Checklist for Detroit Pistons to Get Back to the NBA Playoffs Next Season
The 2013-14 season was a complete disappointment for the Detroit Pistons, and they will need to make a number of changes to ensure they aren't left out of the postseason in 2015.
Last offseason, the Pistons made a number of moves designed to get them to the playoffs. They signed Josh Smith, traded for Brandon Jennings and brought in Maurice Cheeks as head coach. Cheeks didn't last the year, and the man who acquired Smith and Jennings—general manager Joe Dumars—has resigned his position.
The Pistons have a strong core of young players, including Andre Drummond, one of the league's rising stars. They will also have as much as $20 million in cap space and will likely have a lottery pick. The cupboard certainly isn't bare in Detroit.
While they are at home watching the NBA postseason, it's time for the Pistons to make a plan to ensure they're playing into May next season.
Hire the Right Personnel
With openings at general manager and head coach, this offseason has the opportunity to shape the future of the franchise more than any other in recent history.
Pistons owner Tom Gores has shown since buying the team that he has a strong desire to end the rebuilding process and get back to the playoffs. But last season, that attitude backfired and the team won just 29 games.
"We just got to keep building," Gores said, via Vince Ellis of USA Today. "We have great building blocks right now. We have young guys so I'm not going to give up. We got a lot to do. You know that no way anything great happens without tough times. That's the way it goes."
To avoid those hard times again, he has to make the right personnel decisions this time around.
Finding the right coach and GM isn't about attracting the biggest name. It's about finding the best and brightest basketball minds available.
In 2008, Mike D'Antoni was the hottest name on the market, and both the New York Knicks and the Chicago Bulls wanted him. In the end, he signed with New York. In 2010 (after the failed Vinny Del Negro experiment), the Bulls signed a man who had never coached an NBA game: Tom Thibodeau.
In the eight years since he was the most sought-after coach for the summer, D'Antoni has resigned twice after failed runs in New York and with the Los Angeles Lakers. And now, those same Lakers are trying to get permission from Chicago to get permission to talk with Thibs.
Gores needs to be willing to not only look at the big names floating around for these two open positions, but he also needs to search for lesser-known candidates. The most important thing is finding people who can turn this team into a perennial contender in the Eastern Conference.
Find an Identity
In the "bad boys" era and the mid-2000s, there was no question what kind of basketball team Detroit had. Both eras, the most successful in franchise history, were defined by elite defense and excellent team chemistry.
The 2013-14 Pistons didn't have a clear team identity by any means.
With Drummond, Smith and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, they had a handful of strong defensive players. Unfortunately, there weren't defensive-minded players across the roster.
Offensively, they played with three big men much of the time, yet played the No. 11-fastest pace in the NBA.
When you look at the teams in the postseason, most have a clear team identity. The Memphis Grizzlies pound the ball inside. The Bulls play suffocating defense. The San Antonio Spurs have better ball movement and outside shooting than any other team.
Until the Pistons find out who they are, they won't be successful.
Add Veteran Leadership
With just two players over the age of 30, the Pistons had one of the NBA's youngest teams in 2013-14. While that bodes well for their future, adding veterans to their roster will help their young players and provide some locker room stability.
According to reports, a lack of chemistry deserved much of the blame for their collapse over the second half of the season.
"The team, obviously, has a leadership void," wrote Vince Ellis of The Detroit Free Press. "Monroe, Drummond and Jennings aren’t experienced enough."
Chauncey Billups was supposed to serve in that role, but he played just 19 games all season. And he's still just one player.
The Pistons don't need to bring in expensive veterans who will change their long-term outlook. Instead, they need to add players with playoff experience and strong track records to help stabilize the team.
The NBA's bottom six teams in three-point percentage all have one thing in common: All six missed the postseason.
The Pistons shot 32.1 percent from the arc as a team, ahead of only the Philadelphia 76ers. Only three players (Kyle Singler, Jonas Jerebko and Josh Harrellson) shot above the league average of 36 percent.
With their talented big men and Brandon Jennings' ability to attack the basket, the extra spacing created by having three-point threats on the wing would really improve their offense.
Players like Luigi Datome and Caldwell-Pope, who were acquired last season, haven't panned out yet as long-range threats, but the hope is that they will live up to expectations in their second Pistons season. Even so, the new GM needs to prioritize finding a knockdown shooter. Such a player will be in high demand on the open market, but the team has the cap space to bring such a player to Detroit.
Move Josh Smith or Greg Monroe
The Pistons tried their three-big-men experiment for a season, and it failed miserably. It's now officially time for them to cut their losses and head another direction.
Drummond proved in his sophomore season that he's absolutely untouchable, leaving Greg Monroe and Josh Smith as candidates to be shipped out of town.
Monroe will only be 24 in 2014-15 and fits in age-wise very well with the Pistons' young core of Drummond (21 in August), Jennings (25 in September) and Caldwell-Pope (21). But he's a lesser defender than Smith and lacks the mobility needed to cover stretch 4s. He may warrant a maximum contract as a restricted free agent, but it won't be much more than what Smith is making.
Smith, despite his uninspiring season at small forward, remains a highly talented player who can be a nightmare for opponents when motivated and used properly. The latter could be solved by a return to power forward and better coaching. The former is the issue that the Pistons or anyone considering acquiring Smith needs to find an answer to.
Given Smith's age, poor season and chemistry concerns, the Pistons would likely look for any possible takers for him before trading Monroe. However, his stock is at an all-time low, and Monroe would fetch a solid return in the trade market.
Whether they can find a new home for Smith or have to ship out Monroe, the Pistons have no choice but to make a move this summer if they want to be back in the playoffs.
Note: All statistics from NBA.com, unless otherwise noted. Salary information from ShamSports.com
Jakub Rudnik covers the Detroit Pistons as a Featured Columnist for B/R. Follow him on Twitter.