The roller coaster ride that has been the Detroit Pistons’ season will finally come to a stop in two weeks, but without a playoff berth that many people in the Pistons organization hoped for when Stan Van Gundy was brought in to both coach and run basketball operations. Let’s take a look at the twists and turns this season has taken in Detroit.
Brutal Start and Release of Smoove
The roller coaster began with a 5-23 start, putting the season on the brink of a disaster similar to the New York Knicks. However, Detroit turned it around by winning 12 out of its next 15. The release of Josh Smith was seen as the catalyst that sparked this amazing turnaround. Smith isn’t a bad basketball player, but he was a bad fit in Detroit and his propensity to attempt a Stephen Curry impersonation at least once a night wore thin on the Pistons, eventually leading to his outright release.
Many thought it was a questionable move, as dumping a talent like that for nothing is something that usually isn’t done. Typically, you try and get something for a talented player instead of paying him not to play for you. But Smith’s bloated contract made that difficult, and Van Gundy decided to just pull the plug.
Smith’s departure signaled a new era in Detroit. An era where “The Man” isn’t one player or any player … “The Man” is Stan Van Gundy. Here’s what Van Gundy said after the release of Smith, per NBA.com:
“Our team has not performed the way we had expected throughout the first third of the season and adjustments need to be made in terms of our focus and direction.”
Releasing Smith was basically a power move by Van Gundy, and it was a move that brought some hope to Detroit.
Jennings Leads a Turnaround
Brandon Jennings enjoyed the most success in the aftermath of Smith’s release. Following Smith’s departure, Jennings averaged 19.8 points and 7.0 assists on 43.9 percent shooting after a wretched start to the year. Jennings has always had talent, but free of Smith’s ball-stopping ways, the point guard played with a confidence and style we hadn’t seen much from him.
Needless to say, the “Smith Effect” changed Detroit’s fortunes immediately
This was a completely new team offensively and defensively. The ball moved with fluidity, failing to stop for continuous isolations or ill-advised jumpers. Defensively, Detroit took significant strides as well, and the Pistons got that record from 5-23 all the way up to 17-26. It looked almost certain that Detroit would wind up in the postseason.
But of course, a roller coaster season wouldn’t be that if there weren’t numerous ups and downs, and a drop came next after Jennings went down for the year with an Achilles injury.
Pistons Acquire Jackson
After Jennings went down with that Achilles injury, Detroit lost four straight games. (That includes the game he got hurt in.) The ship was righted somewhat before the All-Star break, but Van Gundy wanted to make an upgrade at point guard with Jennings hurt. So the Pistons acquired Reggie Jackson from Oklahoma City at the trade deadline.
The results have varied to say the least. After winning the first two games after the All-Star break, Detroit lost 10 games in a row and Jackson really struggled. However, the Pistons have gone 6-3 since then, and Jackson has picked his game up in a big way. In these last nine games, the point guard has averaged 19.9 points, 11.0 assists and 6.4 rebounds while shooting 46.9 percent overall and 43.3 percent from three.
There’s no question Jackson will want to be paid liked “The Man” with the Pistons, or wherever he winds up. It’ll be interesting how the money is allocated in Detroit, because not only will Jackson become a free agent, but so will Greg Monroe.
Jackson and Monroe are the two burning issues that Detroit has to deal with in the offseason. Do they want to keep both players? Do they want to keep one and not the other? Do they want either? While Smith is still being paid via the stretch provision, it shouldn’t have too much of an impact on these decisions.
Although having both would be great, Jackson should be prioritized over Monroe. This NBA is a point guard driven league. You take a look at both conferences and the respective teams in the playoff hunt, and a majority of them sport a great, if not elite, point guard.
If Jackson can keep up his strong play and continue to improve his game under Van Gundy, he may be the guy who helps lead the Pistons back to the postseason. Jackson is finally getting a consistent chance to prove that he’s one of the better point guards in the league, and Detroit shouldn’t be afraid to dish out some green, whether that means signing him to a contract or matching an offer sheet. The return of Jennings could complicate things, but Jackson is younger and Achilles injuries are tough to come back from, so perhaps a trade of Jennings is explored.
As for Monroe, he has been linked to several different teams and Detroit is bracing for the possible loss of the big man to free agency. Things didn’t go smoothly last offseason when Monroe was a restricted free agent, and he eventually signed the qualifying offer to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Monroe had trouble fitting in with Smith and Andre Drummond around, and while Smith is gone, the big man may still look elsewhere after how everything has played out. The Knicks are said to be interested, and in this case, the Pistons wouldn’t be able to match an offer sheet like they could with Jackson.
Detroit needs to be smart moving forward. They do have their first-round draft picks for the years to come, and they shouldn’t be too hasty to make a trade that they’d regret. Re-signing Jackson should be a priority, and there will be other decisions to make as well. With high hopes that their roller coaster season ends on a high note, their finish will surely impact what happens over the next few months.
Stan, the floor is yours.