will have over $20 million in cap space.
The last time this team had that much money to spend, they opted for bold moves that never truly panned out.
Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon were generally considered some of the biggest free-agent flops in team history.
This summer, the Pistons need to use discretion with their money.
Big names like Monta Ellis, Josh Smith and a few others will be available and could potentially be targets for the Pistons.
But the risk-reward factor just isn't worth it in most cases. Smith is a good player who can play Detroit-style defense, but his next contract will take him into the end of his prime and beyond. For a player who relies on athleticism, this is a scary prospect.
Ellis is younger but less dynamic. He is a gunning perimeter scorer, pure and simple. But like Knight, he is undersized to play the shooting guard spot and lacks the court vision and instincts to play point guard.
The Pistons need to use control in their shopping this summer.
Instead of spending big bucks for Andre Iguodala, they could spend half the amount and sign Corey Brewer. Instead of spending a heap of cash for O.J. Mayo, they could opt for a stud defender like Tony Allen.
The Pistons likely will want to make a big splash, but the names available this summer just aren't worth the cash it would take to bring them to Detroit.
The draft alone won't do it
The Pistons have done a fine job in the draft over the last few years. Knight, Monroe and Drummond are each very strong building blocks for the future.
But the draft alone won't bring the Pistons back to playoff contention.
This year, the Pistons likely will be drafting around picks number seven or eight.
Sure, they could get lucky like they did last year and snag a future All-Star. But more likely the Pistons will probably get a player who will fill a complimentary role.
Right now, this team needs to get a dynamic player. It likely won't happen in the draft, unless they are able to move up and snag someone like Trey Burke or Ben McLemore.
Victor Oladipo could turn into a rich man's Allen, but outside of one of these guys, this draft is long on talent but not transcendent talent.
That's why the Pistons need to explore all trade options available.
I personally have taken a ton of flack for suggesting that Monroe or Knight could be shopped, but these should at the very least be options that are explored.
The Pistons aren't good enough to have untouchable players, although Drummond certainly is the closest thing to one on this roster.
But let's just say that it turns out that Monroe and Drummond are ill-suited to play next to each other.
Shouldn't the Pistons explore dealing one or the other to secure a player who fits better?
This team is at least one or two dynamic players away from contention. They need to do whatever it takes to bring this level of talent into town.
The Pistons are in a bad spot right now, but it isn't hopeless. The worst spot to be in professional basketball is right around .500 and just outside the playoffs or right at the eighth spot.
The Pistons are just bad enough that they can secure young talent through the draft.
They have done well over the last few years, and hopefully that continues this year.
But they are going to have to supplement that potential draft luck with smart free-agent moves and bold trade options.
This roster certainly has potential. But they are at least one dynamic wing player, a point guard and maybe even an athletic power forward away from turning things around.
In all likelihood, even if the Pistons have a monster off-season and address most of these issues, they probably will still be a year or two away.
But at the very least they are starting to show progress.