Salvaging the Pistons
Detroit needs to embrace the suckiness
BY DAVID THORPE
After 24 in a row, the Detroit Pistons are three losses away from owning the longest single-season losing streak in NBA history.
Even short losing streaks can be soul-crushing. Amidst an early season losing streak years ago, former Rockets assistant GM Sam Hinkie walked past me headed to the locker room and whispered “dark times.” No two words better describe the feelings in that locker room and wherever any team member goes. Yet, I have one word that might do this situation more justice: hurricane.
The Pistons are in a hurricane they did not expect. Experts like myself didn’t see any team losing this many games in a row with so much league parity. I knew the Pistons would be bad but not this bad.
It’s easy to panic during a hurricane. As a native Floridian, I can tell you: It’s impossible to secure a home and protect loved ones mid-storm. As Hurricane Irma’s potential 200-mile-per-hour winds closed in on our front door, that’s what almost happened to us. “Fuck buildings and bushes,” my wife and I decided. “Let’s focus on our people.”
Now is the time to reassure everyone on every level by saying to them: What do you need from me? If you’re Pistons ownership, you’re thinking about management; if you’re management, you’re thinking about the coaching staff; if you’re the coaching staff, you’re thinking about players. Now is the time to tighten the connections at every level and get the players thinking about each other.
The second focus needs to be on what the Pistons can control, starting with player habits. Everything needs to be reduced to the most basic level, because losing streaks feel like someone is peeling off your skin—especially for hyper-competitive NBA players. The Pistons have to find a way to stop the bleeding. It’s impossible to focus on minutiae when the winds are violent. It’s better to focus on the bigger picture.
Does that mean they should fire head coach Monty Williams, whom they just hired? Should the Pistons deal one of their young players for a more competent fit? Or is there another solution hiding in plain sight?
Here’s what I’m seeing.
Is this debacle on Monty Williams?
Steve Jobs, as he explains here, famously believed in overlooking short-term flaws in favor of long-term potential. I don’t always agree with that sentiment, but Jobs’ perspective got me thinking about the Pistons and Monty Williams, who’s leading an historically terrible team.
Jobs’ point is about incredibly long-term player development. When the Pistons hired Monty Williams, that’s not something I associated him with—he made a name for himself in the finishing school of the playoffs. In this job, he’d be tested by off-seasons, summer leagues, and training camps. When they hired him, there wasn’t a lot of evidence Williams was good at that.
Maybe there still isn’t.
Normally, when you’re digging yourself into a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging. In the NBA, that often means firing the coach. So, the knee-jerk reaction would be to fire Monty Williams. But he’s getting almost $79 million whether they fire him or not, and so now it’s his job no matter what. Whatever he thought this job would be, now it’s to build a foundation, because not one of the young Pistons knows how to play.