ESPN’s Zach Lowe’s deep dive on “angsty” Pistons

Dec 7, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy and guard Reggie Jackson (1) react to a call in the second half against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena. The Hornets defeated the Pistons 104-84. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 7, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy and guard Reggie Jackson (1) react to a call in the second half against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena. The Hornets defeated the Pistons 104-84. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports /

This morning, ESPN Senior Writer Zach Lowe published a revealing, nuanced article about the Detroit Pistons’ current state and the decisions that lie ahead.

The Detroit Pistons don’t get national media attention too often these days, and when they do, it’s rarely positive.

Zach Lowe’s most recent article, “Would a big move at the trade deadline get the Pistons unstuck?” might not be the most fun, cheery read for Pistons fans, but it’s a smart, nuanced and detailed probe into what’s gone wrong with Detroit in 2016-17.

The article is worth reading in its entirety, so I won’t cover it blow by blow. But there were a few surprising and interesting tidbits too juicy not to share.

1. The Pistons’ offensive woes run deep

Sure, we can tell from some basic statistics and the MOET (My Own Eye Test — shout out to Rod Beard) that the Pistons offense hasn’t been great. But Lowe does a great job of putting it in perspective:

"Flipping Jackson or Drummond seemed an impossibility when camp opened. Jackson sliced up defenses in practices. Drummond was a wrecker blitzing pick-and-rolls beyond the 3-point arc, and even switching onto smaller guys.Van Gundy wanted to revamp the Pistons on both ends, but Jackson and Drummond would remain the linchpins. He envisioned a side-to-side motion offense in which Detroit’s secondary playmakers — Harris, Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris — would relieve Jackson of some ball-handling duties.It was not going to be a teardown. The Jackson-Drummond dance would still be Detroit’s default option.And then Jackson’s knee started hurting. Detroit pivoted into a faster, more egalitarian offense to paper over Jackson’s absence. When Jackson returned, he tried to mix his off-the-bounce game with Detroit’s new style. It didn’t work, mostly because Jackson wasn’t the same player. He couldn’t turn into the corner and zoom into the lane as easily."

Right now, the Pistons are a team without an offensive identity, and Jackson is a huge reason why. Which leads us to our next point…

2. Reggie Jackson really got hammered in that players-only meeting

Apparently, some of the Pistons throw shade at Jackson for his defensive liabilities. The team’s players-only meeting in December reportedly devolved a few of those teammates (it’s probably safe to assume that Marcus Morris was one of them, right?) “hammer[ing] Jackson for his desultory play.” For what it’s worth, Andre Drummond seems to have Jackson’s back:

"The fact that Caldwell-Pope was guarding Lowry at all is a sore spot. Caldwell-Pope chases opposing point guards because Reggie Jackson, alleged franchise player at that spot, hasn’t been able to since recovering from a knee injury. The Pistons usually hide Jackson on the least-threatening wing player, a reprieve that draws shade from teammates — including during an infamous players-only meeting in December, when a few guys hammered Jackson for his desultory play.The meeting opened rifts that have only begun to heal. “The way they came at Reggie wasn’t cool,” Drummond told “You can’t beat a guy up for not playing at 100 percent right after coming back. Guys who have played with pain — you think they would be more sensitive.”"

3. The relationship between Andre Drummond Stan Van Gundy is…interesting

SVG wants Drummond to play more aggressively, corralling guards at the 3-point line. Drummond has mostly reverted to his comfort zone, sinking back towards the rim.

SVG wants Drummond to back his way to the basket or face up and drive. Drummond settles for a lot of fading hooks.

Related Story: Ish Smith has been the Pistons MVP

Drummond wants to run more pick-and-roll. The Reggie Jackson situation has kept SVG from calling that number as much this season.

On many nights, Drummond lacks effort. He sits back too deep in the paint and lets opposing point guards drive around him. This, of course, drives SVG crazy.

The good news is that while both apparently gripe about each other to owner Tom Gores, their relationship doesn’t seem to have devolved into SVG/Dwight Howard-like frigidness:

"They have their tense moments. Both are close with Tom Gores, the Pistons’ owner, and each freely admits they talk with Gores about the other in terms that might not always be the most flattering.“Whatever we talk about with the owner is between us,” Drummond said. “But Stan and I leave nothing unspoken.”“I think we like each other personally,” Van Gundy said. “Like most young bigs, he needs to be pushed really hard. Sometimes, he’s more willing to hear hard coaching than others.”"

4. The Spurs (among other teams) tried to poach Stanley Johnson in November

"Several teams, including San Antonio, tried to steal Johnson on the cheap after Van Gundy, in late November, suspended Johnson and questioned his practice habits, per league sources. The Pistons were almost deadlocked between Johnson and Devin Booker in the draft room in 2015, sources say, and they grew more frustrated with every Booker 30-point eruption.Johnson has come on over the last six weeks. He lost 20 pounds, and has worked on his passing. In the modern NBA, you don’t trade wings who can defend four positions and dish smart passes when the ball swings their way."

Lowe is right: Johnson has been much, much better these past few weeks. The jury’s still out on whether passing on Booker (and Justice Winslow) was a good decision, but kudos to SVG & company for not panicking and succumbing to buyer’s remorse.

5. You guys, Reggie Jackson is in a bad place

A couple of details from this article kind of break my Reggie Jackson-loving heart. For starters, that players-only meeting seems to have hit him pretty hard:

"Jackson’s lifeless play produced a well-documented outcry for more ball movement in that December closed-door meeting. The drama sapped Jackson’s spirit. He no longer understood his place on the team. Uncertainty still gnaws.“It’s hard,” he said. “Stan told me it would be all pick-and-roll. We had success that way. Now, we didn’t know what we were. Are we a pick-and-roll team? Are we a movement team? We didn’t have an identity.”"

There are a lot of things fans don’t love about Jackson, but the coaching staff, at least, loves his confidence. Lingering injuries plus still-improving conditioning plus a lack of confidence is a nasty combination for Jackson–and for the Pistons.

If there’s good news for both the haters and the Jackson stans, it’s this: SVG is well aware of his starting point guard’s struggles and is willing to adust accordingly. At the same time, he hasn’t given up on him, either:

"Jackson has met privately with Van Gundy and wondered why he doesn’t have the ball more in the fourth quarter, and whether he still has the confidence of the coaching staff. “Reggie and I talk every day,” Van Gundy said. “I understand this is uncomfortable for him. But when we get a Reggie who is attacking and finishing better, the ball will be in his hands more.”"

One last note: SVG was letting Jackson call plays on the court for a while, but the rest of the Pistons were having trouble hearing him through his mouthguard. (Ouch.) Now SVG calls a set play after every opponent basket.

6. The Pistons may looks to dump Tobias Harris or Boban Marjanovic in the offseason to duck the luxury tax

This, of course, is if Detroit were to pay Kentavious Caldwell-Pope the max. This one’s a bit of a shocker, as Gores has already said he would be willing to pay the luxury tax in the event that the team was able to retain Caldwell-Pope. But maybe things have changed.

Next: 3-on-3: Pistons trade deadline edition

7. Detroit probably won’t deal Jackson (or Drummond)–at least not before this year’s deadline

Lowe’s rationale: Detroit desperately wants to make the playoffs and won’t make any move that will make them temporarily worse. The Pistons have of course taken calls on both Drummond and Jackson but have been disappointed by what they’ve heard from interested teams. Jackson in particular doesn’t have much trade value at the moment. Lowe does toy around with a few trades ideas with teams interested in a point guard–Orlando, New Orleans, Minnesota–but he suspects Detroit won’t make a move until the offseason, if at all.