It is with great indifference (because it is impossible to feel any particular way about these Detroit Pistons) that I must inform you, a person who will be vaguely surprised to be reminded that the Pistons are an NBA team—not so much because you forgot altogether that they are an NBA team but by the sheer improbability of anyone giving enough of a shit about the Detroit Pistons to deliberately remind you of their existence—that the Detroit Pistons are dead. Stick a fork in them.
They lost Saturday night to the Miami Heat, who currently hold the Eastern Conference’s 8th seed. The loss dropped the Pistons four games back of the Heat, which is not a deficit that should be insurmountable, but sure feels that way. The Pistons have now lost eight of 10, after opening the Blake Griffin era with four straight wins. Their schedule hasn’t done them a lot of favors—five of those losses have come against legitimate playoff contenders—but they’ve also dropped games to the Magic, the Hawks, and the Hornets. FiveThirtyEight puts their playoff odds now at just seven percent—the Hornets, losers of two straight, and still a game back of the Pistons in the standings, are given better odds.
It was possible to give a shit about the Pistons back when Andre Drummond’s improved free throw shooting made him more playable in late-game situations, and it looked like that development might make them into a serious team. It was still possible to give a shit about the Pistons, even though they were foundering, when they grabbed up Blake Griffin, and briefly looked rejuvenated. It was still barely possible to smile wistfully at the Pistons when they were getting shellacked by the Hornets and Andre Drummond did this:
The buzzards are circling. Mark Stein of the New York Times had Stan Van Gundy’s dual role in Detroit under the gun way back in January, just after the Griffin trade. Then on Friday, before the Pistons lost to the putrid Magic, the Sporting News reported a rumor that a reconfiguring of Van Gundy’s personnel power is “expected”:
Stan Van Gundy is expected to at least lose his role as team president in Detroit, if not also his coaching duties, with Pistons exec Arn Tellem waiting in the wings to take over the basketball operations. Tellem, one of pro sports’ top agents for the better part of 25 years, has been Pistons VP and owner Tom Gores’ right-hand man since 2015.
Speculation is that Van Gundy will need to make the playoffs to keep his coaching job. He’s completing the fourth year of a five-year deal worth $35 million.
Here’s what I expect: the Pistons will lose just enough and win just enough to keep their new arena mostly empty, forever. I can’t remember the last time the Pistons had a perimeter player worth paying any special amount of attention to. They’ve got Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, they’ve got the seventh-highest team payroll in the NBA, and honestly their most irreplaceable player right now might very well be Ish Smith. The Pistons are crud. Get rid of them.
They haven’t even had the decency to be bad in a spectacular way: on the season their general crumminess has produced the 20th-ranked offense and the 12th-ranked defense; since the Griffin trade they’ve slipped, insultingly, to 23rd and 14th, respectively. At least be impressively bad, you chronically irrelevant shitheads!
I suppose the good news is, if Van Gundy really is coaching for his GM job, there is probably no way of disentangling that relationship without basically blowing up the organization. Five of their next six games are against good playoff contending teams, and four of them—at Cleveland, at Utah, at Denver, and at Portland—are on the road. The Pistons have reached the point where a complete bottoming out would be more welcome than a vaguely encouraging 3-3 record over that span. No. It is time for the Pistons to be blasted to mush, so that someday a gloriously reborn basketball operation may rise from their grisly smithereens. Or, anyway, so that we can stop pretending they are not total crud. They’re crud.