Instead, this is meant to be a growth year, as a rebuilding club finally has enough young talent to begin developing a legitimate championship core for the first time since winning the title in 2004.
That starts with No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham, an otherworldly athlete out of Oklahoma State who looked like the top pick in the draft when he stepped foot on campus and spent the rest of last year proving it. In 27 games with the Cowboys, the Texas native averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists while shooting 43.8 percent from the floor and 40 percent from behind the arc.
Along with Josh Jackson, Saddiq Bey, Killian Hayes and Jerami Grant, the Pistons have the makings of a threat to win the Central Division in the not-too-distant future.
Here's a look at who they'll face in 2021-22 as Detroit's rebuild takes off in earnest.
2021-22 Piston Schedule Details
Season Opener: vs. Chicago Bulls on Oct. 20 (Home)
Championship Odds: +25000 (FanDuel)
Chicago Bulls: First Game on Oct. 20
The two longtime rivals find themselves at different stages of their rebuilds and chasing the Milwaukee Bucks atop the Central Division. The Bulls appear a much more likely challenger to the Bucks' division throne, but Oct. 20's matchup will show just how far the talent gap is between Chicago and Detroit.
For the Bulls, it's not only a chance for a more experienced roster to beat up on a developing club, but anything less than that could also help set the tone for the reignition of one of the NBA's more dormant rivalries.
Chicago reloaded this offseason by adding Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan and Alex Caruso around Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic. With second-year pro Patrick Williams continuing his rapid growth—and hometown rookie Ayo Dosunmu likely to make a depth impact—it's a perfect measuring stick game for the Pistons to see which areas they still need to address moving forward.
The Bulls' and Pistons' contention windows look ready to overlap a bit considering how each club built their rosters. This season series should just be the first taste of that.
After Chicago swept the three-game season series in 2020-21, the Pistons have a lot of ground to make up.
Most importantly, if Cunningham is serious about bringing back the "Bad Boys" mentality in Detroit, there's no better opponent to prove it against.
Houston Rockets: First Game on Nov. 10 (Road)
The Detroit Pistons had their choice of any player in the NBA draft in July. They chose to pass on Jalen Green, but the Houston Rockets did not.
Nov. 10's matchup between the No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks won't only provide momentary vindication for the victor, but it may also end up being a temporary referendum on the routes each respective player took to the NBA. While Cunningham spent the last year playing NCAA ball, Green opted for the NBA G-League, becoming one of the most high-profile prospects to bypass the college route in decades and the first to sign with an NBA G League Ignite program that paid him $500,000 for the year
Green averaged 17.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists playing against more established talent.
Fair or not, Green and Cunningham will be measured against each other throughout their careers for their draft position as much as their development tracks. This should be just the first of many matchups between the two.
All of them should be rather fascinating to watch, with the two stars likely to guard each other in the backcourt.
Pistons fans have every reason to be excited this season, but they'll want to make sure to focus more on the highs than the lows in Cunningham's rookie season. Just because he's as highly touted as they come doesn't mean he's ready to carry the franchise to the postseason just yet.
A good outcome for Detroit would be a berth in the play-in tournament that gets Cunningham, Bey and Hayes a taste of the postseason.
As long as every player stays healthy, there aren't too many worst-case scenarios. If the team continues to struggle to find wins, falling back into the lottery wouldn't be the worst thing. In fact, it could end up helping the team long-term depending on what the 2022 draft class looks like.
While Hayes, Bey and Cunningham are a solid start, there's no question the Pistons will need to add more talent around them. Getting a top pick and turning it into another potential core member might make all the difference in a few years.
The Pistons haven't finished above .500 since 2015-16 (44-38). They haven't advanced past the first round of the postseason since 2007-09, when they lost the conference finals to the Boston Celtics. And they haven't won the Central since that year either.
Those streaks may not end in 2021-22—certainly not as long as the defending NBA champion Bucks command the division—but the long-term future of Detroit basketball hasn't looked this bright in more than a decade.
Record Prediction: 22-60
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