The Detroit Pistons have been rebuilding for the past three seasons and counting without much to show for it.
The franchise had to build from nothing, as they had no star to trade and no largesse of draft picks to rely on. They had big contracts hanging over them for guys who weren't producing (or even playing in some cases), so didn't have any of the advantages shared by some of the other rebuilding teams.
This season, injuries have made the horrific start difficult to evaluate, as they surely wouldn't be this bad if everyone were healthy, but it's also fair to assume that Bojan Bogdanovic and Monte Morris aren't enough to bridge the huge divide between the Pistons and the good teams in the NBA.
There are some valid reasons for this, but it's also fair to look around the league and wonder how the Pistons have made so little progress while other young teams are thriving.
Pistons still the worst of the six 2020-21 rebuilds
In the 2020-21 season, the six worst teams in the NBA were:
-Houston Rockets (17-55)
-Detroit Pistons (20-52)
-Orlando Magic (21-51)
-Cleveland Cavaliers (22-50)
-OKC Thunder (22-50)
-Minnesota Timberwolves (23-49)
All of these teams were in various stages of rebuilds in the 2020-21 season. Some had more resources than others, and all but the Pistons had at least one All-Star to trade to speed things up.
Since then, the Rockets have won 20 and 22 games are are currently 8-6 in this season. They were the closest team to the Pistons in terms of rebuilds coming into the offseason and the Rockets spent big bucks to acquire Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks, who have clearly helped stabilize their talented young core. The Rockets can't be considered good yet, but they have so far made the type of progress Pistons fans hoped for with the additions of Joe Harris and Monte Morris.
The Magic have won 22 and 34 games over the last two seasons and are currently 12-5 in this one, a surprise 2nd in the Eastern Conference. They had the Gordon and Vucevic trades to get some extra picks and used them well. They are still a very young team with no real veteran presence outside of Gary Harris and have still made leaps each season. They've made the kind of progress fans were hoping for in Detroit.
The Cavaliers won 44 and 51 games since then, so they made huge leaps after trading for Donovan Mitchell. They are 9-8 this season so far, the 8th seed in the East, a position they hope to improve. The Cavs are a contender in the Eastern Conference for the third straight season after winning 22 games in 2020-21.
The OKC Thunder won 24 and 40 games the last two seasons and are 11-5 in this one, 2nd in the Western Conference. The Thunder not only have a young and talented team led by a superstar, but still have the most draft picks of any team in the NBA, so have the ammo to trade for another star or just keep adding talent in the draft.
The Timberwolves have a superstar of their own and also made the big trade for Rudy Gobert, which is not looking nearly as bad as it once did. They won 46 and 42 games over the last two seasons and are 12-4 in this one, 1st place in the West. The Timberwolves look legit, at least for the regular season, as we'll have to wait and see how their rotation works in the playoffs.
The Detroit Pistons are the only team of this group of six that hasn't made any progress in the win column. They've won 23 and 17 games over the last two seasons and are 2-14 in this one, the worst in the NBA.
I outlined some of the challenges the Pistons faced that these other teams didn't, so it's not surprising that Detroit is still behind these other franchises in their stage of the rebuild. What is surprising is that Detroit hasn't made any progress at all, while all of these other teams made some advancement in the win column.
You can blame the lack of assets, which is true, you can blame the injury to Cade Cunningham that effectively set the team back a season (also true) and you can blame injuries this year as a factor to the poor start.
But in the end, this is a rebuild that has so far gone nowhere, and with seven expiring contracts coming next offseason, could be flipping half the roster again while the other rebuilds are establishing more continuity and chemistry.
The Pistons may have had the most difficult job, but the excuses aren't going to last forever.