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3-on-3: What if the Pistons really are tanking?


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.  We’ll never know the answer, but let’s speculate. The Pistons’ losses are adding up, and they’re in an awkward spot of being too good to tank and too bad to be a legitimate playoff team. Assume the the goal is to tank, what does that tell you about the state of the organization?

Dan Feldman: To answer, it would depend when the Pistons decided to tank. Was this a decision before the season? That would say a lot about Tom Gores‘ influence, considering Joe Dumars has previously seemed so anti-tanking. That would also likely mean Dumars would keep his job beyond this season. If tanking has always been the priority, that means there’s no way to judge Dumars on this season, so if Gores were going to fire him, it would have been last summer. Or was this a decision made in-season? That would mean the Pistons tried first to win and couldn’t. Considering making the playoffs was the plan and that plan failed, an in-season move to tank would likely mean Dumars is running out the clock on the final year of his contract.

Brady Fredericksen: That Dumars isn’t really that close to being fired. The assumption has always been that missing the playoffs means the end of the Dumars’ era in Detroit. This summer, it seemed reasonable considering the Pistons had increased their talent. Now, I don’t know. Sadly, I don’t think they’re tanking, but I think they’re just trying to decide whether they should just let their current dumpster fire flame out or if they should try to contain it by making a mediocre trade. I’m sure Dumars knows this team is like mixing cherry vodka and chocolate milk, but as far as Gores goes, does he really know that much about what’s going on? If the Pistons stand pat at the deadline, it’s either the cruelest way to send Dumars out or a sign that Gores still trusts him to build this team if/when the team gets a lottery selection.

Patrick Hayes: It doesn’t tell me anything — it raises more questions. If they’re tanking, does that mean Gores approves and the ‘playoffs or bust’ talk was all fan appeasing bluster? And if he approves, does that mean that Joe Dumars’ job is safe? I mean, how could Dumars agree to tank if his job was truly in trouble? Is there a big conspiracy at work? Was Maurice Cheeks hired because they needed the worst coach possible (and make no mistake … Cheeks is the worst coach in the league right now, by a landslide) to manage to pull off adding more overall talent to the roster while staying pretty bad? I dunno … if they are purposefully tanking, it makes a lot of conceptions fans had about what the results of this season meant for Dumars more complicated — ‘the playoffs or you’re fired’ assumption doesn’t seem as much of a foregone conclusion if the front office has endorsed tanking.

2. If tanking actually is a realistic option for this team, what are the most logical steps to assure that they avoid The Danger Zone, as Dan’s coined it?

Dan Feldman: Make Cheeks the head coach. Design an offense that features Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings over Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. Start Smith, Monroe and Drummond together. Start Kyle Singler at shooting guard. Don’t call timeout to advance the ball to midcourt down one with seconds remaining. Bench the team’s best player 11 seconds into a second half. Seriously, what else can they do? This team has too much talent to make tanking easy.

Brady Fredericksen: Do what you’re doing, and trade Rodney Stuckey. I’m not sure that trading Smith or Monroe would make the Pistons worse. I think that could end up being addition by subtraction like what happened in Toronto with Rudy Gay. If they find a way to get a late-first rounder for Stuckey (wishful thinking, I know) or a young, inexperienced shooter, that’s going to really hurt the Pistons. They’re 2-6 without him this season, and his production off the bench has been the only efficient perimeter scoring. An already bad offense would look supremely worse without him.

Patrick Hayes: Well, they wouldn’t have to change much from what they’re currently doing. Continue to play their unworkable big lineup (which became even bigger and more unworkable with Singler added as starting shooting guard). Flip a couple of their useful bench contributors — Stuckey, Will Bynum, maybe Jonas Jerebko (not that he qualifies as useful anymore) — for future picks or something and give minutes Peyton Siva and Tony Mitchell to see if either shows any potential to be rotation players next season. Maybe ship Stuckey to the Knicks in the hope that they get better than the Pistons. Root hard for Trey Burke to make a late push for Rookie of the Year and get Utah’s record better than Detroit’s. Maybe toy with bringing in a few D-League prospects for looks on 10-day contracts after you’ve traded a couple of players for picks. Continue to let Cheeks find innovative new ways to handle late-game situations. With so many teams seemingly trying to lose, it won’t be easy to out-do those efforts, but the Pistons certainly have options.

3. As a fan, how the heck do you come to terms with the idea that your team is positioning itself for failure now with an eye on success in the future?

Dan Feldman: Four years ago, the Pistons’ best player was a 35-year-old Ben Wallace. Even though I love watching Wallace play, the team’s results weren’t pretty. That was rock bottom, but the Pistons — until this season — had been working with a talent deficit since. Imagine a team with Drummond, Monroe, Smith, Jennings, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Singler and a top-eight pick in the best draft in a decade. That’s a massive talent upgrade. Say what you will about how the pieces fit and how that talent translates to production, but talent is a starting point. Through coaching and trades, teams can make any talent work. They can’t, as the 2009-10 Pistons showed, make a team full of bad players into anything. That hypothetical team is worth one more season of misery. Suddenly, the Pistons would have one of the NBA’s stronger talent bases.

Brady Fredericksen: I really don’t know. I think it’d be hard watching a team aim to lose games, even if the eventual goal is success next season. But, as we all know, it’s hard watching a team try to win and still lose a lot. That’s been the Pistons over the past five years — consistently trying, rarely succeeding. Outside of John Wall and Kyrie Irving, tanking never would have gained the Pistons a better prospect in past years. This year, though? The difference is get a very, very, very good prospect or getting no prospect whatsoever. Just give me a catchy hashtag like #SorryForJabari, #RigginForWiggins, #ShartingForSmart or #DumpingForDante and I guess we’ll hope Adam Silver and his ping-pong balls take pity on the Pistons once the NBA Draft Lottery rolls around.

Patrick Hayes:  I understand why teams tank — the league has incentivized it (get on that, Mr. Silver). I still hate it, and wouldn’t necessarily want to follow a tanking team. But if the Pistons actually do have some elaborate tanking plan in place and are carrying it out, I would respect the artistry they are doing it with. It’s truly breathtaking. And at least that’s a plan. The alternative is that what we’ve seen — adding ill-fitting players in the offseason, possibly reaching in the draft for need over talent and hiring a woefully unqualified coach — is an actual strategy that the front office thought would work to make the team to get better. Woof. I’d take a year of tanking over that.