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3-on-3: To tank, or not to tank, that is the question


Modeled after ESPN’s 5-on-5, three of us will answer three questions about a Pistons-related topic. Please add your responses in the comments.

1. With a nearly-identical record to last season’s team, it appears the Pistons are at a crossroads. On the bright side, they’re currently one games out of the eighth seed. What does the team gain from pushing for the playoffs?

Dan Feldman: Let’s not over-think this. If they make the playoffs, they make the playoffs. I don’t believe a championship is the only way to have a successful season. Without getting too deep, winning is better than losing in the most basic sense (of course, the NBA draft keeps this from being so simple).

Brady Fredericksen: Making the playoffs as a young team is never a bad move. Experience for young players is huge, and I’d argue that someone like Greg Monroe still hasn’t played in a truly meaningful NBA game yet in his career. Yeah, yeah, you’re probably going to get smothered by the Pacers or Heat once you get there, but playoff experience is a necessity for growth and maturity in a player. It’s one thing to strive to make the playoffs when you’ve never been, but it’s another to get a taste of playoff basketball and push for more. Plus, and I’m sure Tom Gores is aware, playoff games mean extra cash and extra time to be the hippest-looking owner in the league on national television.

Tim Thielke: An iota of self-respect? If you had told me in the offseason that Detroit would be ninth in the East right now, that would not have been shocking at all. But if you told me they were 17-27, having lost 13 of their last 17, I would have been appalled. And I am. First Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva (they were both pretty good before coming to Motown). Now Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings. Maybe if the Pistons make the playoffs, they can avoid a reputation as the place talent goes to die?

2. The funny part of this is that the Pistons are also just three games ahead of the team with the third-worst record in the NBA in Philadelphia. One could assume this is as prime of “tanking” shape as they possibly could be in. What’s to gain from hoisting the white flag on this season?

Dan Feldman: A first-round pick in the best draft since 2003. If the Pistons get a top-eight pick, they’re going to add a valuable player to an already talented roster. That doesn’t mean it will work any better next season than it did this season, but the Pistons aren’t in position to turn down assets.

Brady Fredericksen: I struggle with this one. If you bow out the rest of the year, you’ve got the chance to draft one of four, elite prospects (Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Marcus Smart and Dante Exum) and if you play your cards right, you could be right back in the thick of it next year in a likely-better-but-still-smelly East. However, there are two sides to every tanking. There are three primary teams that have built their team via the tank job — Sacramento, Cleveland and Oklahoma City. The Cavs have lucked into two (!!) top picks, two No. 4 picks and a pair of late first-round picks. They’ve got one diamond (Kyrie Irving), one starter (Tristan Thompson) three question marks (Dion Waiters, Anthony Bennett) Sergey Karasev) and a rotation player (Tyler Zeller). Blah? Blah. Meanwhile, the Kings have had a plethora of top 10 picks and late firsts. The result? One diamond (DeMarcus Cousins), two starters (Isaiah Thomas, Jason Thompson), two busts (Omri Caspi, Thomas Robinson) and one dude who got the heck out of dodge as soon as he could in Tyreke Evans. Now, look at the Thunder who drafted three times in the top 10, and three times in the mid-to-late first round. They’ve corralled four diamonds (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka) and two current rotation players on a title contender (Reggie Jackson, Steven Adams).

Here’s my point: Tanking doesn’t work unless you locate (luck into?) multiple stars with those picks. Most years there just aren’t that many, and most teams just aren’t as good as OKC when it comes to drafting and player development. If the Pistons bottom out, they’re relying on a likely new front office to rebuild the team through the draft. It’s extremely risky, and the reward of ending up like the Thunder is extremely unlikely, seeing as no one has done what they have.

Tim Thielke: Obviously, a shot at an elite player in the upcoming draft. Detroit’s roster would still be a mess. But if they can add a star, at least they have a starting point. I love Drummond, but I don’t know that you can build a roster around him. That said, the Pistons are more likely to get a very good non-superstar player if they keep their pick in the draft. That would be an asset, but not a game changer.

3. Put your money where your mouth is and make a prediction: Should the Pistons push for the playoffs or should they try to keep their draft pick? What do you think they will do?

Dan Feldman: As I wrote Friday, I have no idea what they should do. I know, that’s shocking, but I could make a case for any direction. Similarly, I don’t know what they will do, either. Gores clearly wanted to make the playoffs, but at a certain point, he must realize that could be futile. I have no idea if we’ve gotten to that point. A lot could depend on how many tickets are already sold for the rest of the season.

Brady Fredericksen: If tanking means that they’re selling off all of their assets for 50¢ on the dollar, that’s not the right move. Say you can trade Monroe for a No. 1 pick and a young wing player and swap Josh Smith for now-injured Brook Lopez with an eye on pulling a fast one on Mikhail Prokhorov. Then you also finding takers for one or both of The Expiring Contract of Charlie Villanueva and Rodney Stuckey? You’re looking at a pretty frickin’ horrible Pistons team at that point. I think they will, and should, push for the playoffs. Trading Smith and Monroe with their value so low just feels like a mistake, and if you’re Joe Dumars and your job’s safety is based upon making the playoffs, what are you going to do? My analogy is that the Pistons are kind of like a family business for Dumars — it’s all he’s known in the NBA. He’s brought them to the top multiple times, but he’s the reason they’re currently on the bottom. The easiest way to get back on track is for him to leave, but do you think he would tear apart this team knowing it’ll simultaneously get him fired? That’d be a tough pill to swallow for anyone, man.

Tim Thielke: Honestly, I don’t care. But it’s time to pull out all the stops. Make a swing for the fences trade, try unorthodox rotations and schemes, gamble at every opportunity. If the Pistons improve, that’s a win. If the Pistons get worse, that’s a win. They couldn’t be in a worse place right now, so they may as well choose a direction, sprint headlong toward it, and end up in a better place by default.