The Detroit Pistons willingly entered a rebuilding phase after years of hanging on to mediocre hopes of low playoff seeds and a couple of home postseason games. They should have done this sooner, no question, but better late than never.
This past 20-52 season came a year after an abbreviated 20-46 season where they had hoped to actually make the playoffs, but injuries were too much to overcome. As it happens, it forced ownership and management’s hand and may have been the best thing to happen to the organization.
The Detroit Pistons are coming off one of the worst two-year runs in franchise history, but that may be the best thing for them. Can they bounce back quickly?
As we know now, the Pistons won the NBA draft lottery and are expected to make the first overall pick in the form of Cade Cunningham. Along with another year’s worth of development from last year’s rookie class of Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart and Killian Hayes, the team will likely have one of the more formidable young cores in the NBA (especially if Hayes takes steps to develop in the offseason).
Considering the depths that the Pistons sunk to over the past couple of seasons, it wouldn’t be outside of the realm of possibility that they have a quick bounce-back to being truly competitive. After waiting about a decade longer than they should have to embrace a rebuild, that’s something that should make Tom Gores — as owner and spearhead of the refusal to tank — feel a bit silly.
However, there’s no time like the present, and sometimes things just fall into place in mysterious ways. Maybe the Pistons could have embraced the rebuild a decade ago but still been mired in mediocrity in the way teams like the Sacramento Kings and Orlando Magic have been for so long. Maybe, somehow, this was the only way for things to work out for the Pistons.
Now that they’ve reached the bottom (or close to it; the Houston Rockets actually had the worst record in the NBA), maybe the bounce back to the top won’t take too long. This young Pistons team had a stunning number of signature wins, with victories over the Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets, as well as teams like the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors before the bottom fell out on all three supposed contenders.
You can only chalk those wins up to the opposition not taking them seriously for so long before that excuse starts to come up short.
The Pistons may also not have as far to bounce as it seems. This past season they had the sixth-worst net rating in the NBA at -4.5. Last season, the New York Knicks (-6.5) and the Atlanta Hawks (-7.4) had worse net ratings. The Knicks made the playoffs as the four-seed in the East this season and the Hawks made it as the five-seed, and they took the Milwaukee Bucks to six games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Of course, talk of the 20-win Pistons following the path of the Conference Finalist Hawks is entirely premature, but there’s reason enough to think they could be able to be one of the NBA’s up-and-coming teams next year and beyond. If Cade Cunningham is the star he’s expected to be, the rest of the core takes a step forward and Jerami Grant builds upon the 2020-21 season he had in Detroit, watch out.