Pistons are not tanking, more like tinkering


The Detroit Pistons were in all-out tanking mode at the end of last season, which paid off with the No. 1 overall draft pick. The way things are playing out this season, while they are not exactly win at all costs, but actually notching a victory is not looked upon as a disaster.

Remember the Pistons official ‘injury’ list at the end of last year. Every veteran seemed to be hurt with something, but all the rookies were healthy and able to play. Except for center Mason Plumlee, he just needed ‘rest’. ‘Plum dog’ got more rest than a hibernating bear.

Yet, when Detroit played at No. 1 seed Philadelphia, all the vets suddenly were healthy and Plumlee had rested enough. They were so rusty, the Pistons still got blasted, but at least the kids did not get pummeled. After the 76ers game, the vets were again ‘hurt’ and Plumlee went back to resting.

Hey, the strategy worked, as Detroit ended up with the No. 1 overall pick and Cade Cunningham.

This year, the Pistons are once again in the running for the worst record in the NBA, but the way they are handlings things ae a bit … different.

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As of the morning of March 30, Detroit is tied with Houston and Orlando for least wins in the NBA, with Oklahoma CIty only two wins ahead of the trio.

Least wins in NBA (as of 3:30 p.m., 3/30):

Detroit: 20

Houston: 20

Orlando: 20

OKC: 22

With most teams having just 5-6 games left on their schedule, it is a pretty safe bet that Detroit can finish no higher than fourth-worst in the standings. The top three teams all get 14-percent of the ping pong balls in the Draft Lottery, with the fourth team getting a bit less.

Detroit Pistons willing to win this season

Anyone who watched Detroit go toe-to-toe with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Nets, and came away thinking they were not trying to win, well, go watch the Tigers spring training games, those really do not count.

Cade Cunningham ignored medical advice after injuring his tailbone and went back into the game. Isaiah Stewart took on Kyrie, and also hit two 3-pointers (!), as they fought to the end. Durant praised the Pistons afterward, saying they were a legit team who gave them a good game.

Coach Dwane Casey did not sound like a coach happy to lose after the game:

The biggest difference between last year and the end of this year is, the players listed as injured are actually hurt. Hamidou Diallo has a broken finger, you do not claim that, if it is not true (pretty easy to check), Jerami Grant strained a calf. Both have been declared out for the season.

Could both be rushed to play the last couple of games? Probably, but what would be the point?

The Pistons are not tanking, they are tinkering with their lineups, with an eye toward next season, as Casey said.

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3 ways Detroit Pistons are not tanking as badly as last year

3. What about the children? Detroit rolled out a Kiddie Korps of rookies and players in need of NBA experience at the end of last season. This year, except for some minor changes, the Pistons are going with their main available crew.

Braxton Key and Isaiah Livers are playing and taking away some veterans minutes (and not doing badly, which is also making Detroit competitive in games) but Detroit’s rotation is not out of whack from what it had been.

2. No rest for old-timers: Last year, Cory Joseph was basically just hanging and watching (except for one game against Memphis when he led them to a win, and scared the fans he had ruined their chances at the No. 1 pick). Joseph is playing now and veterans forward Kelly Olynyk and guard Rodney McGruder are also seeing action.

Those type of players never saw the floor for the final 15 game of last season. It shows that Casey wants the young players to be with the vets and learn from them on the floor. It also gives Detroit a better chance of winning, and that is OK.

  1. Cade Cunningham not going for that: For a competitor like Cade Cunningham, losing games on purpose would not cut it. Leading a team to victory in the fourth quarter is what Cunningham is all about. If Casey put in 4 G-Leaguers with him at the end of a game, he would have a fit.

Yes, definitely some learning being conducted, like with Killian Hayes, and matching up a Twin Towers lineup of Marvin Bagley III and Isaiah Stewart, but, no one who is watching the last five minutes of Pistons games is thinking ‘Boy, Detroit is trying to lose this game.’

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The Pistons, after going 6-6 after the last game before the All-Star break, are losing because key people are hurt, they are inexperienced and, with Grant out, have only one ‘go-to’ player down the stretch.

Are they in full Tank mode? Nah. But they are busy tinkering with lineups and players.