For the past several seasons, the Detroit Pistons have been a picture of NBA irrelevance. In the summer of 2009, general manager Joe Dumars used the team's considerable cap space to hand out above-market deals to Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon, too capable players very poorly suited to taking on major scoring loads or functioning as leaders in any meaningful way. At the same time, their coaches have shown a commitment to playing veterans to maximize short-term wins instead of aiming to build for the future. That means the Pistons have been just good enough to end up with middling lottery picks, ensuring that they'll miss out on the true difference makers in any draft.
It's a vicious cycle, although the franchise has occasionally looked capable of turning things around. Rookie big man Andre Drummond has been extremely impressive even in limited minutes, although he has been out of action since February 6 with a stress fracture in his back. Without him, the Pistons have seemed increasingly directionless, and it shows on the court. They've lost nine games in a row and 12 of their last 13, and only one of the losses had a single-digit margin.
The latest, a 37-point whipping at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets, simply adds to the ledger. It is a Nets team, by the way, to whom the Pistons lost their two earlier meetings by a total of five points. Since the break: back-to-back losses to the Pacers by a total of 50 points, a 39-point loss to the San Antonio Spurs and a 32-point loss to the L.A. Clippers.
'This is our fifth game like this since the break," said Pistons coach Lawrence Frank, who returned to the team after a six-game absence due to his wife's illness. "As a group we stunk. This is disheartening to watch."
If they haven't quit, it looks like high-level coasting since the All-Star break at the very least. This is a total change from the way they performed in the first half of the season.
"We have to restore the pride of being a Piston," said Frank before Monday's game. "We're not gonna restore it in a day but, big picture, we have to get that pride back in wearing that jersey."
There are several reasons for the Piston's woes, some of which are outside their control. Guards Brandon Knight and Jose Calderon are currently out with injury, which has hurt an already very thin backcourt. There's simply not a lot of talent on hand, and any injuries severely limit what hte team can do.
Of course, it's also true that Frank (and management as a whole) is responsible for many of their problems. His system is a throwback to the franchise's not-so-recent Larry Brown-led glory days, but the NBA is moving away from that grind-it-out style towards a more free-flowing game based on versatility and quick decisions. Yet the Pistons stick to their system, apparently under the impression that guys like Greg Monroe and Charlie Villanueva will magically develop into adequate protectors of the rim. Heck, maybe Brandon Knight really is their best interior defender.
So, when Frank says that it's necessary to restore players' pride in being part of the Pistons, it's worth thinking about what it even means to be a Piston in 2013. What does the team stand for? What are they working towards? What identity are they trying to develop?
By most views, it's the job of the coach and general manager to create these goals and objectives. Perhaps the players don't feel pride because the typical sources of pride are vague and unclear.
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