Tom Gores, this is your fault.
The Pistons lost their 2014 first-round NBA draft pick, landing No. 9 in the lottery Tuesday and sending the selection to Charlotte to complete a 2012 trade involving Ben Gordon and Corey Maggette. I am not prone to exaggeration, and I don’t want to overstate what happened.
This is a disaster.
The Pistons’ goals should not be small. In Andre Drummond, they have a franchise-defining player who could change the name of the street they play on. Already, they should focus on building a championship-level supporting cast when he reaches his prime.
Instead, Tuesday’s lottery started the countdown clock to 2021 — when Drummond is most likely to become a restricted free agent. If Detroit loses him then, I would not be surprised if Tuesday’s lottery tipped the scales.
Considering the Pistons’ place in their rebuilding path and the quality of this draft, they won’t have a chance at a pick this valuable for a long time.
Gores demanded a quick turnaround, but he didn’t commit the money necessary to making that happen without severe long-term consequences.
Had the Pistons amnestied Gordon in 2012, rather than trading him, they would have had two options:
1. Acquire a high-price replacement with the freed cap space. This would have cost Gores considerably, because he would have been paying both Gordon and his replacement. This also was the Pistons’ best path to becoming good.
2. Don’t acquire a high-price replacement with the freed cap space. This would have cost Gores nothing. Gordon’s salary was a sunk cost, and paying him to go away or paying him to barely play would have had no significant impact on anything. This would have kept the Pistons bad.
Gores decided he wanted the high-priced replacement who could make the Pistons good, but he also didn’t want to pay double for that roster spot.
So he oversaw Dumars’ trade of Gordon’s two-year-remaining contract and a first-round pick for Maggette’s expiring contract. Essentially, Detroit enticed Charlotte with a first-round pick to pay Gordon $13.2 million last season.
No longer having to pay Gordon themselves, the Pistons signed Josh Smith. That Smith has flopped in Detroit adds salt to the wound, but that’s more of an isolated mistake that happens to coincide with the bigger picture of an ownership failure. Detroit’s underwhelming tanking, leaving their odds of keeping the pick at just 82.4% entering the lottery, better exemplifies a symptom of the larger problem.
The solution was simple. The Pistons should have amnestied Gordon in 2012.
They even could have waited until 2013 to spend the freed cap space. By doing that, Gores would have held the option to spend or go cheap, depending how the team progressed in the interim, without sacrificing a first-round pick.
Instead, Gores committed to the cheaper win-now plan in 2012, which has annually backfired all the way through Tuesday.