This Engine Needs An Overhaul

In the very same town where the Lions just wrapped up their first-ever NFC North division title, and in a state (incidentally, it begins with the letter M, not an asteisk) where the top-ranked college football team in America is awaiting its chance to play in a national championship semifinal for the second consecutive season, its professional basketball team is arguably the biggest Detroit lemon since the Edsel.

Records are fascinating even when they’re negative, so it’s understandable that the spotlight has intensified in recent days as the Pistons have continued to lose games.  Even casual NBA fans are aware that they haven’t won a game in either the month of November or December, and that the Texas Rangers won a game more recently (and the World Series-losing Diamondbacks weren’t all that far behind).

So whether their still-loyal fans like it or not, last night’s home loss to the Brooklyn Nets, the second of a home-and-home with a team not devoid of its own issues, was big news.  As CBS Sports’ Ameer Tyree summised.

The Detroit Pistons have broken the record for most consecutive losses in a single season. They tied the record with a loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday and suffered their 27th straight defeat to the same squad, 118-112, on Tuesday. Only the Philadelphia 76ers, who dropped 28 games in a row between the 2014-15 and 2015-16 campaigns have endured a worse losing streak.

Detroit started the night strong at Little Caesars Arena and won the first quarter 31-25. However, the Nets outscored the home team by 13 in the second frame to erase that lead. Cade Cunningham’s dynamic scoring helped the Pistons remain competitive in the third quarter. He poured in 18 points in the period to keep the score close, but Brooklyn had enough in the tank to edge Detroit out.

Cunningham finished with 41 points, nine rebounds, and five assists. Bojan Bogdanovic chipped in with 23 points of his own while Jalen Duren notched a double-double with 12 points and 15 rebounds. Ultimately, however, it was not enough to keep Detroit from making the type of history that no one in their locker room had hoped for.

And that’s been a familiar refrain.  Cunningham was the #1 draft pick in 2021, and actually helped his team leap all the way from 15th to 14th in the NBA Eastern Conference, winning three more games that they did the season before (but, of course, dropping seven more in the process in a non-COVID season.   They lost six more games in 2022-23 and finished with the worst record in the league at 17-65 in a year where Victor Wembanyama loomed as a potential franchise-changer, but, of course, the NBA lottery’s luck shone instead on the Spurs.  They’re still pretty bad, but not Detroit-level bad.

Worst of all, they’ve invested nearly $80 million in a coach, Monty Williams, who had achieved some success in Phoenix and became available in the wake of an ownership change determined to bring in fresh leadership.  But as he was quoted by Tyree, he has apparently left whatever motivational talents and ability to find a winning on-court combination in Arizona.  Witness this:

The Pistons have long been aware of how close they were to breaking the record, and head coach Monty Williams believes that the magnitude of Tuesday’s game was a distraction for them. “I’m sure it was,” Williams told reporters. “When you look at records, you think of coaches. I’m sure players don’t want that attached to the name on the jersey. It’s been heavy for a while. That’s the nature of this kind of losing streak.”  

DETROIT, MICHIGAN – DECEMBER 26: Head Coach Monty Williams of the Detroit Pistons reacts towards referee Derrick Collins #11 during the first quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at Little Caesars Arena on December 26, 2023 in Detroit, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)

But it is Williams who is ultimately responsible for the play-calling and constant lineup tinkering that defines this team.  The inevitable late-game meltdowns that have defined the last two months of play.  And the Ziggy-like attitude that defines this sad team, one that has been perhaps the best argument for Premier League-relegation an American league has seen of late.  There’s a team called the Indiana Mad Ants that looked far more cohesive in a recent G League tournament, and many NBA observers have more than half-jokingly suggested swapping the Pistons for them wouldn’t be such a bad idea.   Ironically, until this fall the Mad Ants played in Fort Wayne, Indiana the city where this franchise was born (yep, even though the name Pistons fits in Detroit, it belonged to an auto parts manufacturer named Fred Zollner who started the team in that town before leaving for the grayer–er, greener–pastures of Detroit in 1958.

There arguably could be hope.  The Pistons and their fans deserve better, and have had it.  The Bad Boys of the late 80s and 90s were legendary and successful.  Last year, the Orlando Magic began their season not much better, at 5-20, but then regrouped to win 29 of their final 57 games.  Last night, they regained first place in their division, a half-game ahead of conference champion Miami, with a 127-119 road win over the Washington Wizards, whose own horrid start would be top-tier news if the Pistons weren’t breaking records.

But an $80 million coach who has lost the room, who has his team on a pace that would see them finish with the worst record in NBA history, with even fewer wins than the Charlotte Bobcats of the strike-shortened 2011-12 season, who sounds that defeated and overwhelmed, is anything but likely to cause that turnaround. Considering they are visiting the NBA-best Celtics in Boston tomorrow night, don’t expect this streak to miraculously end then, either.

And per THE ATHLETIC’s Chris Sprow and Jason Kirk, it ain’t looking like it’s gonna get any better before it gets still worse in the near term.  This is the best even these more optimistic souls could offer up:

In the spirit of the holidays, let’s try to find Detroit a win on the upcoming schedule:

  • Dec. 30 vs. Toronto: A reasonable chance at home against a team currently 11-18. This is also the big one, because losing 29 in a row would set another record: longest losing streak ever, even if you include multiple seasons. (Owning that mark for now are those mid-Process Sixers.)
  • January 10 vs. San Antonio: Entering this game against the currently 4-25 Spurs, Detroit might have 34 straight losses. No matter what, this might be the shabbiest game in NBA history.
  • January 15 vs. Washington: Second shabbiest? The Wizards are 5-24 right now. If Detroit loses out through here, the streak will be at 37. The overall record would be 2-38. Too sad to keep going. (Especially because the following three games are against the title-contending Timberwolves, Bucks and Bucks again, meaning 40 in a row would be in sight.)

It’s been rumored that change is on the horizon.  Bogdanovic is one of the few veterans with talent and will likely wind up on a contending team soon.  Others besides Cunningham are arguably candidates for relegation of their own, or outright release.  I highly doubt they’d be missed.

But I’d also like to offer that it might be a good idea for Williams to take a leave of absence of his own.  Recharge his batteries.  Perhaps give an assistant a chance to make some more drastic moves.  Perhaps give the team a reason to look down the bench and see someone they might want to believe in.

I hear Arizona is pretty nice compared to Detroit this time of year.

Courage…

 

 

 

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