Checklist for Fixing Everything Wrong with the Detroit Pistons
The Detroit Pistons are 80 percent through their sixth consecutive losing season. They’re 25-40 and in 11th place in the sorriest of sorry conferences in all of professional sports.
They’re the only team in 2014 to fire their head coach midseason, and to sum up their overall state as a “disastrous mess” wouldn’t be fair to the term “disastrous mess.”
Unless significant changes are made this summer, they’ll be a mess next season and the year after that. Assuming Joe Dumars is no longer calling the shots, however, hope lives for these Pistons to clean things up before another decade is wasted on an aspiration to be average.
Here’s what needs to be done. Everything here should be viewed with urgency, but they're ranked by level of importance.
Salary information courtesy of ShamSports.com.
5. Cut Salary
Detroit could do nothing and still enter the summer well under the salary cap, but there’s still much to be done. First, renounce Chauncey Billups, Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva.
Also, hold several neighborhood protests to rally against Jonas Jerebko opting into his $4.5 million player option for next season.
Once all four are gone, sign veterans to short-term deals at a below-market annual cost. These should be shooters and complements to Andre Drummond as well as Greg Monroe—or Josh Smith, depending on who stays (more on that later).
Detroit could have just $35.17 million on its cap next season, but instead of spending it all on long-term deals that don't bring value, the team should hold on to it for next season and sign skilled veterans to short-term deals at below-market annual costs.
Blowing it again, as the Pistons did on the likes of Charlie Villanueva, Ben Gordon and Josh Smith, would be another tragedy.
If they do spend long-term money, they better spend it wisely.
4. Replace Brandon Jennings
One of the sillier statements you’ve surely heard over the years is “Team A will never win a championship with Player X as their Position Y.” For example, the San Antonio Spurs will never win a championship with Avery Johnson as their point guard.
This was a commonly said aloud until the San Antonio Spurs won the title in 1999...with Avery Johnson as their point guard.
Let’s launch the silliness to an all-time high: No NBA team will ever win a championship with Brandon Jennings wearing its jersey.
He’s a super talented but overall bad starting point guard, and whether the Pistons are full-on rebuilding or looking to make the playoffs next season, it’s absolutely necessary for them to back away as quickly as possible.
Jennings’ contract is short enough to trade (approximately $16.3 million over the next two years) and they must look to do so.
Detroit is a better offense with Jennings on the floor—though barely league average—and his player efficiency rating on Basketball-Reference.com is a semi-respectable 16.4, but he also turns the ball over a bunch, takes horrendous shots in transition and early in the shot clock—most of them contested—and has a lower three-point percentage than Ricky Rubio.
He’s shooting below 38 percent from the floor on about 15 shots a game. That's not good.
Where could Detroit go from here? One option might be unrestricted free agent/snubbed 2014 Eastern Conference All-Star Kyle Lowry, who’s a legitimate culture-changer and complete, relentless talent.
Lowry will look for a four-year guaranteed deal and Detroit would be wise to make him the Eastern Conference’s version of Mike Conley. In other words, recognizing his status as a solid franchise point guard.
3. Find Shooting
Detroit is second-last in three-pointers made and three-point percentage this season. It needs shooters in the most desperate way.
How can this problem be solved? By buying shooters! Jodie Meeks, Jimmer Fredette, Steve Blake, Mike Miller and Ray Allen will all be unrestricted free agents this summer, and Channing Frye has a $6.8 million player option he’ll probably opt out of.
All can shoot threes, let Detroit’s offense breath easier and should be available at a reasonable price.
With the exception of Miller, all can also run a destructive pick-and-roll with Andre Drummond, who’s just scratching the surface of what could be a tremendous and varied offensive game. He’ll need spacing in the years ahead, so the Pistons might as well get some as soon as possible.
2. Hire a Fresh Head Coach
The NBA is a living, breathing, constantly evolving organism, and it's going through a growth spurt.
From Commissioner Adam Silver shaking up bureaucratic issues at the top to on-court trends continuously developing on every single team, the entire league revolves around adjustments to the adjustment.
There’s a reason George Karl, Lionel Hollins and Doug Collins were replaced by the likes of Brad Stevens, Brian Shaw, Mike Budenholzer, Jeff Hornacek and others.
There’s now a malignant perception of coaches who’ve voiced public indifference with “the analytical movement,” and as unfair as it might be to those guys, the Detroit Pistons should follow the Boston Celtics, Atlanta Hawks, Phoenix Suns and others by hiring a young coach who understands what’s popular now—and what might be popular tomorrow.
Five-time champion and former Phoenix Suns general manager Steve Kerr, Rio Grande Valley Vipers head coach Nevada Smith and Oklahoma City Thunder assistant coach—and proud member of the Hall of Pretty Good—Robert Pack would all be fine options to interview for the position this summer.
So would a slew of other bright minds looking for their first opportunity.
1. Choose Between Josh Smith and Greg Monroe
The 28-year-old Josh Smith has $40.5 million strapped to his back over the next three seasons and the 23-year-old Greg Monroe will enter restricted free agency this summer. His next contract will fall at four years between approximately $50 and 60 million.
Forget about the finances for a second. One of these guys has to go for basketball reasons alone.
According to NBA.com (subscription required), the Smith-Monroe-Andre Drummond frontcourt has been awful, allowing 110.4 points per 100 possessions. That’s over two points higher than the last-place Utah Jazz.
Detroit’s overall defense ranks 22nd in the league.
Detroit can’t keep that threesome together another year, and since Drummond is the 20-year-old franchise savior locked up for the foreseeable future on a rookie-scale deal, Smith or Monroe will have to pack their bags.
According to NBAwowy, Monroe and Drummond have played just 163 minutes without Smith on the court. In that time, Detroit’s offense flourished, scoring 108.7 points per possession—a grade good for third-best in the entire league.
Defense was still a huge problem—like, "worst defense in the league" huge—but anchoring that end is complex stuff, and what extremely young frontcourt duo wouldn’t struggle?
It’s not the biggest gamble to bet on Drummond figuring it out eventually, and while Monroe won’t ever be Kevin Garnett, he will get better with age and experience.
On the other hand, Smith is the better two-way player. He's a borderline All-Star who’s versatile, unique and brilliant when not hoisting jump shots. If Smith stays, whoever’s tapped to coach this team will need to completely remove three-pointers from his arsenal. That’s non-negotiable.
In the 460 minutes Smith has played beside Drummond without Monroe, Detroit has the league’s best offense and a defense 0.4 points per 100 possessions worse than the team’s overall allowance.
It’s clear this season that the Pistons are better with Smith beside Drummond instead of Monroe, but may not be the case over the long haul.
Add in the fact that Smith is older and can be traded for something of value, and it makes better sense for Detroit to pair Drummond with Monroe instead.