Being stuck in mediocrity is a dangerous place in the NBA. Not being bad enough to tank, but not good enough to win playoff games is the most difficult spot to be in as an organization. It’s an even more precarious situation if you have an expensive roster. The Detroit Pistons find themselves in these dangerous waters.
Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson are all under contract the next two years eating away at around 60% of the cap this season and nearly 70% the following season. That’s comparable to what the Houston Rockets are paying their three highest paid players for the next two seasons and one of those guys is named Ryan Anderson. Houston was one win away from the finals last season while Detroit was four wins away from finishing .500. The trade for Griffin last season was one that stunned the NBA world and it was an effort by Detroit to gain relevance again. Was it worth spending around 30% of your cap space on a big man with an injury history as rich as Griffin’s? The Pistons are already shedding out a significant amount of money to Center Andre Drummond and they only managed to go 11-14 with Griffin in the lineup after the trade deadline. Not exactly a record to boost the confidence of Detroit hopefuls.
Piston fans are not without hope. Their team isn’t bad enough to tank and the organization clearly has no intentions of doing so. Griffin is a top 15 player in the league when healthy and is one of the most elite passing big men in the game. They will boast an elite rebounding team and will be in the mix for a top 10 defense. They have the good fortune of playing in a conference where one star and a scrappy defense can get you into the playoffs and make a series interesting.
The hiring of Dwane Casey can’t be understated either. Adding an elite head coach to any roster means improvement and the Pistons won nearly 40 games last year and now have a full season with Griffin. There will be two playoff spots up for grabs in the East this season (maybe 3 if Dwight Howard causes the Wizards to spontaneously combust). With the addition of an elite head coach and having their new All Star for a full season this team has a ceiling of being the 6th seed in the conference.
Detroit fans are going to be in for an interesting ride. There will be times they want the front office to simply blow it all up and start from scratch with Dwane Casey at the helm. But this team will have stretches where they impose their physical will and look like a team capable of pushing a higher seeded team to the brink. Questions over Reggie Jackson’s future will dominate a lot of story-lines and might not be answered at all this year. The Pistons are yearning to be relevant again and while it might not happen this year, they certainly have the makings of a team that could surprise a few people.