The Detroit Pistons season hasn’t gone the way that fans had envisioned. Despite that, there’s still plenty of reason to feel optimistic about the future.
May 24th, 2018. The Detroit Pistons were shortly removed from one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory, after failing to make the playoffs for the second season in a row, even with the addition of Blake Griffin to the roster.
It was the end of Stan Van Gundy’s disappointing tenure as the president/head coach dual role he was serving in Detroit, and our future was very much in question. Detroit needed change, but they also needed stability in the front office.
Before Van Gundy was the long tenure of Joe Dumars, who after bringing a championship roster to Detroit and multiple back to back appearances to the Eastern Conference Finals, made multiple head scratching moves that put the Pistons franchise in a nose dive for almost an entire decade.
Enter Ed Stefanski, a long time executive in the NBA who came to Detroit in a senior advisor role that brought a lot of confusion and a lot of doubt as to where the future of our franchise was going. Well, so far, there’s been a lot to be optimistic about.
Stefanski’s first move as senior advisor brought the best coaching candidate available in Dwane Casey, a coach who was just coming off winning coach of the year in Toronto and is known for his ability to develop young players into rising stars. Casey’s expertise in player development was such a breath of fresh air following Van Gundy, who had next to no patience for mistakes from his young talent.
After the coaching hire, the next step for Stefanski was the NBA draft. Stefanski had quite the tall task going into the 2018 NBA draft, seeing that Detroit’s first round pick was in the hands of the Clippers following the Blake Griffin trade, so all we had was a pick in the second round. On paper, that would be good enough reason for a pistons fan to not even tune into the draft.
Over the years, we couldn’t even get our top picks right (we don’t need to talk about Darko, for your sanity and mine) so why would we have faith in a second round pick? Simply put, Stefanski made moves. The Pistons drafted a defensive wing specialist on the wing and perimeter out of Miami named Bruce Brown, who contributed day one with solid minutes and has proven that he can hang in this league.
His rookie year showed us a lot of promise, and he has shown strong improvement in his offensive game in his sophomore campaign. Bruce Brown has strongly exceeded the value of his draft position, and it was the first steal the pistons have had in a draft in a long time. Stefanski also made a trade for Khyri Thomas, who has shown flashes of potential to be a good NBA player. Overall, Stefanski’s first draft was a huge success.
Stefanski’s first free agent class, however, was one to forget (which was to be expected). The Pistons went into the 2018 free agency market with almost no cap room to bring in players who could contribute, and they needed to fill some holes on the roster. Stefanski filled those holes with Zaza Pachulia, Glenn Robinson III, and Jose Calderon.
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Pachulia, a long time big man who recently was coming off of championship runs with the Warriors. He was a serviceable big man who could come in and play well on the defensive end, but there was no long term plans with Zaza, as he retired after one season in Detroit. Calderon and Robinson III both were forgettable additions to the roster, as they were not able to contribute solid minutes on a consistent basis.
Ed Stefanski’s first true test as the head of the Pistons front office came with the 2019 trade deadline. The Pistons were in the playoff picture, but they were not looking like a team who could compete in the first round of the playoffs.
Stefanski took the patient approach, electing to trade Reggie Bullock to the Lakers for a young prospect named Svi Mykhailiuk and a second round pick. Stefanski also traded first round bust Stanley Johnson to the Bucks for Thon Maker, who then immediately flipped Johnson to the Pelicans.
This trade deadline brought a lot of controversy, as a lot of Pistons fans wanted to see additions such as DeMar DeRozan and Mike Conley, but the patient approach has proven to be the smart choice. Stefanski needed to see what this Pistons roster was made of and did not want to make any rash decisions to throw away our future.
After a playoff run that ended in a brutal sweep to the Milwaukee Bucks and an injury to Blake Griffin, Ed Stefanski finally can make a choice in the first round of the NBA draft. The Pistons had the 15th pick, and there was a lot of curiosity to what Detroit could even do at this slot. You’re not high enough to get a proven star, and the value of a first round pick outside of the top ten is very difficult to gauge.
The Pistons go with an 18 year old prospect out of France by the name of Sekou Doumbouya. He’s is the youngest player from his draft class, and was seen as a long term project. The Pistons had Doumbouya in the top five on their draft board, and he managed to fall all the way down to 15 to the Pistons.
Stefanski felt like he was committing a robbery, as they changed course as soon as they saw he was going to be available. Sekou started this season with the Grand Rapids Drive along with other Pistons draft pick Jordan Bone (who has also shown a lot of potential to be a good player in the NBA), and he was putting up monster numbers.
It was enough for Detroit to realize he didn’t need to be in Grand Rapids for long, as he has been with the Pistons ever since. On January 2nd, Sekou Doumbouya got the surprise nod to start against the Los Angeles Clippers, and was given the assignment of guarding the reigning NBA finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.
Doumbouya did not disappoint, finishing with a double double in his first start (the first Pistons teen to do so since Andre Drummond). Doumbouya went on to have another double double in his next game against the warriors, guarded LeBron James in his next start, and then played a stellar game in Cleveland to wrap up his explosive week.
The development of Doumbouya is way ahead of schedule, and he is getting opportunities to prove that he should’ve been a top five pick. He is showing signs of being a potential star in the NBA, and he just turned 19 a few weeks ago.
His previous summer of free agency also brought Derrick Rose to Detroit, who has been massively exceeding the value of his two year 12 million dollar contract. Rose has been putting up numbers akin to his MVP season in 2010, and has been the leading scorer of this year’s Pistons team.
In an interview during the January 2nd game against the Clippers, Pistons owner Tom Gores acknowledged that the Pistons are going to strongly consider making changes, and that was followed by multiple reports of Drummond being available on the trade market and knee surgery for Blake Griffin that will put him on the sideline indefinitely.
The current season is going to be a wash, and Detroit is going to put faith in the draft lottery and cap room clearing this summer. This might be difficult to see the Pistons in a position to lose again for quite sometime, but I haven’t been this excited about the future of this franchise in a long time, and you should be enthusiastic too.
Stefanski has shown that he is a mature NBA executive that is making good decisions. He has only been on the job for a year and a half, and he has properly evaluated the state of the franchise; He’s brought players to Detroit that can help them now and that can develop to even greater heights in the future.
After the trade deadline, we will have assets and cap relief that will help us properly hit the reset button, and the ability to draft young talent higher in the draft order that can be put alongside Doumbouya as building blocks for the Pistons going forward.
We have the right coach in place, an owner that believes in the plan, and a figure in the front office that has shown the ability to adapt and to make decisions that are well thought out and aren’t made in desperation.
Stefanski is what we needed in Detroit for a long time, and with him at the helm, there’s a lot to look forward to in the motor city going forward.