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Detroit Pistons: Rebuilding From the Bottom...Again - OTBN 30-In-30

Today in our off-season report card series, we take a look at the worst team in the NBA last year and how they are trying to get back to respectability

Last season, the Detroit Pistons were the 12th worst NBA team in history if you go by winning percentage. They were a team that felt directionaless, aimless, and were generally unwatchable. The big Monty Willams experiment failed spectacularly, as the teams racked up loss after loss. Williams had signed a massive six year $78.5 million contract before the start of last season. The team then promptly fired him at the conclusion of the worst season in franchise history. In his place, the team has hired JB Bickerstaff who was recently fired by the Cleveland Cavaliers after losing in the second round to the Boston Celtics. 

The Pistons, one of the NBA’s more historically relevant franchises, own the worst record in the NBA since 2009-10. A 14 year run of incompetence that has featured only two trips to the playoffs and two 40+ win seasons. The team now finds themselves in a familiar place: starting from scratch. Troy Weaver is out as general manager and Trajan Langdon replaces him in the hopes of building something viable in Detroit again. 

Last season saw 31 different players suit up for the Pistons. By comparison the Cleveland Cavaliers, who play in the same division as Detroit, only had 18 players log minutes this past season. Detroit has once again become Siberia, a place where NBA players bide their time before they can move on to their next destination. Last season they had multiple veterans who were either just trade pieces or were reclamation projects like James Wiseman and Marvin Bagley III. As they head into yet another new era, it is time for the Pistons to once again trim the fat off of their roster. 

The team has let James Wiseman and Evan Fournier, among others, walk out in free agency. They traded Quentin Grimes (who was acquired last year from the Knicks) to Dallas in return for Tim Hardaway Jr, who is likely a buyout or trade deadline candidate. They also signed Tobias Harris to a 2-year $52 million deal and Malik Beasley to a 1-year $6 million deal. Both of these moves add immediate help in regards to outside shooting, a statistic that the Pistons struggled with last season where the Pistons ranked 26th in three point attempts and 25th in three point percentage. The biggest move of their off-season thus far though is a max contract extension of Cade Cunningham. 

Cunningham, who was the number one overall pick in the 2021 Draft, has only played in 56% of his teams games. But despite all the losing, he showed some signs of improvement this past season. He topped 22 points per game and shot 35% from three, both career highs. He also had career highs in free throw percentage and assists per game. The Pistons have determined that he is still their franchise player and the offering of a 5-year $236 million extension shows that faith. 

The team yet again did not win the Lottery in this year’s Draft and had the fifth pick for the third consecutive year. Alongside Cunningham, the Pistons have a very young core group of players in Jaden Ivey, Ron Holland II (this year's draft pick), Jalen Duren, and Ausar Thompson. It remains to be seen what will become of Isaiah Stewart, the team's fifth year big man.With Cunningham, Duren, Thompson, Holland, and Ivey the team has an athletic core but one that seems to be lacking in shooting, which is problematic in today’s NBA. 

In theory, this is where the signings of Tobias Harris and Malik Beasley make sense. Despite being an afterthought in Philly in the playoffs last season, Harris was shooting over 35% from three on four attempts per game. Beasley, who was on the Bucks last season, was one of the best three point shooters in the league making 41% of his attempts. For the Pistons, their current reality is not about making the playoffs but rather on becoming respectable again. That is how far one of the more proud organizations of the last 40 years has fallen. 

They will have decisions to make on the futures of Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren sooner rather than later but at the very least they are not fooling themselves into thinking they are a piece or a coach away from contention. That is the fallacy that they have operated under since the end of the Chauncey Billups and Ben Wallace era. This iteration of the team, it seems, understands that they are starting over from the bottom. And that realization is incredibly important if the team wants to be in the playoff mix in the next five years.  

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