It’s playoffs or bust for the Detroit Pistons in 2017-18

AUBURN HILLS, MI - MARCH 6: Reggie Jackson
AUBURN HILLS, MI - MARCH 6: Reggie Jackson /

After a tumultuous 2016-17 season, the Detroit Pistons face a pivotal season which should dictate the front office’s next steps in its team building.  Continue to lose games and there could be a fire sale.  Return to the playoffs and the young core will return and be built around.

A year ago, the Detroit Pistons’ future looked brighter than it had in years.  The team was coming off its first playoff appearance since 2009 and its young core seemed destined to improve.  Then, October came and disaster struck.  Reggie Jackson injured his knee and was going to miss 6-8 weeks.  The Pistons’ playoff chances looked slim without their dynamic starting point guard.

Fast forward two months and the outlook was far more optimistic in Auburn Hills.  Detroit was .500 without Jackson and was coming off impressive road wins in back-to-back nights against the Hornets and Celtics.

As Zach Lowe noted at the time, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was developing his offensive game in a way that would seem to complement Jackson perfectly upon his return.  The entire team was sharing the ball well and the defense rated as one of the best in the league, at the time.  Reggie Jackson’s return felt like it would push the Pistons over the edge to a potential four or five seed.

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Then Jackson returned and things were never quite the same.  Less than two weeks following his return, there was a players-only meeting.  Jackson’s teammates were frustrated by his over-dribbling and their decrease in touches.  The team that was playing loose prior to his return was suddenly standing around and watching their starting point guard.

The Pistons never quite recovered from their bad stretch after Jackson returned to the starting lineup.  Trade rumors swirled both at the trade deadline and during the offseason.  The two players that led the Pistons to the playoffs the year prior, Jackson and Andre Drummond, suddenly looked like their time in Detroit was limited.

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Those rumors never came to fruition, however.  Both Jackson and Drummond are still on the roster and Stan Van Gundy appears to be done making major moves this summer.  He certainly tweaked the roster – replacing Caldwell-Pope with Avery Bradley, moving Marcus Morris in the Bradley deal, and adding an extra ball handler in Langston Galloway.  But, the bulk of the core has remained the same.

The Pistons’ future, despite the solid play of Morris and emergence of Caldwell-Pope, has always revolved around the Jackson/Drummond pick-and-roll.  Tobias Harris, the Pistons’ next best offensive option, remains.  Van Gundy and the Pistons’ front office is determined to give that core one more look.  But, it’s unlikely that they’ll get any chances past that.

Young teams don’t always improve at a linear rate.  The Wizards, for example, missed the playoffs in 2015-16 after being a five seed the year prior.  They then returned last May and took the one seed Boston Celtics to seven games in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

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The Pistons are counting on a similar trajectory.  While the stated expectation is to make the playoffs, one can assume that the Detroit Pistons’ front office has even higher expectations given the team’s offseason moves and the continued loss of talent in the East.  But, if the team does not at least make the playoffs, Tom Gores will have no choice but to move in a different direction.