In the NBA, there are two categories you want to fall in: either you’re incredibly bad, like the Philadelphia 76ers, or you’re a perennial title contender, like the San Antonio Spurs. The Detroit Pistons fall in neither category and are stuck right in the middle. They aren’t nearly bad enough to land a top 3 pick and they don’t have nearly the talent to contend for a title let alone just make the playoffs. They are in NBA purgatory and that is a place no NBA team wants to be.
So how do the Pistons get out of the middle? They better hope that new head coach and President of Basketball Operations Stan Van Gundy can clean up former President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars‘ mess. Dumars saddled the team with bad contracts(Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva) and bad fits(Josh Smith). Dumars tried to get the Pistons back in the playoffs this season by signing Smith and Brandon Jennings and it completely backfired. The Pistons finished 29-53 and had to give away their top 8 protected draft pick to the Charlotte Hornets to complete the Gordon deal. So no playoff appearance and no draft pick, yes that will get you fired in the NBA. Dumars actually resigned, but you get my point.
Van Gundy has come in and he has tried to clean up Dumars’ mess, but let’s be real here it’s hard. Van Gundy has tried to trade Smith this offseason and the Sacramento Kings came calling, but they couldn’t come up with a deal that Van Gundy liked. Van Gundy has brought in hard working and hard nosed players like Caron Butler and D.J. Augustin and signed sharpshooter Jodie Meeks, but you can argue that he overpaid both Butler and Meeks. Butler received a 2-year $9 million deal and Meeks received $19.5 million over three years. Meeks is making more than superior shooters Kyle Korver, Martell Webster, and Anthony Morrow. So while Meeks brings a big need to the team, he is getting paid more than he’s worth.
Even with all of these signings, they still don’t make the Pistons much better. Butler is 33 years old, he isn’t the same player he once was. Meeks will help, but only in the 3-point shooting department and Augustin is no better than Will Bynum, except he’s a better 3-point shooter. So this still puts the Pistons right back where they originally: enough talent to win basketball games, but not nearly enough discipline and chemistry to make the playoffs. Unless…
Unless Van Gundy can pull it all together. The talent is there, it really is. For all of their faults, Smith and Jennings are really good basketball players. Andre Drummond is a star in the making, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope showed his potential in Summer League, and for the moment they still have Greg Monroe. If Van Gundy can get Jennings to play within the offense. If Van Gundy can get Smith to stop taking 3’s. If Van Gundy can solve the space time continuum! Then maybe, this team can make the playoffs.
Those are a lot of if’s and it’s a lot to ask of Van Gundy. He has a lot of work to do to get this team out of NBA purgatory.