DETROIT — Saturday’s 117-114 loss to the Rockets wasn’t the worst of the season for the Pistons because it was against Houston. Detroit isn’t much better. It wasn’t the worst loss, as the Rockets were without their top three players. Detroit was and is without its best player. It wasn’t the worst loss of the season, as the Pistons led at one point by 14. That’s nothing in the NBA.
It was Detroit’s worst loss of the season because the Rockets outbid, passed, outbid the Pistons for 45 minutes on their home ground — whatever transitive verb you want to use. This is intended to be Detroit’s MO during this remodel. If the victories will not be there, the fight should. After all, that’s what the Pistons want to build their foundation on as they prepare to turn a curve in hopes that talent and cohesion will catch up. Right now, the fight isn’t every night. Attention to detail is scattered. On Saturday, Houston played like a team trying to prove they’re better. That should have been the Pistons.
The Rockets had 16 offensive rebounds and 21 second-chance points. Sixteen offensive rebounds. For comparison, the Grizzlies lead the NBA in offensive rebounds per game with 13.3. That was the ball game. That was it. No more, no less.
“I think tonight it came down to the simple things: effort, rebounds, smashing the glass, hitting first,” said Detroit winger Hamidou Diallo, who was one of the few who had all the qualities the Pistons want . “It’s all about playing harder than your opponent. We didn’t do that tonight.”
This wasn’t the first time Diallo had taken to the podium and uttered similar words. He’s done it a few times. One night, the Pistons show they’re the feisty team they want to be like they’re at a win against Brooklyn on Thursday. Another night, Detroit uses the aftermath to talk about how it needs to try harder. Sure, that’s the hard part of a remodel; learn what it takes to win or at least give yourself a chance. There’s no denying that. However, it’s also hard to avoid that the Pistons have been at it for 51 games and the only thing that can be consistent is isn’t.
The NBA trade deadline is less than two weeks away, and as the inconsistent performances pile up, it increasingly feels like Detroit needs to do something just to try and find some semblance of continuity. It’s not there now.
Her weekly reminder – the man is 19 years old. https://t.co/jBgaUAViML pic.twitter.com/Q5mQtscgcL
— Detroit Pistons (@DetroitPistons) January 29, 2023
It’s not that the players don’t like each other or that the dressing room is a mess. That’s not the case, or at least it doesn’t look like it when you look in from directly in front of the house. Something just seems… wrong. As part of this reorganization, the Pistons are still in the process of rating their players. Various configuration combinations are put together. Some players get a longer leash, others a shorter one. It’s an experiment for everyone to see. It’s all justified because Detroit is still piecing together its future. And the fact that his biggest piece of the puzzle, Cade Cunningham, has been out since November has prevented the Pistons from forming a full picture. At a certain point, though, it might be best for the latter to prioritize the collective over the individual, even if the absence of the 2021 No. 1 pick makes that a bit more difficult.
Big or small, it feels like a move might be necessary to recalibrate this roster. Even if it’s something as simple as, say, opening up more minutes for someone like Isaiah Livers, who isn’t a box-score stuffer but regularly delivers the qualities the Pistons covet. Or point out that Jalen Duren and Isaiah Stewart are spending time together on the floor trying to avoid 16 offensive rebounds and 70 points in the paint like they did on Saturday. Maybe it’s something as big as acquiring a two-way wing that can improve perimeter defense, even if it means the Pistons win a few more games and lose 1.5 percentage points when it comes to the possibility Victor Wembanyama to land the 2023 NBA draft.
Yes, all these things can be done in the off-season. Naturally. And depending on how things go, waiting until the summer to tackle certain things could be the best course of action to land Wembanyama and secure a more optimistic future.
The future is still promising. That should not be lost in this difficult season. General Manager Troy Weaver and company have done a good job of putting the Pistons in a position where they can take more than one avenue to try and take this thing to the next level. You couldn’t say that in this area for a long time. That being said, an upgraded gift could do wonders for next year and beyond.
Detroit is in a difficult position because they want to do better next season, and they have both veteran and young players who could help them achieve that. It’s understandable why it might be tempting to hold onto the likes of Bojan Bogdanović, Saddiq Bey or Alec Burks beyond the trading deadline. That being said, the Pistons can’t afford another two months. Consistency goes a long way, and Detroit is playing the long game.
Anything, anything, just to change feng shui might be the best course of action for now and in the future.
(Photo of Houston’s Jabari Smith Jr. and Detroit’s Alec Burks fighting for the ball: Rick Osentoski / USA Today)