Did the Pistons tank last night?

In my review of the Pistons’ 3932-point loss to the Hawks last night, I accused Detroit of tanking.

There’s dissent to that opinion. Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News:

Three games in three nights? Giving some guys the night off? No, that’s not tanking #Pistons

Even without playing tonight, guys are playing three games in 5 nights, especially the older players…not tanking #Pistons

@Stareagle disagree because you wouldn’t win in Atl anyways. Trying it against Cleveland would’ve been more apt, esp since closer records

Defining tanking

I define tanking as: a team intentionally attempting to lower its chances of on-court success during the current season in order to achieve other gains.

Gregg Popovich resting his stars? Not tanking. He thinks that will make his team more effective, overall, throughout the season.

A playoff team purposefully losing to set up a favorable first-round playoff matchup? Not tanking. The team is trying to increase its on-court success in the more-significant playoffs.

A playoff team with its seed already determined resting its starters? Not tanking. The team is trying to increase its on-court success in the more-significant playoffs.

Applying to the Pistons against the Hawks

As defined above, motive is a big part of tanking, so I can’t prove that the Pistons tanked last night.

Lawrence Frank knows his goals for the game, and perhaps a few others do, too. I have no firsthand knowledge.

But sitting a couple of the team’s better players – Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace – during a back-to-back-to-back in order to maximize total wins does not seem like a move Frank would make. He sat Wallace in the middle game of a back-to-back-to-back earlier in the season, but Frank hasn’t made similar moves often this year. If Frank were really concerned about resting Prince, maybe Frank could have sat Prince sooner during a 39-point win over Cleveland.

And even if Prince needed rest last night and not Tuesday, why start Austin Daye – who’s played terribly this season – rather than Damien Wilkins or Jonas Jerebko.

As far as it being an unwinnable game? No way. In three matchups entering Wednesday, the Pistons had played the Hawks to overtime at home, won at home and lost by five in Atlanta. Just a few days ago, Goodwill wrote that the Pistons were on their way to challenging Chicago (47-15). But they can’t beat Atlanta (37-25)?

Here’s my guess – and it’s nothing more than that: Frank thought he could implement the coaching part of tanking (using suboptimal lineups) without the players exercising their part of tanking (not playing hard).

It didn’t work.

The players quit, and that’s why Frank was so terse after the game. Frank stuck his toes in the tanking pool against a playoff opponent rather than jumping in against another tanking team, Cleveland, the previous night. I don’t think he has the stomach for it, and I think the Pistons’ regular rotation players – plus Vernon Macklin – will play bigger minutes against the Timberwolves tonight.

The Pistons didn’t tank before last night, and I don’t expect them to tank (beyond some very minor steps, like playing Macklin) the rest of the season. But, barring any new evidence, I’m convinced they tanked last night.

Update: In response who still don’t think the Pistons tanked , here’s the one question to ask: If the Pistons were in a playoff race, would Frank have coached the same way last night? If the answer is no, they tanked.

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