After a miserable 4-20 start that was compounded by the team's terribly unappealing style of play, the Detroit Pistons have reeled off seven wins in nine tries. Even with half a season to go, however, the Pistons are likely still out of the playoff hunt, 5 1/2 games behind a surging and eighth-seeded New York Knicks team that will be getting Carmelo Anthony back soon. So why try to win, especially with a fantastic 2012 NBA draft coming in June?
Because we're paid to try, says Pistons coach Lawrence Frank. From Justin Rogers at MLive.com:
"Our job is to give 100 percent, best effort, otherwise we're stealing money," Frank said in an interview with 97.1 The Ticket. "As I understand, from a theoretical standpoint, it's a great draft coming up, so let's get a lot of ping balls. But as a player or coach, if we think that way, they should fire us. You can't do it. One, we make a lot of money to go out and do our jobs. Also, for the people that support our team, that would be one heck of an indictment to know that your team wasn't giving its best effort because they were playing for next year."
Frank is giving his fans some credit, but he's also discrediting them a bit. They know you're "playing for next year," my man. They appreciate you working hard this year, but they've seen the roster. They know what's up.
Frank's a terrific coach, the smartest guy in the room in most basketball settings, and despite Detroit's lacking roster it was a bit surprising to see the team lurch out to a 4-20 start. They're not a 4-20 team, but they're not a 7-2 squad either. The improvement to the mean is a welcome site, and it's still going to leave them in the thick of the ping pong ball movement this May.
The Pistons still own the league's seventh-worst record, and teams have made jumps from further than that to the top pick in the draft. Anywhere in the top three or even five, by some accounts, will bring the Pistons a winner in this June's draft, and despite fan pleading and criticism from on-air types, tanking just doesn't work in the NBA.
That's why the league has a lottery. The two most recent examples of egregious tanking (the 2006-07 Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks) purposely blew game after game that year, and still ended up with the lowest pick (fifth and seventh) that they could have gotten once the lottery envelopes were opened. It's a subject that, strangely, nobody tends to remember. Are there all sorts of holes with the way teams tank in ways to rebuild teams and shoot for the stars? Sure. But losing games isn't one of them.
As it stands, the Pistons have won a third of their games after that start, they have a borderline All-Star already in big man Greg Monroe, and room to grow once the amnesty clause hits again this summer. Topping that, Frank's no-excuses style is building a solid foundation to work with. Like with Dwane Casey in Toronto, Frank is the real franchise player on that team right now.
And, with seven wins in the team's last nine tries, he's making a difference. Good to see. If not "watch."