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The Oddly Mesmerizing Detroit Pistons | TheSportsDay The Oddly Mesmerizing Detroit Pistons | TheSportsDay

The oddly mesmerizing Detroit Pistons


I’ve been watching a lot of Detroit Pistons basketball of late. Everyone should. Forget the In-Season Tournament, or whatever that was. You always want to see something new in sports, so what’s better than the emergence of the worst team in the 78-year history of the National Basketball Association?

Detroit has now lost a record 27 consecutive games, a run that stretches across two-plus months.

The latest came Monday at the hands of Brooklyn, 118-112. If you want to know how sad the Pistons are, it was treated by some as a sort of moral victory because Cade Cunningham scored 41 and they trailed by only five, with the ball, in the final minute.

They proceeded to commit a turnover, bat a rebound out of bounds, forget to intentionally foul (allowing nearly five precious seconds to burn) and then throw a pass to no one.

It’s like watching an NCAA tournament 16 seed play only 1 seeds … for an entire season.

Detroit is awful, absolutely awful. It’s a sight to behold, a team that is not trying to tank, playing like they are tanking. There is plenty of individual talent — Cunningham in particular — but they struggle to play together. It’s like they all just showed up at the park one day.

It is oddly mesmerizing. The lack of defense. The dribbling into traffic. The jacking up of three pointers by players with no proven ability to hit three pointers. Turnovers galore. The players wear glazed looks on their faces, like a school kid embarrassed to be in the holiday concert, just lip syncing until it’s over. They appear almost sheepish in warmups, especially on the road. It’s the G-League Plus.

You tune in to see if they’ll come to play with some intensity — and they give up 81 points in a half to Milwaukee. OK, well, Milwaukee is good. How about the next night against Atlanta? Nope, they are down 13 in the first quarter. How about against a bad Utah team on the second leg of a back-to-back and without a slew of regulars including their top two scorers? Nah, the Pistons committed 20 turnovers and lost by eight.

They aren’t even close. This isn’t bad luck, bad calls or an inability to “close out games.” The games are never close. During the streak they are losing by an average of 12.4 points and haven’t been involved in a one-possession finish since Nov. 8. One time they shot 4 of 21 from three as a team.

In early December, they led a Ja Morant-less Memphis team into the fourth and wound up losing … by 14. Then there was the time they got blown out by 32 points in Orlando and the humiliation was so motivating that three games later they got drilled again … by 32 points. The game after that? They lost again … by 32 points.

Yes, three 32-point losses in an eight day stretch, seemingly a mathematical improbability.

Detroit Pistons forward Kevin Knox II, from left, guard Marcus Sasser, forward Ausar Thompson and forward Bojan Bogdanovic sit on the bench during the fourth quarter of a 118-112 loss to the Brooklyn Nets, an NBA record 27th straight loss, Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2023, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)Detroit Pistons forward Kevin Knox II, from left, guard Marcus Sasser, forward Ausar Thompson and forward Bojan Bogdanovic sit on the bench during the fourth quarter of a 118-112 loss to the Brooklyn Nets, an NBA record 27th straight loss, Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2023, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

They rank in the bottom three in the league in points, turnovers, three-point shooting … and so on. They do nothing well. The streak could easily hit 30 or more. Anything is possible, because nothing is possible.

The other night, their television announcer, George Blaha, who has been calling games since the late 1970s, cheerily noted Detroit had gone on a 21-14 “tear.” It was uncertain if the poor guy was trolling or just shell-shocked. A Detroit Free Press recap of a loss to Milwaukee noted, positively, that at least “they didn’t trail by 40 points” during the game.

The true depth of their awfulness is not even being appreciated. No one cares about them nationally. Their games rarely go beyond Bally Sports. Local fans have been distracted by football fortunes of the Detroit Lions and Michigan Wolverines.

Maybe that changes now. Rubbernecking a car wreck is a primal instinct.

They are also a young team with a new head coach, Monty Williams, who is respected around the league, especially by the media, so criticism is fairly muted.

It shouldn’t be.

Williams looks like a coach who never wanted the job and only took it because Pistons owner Tom Gores kept calling back with more and more money — $78.5 million over six years. Eventually Williams couldn’t say no. Then he got to town and realized he really didn’t want to be there. It seems plausible he checks the banking app at least twice during a game to remain sane.

This is a horrendous fit. Williams led Phoenix to the 2021 NBA Finals but around the league he is not known for his developmental skills or ability to work with young players, and the Pistons are really young. Detroit has a nice practice facility, but any tangible proof of it being used has yet to reveal itself.

Maybe you bring Williams in to push a contender to the next level. This is not a contender. Sources say Gores became obsessed with Williams, locked in and wouldn’t consider anyone else. Maybe the coach wouldn’t matter, although Dwayne Casey got 17 victories out of a lesser (and mostly Cunningham-less) roster last year.

Then there is the roster. Its parts are far better than a 2-28 team. General Manager Troy Weaver has actually made some good individual selections, yet somehow constructed a horrific team. None of it works together. It lacks leadership, toughness and professionalism. And shooting.

Almost everyone is 22 or under and a first-round pick, often in the high lottery either by Detroit or someone else. It’s a fantasy team. Unfortunately, the games are real.

Cunningham, first overall in 2021, can really score. He has a great mid-range jumper and could’ve been a Marine sniper for the admirable way his emotions never change. Nothing rattles him. He also plays an old-man game, at like 25 miles per hour. As such, he doesn’t fit with Jayden Ivey, the No. 5 pick in 2022, who plays at about 100.

Then there is a collection of athletic big men. Jalen Duren (13th overall, 2022) is the best of the bunch but limits the need for Marvin Bagley (2nd overall, 2018), James Wiseman (2nd overall, 2020). Bojan Bodganovic was brought in for veteran scoring, but at 34 his defense is shot.

Rookie Ausur Thompson (5th, 2023) might become a hellacious defender in the league one day, but he can’t shoot a lick right now (16.1 percent from three). Meanwhile, late first round pick, guard Marcus Sasser, plays extremely hard.

Every possible lineup has a glaring weakness. Three or four guys play one way while one or two another way. Many appear to be focused on their next contract, or destination. The trade deadline is their midnight train going anywhere.

Maybe that’s part of the bizarro fun. How is this happening? It would all make more sense if the picks were all busts or the team was riddled with injuries. Some of these guys will be good … somewhere.

Major changes do not appear imminent. Gores, who lives in Los Angeles and rarely attends games, did a Zoom with local media and brushed off fan chants of “sell the team.” Since he became majority owner in 2011, they are 358-614 (.368) in the regular season, have made the playoffs only twice in 13 seasons and have been swept in the opening round both times.

Instead, he pointed to investments and community work the franchise has made in the city. That’s admirable, but speaks to the outsider’s view of what Detroit is … i.e. a charity case that should be grateful for whatever it is gifted.

Believe it or not, there are actual Pistons fans who would just appreciate a competent team. Bless their hearts, they somehow rank 19th in attendance.

And so they come and watch loss after loss, with mock cheers and funny signs and tons of hope. It is all proving far more entertaining than imaginable. It’s the Washington Generals but not in on the gag. It’s the WWE, but one guy doesn’t have the script.

Eventually, victory will come and a celebration will erupt. Until then, tune in … with a parental warning.

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