This just isn't working.
Ambitious spending and player acquisitions have left the Detroit Pistons a clutter of overlapping talent, gasping for air in an Eastern Conference where even the most flawed teams have room to breathe.
Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond gave them a core up front. Pairing them with Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith put Detroit in position to clinch its first playoff berth in five years. Owner Tom Gores' lavish bankroll, and team president Joe Dumars' willingness to spend it, changed things. It changed everything.
"It’s frustrating because we’re better than our record," Gores said, implying the Pistons don't need to bulldoze their current roster, via The Detroit News' Vincent Goodwill. "I see a lot of possibilities; we have to come together, we have to jell. I don’t think you can say our team and players don’t work hard. We just have to figure out how to work together."
Detroit is long past figuring things out with this group. Someone has to go; Monroe has to go.
This isn't working or even on the cusp of resolving itself, leaving the Pistons in a bind with only one way out: through controlled destruction.
In the interest of fairness, Monroe and Drummond are only part of the problem. Combined with Smith, the three of them account for most of the problem.
This triumvirate cannot play together. Neither Monroe nor Drummond can space the floor, and while J-Smoove fancies himself a three-point savant, he's connecting on a tooth-pulling, mind-despoiling 23.5 percent of his long balls.
When this group is on the floor together, as they have been for more than 830 minutes this season, the results are disastrous. Detroit is a minus-7.1 points per 100 possessions when Drummond, Monroe and Smith share the floor, the second-worst mark of any Detroit three-man lineup having spent at least 250 minutes together, according to NBA.com (subscription required).
Worse, this trio ranks fourth among Detroit's most-used three-man combines, so it's not as if they're fielded sparingly. They're bringing down the Pistons' production frequently and obviously.
Look where Detroit's numbers with Drummond, Monroe and Smith playing together would rank against the entire league:
|Drummond, Monroe and Smith Hurt the Eyes|
|Off. Rtg.||Def. Rtg.||Net. Rtg||3P%|
|Pistons with Drummond, Monroe, Smith||101.2||108.3||-7.1||32.4|
|Projected corresponding league rank||21||30||27||28|
|Pistons actual rank||20||19||22||30|
Yes, that's awful. All of it.
There is no spacing when these three share the floor and it reflects in every major aspect of the game. And the residual damage it inflicts is just as bad.
Three players attempting to occupy the same space cuts off dribble-penetration lanes for Jennings, who is only valuable as a scorer when he can attack and take jumpers. But he's hitting just 37.9 percent of his shots with more than 65.8 percent of his total attempts coming outside eight feet, which is bad even for him.
Keeping this trio together won't win the Pistons anything. It hasn't won them anything. At 19-28, they're one game back of a playoff spot.
Some look at that and say, "One game isn't so bad. They're right there." Others, like myself, say, "One game? Outside the playoffs? With a $61.9 million payroll? Keep Piston-ing, Pistons."
Their current state isn't fine and dandy. It's awful. Refusal to change existing conditions is compliant with insufficient play. With inadequate results.
Monroe Must Go
Monroe is the outlier here.
This isn't to say he's terrible or not brimming with promise. His 14.4 points and 8.9 rebounds are fine numbers for a player averaging fewer than 32 minutes per game. He's also an understated passer with a good sense of when to force the action and when to kick it back out.
But he has no shooters to kick out to.
Detroit is the worst three-point shooting team because, well, it cannot shoot. Problems originate in the starting lineup, where three of the five players cannot function properly off the block. And since someone needs to go, it must be Monroe.
Drummond is untouchable, as the Detroit Free Press' Vince Ellis notes. He's not going anywhere. Ideally, it would be Smith going somewhere, but his four-year, $54 million contract makes him difficult to move.
Even if the Pistons could move him, it's a risky game. Teams typically agree to take on problems in exchange for other problems, so I shudder to think what the Pistons would be forced to take back in return if they were able to move him.
That leaves Monroe, a relatively efficient scorer still on his rookie deal, as the odd man out. If Detroit is going to make changes, it starts with him.
It has to.
There's no sense in waiting for the Pistons. None whatsoever.
Though Ellis says the Pistons are unlikely to move Monroe, it makes little sense to keep him. He's headed for restricted free agency this summer, where he will command a close-to-top-dollar contract.
Retaining him for the remainder of this year makes it more likely that out of desperation or sheer ignorance, the Pistons pony up for him. And that's the worst decision possible. Monroe doesn't belong in Detroit. Not when Smith is still there.
Trading him allows them to capitalize off his departure before it should happen; it prevents them from spending money on a player they should no longer be investing in.
Including all possible team and player options, Detroit is on the books for almost $42.2 million next season. Removing Monroe's $5.5 million qualifying offer from the ledger increases the Pistons' spending power, provided they don't take long-term contracts back in any trade.
With all that money available, the Pistons can chase a free agent that better suits their current dynamic. Someone like Luol Deng, who is a true small forward who won't butcher the team's floor spacing the way Smith does.
Speaking of Smith, moving Monroe pushes him to power forward, where, according to 82games.com, he's posting a 17.6 PER compared to 12.4 at small forward. With Monroe gone, he's free to share the block with Drummond. Suddenly, lanes open up. The Pistons offense becomes more balanced. Things make sense.
Of course, the Pistons could wait. They could allow Monroe to walk this summer, which would have the same impact on their finances. But they don't have that kind of time.
Monroe can also be used in a trade to land a shooter, however temporary a fixture that shooter would prove to be. Mostly, the Pistons need the options his departure opens up now.
Goodwill indicated that Gores expects Detroit to make the playoffs this season, and why wouldn't he? That's nearly $62 million of his money being wasted on the floor right now. And for what? A lottery finish?
That's unacceptable. This whole season is unacceptable.
This Pistons team, as is, is unacceptable and hopeless. Changes must be made for the sake of progress. Losses must be cut in an effort to win. The Pistons tried; they really did. They tried to make this work and it hasn't.
Nothing could be further from working, actually. What they've done is fail.
"I just know we've got work to do," Gores admitted, per Goodwill. "I know we have work to do."
Work that starts by razing a roster and brightening a future that doesn't stand a chance in hell of fixing itself.